I’ve been looking forward to the Tigers of Wrath for a couple of months. The publicity blurb is:
Beijing, 1974 – Trish and Pauline are Maoists on a New Zealand Students’ Association trip to Red China. Also on the trip is Oliver, a radical would-be writer.
Twenty years later Trish is a second term labour MP, plotting the dumping of Labour Party leader, Mike Moore.
I was not disappointed. It was a great play. Political geeks especially will love the second act – but it will appeal to a wider audience.
You first see Neenah Dekkers-Reihana as a young Chinese revolutionary brandishing a wooden rifle. Then we’re in the bunkroom of Trish and Pauline.
Pauline and Trish are fighting as only comrades of the left can – over purity. Trish wants to see the Great Wall of China, but Pauline lectures here that they are not here as tourists – they are here to learn Maoism and spread the revolution.
It soon becomes clear Pauline and Trish are lovers, not just comrades. Heather O’Carroll plays the staunch Pauline and Kate Prior plays Trish. After a flaming argument, Heather storms out and the long haired Oliver (played by Nathan Meister) enters to check if Trish is okay.
The resulting scene is comedy gold. Oliver ignores her demands to go away, and tries to make apparent that he also likes Trish. After commenting on how remarkable her eyes are, and being challenged by her on what he means by that, he says “They are beautiful like two street lights outside a brothel”. She spends many minutes ridiculing him on this, and Prior does a superb job of portraying Trish as playful and vulnerable. She reacts better to another of his cheesy lines and they eventually bond over discovering they both have the book Middlemarch as their favourite read.
Act II is 20 years later in 1994. Trish is now a Labour MP married to Oliver, a lawyer. Neenah plays their teenage daughter, and she adds great comedy value to the act. We see Trish plotting with a colleague on rolling Mike Moore to replace him with Helen. The dialogue is absolutely credible, the list of who will vote which way pretty spot on, and the critique of Moore hilarious. They had actual quotes from the past such as Lange saying Moore is a pinball machine designed by a colour blind person. Also a great quote of how Michael Cullen is the sort of person who enters a revolving door behind you and comes out in front.
The line that got the most laughs was after Trish’s phone call, when she goes back to asking Oliver if he is cheating on her. She calls him a sell out as he is no longer doing work helping migrants for free, but is now an immigration consultant. He responds by proclaiming “Well what the hell is the Labour MP for New Lynn doing living in Herne Bay”. Huge laughter from the audience, as most (including Labour MPs there) correctly concluded that that line was not necessarily directed at Trish!
Act III in 2009 sees Oliver run into Pauline in a Mangere pub. They have not seen each other in 35 years and this is the first time they appear on screen together. Finally she recognises him as the “cunt who stole my girlfriend”. I won’t give the rest of Act III away, but its a good finale to the play.
The actors all performed really well. Quite a challenge to portray the same character 20 and then 35 years later. But the use of wigs on Oliver and a nice corporate suit for Trish helps them do the job.
An interesting profile on playwright Dean Parker in the Listener. He says he never went to China himself as he was a Trot not a Maoist! He obviously has some good sources in Labour as Act II was all too believable.
A very enjoyable play with some great acting which is a must see for political geeks.
Theatreview liked the play also. It is on until 1 December.