Dead Tragic

December 1st, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Dead Tragic is a hilarious mixture of tragic songs, excellent singing and joyful acting, playing in Circa 2 until 21 December.

A cast of five perform 24 songs which all have a common theme of death – suicides, accidents, murders, crashes and the like. Some of the songs include:

  • Tom Jones’ ‘Delilah’
  • Barry Manilow’s ‘Copacabana’
  • Bobbie Gentry’s ‘Billie-Joe’
  • Henry Gross’s ‘Shannon’
  • Johnny Preston’s ‘Running Bear’
  • Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’
  • Cher’s ‘Dark Lady’
  • The Cheers’ ‘Black Denim Trousers and Motor Cycle Boots’
  • The Shangri-Las’ ‘Leader of the Pack’

So many of the songs are great ones, I enjoy. The highlight for me was Bohemian Rhapsody which is one of my favourite songs of all time.

The music is performed by the sublime Michael Nicholas Williams. Emma Kinane does take over for one song, while Williams shows off his singing and acting ability also (which was a nice touch getting him out from behind the keyboard).

All four singers do a great job with both the singing, and especially the acting. Emma Kinane and Jon Pheloung especially have a magnificent ability to crack you up with their facial expressions. Lyndee-Jane Rutherford and Darren Young show off their all round skills to great effect also. The five of them take a couple of dozen songs about death and turn them into a laugh fest of outrageous acting.

The set is a simple design of a giant turntable and an old fashioned radio. But they serve as very effective props.

The lighting is also done very effectively. The five cast all have bright coloured shirts, which resonate with a an effective array of spot and other lights.

All in all a quite brilliant 100 minute show.

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Red Riding Hood

November 20th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Had a very enjoyable Saturday night at the opening of Roger Hall’s latest (annual) pantomime at Circa. It was an enjoyable Wellington centric piss take of the old story, which was first published in 1697.

Gavin Rutherford plays the lead role of Grandma Hood with applomb. He is an old hand at playing these roles and his ability to ad lib adds to the humour – especially when he discovers the person he has picked out of the audience at random is also called Gavin.

Carrie Green plays her daughter, Dahlia Hood. Think of a red headed version of Paula Bennett and you’ll get the idea. Her and Grandma Hood are both keen on the same man – Sir Roger Bounder.

Bounder is the villain of the show, played by Patrick Davies. He wants to buy their homes and them turn Zealandia into a housing sub-division so their home values will increase and he makes a profit. The kids happily boo him everytime he is one stage.

Jane Waddell and Jonathan Morgan play Boris and Morris, and provide a lot of the comedic event. They’re ex MPs not on work schemes.

Simon Leary is Lance, the hero of the play – a DOC ranger. He of course wants to stop Sir Roger and win Red Riding Hood’s heart.

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Awhimai Fraser plays Red Riding Hood and excels in capturing her innocence.

Finally Tom Truss plays the wolf, who provides more humour than fear.

It’s a good cast, and a very funny script with lots of jokes for the adults – and many Wellington references.

Definitely a great play to take the kids to, or just to go to yourself if you want a couple of hours of laughs.

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Pitmen Painters

October 10th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Pitmen Painters is a play based on the true story of a group miners in Ashington who went along to an art appreciation class run by the Workers Educational Association. The class soon turned from theory into practice, and the miners became sensations in the art world.

It is written by Lee Hall, who may be better known for Billy Elliott.

The Circa production was very well done, with a deft mix of humour, politics and art. Copies of the original artworks were displayed at various times on projectors.

The miners are deeply socialist, as most miners of that era were. The organiser has a tendency to revert to the rule book at every opportunity in deciding what is and is not allowable, including the offer of an attractive young woman to pose nude for them.

When one of the miners is offered a paid patron, this divides the group. Should one be allowed to stand out? The political theme runs throughout the play, but does not dominate it.

