Realm of Tears — A Response

Sometimes the best that art provides us is a suspension in time and space and a breaking of the rigidity that our capitalist colonial society forces us into. Without a doubt, Realm of Tears is exactly that and more. 

Directed and Choreographed by Renee Wiki (Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Kurī, Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi, Kūki Āirani, NZ European descent) and created and performed by queer multi-disciplinary Māori/Pākehā artist Rewa Fowles, Realm of Tears is an invitation for us to bare witness to Rewa embracing their inner tangiweto, and in turn an encouragement for us to do the same. 

Entering Basement Theatre’s main performance space, the stage is set in a round, with four pieces of fabric individually hung around four corners of the stage. We are warmly welcomed by the ushers and encouraged to find ourselves a seat. I choose the corner that Renee recommends, adjacent to the sound and lighting booth. The lighting design has the lower half of each of the fabrics, and most of the theatre, lit in an electric blue and the tops of the fabrics lit contrastingly with a warm yellow. This juxtaposition of colours foreshadows the contemplative and emotionally rich experience that Realm of Tears is about to take us on.

For the next hour, Rewa takes us through a journey of self-discovery and self-reflection as they move between poetry and movement, and occasionally mixes the two to express the different realms they have traversed to be able to harvest and bring to light this offering. Meeting themselves again and again through different pivotal points of their life—the pieces range from brooding and playful to genuine, powerful and slightly humorous. 

“It’s work that reflects our collective need to feel our feelings, go to therapy and still find ways to make sense of all of life’s pieces as they fall.”

Described by Renee as a fantasy rom-com minus the love interest, this is a show cleverly put together to tell the coming-of-age tale that more and more pop music artists are crooning over—cue SZA’s ‘20 Something’, or more recently Ariana Grande’s ‘We Can’t Be Friends’. All this to say, Rewa and Renee have put on a show that reflects the late Millennial/early Gen Z’s growing pains in our late-stage capitalist world. Realm of Tears is us. Therefore, it could also be rebranded as The Mirror, because what’s most potent in this show is how, under the careful direction of Renee, Rewa has managed to put together pieces of poetry and movement that are very specific to our time. It’s work that reflects our collective need to feel our feelings, go to therapy and still find ways to make sense of all of life’s pieces as they fall. 

A lot of the conflict that drives the show forward is in the ways Rewa is both seen and unseen. This is seen both physically, due to the nature of the show being in the round—I found a lot of the time we spent intentionally looking at Rewa’s shoulders and back—and poetically with a lot of the poems reflecting and ruminating on the ways Rewa has been misconstrued as both the villain and the hero in the eyes of their past lovers.

Unwaveringly, the show draws on romanticism and fantasy to drive forward. Surprisingly, what stayed with me the longest was the layer of resentment and fury that bubbled underneath the more identifiable softer layers of introspection and healing that the show wanted us to indulge in. With later iterations and sequels to come for this Realm of Tears, I hope Rewa and Renee will be able to capitalise on the smorgasbord of emotions they have made and swiftly plot even more intense, interesting and intentional emotional journeys that audiences can laugh and cry their way through. 

For an opening night, Realm of Tears hit all the emotional notes it needed to. There was so much honesty and care taken in how the show was constructed that it was enough to offer me a rare moment of reprieve on a Tuesday night and time to refocus as a fellow tangiweto.  Showcasing the breadth of Rewa’s movement vocabulary, as well as her poetic range as a trained dancer and dance movement therapist. The show also continues to show Renee’s own growth as one of Tāmaki Makaurau’s most exciting live arts producers and theatremakers.

Featured image courtesy of Basement Theatre.


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