On The Upside Down Of The World
By Arthur Meek
30 JUN - 16 JUL 2011 — Drama
Auckland Theatre Company
1 Hour and 35 minutes, no interval
A crippled English woman arrives in a savage land charged with civilising the natives and, instead, discovers the key to her liberation.
Mary Ann Martin came to New Zealand in 1841, the young wife of New Zealand's first chief justice. They set up home in Parnell.
Intrepid, intelligent and possessing a great sense of humour, she disregarded her personal disability, set about learning Te Reo, established a makeshift hospital for Maori on the beach at Judges Bay and dared to dream of all that was possible in this brave new world.
Forget the Rugby World Cup - Wellington's theatres have presented us with three world class award winning productions all within a few weeks of each other. First was AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, then WHEN THE RAIN STOPS FALLING, both Circa shows, and now ON THE UPSIDE-DOWN AT THE WORLD at Downstage. The casts of each production have tackled challenging themes and demanding scripts and kicked for touch with each one.
Last week I thought I had seen one of the best solo performances of the year with Jacob Rajan in his new play THE GURU OF CHAI. I was wrong, that honour should go to Laurel Devenie for her astonishing performance in ON THE UPSIDE-DOWN OF THE WORLD...
Lady Mary Ann Martin (nee Parker), the wife of the first Chief Justice of New Zealand, upon whose memoirs playwright Arthur Meek based the script for this premiere work, is conspicuously absent on the pages of Wikipedia. Judge Sir William Martin himself has precious few paragraphs considering the groundbreaking historical events he was party to, not least through his good wife and her visionary work in developing race relations at a basic social, human level...
This effective and moving new one-woman play by Arthur Meek seems at first to be simple, linear storytelling based on the diaries of the wife of New Zealand's first Chief Justice, Mary Ann Martin, who emigrated in 1841...
ON THE UPSIDE-DOWN OF THE WORLD draws on the memoirs of Lady Ann Martin, the wife of New Zealand's first chief justice; memoirs with the unfashionable title Our Maoris. It's the first indication that the audience will be in for a Pakeha-centric look at a slither of New Zealand's pioneer history. Director Colin McColl has called it an "unashamedly Pakeha view of early colonial history"...
Actor Laurel Devenie inhabits the world of one of New Zealand's earliest female pioneers in a play inspired by her memoirs. Dionne Christian reports. Laurel Devenie stands in the middle of a Glenfield factory and hurls a fistful of cutlery round the room. Ordinarily the room is empty but given that Devenie is surrounded by a forest of aluminium ladders, the spoons, forks and knives strike rungs and the floor with enough clatter to temporarily drown out the rain on the roof and the hum of a band saw next door. The 28-year-old actor doesn't come across as one given to tantrums - nor does the woman she portrays in the Auckland Theatre Company-commissioned play ON THE UPSIDE-DOWN OF THE WORLD.
First shown carefreely dodging among a shiny thicket of interlocking ladders while dressed in bonnet and hoop dress, Mary Ann Martin (Laurel Devenie) is like an Antipodean Alice in Wonderland. Pettishly impatient with the indigenous populace and their resistance to her "civilising" influence, she finds her attitudes increasingly inverted as she journeys down the rabbit-hole that is mid 19th-century New Zealand. Based on the memoirs of the wife of this country's first chief justice, Auckland Theatre Company's ON THE UPSIDE-DOWN OF THE WORLD is a solo play that shares the period and setting of Jane Campion's THE PIANO, as well as being, in part, a proto-feminist tale of self-actualisation. In other respects, however, it's the film's antithesis: rather than being relegated to providing the "local colour", here the interaction with Maori is integral to the protagonist's growth, with the implicit argument for her equality mirrored in the explicit assertion of theirs...
Sustained applause greeted the Wellington premiere of the ATC production ON THE UPSIDE-DOWN OF THE WORLD at Downstage last night. After 95-odd minutes of not quite knowing where to place ourselves in relation to a quaintly Victorian yet deeply committed woman's observations and actions, we are left stimulated and powerfully engaged with its potently relevant themes. As with his COLLAPSING CREATION, playwright Arthur Meek has- in collaboration with dramaturg Philippa Campbell, director Colin McColl, designer Tony Rabbit and solo actress Laurel Devenie - a specific and particular human story captures something much bigger. The personal memoirs of Lady Mary Ann Martin (cringe-worthily entitled Our Maoris) have been distilled and enhanced in such a way that the play radiates the story of British colonisation and resonates with contemporary concerns. (Meek's programme note about the development experience is self-effacingly amusing and salutary.)...