The play is reasonably long at two and a half hours, but it never gets stale. The continual conflict between the miners, but also the appreciation of the rarity of what they are doing, makes the play a very enjoyable experience.

It runs at Circa until Sat 8 November.

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An Unseasonable Fall of Snow

September 26th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

An Unseasonable Fall of Snow, at Circa, is one of those plays that grips you from the first minute and never lets go. It is a play full of mystery. Who is Arthur the interrogator? Is he a police officer? A lawyer? And what exactly is it that young Liam has done?

It is a who dun it, but not in the usual way. For 90 minutes you are intrigued and guessing, and then somewhat stunned and moved as it all comes together.

The play is a fest of Brophys. Well known Geraldine Brophy is the director. The other three Brophys are not related to Geraldine but are father Jed, mother Yolande and son Riley.

Jed and Riley play Arthur and Liam respectively, and both excel. They portray their characters with conviction and you the tension between them is excellent.

Yolande plays Toni, a brief but important character, and she is also the production manager.

For me to enjoy a play, I have to get an emotional connection, and this play not only made the connection but sustained it for 90 minutes. The sense of mystery, the tension between the two leads, the slow revealing of clues, and the, shall we call it,  moment of truth. A simple yet effective set supported by sympathetic lighting all contributed to a great experience.

It’s one of those rare plays I’d quite like to go back and see a second time, to see what clues I didn’t pick up early on.

The play is set in Wellington, which also adds to the enjoyment and familiarity. It is on until Saturday 4 October.

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A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay about the Death of Walt Disney

September 4th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Circa has put on a production of A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay about the Death of Walt Disney.

The play, written by Lucas Hnath started on Broadway, and I think this is the first time it has been produced in New Zealand.

I was excited to see the play, as it starred David McPhail as Walt Disney. However, despite some very good acting, I found the play overall under-whelming.

The four actors did well. I loved seeing David McPhail on the stage, and he looked and felt the part of a domineering boss. Maybe he was channeling his years spent playing Muldoon.

Nick Blake played Walt’s brother Roy. Roy was CEO of Disney for many years and was portrayed as the guy kept in the shadows by Walt, and even used by Walt as a foil. His depiction of Roy was very sympathetic .

Jessica Robinson played Walt’s daughter (Diane, but not named in the play). She had few lines but they were the best parts, especially when she said she didn’t want to call a son Walt, because “When I say your name, I think all sorts of things I don’t want to think. When I say your name, I think of you, and when I think of you I get all angry, and when I think of you and the way you act, and the way you yell …”

And Richard Falkner played Ron, Walt’s son-in-law. He was portrayed as a bit of a sports focused jock (and looked the part). He wanted a role with the Disney empire, even as a cleaner, but was not seen up to scratch.

The cast did well, and I liked the production details such as having Diane and Ron on stage through all the scenes where they didn’t talk, but reacting with facial expressions. Robinson especially conveyed as much with her expressions as her line.

But overall I found the play hard to get into. It livened up around half way through, but it did not emotionally engage me. There was some dramatic tension and humour, but you never felt particularly warm or repulsed to any of the characters. It almost seemed ordinary, except it was about the family of Walt Disney.

It could have been redeemed (and the fault is with the script, not the local production) if the play was based on real events. I like plays where you learn stuff about someone famous, especially a side not seen before. One could do a very good play about the darker side of Walt Disney. He was on the fringes of the anti-semitic movement, and he had feuds lasting decades with staff.

But the focus on the family didn’t work for me, as it seems to be more speculation than fact. While Disney may have been a difficult father, his daughter actually is very loyal to him, and has attacked other works criticising him. She even set up the family museum in his honour. And one of her sons is named Walter.

The son-in-law actually was CEO of Disney for many years, so wasn’t a thicko. And the stuff on Disney wanting to be cryogenically frozen is a debunked urban legend.

