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Ana Scotney as Scattergun (Photos: Andi Crown)
Ana Scotney as Scattergun (Photos: Andi Crown)

Pop CultureApril 23, 2024

Scattergun: After the Death of Rūaumoko reveals the frightening talent of Ana Scotney

Ana Scotney as Scattergun (Photos: Andi Crown)
Ana Scotney as Scattergun (Photos: Andi Crown)

The solo show from Ana Scotney is both sprawling and intimate, and a must-see, writes Mad Chapman.

In the opening moments of Scattergun: After the Death of Rūaumoko, writer and performer Ana Scotney lays out the groundwork, literally. Silently moving around the square stage, Scotney is not so much dancing as exploring (and yes, I do hate that writing about theatre immediately makes me say things like “not so much dancing as exploring” but that’s as close to an accurate description of her movements as I can muster). On a square, barely-raised platform, with the audience in front and on either side of her, Scotney takes her time moving around the stage. She gets low to the ground, emerges and swivels, reaching each corner before becoming her first clear character, a pou whakairo (carved figure). And somehow, she nails it. The hands on the belly, the arched back, the tongue out, the groundedness. Throughout the show, much will happen, including moments of heightened emotions and energy, but always we return to the pou whakairo to stay grounded.

Scattergun (birth name Agnes) is our guide through the universe. She’s at a gathering to mark the five-year anniversary of her younger brother Rūaumoko’s death and not having a particularly good time. Immediately likable as a slightly unmoored but deeply self-assured young person, Scattergun is trying to figure out what to do next. She knows where she’s come from and the context in which she currently lives (and her brother died), and isn’t afraid to explain it, either to the audience or to the various Pākehā men she encounters throughout the day (all portrayed eerily accurately by Scotney on stage). That part is the comparatively easy part – a narrative of grief and discovery.

Where Scotney and Scattergun excel is in the inbetween. At the same time as we are hearing the funny dialogue between Scattergun and the stoner catering staffer, we’re watching a parallel storyline of the creation and the whenua. Scattergun’s brother, Rūaumoko, named for the youngest son of Papatūānuku and Ranginui, serves as the unseen thread tying Scattergun to her first ancestors. These stories of ancestral connections are shared through every character somehow, from memories of Scattergun’s relatives to the angry defensive monologue of an old school acquaintance. And any time things start to feel like their getting a bit heated or at risk of becoming a moral – or worse, political – lesson, Scotney pulls back and returns to the whenua and to pou whakairo. 

When not fully realised, a solo show can feel a lot like an hour-long audition. Look, I can sing, oh and I can dance, and look at these impressions I do. And they can be very effective as auditions, introducing the performer to new audiences and, more importantly, people who might just need a singer-dancer-impressionist for their next project. But as much as Scotney did all of the things I just listed, Scattergun was still a show. Her characters spoke to each other, literally and thematically. Her voice work was varied, yes, but so was her movement. And most impressively, the transitions between characters, worlds and timelines were quick but not jarring. Somehow it made sense that she was a pou whakairo wearing Nike Air More Uptempo sneakers. 

Scattergun: After the Death of Rūaumoko is not a new show. It has been workshopped, developed and performed before, though never as complete as this. And it feels complete in Scotney’s surprising comfort within the role(s). On opening night, with a packed audience and 70 minutes of air to fill on her own, Scotney looked supremely in control. So in control that she was able to, very briefly, engage with the audience naturally, breaking from her script for a moment before returning fully to the character. Like a seasoned magician winking knowingly before their big reveal. 

As someone with a mild allergy to moral-lessons-thinly-disguised-as-drama, perhaps the most welcome aspect of the show was its complete lack of condescension. In fact, aside from one interaction, Scotney’s characters are all flawed but understandable, even when you disagree with them. Or maybe that was the moral lesson. Whatever the intention, it’s worth finding out for yourself. As a bonus, there is one very funny cough and one very funny gag that are worth the price of a ticket on their own.

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