REVIEW: A Pack of Girls

A team of Taranaki women has taken to the stage to tackle sexism, rugby, and rural life in New Zealand.

Pack of Girls kicked off at New Plymouth Little Theatre this week and there’ll be tackling, push-ups and line-outs on the theatrical field until August 17.

One of the highlights of this play is the script and on Friday night New Plymouth was lucky enough to play host to the playwright himself, David Geary.

David, who spoke after the curtain call, wrote this play 29 years ago and it premiered at Downstage Theatre in Wellington.

He told his Taranaki audience he had written the play about people he knew growing up in high country Manawatu.

“And tonight I thought ‘oh my God, you know these people too’,” he said.

David, who now lives in Canada, thanked New Plymouth Little Theatre and director Tash Paton for staging Pack of Girls.

“It’s a really big treat for me to come back and see that one of my works is alive and well.”

Bringing that story to life in Taranaki is a talented team of cast and crew.

Elle Hitchcock as DPB is an absolute pleasure to watch. She is wonderfully natural on stage and her voice work is great. She really does embody a pregnant women and even has the waddle on point.

Elle is entirely believable in this role, and the naturalness she brings to the stage is much needed. There’s no overacting here, just honesty, and it’s great. Her touching heart-to-heart with Hazel in the second half is one of the best scenes in the play.

Holly Winter is another standout, and again she brings a lovely naturalness to this stage. Her comic timing is also excellent and she has some great lines. Both Holly and Elle play two roles, which allows them to showcase their talents even more, as well as show off some great mullets.

Jacqui Penn’s portrayal of Pam has some excellent moments, including a great marital fight in the bedroom, while Nicola Bleasel has some wonderful one liners – including one about Christian Cullen that nearly brings the house down.

One of the standout elements of this production is Taranaki artist Sunset’s beautiful murals on the sides of the front of the stage.

So clever is his work that audience members on the night thought those scenes were actual photographs. His attention to detail is unsurpassed and a great asset to this play.

Another goal scored for the Pack of Girls team is a successful use of lighting. Nathan Grange’s thoughtful lighting design and Leo Spranger’s apt operation of the lights are an absolute winning combination.

There were some lovely pieces of lighting work, with soft tones in the bedroom, the beautiful bouncing of television lighting in the middle of the night, and the effective strobe lighting in game play and dream scenes. It was so refreshing to see some elements of creative lighting, and thus fewer white washes.

There is a impressive array of costumes in this play and most were well thought out and effective. There are swanndris and gumboots, rugby jerseys and pink socks. However, the pregnancy suit let the side down and left this reviewer waiting for the revelation the character wasn’t pregnant at all.

Pack of Girls is at times a game of two halves. The first half is heavy with scene changes and seems slow, while the second half picks up the pace and scores more points with the audience.

This is largely to do with intrusive set changes. Unfortunately there are too many scene changes for this reviewer, and it seems odd that a scene change is the very first thing that happens when the play opens.

The show would definitely benefit from a smarter set that allows for cleaner and quicker transitions. Although one set piece cleverly becomes many things, it isn’t always effective and the continuous creaking of the set in the bedroom scenes is irritating and makes for muffled dialogue.

The second half of the play has fewer scene changes and this allows the cast and crew to pick up a far more satisfying pace. Incorporating the scene changes into the action of the play could also help with the pacing of this show.

In saying that, downstage is incredibly well designed and thought out. There is green turf, a piece of a goal post, and the two incredible scene paintings by Sunset.

This is highly effective and well used in the staging. In fact, it is often when this detailed part of the stage is in use that Pack of Girls really comes to life.

Something else for the team to consider in the future is their use of music, as this New Zealand show will benefit from a selection of Kiwi music.

Although songs by Beyoncé and Nancy Sinatra align with the girl power themes of the night, perhaps a better ambiance will be achieved with cult Kiwi classics like Slice of Heaven and Why Does Love Do This To Me, even if it is only for the pre-show and intermission music.

Overall, Pack of Girls is an enjoyable night out, especially if you book in for the delicious dinner option Little Theatre offers.

It’s really nice to see new directors coming through the ranks in New Plymouth, and hopefully we will see more of Tash’s work in the future.

After all, new coaches bring a fresh perspective to the game of theatre.

Pack of Girls
Directed by Tash Paton
New Plymouth Little Theatre
August 7 – 17
Reviewed by Taryn Utiger