I do another loop of Mangere Town Centre on a Monday evening, which is mainly a giant car park. It is grey in the twilight and empty but, I imagine, when full of market stalls and music and lots of people, it could be a buzzing space. Around the edge sit shops, supermarkets, a library, a health centre, and a new arts centre which is proving tricky to find. Here is where Massive Company is bedding in its latest show, The Wholehearted. I sense the theatre is trying to reach out to new audiences (don’t leave chewing gum on the seats!), despite this it is a lovely welcoming space. Other shows coming up include the biblical, the musical, the inspirational, and The Wholehearted, falls directly into this camp.
The work is inspired by the work of Brene Brown, for whom the courage to be open and true, and the compassion – for yourself and others – when things go wrong, are the two most important guiding principles in overcoming life’s struggles. So, not exactly biblical, but there isn’t a religion in the world that doesn’t share this philosophy.
Seven actors, four men, three women, all young, explore what it means to them to be brave. And being young, in a peaceful country, it all returns to love and human connection. The stories that emerge from the four youngest members of the cast particularly are extremely personal – the courage required to make new friends; the terror that you will never find a love like the ones your parents shared; the heartbreak when you fall in love and open yourself up so completely only to be rejected. ‘Maybe we should have taken smaller steps, taken things more slowly,’ says older and wiser Thomas Easton, ‘but bless us, we didn’t.’
For anyone who has lived, loved, and has lost, these stories may not be new but they are resonant. The narrative is less traditional in structure – Massive plays around with story structures and looks at the dark corners: what happens after you get the girl and then she doesn’t call back, what happens before you even open your mouth, and at the other end, when it is long over. And by shining a light in these places they become less frightening. You go for it, and you get over it. ‘I get sick,’ Bree Peters says as cheerful twelve-year-old geek Harry, ‘but I’m not scared of getting sick again.’
There are many avenues left unexplored: holding onto one’s principles when your friends, family or colleagues take a different path. Nor is there much exploration on what we do to each other. In the tradition of the theatre of the oppressed, it is up to the oppressed to find a way out – and they are the focus here. In real life though, is our own sense of self-esteem and resilience not bound up in how we treat each other as well as ourselves? But these are perhaps thoughts for another show, for I would guess Brene Brown would argue that you can’t make an impact on the wider world until you stop beating up on yourself.
This is the first Massive Theatre Production that I have seen and so I cannot compare it to their other works, but I do know that I left the theatre, as I had sat for much of the performance, infected by the enthusiasm and energy of the actors, with a big smile on my face.
Playing at Mangere Arts Centre until Thursday 24th March, and then at Q Theatre until 10th April