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Twisting the knife

By Jarrod 9 Sep 2015

University debating societies prove to be fertile ground for comedy (and a touch of drama) in the new play from Making Friends Collective.

Knifed, by writer/director Adam Goodall, tells the (presumably fictional) story of “Palmerston North Mini 2015” - the New Zealand National University Debating Championships. Six actors, although mentioned in the programme only as members of teams Victoria One and Victoria Three, play debaters and officials from universities across the country.

The various national teams are introduced as broad stereotypes; snooty Aucklanders, Otago munters, and even some government-hating libertarians for good measure. Victoria One, led by Mark Pyne (Andy Gartrell) and Victoria Three, led by Nathan McGovern (William Duignan) are afforded more nuanced portrayals, as the main thrust of Knifed is the interplay between these two teams in particular. Controversy abounds as each threesome strives to gain a place in the final, while running a gauntlet of binge drinking, love triangles and intra-team politics.

Goodall’s witty script is packed with great one-liners, with talking-head asides that do much to explain the mysteries of debating for those of us who are uninitiated. The cast do well to maintain their comic timing while playing multiple roles - in particular Maria Williams, who inhabits her numerous characters with gusto.

Text messaging is used as a repeated motif; this is fun, but could be even more effective if it were combined with audio or visual elements. On opening night some dialogue was lost due in part to diction, and in part due to other elements (music, set movements) being slightly too loud during some scenes. In addition, the clever presentation of the debate segments, in which we cut quickly between different lines from different debates, was somewhat undermined by actors seemingly hitting their cues too slowly in places.

Overall, however, Knifed is an entertaining introduction to the world of university debating - one that debaters will no doubt find all too familiar.

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