What do nuclear protestors, a colonial whorehouse and an iPhone have in common?
Sheep is an entertaining and supremely well-acted trek through a version of New Zealand’s history you were never taught at school. Following the interwoven lives of two families across seven generations, the play takes an unconventional look at our relationship with technology, sex, multiculturalism and our colonial legacy; offering glimpses into the lives of past (and, briefly, present) generations of New Zealanders at war, at peace, in love, and, inevitably, shearing sheep.
The simple, versatile set design features a backdrop where images are projected throughout, shabby-chic chairs, and wooden doorway-like structures where characters, in wonderfully authentic costumes, lurk behind. The play opens on February 22 2011, with a young Christchurch girl standing atop a chair and talking on the phone to her long-distance German boyfriend. He is teasing her about her reaction to the aftershocks in the jaded, world-weary way some Europeans, who are reminded of war with every street they walk down, occasionally do. The line is cut as the big one hits.
From there we’re taken back to a whorehouse in 1862, to a rural farming town in the early 1900s, to the fields of WWII, to the fashion scene in 1960s urban New Zealand; to the grassroots backlash against the Rainbow Warrior bombing in the 1985.
Everyone loves a happy ending, and the closing scene involves an unexpected and surprisingly touching re-union between our Kiwi girl and her German lover, set some months after the quake.
The cast was uniformly excellent and sourced from the graduating class of the 2014 Actors’ Programme. Not only were their accents spot-on, the tiniest details – such as the the way the women stood with their hands at their sides post-1960s instead of primly clasped in front of them – were perfect.
Sheep is such a treat to watch because while we know these things happened, vaguely, we only know facts, dates and names – it’s all just words on a page. It’s fascinating to watch key periods of our collective history lived out like this, by these real, very relatable characters; and the old adage that there are only two degrees of separation between every New Zealander rings truer than ever.