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ARTS - Packin' The Skills

Author: Darryn King
Tuesday, 22 April 2008
New Zealand born actor Jay Ryan is probably best known for the role of seaman Billy ‘Spider’ Webb in Channel Nine’s Sea Patrol, but now he’s coming into port for the return of his one-man play The Packer – a show that lets him embrace his heritage and work on his b-boy skillz at the same time. He spoke to Darryn King.

What can you tell us about the play-
Okay, well, firstly it’s a one-man show – it’s myself playing eight characters. It’s set in West Auckland, which is where I grew up, and it sorta takes place over 24 hours in the life of Shane – a white trash westie who packs boxes in a factory. He lives with his alcoholic Australian mother Joyce, and hangs out with his mate Brad, cruising the streets together picking up the ladies. One afternoon some new neighbours move in next door into their state housing street – a beautiful Niue Island girl, Pina, and her father Tully. All the characters just collide over 24 hours. Shane falls in love with Pina, who in turn inspires him to believe there’s more to life than working in a factory. Shane lives with the demands of his mother, Pina is tied to her father and his slandering ways, Joyce is tied to her gin bottle and any male that comes into view, and Brad is tied to Shane basically. The night changes Shane’s life, I guess.

It sounds like the sort of story that requires an ensemble – how do you pull off playing eight different characters-
Yeah, everyone who reads the scripts goes, “Are you sure you don’t have other characters playing these roles-” I basically change from one character to another through voice and physical attributes. It does get stressful for me as a performer, sorting manically through these characters, but that was the challenge I guess: making each character recognisable so the audience can follow me as I go along.

Is there one character you particularly enjoy playing-
Some nights I find a real joy in playing Shane, the main guy; or the transvestite, who one of the boys tries to pick up on the streets… She’s only on stage for three minutes, but it’s fun to go to town with her. Joyce is also fun to play, a collection of attributes I’ve picked up from my own mother: the manic flicking of her foot, or her nasally drone when you’ve done something wrong.

Themes of culture and racial tension are strong in this play, aren’t they-
Absolutely. It’s a strong element in Dianna [Fuemana, the writer]’s work. She usually comments on Polynesian society, and New Zealand is the biggest Polynesian society in the world, with a real multicultural vibe to it. But this is the first time she’s really written a story from a white man’s point of view with Polynesian characters in it. I was sort of concerned about the cultural references after bringing on an Australian director, Jeremy, so I took him over to New Zealand for two weeks. He really got a feel for the colour of the culture – I think that was an important thing for him before he got to play around with these characters.

I know of one exciting new element in the show… Tell us about learning to breakdance.
I tell you, hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. I’ve been working with this guy, who’s this Tokyo breakdancer. He’s amazing… and very patient with me, because I’m actually very uncoordinated. But I’m sort of halfway through my lessons, and I feel like I’ve finally gotten a grasp on it. Brad is that kind of white boy who wears his cap backwards and his pants too low, and talks “kund of luk that”, you know, “New Zuland hup hop style”, so he’s the one who does the breakdancing. He’s a bit of a try-hard character.

WHAT: The Packer
WHERE: Old Fitzroy Theatre, Woolloomooloo
WHEN: Tuesday 22 April – Saturday 10 May