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16° & RAINY ON MONDAY 18 NOVEMBER IN AUCKLAND
By Leah Lynch
October 11, 2019
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Owls Do Cry

New Zealand's first great novel has been adapted for the stage.
By Leah Lynch
October 11, 2019
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Janet Frame's Owls Do Cry grapples with questions of mental health, poverty and inequality. It is a lyrical confrontation with the many violences of conformity. Frame's text focalises these issues through the lives of the Withers siblings: Daphne, Chicks, Toby and Francie. These children, born into working-class poverty, spend their afternoons combing the local rubbish dump for treasure. Not unlike Frame's own native Oamaru, the town the Withers inhabit, 'Waimaru, was as small as the world and halfway between the South Pole and the Equator'. This is post-WWII provincial New Zealand. For all the abundant narrative fodder such a backdrop proposes, though, it is Frame's lyrical prose which best conjures up the texture and cadence of the Withers children's lives, the bleakness and naivety of their small-town aspirations.

An adaptation of Owls for the stage seems, then, as challenging as it is necessary. Certainly Frame's language already resounds with a theatrical tenor — her words vibrate, howl and sting like salt water in a grazed knee. But this is intimate and interiorised communication, not the stuff of live performance. To utter Owls' words aloud might seem inconceivable.

And yet, Red Leap Theatre Company has accepted the challenge. Astutely, they have devised their production as a response to Owls — not a retelling thereof. Their response, crafted by Heather Timms, weaves together live music and song, dynamic movement, AV, and the company's signature visual style. In doing so, Red Leap's production aims to reinvigorate the insights of Frame's novel as urgent, current, and worthy of our attention.

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