HOY POLLOY: Gary Henderson’s compelling, suspenseful whodunit was originally commissioned by the 1998 New Zealand International Festival of the Arts.
Hoy Polloy’s first production for 2012, An Unseasonable Fall of Snow
, is an incredibly difficult production to review. Not because it was confusing, or because it wasn’t very good, but because it is almost impossible to discuss without spoiling it for new audiences.
There is so much to be said about the unexpected plot, and the surprises that alter the entire premise of the play, but to reveal them would be wrong and inconsiderate, and so this review will avoid delving too much into the plot. You’re just going to have to see the play for yourself to quell your curiosity.
Written by leading New Zealand playwright Gary Henderson, An Unseasonable Fall of Snow is ultimately a sad play, but it is coated with light-hearted yet dramatic humour, disguising the tragic revelations observed in the second half of the show. The play opens with the characters, Arthur and Liam (Wayne Pearn and David Passmore), standing downstage centre, staring blankly at the audience in a wash of red lighting. Strobe lights kick in and they start moving quickly, flailing their arms in rehearsed motions and weird robotic spasms. Then the actual play begins, and it is immediately more focused and enjoyable, with the ‘detective’ Arthur alone in his bleak office waiting patiently for Liam’s arrival. It is important not to be put off by the jarring nature of the prelude, as the rest of the play is quite naturalistic, making the abstract opening imagery feel out of place and unnecessary.
For the most part, the play is basically an 80-minute interrogation. Arthur questions Liam about his potential involvement in an incident, and Liam responds varyingly. Pearn portrays Arthur as a sarcastic, patronising authority figure, and he succeeds in making Liam, and often the audience, feel uncomfortable. He simultaneously performs the ‘good cop’ and the ‘bad cop’, and his energy never falters. Some of Pearn’s dialogue had the tendency to sound over-rehearsed and forced, but he played his role with admirable passion and tenacity.
Passmore’s Liam was withdrawn and childish. He became increasingly vulnerable as the play went on, and Passmore’s acting, while not as experienced or refined as Pearn, was consistently honest and engaging throughout the show.
The fact that Michael Finney is a first-time director was painfully apparent at certain points. A two-handed play set in one room that is essentially one long conversation is definitely a difficult task to keep visually interesting, but at times it felt that Finney tried too hard to keep his actors moving and shifting positions through the space. The overall staging was weak and awkward. Pointless stage crosses were a distraction, and unnatural poses designed to look ‘casual’ (such as a leg on a table or an awkward lean on a chair) just made the actors look uncomfortable. There were a few pivotal climactic moments where the two characters didn’t even make eye contact, and instead faced away from each other in a classic soap-opera fashion. But besides the movement and blocking issues, most of the dialogue and emotional aspects were directed well – it was clear that lines were perfectly rehearsed and the characters had been thoroughly developed.
Without revealing too much, An Unseasonable Fall of Snow managed to delve into some dark subject matter – loneliness, desperation, cowardice, rape, death, and the fragility of life – all while keeping the audience feeling strangely uplifted and pleasantly entertained. The play was hilariously tragic, and although a little ‘preachy’ at times, it was a touching and insightful portrayal of some pretty serious issues, sprinkled with light-hearted comedy, and topped with a valuable lesson in the importance of human life.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Hoy Polloy present
An Unseasonable Fall of Snow
Written by Gary Henderson
Directed by Michael Finney
Performed by David Passmore and Wayne Pearn
Stage Manager: Des Logan
Lighting Design: Lindon Blakey
Sound Design: Michael Finney
Set Design: Carmel Iudica
Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre, Brunswick
May 2 – 19
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