A Traveller’s Guide to Turkish Dogs

Review by Jessica Soutar Barron

Now that actual travel is off the table, our big OE is slipping into history. And with good history, myth is close behind. Where one leaves off the other follows on its heels. Kiwi as traveller is part of our cultural DNA from Lapita to colonist to immigrant, we have packed our essentials, taken our stories, boarded boats and headed across the world. But at this time we are stuck in this place and journeying has become nostalgic. What we yearn for we yarn about, and that’s the long tail to a shaggy dog story worth sharing: A Traveller’s Guide to Turkish Dogs.

Toitoi’s Opera House stage is a magic act of metamorphosis and it’s heartwarming to see it put through its paces over these Festival nights. Tonight it was a dockside, with jetty and boats, the rattle of anchor chain, seagull squawk, salty air, and a cast of quirky, kooky characters (my favourite Debbie from the Ministry for Primary Industries). 

A friendly ‘bitza’ of a piece: part Under Milkwood, part French clowning, part good old fashioned theatre with plenty of tricks and treats and a soft underbelly: Beautiful lighting, clever sound effects, terrific use of pared back props - books and boxes - and a guest star that had the audience wiping away tears. 

At times the music veered into a saccharine genre of mid-week-movie theme but this faded away to leave a love song to all Kiwi travellers who have been and are still to come. To all the connections we’ve made, to all the dodgy - potentially illegal - things we’ve done, to all the borders we’ve crossed, to all the baksheesh we’ve paid, to all the dangerous but exhilarating experiences we’ve survived.

This is rollicking storytelling, at times breathless in its delivery, told in the way all good stories are with myth and history rolling over each other, punctuated by: “All of this really happened!”

In another, more intimate setting this piece may have been minimised to the ‘kids’ show’ slot. In the Opera House though it took on a quality that lifted it into a telling of our cultural identity: all our worldly possessions on our backs we set forth, Mum’s wisdom in our ears, we open ourselves to meeting new people from everywhere, hearing their stories, gathering them into our rucksacks for use at a later date, to take home and share there. Another setting may have given us more in terms of facial gestures, nuance, eye contact, but here we see this piece for its depth, its truths, it layers.

This is a fresh and dynamic piece that is excellent storytelling and satisfying theatre. Most importantly, it’s a joy. While we’re forced to stay put for a bit, perhaps we’ll make more pieces like this, that remind us of our adventurous roots and the wanderlust that lets all us strays make the whole world our home.

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