Dakota of the White Flats
Presented by: Red Leap Theatre
Directed by: Ella Becroft
Te Auaha, 30th May 2023
Reviewed by: Kate Morris
Inspired by one of her favourite authors (Philip Ridley), director Ella Becroft wanted to make a show that she would love to watch now and still have her 14-year-old self held in suspense. Becroft can consider it a job not just well done, but perfected. Dakota of the White Flats is a high-action adventure, crafted with comedy and tension.
Red Leap Theatre is a devised theatre company whose work celebrates and uplifts women while making special room for those most marginalised. In this instance, the overlooked potential is that of two loud, unapologetic young girls.
In a run-down housing complex, we meet sharp and fearless Dakota Pink (Batanai Mashingaidze) and her best friend ‘Treacle’ (Ariaana Osborne). The pair soon discover a secret that spurs them down the murky canal on a daring rescue attempt.
Innovative stage design by John Verryt perfectly represents the urban decay that Dakota and friends call home. Two mobile scaffolds whirl around the stage to create the backdrop, covered in Venetian blind panels that are frequently raised and lowered to comic effect, while providing insight into the white flats’ colourful residents.
The lighting design by Rachel Marlow is a marvel. Clever use of different mediums – torches, spotlights, neon and shadow-work, and of course, illuminated eels and a bejewelled sea turtle, obviously – constantly builds momentum while keeping the audience in awe.
Once in a while, a show like this comes along and drives home how important live theatre and the arts are for young minds. This inventive production is a masterclass in imagination and ingenuity across the board – acting, sound, lighting, staging, music, and choreography – and the standard to which it delivers inspires. But this inspiration isn’t wasted on the young, so don't be fooled into thinking this is a show for kids. There are suitable nuances to this story only truly appreciated with the privilege of age. Becroft has fulfilled her brief: I would have adored seeing this as a young actor and I loved it now.