John Smythe at Threatreview commented:

It’s entirely possible A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay about The Death of Walt Disney could work much better in the relative intimacy of Circa Two – and I have a strong feeling Destination Beehive (in Circa Two with its cast of eight) is destined to sell out and leave many punters disappointed. If it was logistically possible for the shows to swap venues, I think they should.

I’d endorse that. This play is unlikely to have mass appeal, but it is still an interesting insight into the Disney empire.

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Destination Beehive

September 1st, 2014 at 4:32 pm by David Farrar

Went to Circa yesterday to see Destination Beehive, and I laughed almost non stop for 80 minutes.

It’s a great production that anyone who has even a small interest in politics will adore. Pinky Agnew and Lorae Perry have combined a topical hilarious script, with some great acting and some mashed up tunes that are very catchy.

The basic premise is that you are in a Meet the Candidates meeting for Port Nicholson. Through a combination of video, and live acting, you meet the ten local candidates, and their party leaders (or senior MPs).

The mixture of video, singing, music, acting and even weather reports are a fabulous combination.

A cast of eight play multiple characters. They all did really well, but the one that I must highlight is Jack Buchanan. His Colin Craig character was side splitting. He also played a leggy Jacinda Ardern and the ALCP candidate. some of the costume changes were done in less than a minute.

The play was updated to keep event of currents events. We went on Sunday, and they had a piece on Judith Collins’ resignation the previous day.

Labour had a secret surprise candidate for Port Nic, who may just turn out to be the next Leader of the Labour Party.

One audience members got dragged up onto stage to get a “political makeover”. What was very funny is that unknown to the cast, the person they chose is a senior ministerial staffer. She took her makeover in good grace!

All parties, leaders and candidates are mercilessly mocked. No on is spared. Kim Dotcom makes an appearance, and his local candidate is a very Bavarian Heidi Dotcodotnz.

Crowd favourite was Dame Kate Harcourt playing the NZ First candidate. She was, as always, just superb.

Whale Oil got more mentions than most MPs. Luckily Kiwiblog was mentioned only once!

There are many great musical parodies, including take off’s of Lorde’s Royals. The crowd really got into it, and started singing along.

There’s also a great dance number at the end that will surprise.

This is one of those plays that I can recommend you see without hesitation. It’s on at Circa until 20 September. You’ll kick yourself if you miss it.

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A View from the Bridge

July 21st, 2014 at 4:46 pm by David Farrar

Another Arthur Miller classic has just started at Circa, A View from the Bridge.

The promotional tagline is “Love. Loyalty. Family. Revenge” and that is a fairly pithy summary of the play.

Eddie and Beatrice Carbone are an Italian-American family in Brooklyn. Gavin Rutherford and Jude Gibson both do excellent jobs of emulating the distinctive twang we associate with such families.

Eddie and Beatrice are guardians to Eddie’s niece Catherine, played by Acushla-Tara Sutton. Catherine’s parents are dead and her mother was Eddie’s sister. She’s 17 and debating whether to stay at school or enter the workforce.

Eddie, Beatrice and Catherine are a loving family. They argue, but they are there for each other. Then the family extends as they take in two cousins of Beatrice’s from Sicily. Marco and Rodolpho are illegal immigrants who have come to America as there are no jobs or income back home. Marco has a wife and young children back home. Marco is single. they are played by Alex Grieg and Paul Waggott respectively. The sixth cast member is Christopher Brougham who plays the lawyer and narrator Alfieri.

As with almost all Miller plays, they are dramatic portayals of the tensions within a family. And this has tensions in all directions:

  • Eddie’s over-protective attitude towards Catherine goes from paternalistic to creepy
  • Eddie and Beatrice’s strained needy relationship
  • The blossoming love between Rodolpho and Catherine
  • The suspicion that Rodolpho may be more interested in a green card than Catherine, and may not even be that interested in women
  • The protective attitude of Marco to Rodolpho
  • The Sicilian and Italian attitudes towards family and honour

Susan Wilson directs a very faithful and compelling recital of the Miller play. The 80 minute first half sets the scene, with the tension building slowly, and the 40 minute second half is full of explosive tension, which keeps you on the edge of your seat.

