WAITING – Q THEATRE: 26-30 September (Theatre Review)

WAITING is a very personal solo show at Q Theatre, written and performed by actor and poet Shadon Meredith. It’s a one-hander, but it’s not a simple monologue. It’s been called beat poetry, but it’s not a poetry reading. It rejoices in rhythm and movement, but it’s not a dance. This is engaging, absorbing theatre. A full performance.

A local production, first written for and performed at the Nelson Fringe six years ago, the work has been much acclaimed – and much worked on and worked with over the years, in a continuing collaboration with his wife Amelia Reid-Meredith, who also directs.

WaitingThis 60-minute version is based on the version perfected at Wellington’s Bats Theatre with the help of Brandon Haru, Renee Lyons, Sarah Foster and Bala Murali Shingade.

When I first heard that the theme of the show was “coming of age” however, told through a letter to Shadon’s son, my heart sank. Telling a son to “build his own story through [my] life lessons” is worthwhile parenting advice, but as a basis for drama sounds banal. But of such worthy-sounding cloth, art has been made.

What, after all, is Kipling’s most famous poem, if not a letter to a son? The theme of ‘If’ (overcome this and “you’ll be a man, my son”) could almost be Meredith’s call to arms here. The journey to manhood, overcoming the challenges, and what it means to be a good man, these concerns are increasingly unfashionable. At least for Pālagi. Here, they are backbone.

WaitingAnd this a good man finding a way to be a man, and telling us how. Powerfully. Instead of a litter of unnecessary props, we have a bare almost unadorned stage, lighting, music and theatrical craft telling the story. Which keeps it taut. Is it poetry? Is it dance? Is it illusion? Does it matter? What it is, is good theatre. Eloquent and well-crafted.

The piece unfolds abstractly, illusionistically, akin to the beat poetry it’s been called. (Beat poetry via hop hop might be the clue.) Meredith’s theatrical declamation and humour at times reminded me of Red Mole’s Alan Brunton — if he had been Samoan. Where Red Mole used puppetry, Shadon played with light, engaging with it almost like a partner. (As he was, the lighting being directed beautifully by his wife.)

The rhythms of poetry infuse the piece, reflecting the many rhythms of life and its many challenges. Life is a progression towards goals, without losing sight of the journeys towards them. Waiting, and them movement towards them. Confronting and then overcoming.

The piece begins with the ocean’s waves, and its tides, advancing and receding – a hint of what’s to come – and with life’s first challenge: to breathe. In and out. Meredith’s whole piece is bathed with life’s rhythms, dark and light, in both its poetry and themes — of love and loss — strength and vulnerability — self-assertion and self-loss. It echoes Walt Whitman’s own immortal meditation on “the pulsations in all matter, all spirit, throbbing forever,The eternal beats, eternal systole and diastole of life in things…”

But let’s not get too far from the ground – although the piece invites us to muse, it also prompts us to be present.

Do we sometimes forget to breathe? WAITING reminds us to discover, and to lock ourselves into, those life-giving rhythms of life, and to find strength in them.

This is a unique piece, well worth seeing.

Theatre Peter

Click on any image to view a photo gallery courtesy Andi Crown Photography:

WAITING is the latest iteration of Shadon Meredith’s solo show, directed by Amelia Reid-Meredith. See it at Q Theatre 26-30 September.

 Tickets here.

 Interview clip here.