Helen Moulder’s and Sue Rider’s Bicycle – a conveyance par excellence at Circa

The Bicycle and the Butcher’s Daughter

A play (2020) by Sue Rider and Helen Moulder

Helen Moulder – (Olivia, Harry, Jennifer, Lexi and Grace)

Directed by Sue Rider
Stage Manager / Operator – Deb McGuire/Xanthe Curtain
Lighting Design – Giles Burton
Graphic Design – Rose Miller
Music (Beethoven Violin Sonatas No. 5 “Spring” and No. 9 “Kreutzer”)
– recorded by Juliet Ayre (violin) and Richard Mapp (piano)

Circa Theatre Two, Taranaki St., Wellington

Wednesday, Ist November 2023

Helen Moulder’s and Sue Rider’s play “The Bicycle and the Butcher’s Daughter” is the most recent of four shows created by the pair, beginning with the uniquely special “Meeting Karpovsky” of 2002, which appeared in collaboration with the late, great New Zealand dancer Sir Jon Trimmer. This latest show first took the stage in 2020 amidst the Covid-19 epidemic, a circumstance which caused the play’s ending to be rewritten to reflect the state of things the world had come to and its effect upon the play’s characters. “The Bicycle and the Butcher’s Daughter” captures a funny, idiosyncratic, poignant, outrageous and heart-rending amalgam of personalities all, in the space of an hour-and-a-quarter, constituting the modus operandi of a single family

In achieving this during a solo performance onstage Helen Moulder is a veritable colossus, one that variously shaped-shifts and freeze-frames by turns five characters, who in the course of their tantalising circumstances and interactions present to us each of their ineffably individual view of “things” as they pursue their goals, ideals and priorities, and face up to their outcomes. Moulder moves between this plethora of ambitions, interactions and consequences with breathtaking ease and surety, taking us with her on this sometimes whirlwind, sometimes painstakingly detailed journey with all the confidence and bravado of a tour guide who’s both in love with and exasperated by her subject.

She has a few companions accompanying her journey – an iconic coat-rail containing the play’s wardrobe, an articulate office chair, and a folding bike whose initially mute and ingloriously dismantled presence gives it a kind of potentially Promethean aspect. But there’s also Beethoven in attendance, via two of his best-known violin-and-piano sonatas, the “Kreutzer” and the “Spring” (which certain family members, we learn, were involved with recording – the excerpts HERE recorded and played superbly by Kiwi musicians, violinist Juliet Ayre and pianist Richard Mapp), and with each of the scene-changes, while relaxedly and naturally moved through, are supercharged in their psychological impact by the composer’s “every note counts” set of impulses.

Moulder presents a proudly home-grown family company, Paterson’s Meats, going through its paces – we’re first introduced to Olivia Paterson, who’s now CEO of the firm after her Dad’s retirement, very much in control of things, dealing, at the flick of a wristband switch, via the latest up-to-date communication technology, with international customers, tradespeople and other family members, exemplifying the firm’s motto “On ya feet with Paterson’s meat” with plans to help bring relief to a hungry world. We get the “complete executive” image with on-the-spot te reo Maori in everyday greetings and the occasional phrase in Mandarin when dealing with the Chinese customers, and poise and grace the whole while which don’t falter, even in the face of adversity brought on by various factors such as a recalcitrant family, Covid-19 and fake media news (rumours of a Pukeko Pie takeover!).

Olivia’s Dad is 96 year-old Sir Harold Paterson, retired and living in Palmerston North, whose character Moulder slips into as if it were a glove, asserting from the outset that he had started out “just wanting to feed Palmerston North!”, and gobsmacked at the recent news item suggesting that Patersons “export Pukeko Pies to China!” Though worried about his company (“I never wanted Patersons to get this big…”) and his other family members, Harry takes refuge in his own philosophy in accord with the tuis who visit his garden – “My own personal tui – what more can I ask? – out here making my peace with God. And with myself.”

Olivia’s sister is Jennifer, a “living the dream” would-be-art-gallery owner whose opening in Featherston Street is being plagued by plumbing issues – the name “The Eleventh-Hour Gallery” is a nice risible touch! – she’s in perpetual warfare with her executive sister, and in a moment of what seems like subconscious revenge drops the rumour concerning the Paterson Meats’ “Pukeko Pies” export deal into the clutches of a nosey journalist! Moulder’s nicely-modulated portrayal of manifold sisterly difference between Jennifer and Olivia is, however, a model of circumspection compared to her full-frontal, up close and personal cameo of Lexi (Alexandra), who’s Olivia’s and her late husband Nick’s daughter – we’ve already heard that Lexi is a musician, a pianist, but currently pursuing a career as a stand-up comedian, and now we experience her in action as the latter – no holds barred! – her routine is the opening of her comedy gig in which she eats a banana, then confronts all of us, full on! – asking us to raise our hands if we are meat-eaters, then telling us how much she hates us – “Eating meat is plain fuckin’ wrong – why don’t you get it?….” then describing herself as “a cross between a Greek god (her father) with a long, white cloud (her Kiwi mother)……a fuckin’ tropical cyclone!…” and then, having introduced herself, returns to the attack with tirade after tirade against “fuckin’ carnists!” pouring scorn upon vegetarians as well! Moulder sounds here as if she’d received plenty of standup comic training from open mic nights, totally relaxed and confident and in control right throughout the routine – and utterly committed! Impressive stuff!!

On the other side of the characterisation ledger is eleven year-old Grace, whose “out of the mouths of babes” address to us was akin to being visited by an angelic presence, redolent in her own definitions of her name being “kindness” and “being thankful”. There are touches of all kinds of qualities here, which at once inhabit and transcend day-to-day existence, our “angel” touched by tragedy in her disclosure to us of having a kind of blood cancer, while concentrating on the here and now of what was important to her, which was riding her bike, and, of course, in an unlooked for encounter alluded to by Olivia near the play’s end, giving help and encouragement to “a lady who was trying to ride a bike”, and, as the final scene in the play attests, succeeding!

Throughout all of these characterisations and their interactions, I found myself drawn into each and every one of the scenarios and engaged by what were recognisable versions of the truths and sympathies and inclinations of all the people involved – we were told who these people were and invited to recognise aspects of ourselves for our enjoyment as well as our advantage. It’s the kind of thing that, in my humble opinion, deserves to become a classic. Very great credit to Helen Moulder and Sue Rider for their efforts in both creating and breathing life into this particular shared journey.

The Bicycle & the Butcher’s Daughter. Directed by Sue Rider and starring Helen Moulder. Circa Two, to November 11.