The play was once banned in the 1950s by the UK Lord Chancellor. Today it would not even get a PG rating.

This is a play about passion, and the cast succeed in portraying this. You feel yourself swept into a maelstrom of emotions. You wonder about whether the over-protectiveness is sinister or just inappropriate. The question of Rodolpho’s intentions tease you throughout the play. I suspect if you polled the audience, they would be divided 50/50 on whether he loves Catherine or not.

The play has a dramatic conclusion, yet it also (deliberately) leaves many questions unanswered. If Miller had ever written a sequel set ten years later, I think that would also have become a classic.

This is the 5th Arthur Miller play directed by Susan Wilson. It was an excellent production as good as you’ll see anywhere. A very good night’s entertainment.

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The road that wasn’t there

July 14th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Road That Wasn’t There is a smart, short delightful production at Circa.

The play starts with Gabriel furiously stamping papers in an office job in Australia. He rushes through them to try and grab the phone, but always missed it and it goes to voice mail. The fact the phone is a 1950s type phone just makes the incongruity fun.

The set is a collection of cardboard boxes that get turned over or removed to announce each new chapter. One of the boxes also double as a projection screen, where a series of shadow figures are creatively displayed.

The plot is simple, yet convoluted. Gabriel returns home as his mother seems to be going nuts, including stealing maps and hanging them all over her house. The mother eventually tells Gabriel the story of his father – which is a fairy tale involving paper roads, Blanket Man, monsters and and a theatrical company.

Everything works well in this play. The three actors entertain wonderfully. The shadows and the puppets are delightful, and the story captures you. You want to know how it ends.

A great play that appeals to all ages. On until Sat 19 July.

 

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Equivocation

June 8th, 2014 at 8:19 pm by David Farrar

Just got back from seeing Equivocation, at Circa. It’s on for two more weeks until Sat 21 June.

The play is about telling the truth in difficult times, with a fictitious setting of Shakespeare having been commissioned to write a play based on Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot. Does Shakespeare tell the truth about the plot, or the version the Government in the form of Sir Robert Cecil wants?

The cast has five men who play multiple roles each, and one woman – Tai Berdinner-Blades who plays Shakespeare’s daughter Judith.

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Andrew Foster plays Shakespeare – still grieving his dead son (Judith’s twin) and having to choose between choosing to lie or choosing to live.

Paul McLaughlin play Shakespeare friend and troupe actor Richard. he also plays Jesuit Henry Garnet.

Tom Eason plays young actor Sharpe, and King James I.

Jason Whyte plays an older actor Nate, but also the sinister Sir Robert Cecil.

And finally Gavin Rutherford is at his comic best playing Armin and many other roles.

It’s a long play, almost three hours long (including an interval). The first Act was a bit slow, but the second Act was fast paced and often funny.

The play breaks pretty much the first, second, third and fourth walls. You’re never quite sure if you’re seeing the play, seeing them play a rehearsal, seeing them play a play – or just seeing them talk to the audience. There’s lots of audience interaction – especially for those in the aisles.

The acting was first class, with all six cast playing their roles very well. The costume changes were non-stop, and the overall plot very cleverly done with many allusions to other plays – especially the Scottish one. It was a fun thought provoking night.

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2b or nt 2b

May 18th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Went last night to the opening performances of 2b or nt 2b and 4 Billion Likes!

They’re two different shows, but both performed by 1st Gear Productions Youth Theatre and written and directed by Sarah  Delahunty.

2b or nt 2b

This was a well acted and produced performance of six iconic fictional characters in the modern world.

Bronwyn Ensor plays the manipulative Hedda Gabler.

Neenah Dekkers is an emo like Masha.

Michael Trigg is a woeful Hamlet.

Alice Orchard is Irina Sergeyevna Prozorva.

Sylvie McCreanor is a very angry and bitter Antigone.

