Lo­ca­tion em­pha­sises re­al­ity of play

Kapi-Mana News - - ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT - By RE­BECCA THOM­SON

Folks at­tend­ing this year’s Fringe Fes­ti­val could find them­selves quar­an­tined.

Ticket-hold­ers go­ing to Paul Stephanus’ play Quar­an­tine will be es­corted to Matiu/ Somes Is­land and taken to a dis­used quar­an­tine sta­tion, where they will dis­cover some dark truths about Welling­ton’s his­tory. Stephanus said par­tic­i­pants would learn about the ar­chaic med­i­cal prac­tices used on the is­land and get a sense of the ex­pe­ri­ence of those quar­an­tined more than 100 years ago.

Af­ter the suc­cess of his 2009 play Frogs Un­der the Wa­ter, per­formed un­der the wharves, Stephanus wanted to set a play on Somes Is­land. He con­sid­ered stag­ing Shake­speare’s The Tem­pest there, but changed his mind af­ter vis­it­ing the is­land and talk­ing to the care­tak­ers, who told him about its his­tory.

‘‘ The his­tory was too much to ig­nore. There were some se­ri­ously nasty dis­eases and the ships ar­riv­ing were gross, full of disease.

‘‘Medicine in 1800s was not what it is now. A lot of that [his­tory] has been glossed over,’’ said Stephanus.

‘‘Also, the re­turn­ing sol­diers from World War I, who were fight­ing in a hor­rific war, came home want­ing to see loved ones, girlfriends, fam­ily, but got stuck in quar­an­tine on the is­land. Many died there.’’

Quar­an­tine fo­cuses on five fic­tional char­ac­ters who tell tales from the is­land’s his­tory.

‘‘The five char­ac­ters have been stuck on the is­land since the 1870s and have not been able to ful­fil any of their de­sires.

‘‘So, yes, au­di­ences will have to sus­pend their be­lief,’’ said Stephanus.

Somes Is­land was des­ig­nated for quar­an­tine pur­poses in 1869. It was first used for that pur­pose in 1872 when the ship Eng­land ar­rived with pas­sen­gers suf­fer­ing from small­pox.

‘‘One of the most in­ter­est­ing things was re­search­ing all the dis­eases – small­pox, ty­phoid, scar­let fever – that peo­ple were quar­an­tined for hav­ing,’’ said Stephanus.

‘‘Peo­ple don’t re­alise it now, but those dis­eases were dis­gust­ing.

‘‘Peo­ple were in­stantly os­tracised when they were sick, no mat­ter their back­ground – poor or rich.’’

Not much has been writ­ten about the is­land, but East­bourne his­to­rian Derek Sole helped Stephanus with re­search.

‘‘He has cat­a­logued all the boats and the pa­tients who ar­rived there. He’s also help­ing to write the pro­gramme notes.’’

Stephanus said there were lo­gis­ti­cal mat­ters to con­sider, in­clud­ing the weather, ac­cess to the is­land and strict Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion rules gov­ern­ing what can be taken there.

‘‘Ev­ery­thing we take has to be ex­am­ined, and rightly so. We’ve started sourc­ing props on the is­land. It’s eas­ier.

‘‘It’s ended up be­ing awe­some, more au­then­tic. In­stead of tak­ing stuff that looks like it’s been washed up, we’re ac­tu­ally us­ing stuff that has been washed up.

‘‘And we’re slaves to the East-West ferry and its timetable. It’s the only boat that can go there un­der any cir­cum­stances.’’

How­ever, Stephanus is up­beat. He said that the show would be ex­cit­ing and ‘‘a wee bit freaky’’.

Quar­an­tine runs un­til March 5.

Is­land time: Paul Stephanus looks out to­wards Matiu/Somes Is­land, the set­ting for Quar­an­tine.

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