An intriguing blend of myth and dystopia, Pan is Dead unfolds in Arcada — A society
where gender is obsolete, though hierarchies still exist between those who run the state and those who serve it. Cass becomes an unwilling incubator for a baby belonging to the elite, and is torn between her discomfort and her duty to the authorities. Enter Pan: God of wilderness, music and pleasure, for whom masked revelries happen by night. The sound and lighting are excellent at evoking the mystery of Pan, with a particularly cool effect being the way his entrances are always heralded by his shadow on the wall.
The music is generally well integrated into the plot, and the cast are all strong vocalists; Carla Newton (Cass), Grace Hood-Edwards (Hele) and Quentin Warren (Pan) in particular. However, I would have preferred less musical interludes near the beginning. Some of the best songs are those associated with Pan, and less music at the start would have more powerfully marked the transition between Cass’s world before Pan and her world after Pan. The most memorable song sees Cass discovering a new way of living and feeling, asking us if we, too, hear “the call”.
Musical and fantastical elements aside, Pan is Dead is most effective when it deals with power relations. Andro feels entitled to Cass’s body and is furious when she rejects him, echoing the gender dynamics in a lot of mythology. Cass’s conversations with the Arbitrator are also revealing in their exploration of institutional oppression, victimhood and agency. The strength of the show is that it draws us into the world of Pan while keeping us rooted in reality. It warns us that deeply entrenched inequalities won’t disappear easily, even if we all use gender neutral pronouns and don overalls à la 1984.
Engaging and imaginative, Pan is Dead is a taste of the art, theatre and music we can experience at the Auckland Fringe this year — if only we answer the call.