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Wednesday, 20 March 2019 02:55 pm

REVIEW: Five women figure out The First Time at Circa Theatre

When was the last time you looked back on the experiences that shaped you, and way you live today? The First Time is a rare chance to do just that, through the eyes of five women not unlike ourselves.

We meet the women (pictured above) one by one, taking their seats on a minimalist set of just five chairs at Circa Theatre. They awkwardly sit, and in the darkness inhale deeply in unison, before a spotlight illuminates the first woman and she begins to speak.

The First Time follows the women figuring out what’s happening to them, or by them. We learn about the people in their lives, how they feel about themselves and the people they love, and what they want from themselves.

Jim Moriarty, (Mahana, No Petrol, No Diesel!) acclaimed New Zealand actor was in the audience. He describes the story as “an unravelling of what life does to people, and what sets us up.”

Their laughter fills their awkward silences when they say something that isn’t “chill”, they’re not too comfortable calling themselves “depressed” or “homosexual” yet, and they’re constantly challenging themselves for struggling with something. Sound familiar?

We only hear from one at a time, save for a few wonderful illustrations where the actors play out the scene being described. In this way, the spotlight not only illuminates the story, but the issue at hand, be it a struggle with depression, a pressure to succeed, or family trouble.

Writer Courtney Rose Brown, one of the youngest playwrights to have her work performed at Circa Theatre, has created a piece which moves effortlessly from story to story without losing us in between.

Why? Because we know these women by heart. We all know an Alana, who vanishes into her new relationship and leaves her friends behind. We’ve all been there for our Mereanas whose depression and hardship weighs down on us too, and we’ve certainly all been there with Te Rina who can’t understand why choosing to work full time instead of going to university is such a crime. The goal is to work full-time anyway, isn’t it? She says. So I’ve done it? What’s wrong with that?

Rose Brown’s characters are so real that while learning about them intrigues us it doesn’t surprise us. But that isn’t the point. These women aren’t here to shock us or blow our minds.

In a New Zealand where one in six of us will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some stage in our lives, The First Time exposes the realities of what that actually looks like, and feels like. The women lift up the rug we’ve been sweeping depression under all these years and call it what is is: “…annoying”.

“I reckon it will be really good for young people to see it so that they come to understand what happens, or get a sense of understand what happens when we form relationships,” says Moriarty

“Those relationships are what lay the foundations down for how you’re going to respond to the world, and to other people.”

When the theatre doors open to Circa Two, Lorde’s Green Light is playing. The New Yorker called Lorde the “patron saint” of the movement towards authenticity in popular music. It’s apt then, that after we watch a tumultuous, emotionally tiring relationship crumble, we hear Lorde sing “You’re a little much for me, you’re a liability”.

What Lorde and Rose Brown have in common is their ability to let us see ourselves in their art but simultaneously learn so much.

The First Time is playing at Circa Theatre till the 1st of July at 7:30. Tickets between $18-30.


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