new zealand electronic poetry centre


Alan Brunton


The Excursion, New York 1982

Murray Edmond

Originally published in brief #28 (Spring 2003)

Excerpt from ‘Old Comrades of the Future: A History of Experimental Theatre in New Zealand 1962-1982.’ PhD thesis, University of Auckland 1996, pp.382-84 (Part III, Ch 2, The Endless Journey to Djibouti: Red Mole 1978-1982)


It is worth closing by giving an account of a piece of work Red Mole performed in 1982 in New York. The Excursion ran for three weeks, at the Theatre for the New City. Its performance involved a last "complete" grouping of Red Mole members: Alan Brunton, Deborah Hunt, and Ian Prior with New Yorkers Neil Fury and Abbey Michaels on stage; the script was by Brunton; the music was by Jean McAllister; the lighting by John Davies; design and costumes by Sally Rodwell (though Deborah made the masks and Alan the shadow puppets). Neil Fury, who worked as a bouncer at a strip club called The Zoo, for The Excursion stripped to the waist and his enormous bulk fitted well with the show’s unique evocation of ancient Egypt created by means of poetry, mask, sound and puppetry. The masks were big helmet masks which fitted right over the whole head. The "Boat of Millions of Years" with its "twelve oars" and "twelve marines" [80] was a shadow puppet devised so the oars really moved back and forth. This was a show unlike any other Red Mole had done. "The New Yorkers freaked out." [81] Poetic theatre with masks and puppets was not in vogue. The off-Broadway scene was into parodies of soap opera. It was a case of Red Mole finding themselves in New York deliberately going against what everyone else was doing. It was almost like being back home again.

For the script, Brunton raided the Egyptian Book of the Dead and added to it scenes and passages from Flaubert’s account of his visit to Egypt along with brief quotations from Shelley. The recent Declaration of Martial Law from Poland was also read out. And Brunton’s own poetry finds a happy housing here in this most allusive and elusive of texts. Brunton’s poem "Dialogue: A Man and his Soul," published in his book Slow Passes and in The Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Poetry, finds its origin in this show:

Baboon, we have travelled far
We have established colonies where the sun never stands upright
We have seen the dead standing in line near waterfront sheds
but always I hear
a hand knocking at the door

. . . .

I cannot register changes in atmospheric pressure
I distinguish between neither glass nor ice entering my skin
I see the future city thrown into the skies
falling back as black dust
over a number of days

You are the sleepwalker
I the master of Inherent Characteristics
Master of that last secret that keeps lovers together:

the revelation of cockroaches
on ground zero
watching a kind of animal disappear’ [82]

The text is in twelve scenes. Everything comes in twelves in The Excursion. The number twelve counts the signs of the zodiac and the months of the year. One of the characters is Hapi, "the personification of the Nile," whom the Egyptians identified with Aquarius: "Aquarius symbolizes the dissolution and decomposition of the forms existing within any process, cycle or period . . . the immanence of liberation through the destruction of the world of phenomena." [83] Another character in The Excursion was Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom, who is associated with the ibis because, when that bird sleeps, "it tucks its head under its wing . . . so that it comes to resemble the shape of the heart." [84] Brunton’s text is infused with such esoteric knowledge which was made explicit in both the action and the visuals of The Excursion:

Hapi puts a set of scales in front of the Commander. On one he places a feather of the bennu bird. He rips out the heart of the Admiral and places it on the other. The scales balance exactly. With a thorn, he sews the heart back into the Admiral. [85]

Commenting on this scene in performance, Deborah Hunt pointed out that this measuring of the heart could be taken to stand for all Red Mole’s work. She says it had all been "heartwork." On the same video tape, which was shot for Zucchini Roma but not included in the final cut, Deborah says, "where-ever we’ve gone we’ve found people or people have found us. They have honoured us with their presence." [86] Then she goes on to tell the story of the little boy whom they found standing beside them as they were packing up after a puppet show. He had his hat and his coat on and his bag in his hand. He wanted to come with them. He was ready to go on the road. Did his parents know? Well, no. Still, it was hard to say no to him. For here was another ready to make the grand excursion, the journey to Djibouti.



80. Alan Brunton, "The Excursion," ts. photocopy, New York, 1982, in my possession from the author: 19.

81. "Red Mole Slide Show, " given for me by Joe Bleakley, Alan Brunton and Sally Rodwell, Masonic Hall, Island Bay, Wellington, 7 Feb. 1995.

82. Alan Brunton, "Dialogue: A Man and his Soul," Slow Passes (Auckland: Auckland UP, 1991) : 23.

83. J.E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, trans. Jack Sage, intro. Herbert Read (London and New York: Routledge, 1988) 15.

84. Cirlot: 155.

85. "The Excursion": 11.

86. Deborah Hunt, video interview, 1994, Red Mole archives held in National Film Archive, Wellington.

Last updated 17 October, 2003