Review: I Didn't Invite You Here To Lecture Me

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By Andra Jenkin

Date / Venue: Tuesday 10th September, 2019 - Basement Theatre, Auckland

Filing into the rows of seats with people who look a little familiar but who I don’t really know, the background talk boisterous and buzzing, felt very much like piling into a lecture theatre.

The programme, left on each seat, was a thin sheet of refill paper exactly like the one I’m taking notes on. Theirs has the cast (Mika Austin), writer (Amy Mansfield) and director (Nick Dunbar), as well as the characters (various lecturers) and background to the play typed on to it.

While the disclaimer says that any resemblance to real people is coincidental, it’s an odd claim given that the play is made up of verbatim quotes taken from lecturers during lectures at Auckland University in the 90s. I know because I was there, and took many of the same classes and there was definitely a hint of dramatic Sebastian Black on stage for a start, albeit altered via the kind of licence he would have approved of, poetic.

Writer Amy Mansfield takes quotes from English in the Age of Shakespeare (took that class), Anglo-Irish Literature (some of this), Law, German Language, Policy, Education, Music, and Linguistics (took that class but only went to a couple of lectures – still passed).

It’s an interesting concept and I’m waiting to see how it’s executed, especially considering all of the characters, male and female, will be played by one woman, Mika Austin. Then the door opens, and our lecturer arrives. Dutifully we hush in an instant, waiting for our brains to be filled with new and exciting knowledge.

The set is sparse, very much like a lecture theatre, with a projector on the back wall, keyboard to the right and a lectern to the left, behind which our lecturer is getting settled. Addressing the audience directly there is no fourth wall; we are part of the proceedings, with those at the front fully engaged and a few, more relaxed, students up the back. Though the audience is better dressed than I remember us all being as students. We are told that if we’re not there to learn ‘It’s your problem, not mine.” I’m not worried, as usual, I’m the swot taking copious notes, second row from the back.

The nine characters chop and change rapid fire with the characterisations hard to follow at the start. It is quite the roller-coaster ride. The feat of memory alone would have been a titan’s task to learn, with the connections between lines not always obvious but always interesting and genuinely funny. It took a while to get used to the accents and prop changes, so early on there appeared to be a little too much juggling of glasses. But soon we learned to differentiate the characters, and the transitions were often used to excellent comedic effect.

One lecturer describes the effort, and my job, with “You make conclusions about who they are and what they are…you sum them up.”

There are some big topics, language, food, silencing, love and sex, life and death, and though we are laughing throughout some deep points are made, often through some throwaway lines. Certainly food for thought. We are involved in some light and comical audience interaction, allowing us to get a bit rowdy, which lends itself to the fun. The hand-outs are a delight and have the students in stitches.

The end is addressed, “I know that it’s late and your attention is waning.” But it’s not. The play is engaging, interesting, thought provoking and hilarious.

Our lecturer exits to enraptured applause and my friend and fellow student sums it up when she says, “That was a trip.”