I’ve heard it said that the best way to age is to never grow up, and if that means still getting enjoyment from stories aimed at a younger generation, then seeing Red Leap’s Dakota of the White Flats might be a perfect way to stay youthful.
The play is based on Philip Ridley’s coming-of-age tale about two young women, Dakota and Treacle, and the whacky adventure they go on to help a disillusioned and slightly mad former actress.
It’s a deliciously odd sort of production with occasional musical numbers reminiscent of a grungy teenage musical, but at its heart is a simple tale of love, loss, grief, anger, and courage.
As well as the tough as nails, but loveable girls there are other equally memorable characters. One is nicknamed ‘Medusa,’ she’s the aging and forlorn ex-actress who dresses and behaves as though she’s channeling Gloria Swanson. There’s Dakota’s shut-in mum still bereft after being jilted by her husband. Then there’s the shady and somewhat creepy flatmate they live with. Lurking in the background is an even more shady author who has a deep and sinister secret.
Uncovering this secret and going to bat for Medusa is what kicks the action into high gear. Dakota and Treacle head off into the world to uncover the truth behind some sinister goings-on. This dynamic duo is full of energy, sass, humour, and bravery.
The cast of five works in perfect harmony with each other, and even though two of them play villains, there is an obvious connection between them all. I’d go so far as to say there was actually a palpable shared delight in performing together. Hannah Lynch, as the eponymous Dakota, played her part incredibly well. Her comic timing, sarcastic asides, and her delivery of aggressive and vulnerable moments brought a complex character to life.
Watching this story unfold, I was in awe of the logistics involved.
The set was strewn with shopping trolleys and other detritus. There were microphones and musical instruments for the occasional numbers, and some of those instruments doubled as props at various times. The technical set-pieces however were two scaffolding towers that represent the ‘White Flats.” These were about four storeys high and covered in Venetian blinds. Each one represented a room or a flat.
The towers were in constant movement as actors opened imaginary doors, or swooped open the blinds to interact or give a quick monologue. It was remarkable to watch how seamlessly it all flowed. If you have ever had Venetian blinds yourself, you know how temperamental they can be and what a pain in the ass they are when they stick. Not on this set! They worked like a charm.
Action sequences throughout the show used a variety of theatre tricks, sleight of hand, and lighting. When you consider that just five actors were involved and all had a hand in the constantly flowing set maneuvers, and placement of props, this is one slick operation.
I can’t imagine how long it took to design and trial the ideas and how much rehearsal time went into getting it right, but the entire production was brilliantly executed.
All up, Dakota of the White Flats is incredibly amusing, irreverent, loud, tender and at times very moving. It’s a crazy, over-the-top romp of an adventure, and, despite its ideal target of tweens and teens, this riotous piece of theatre is a delight anyone of any age can enjoy.
Dakota of the White Flats
14 – 21 August 2021
Rangatira, Q Theatre