Georgie Sivier is a babbling lovely Helena.

The play starts with them all ringing various companies for assistance, and there is much humour with some very well known automated call systems trying to cope with their requests.

Then they discover an online bulletin board, where they get chatting to each  other. Hedda convinces them all to meet the Bridge to Nowhere (now in the Hutt!) and go out in style. Their meeting is both dramatic and funny. Antigone and Hamlet compete for who has the worst uncle (she wins) while Masha is hilarious talking about how miserable her life is working in the Foxton PostShop.

The play is 60 minutes long, and was very enjoyable. The six actors all succeed in bringing their characters to life, and the blending of historical fiction with the modern world is nicely done.

4 Billion Likes

Neenah Dekkers returns after the interval to play Chloe Anderson from Hamilton in a sole performance. I’d call Chloe a dumb blonde, if she wasn’t brunette. But her character is wonderfully played as a self-obssessed teenager who blogs about her attempts to lose 2 kgs in a few days. Lots of humour as she complains that the webpage that told her she can do it by just drinking water didn’t mention she needs to exercise also – and how can you exercise if you have only been drinking water!

The play is almost non stop laughs for the first two thirds. Dekkers nails the role, and her trite observations have you cracking up. But in an excellent turn of events, the play then deals with a very serious issue, and you go from laughter to breathless silence as the final scene plays out. A real emotional roller coaster.

What is nice is how trite observations at the beginning of the play, turn out to be very meaningful towards the end – and it forms a nice homily to the power of social media to do good, as well as the social.

The two plays combined to produce a very enjoyable, but also thought provoking, night.

 

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Other Desert Cities

May 2nd, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I saw Other Desert Cities at Circa this week.

It’s a local production of the play written by Jon Robin Baitz, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and nominated for five Tony Awards in 2012. Baitz wrote some episodes for the West Wing and created the Brothers & Sisters TV show.

The play is set in 2004 (and 2010) about the Wyeths, and the family, social and political tensions that threaten to tear the family apart. It is directed by Ross Jolly

Lyman Wyeth is the retired father who is a likeable patrician. He is a former senior GOP Chairman and US Ambassador, and his conservative views are not shared by his New York based daughter and to a degree his son. Lyman is ably played by Jeffrey Thomas (played  Thrór in The Hobbit) and you really would think he is America (actually Welsh) with his accent and mannerisms.

Polly Wyeth is the “hard arse” mother who is pretty unlikeable, and pushes her children hard as she thinks weakness means they will fail. She is reputed to have once reduced Nancy Reagan to tears, and Catherine Downes does well in bringing her to life.

Polly’s sister Silda adds a lot of comic value. She lives with them as she is a (recovering) alcoholic. Emma Kinane has fun with the role, and she is a real contrast to her sister.

The son, Trip, doesn’t have as key a role as the others. He is the peace maker between his sister and his parents. He’s a reality TV show producer (court TV) and even his parents admit he is addicted to porn and sex. Paul Waggott makes Trip the likable character that everyone tries to get on side.

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Photo by Stephen A’Court.

The protagonist is daughter Brooke. A New York based writer who had a breakdown, partly caused by the suicide of her brother after he took part in a terrorist bombing of a military installation. She has finally written her second book, but what her family don’t know is that the book is about the death of her brother – and what drove him to it. Michelle Langstone excels in portraying Brooke as both strong and vulnerable.

The family feel betrayed by her writing about such a personal tragedy to them, and even worse her parents feel they are being blamed and vilified for it.

As with all good plays, there are some wonderful surprises and twists in the plot. The play is two and a quarter hours long and has bucket loads of drama, and a reasonable dose of humour.

The US accents are near flawless, and the director told me they had a special voice coach for them. You really would think it was a production with US actors.

The acting is excellent, both with the script, and the body language.

I found the portrayal of the parents slightly too stereotypical for comfort, but stereotypes are often false – and the play is a good reminder of that.

