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National Business Review Review, 7 May 2004



Theatre: Like the great artist, Goldie has flaws
John Daly-Peoples
By Peter Hawes
Auckland Theatre Company
Maidment Theatre, Auckland
April 22 -May 22

Charles Goldie, despite the vicissitudes of fashion, has always been in the top rank of New Zealand artists for his accessibility, the degree of controversy and more recently his prices.

His work has had appeal because of its realism and because it has recorded part of New Zealand history. He has also appealed to what many people see as the spiritual dimension of the paintings of Maori.

Controversy dogged him for the falling out with Louis Steele over the painting of The Arrival of The Maori in New Zealand, his exclusion from a still-life show on the grounds that there are goldfish in the bowl and his being labelled a racist because of his paintings and the widely held belief that Maori were a dying race.

These are some of the issues that are raised in the course of Goldie, a play that looks at the man and his art.

The first act is mainly concerned with Goldie (played by Michael Hurst) and the early impact on the New Zealand art scene, centred on his collaboration with Steele on the competition-winning work The Arrival of the Maori in New Zealand, while the second act explores his later life, his marriage and his deteriorating health and reputation.

Central to the play is Goldie's relation to Maori and his growing understanding of the implications of his art. His discussions with laid-back philosopher Patara Te Tuhi (George Henare) are a brilliant investigation of art, the nature of history and psychological analysis.

The play also deals with the nature of art, artifice and representation. Hawes uses Goldie's realist approach to reflect on whether the artist portrays the visible world or the essence of the subject.

This enquiry into the nature of art is borne out by the play itself, as the theatrical portrait of the artist is built up with elements of truth and fiction.

There are some superb comic moments, such as when a drunken evening turns into an impromptu drawing session, with the artist's friends posing as emaciated figures for the competition painting.

The play really succeeds because of the tremendous acting of the entire cast. Michael Hurst as Goldie inhabits the part like a glove, the words spill out of him effortlessly and naturally, creating a believable, flawed character.

George Henare gives an impressive performance as the truth-seeking Te Tuhi, a character who combines the erudition of a Maori chief and the incisive humour of a Billy T James.

Peter McCauley gives a perceptive and revealing interpretation of Steele and a well-judged performance as a spectre-like figure as Goldie's father.

Cherie James, as Goldie's housekeeper, moves the character gradually from youthful arrogance to shrewd maturity, in a skilful display of acting.

Sophia Hawthorne, as Goldie's wife, manages to create a character as complex as her husband, with some grand thespianic performances.

Cameron Rhodes, as Jimmy Watson, and Jason Whyte, as Harry Morrison, are both outstanding in their supporting roles, as are Te Kohe Tuhaka and Rob Mokaraka as the two Maori warriors.

Any play that treads the tragi-comedy line has to careful about how the jokes get used. It's easy to get away with over-tragic acting but the jokes have to be of sterling stuff. Goldie has a few too many clunky jokes put in because they are humorous but they add little to the play.

There are also a few monologues where the cleverness of language leaves the audience behind.

But Hawes does himself and the play a disservice by not putting in the basic research. He has Goldie ranting about Picasso and Cubism in 1898 when the Spaniard was only 17 and having his first exhibition. He also has Goldie meeting Te Tuhi several years earlier than they actually met, with the implication that Patara's views influenced the concept of the painting.

The impression is given that Goldie was somehow underhand and secretive in using Gericault's Raft of the Meduse as the model for his Arrival if the Maori in New Zealand, when the connection between the two works was well-known at the time.

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