Overall a very good drama, and a satisfying – if somewhat mysterious ending.

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Pasefika

February 22nd, 2014 at 11:14 pm by David Farrar

I wasn’t sure I would ever get to watch Pasefika tonight as there were no car parks within half a km of Circa Theatre. I finally gave up circling around and parked in the New World car park (sorry NW!). I got to the theatre with around 30 seconds to spare.

In my mind I was thinking that I could head home at half time, as I didn’t want to leave my car for two hours in a 90 minute zone and risk a ticket or being towed.

Within around quarter of an hour I was quite engrossed into the play, and any thought of not seeing the second half died a hasty death. Once we did get to the interval, I ran back to the NW car park and moved the car into a paid park by Te Papa that had come free.

The play was based in Paris in the 1860s and Akaroa in the 1840s, with the common them being the French artist Charles Méryon, who was played brilliantly by Jason Whyte. You first see Méryon in Paris as a determined and somewhat demented pursuer of Louise Niveau, a waitress in a Parisian cafe. She reminds him of someone from his past – Ruiha, the daughter of Te Rangi, the head of a hapu in Akoroa.

The play moves backwards and forwards from Paris to Akaroa, with seamless transitions. Meryon in real life did live in Akaroa for two years and this had an impact on his art.

Aroha White played standoffish Ruiha and enthusiastic Niveau very well. Simple costume changes transformed her.

Emma Kinane also had a dual role as Madame Bourgeois in Akaroa and Jeanne Dival in Paris. Madame Bourgeois was a Frenchwoman who had done the unthinkable, and married a native. Both Méryon and Ruiha were disapproving for opposite but equal reasons – the races shouldn’t mix.

Finally you had George Henare as Te Rangi and also as the poet Baudelaire. Henare managed both gravity and a genius for comical timing. The play sounds very serious and intense, but in fact there are lots of laughs, and some wonderfully direct language.

The play was effectively a play of five love stories – Te Rangi and Madame Bourgeois, Méryon ad Ruiha, Méryon and Niveau, Baudelaire and Jeanne Duval and also Baudelaire and Niveau. They are told in a way which captures both New Zealand and French culture.

It was a great show. The acting was first class and captivating.

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A play about fear

February 12th, 2014 at 4:30 pm by David Farrar

A play about fear is showing at Circa Theatre as part of the Fringe Festival.

It’s a quirky and hilarious 65 minute production about, well, fear.

I wasn’t sure if it would be very good at first. The first few minutes are a segment called Freak Accidents with the cast acting out different situations involving fear from sharks to serial killers. But around a third of the way through the play a discrete plot line emerges around the Cult of William. I won’t give too much away, but the plot is very funny, and there’s some superb acting.

The set is basically an inflatable paddling pool and five lightbulbs, but they use them to ingenious effect. There’s one particular scene with the paddling pool which is especially hilarious (hint it is deflated).

The actress who plays the pseudo-lead, Charlotte, does an excellent job with her character.

As I said, I wasn’t sure how good the show would be around 15 minutes into it. It was funny, but wasn’t quite sure where it was going. But as the plot unfolds, the humour intensifies and the overall experience is excellent. A great fringe show.

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Con

November 5th, 2013 at 9:20 am by David Farrar

Con is a New Zealand play, written by Gavin McGibbon and directed by Danny Mulheron.

The plot is simple, yet complicated. It’s about two con-men, a girl and a victim. But who is conning who? Without giving too much away, prepare for double, triple and quadruple crosses. Nothing is quite like what it seems.

The two con-men are Earl and Stevie, played by Paul McLaughlin and Mike Minogue respectively. You get introduced to them as Stevie is on the phone to some elderly householder convincing her that her computer is infected with a virus, and telling her how he can help her fix it for a small fee. As she is thanking him profusely for helping save her from a non-existent problem, I reflected how sadly accurate and common that scenario is.

The playwright got the inspiration for this play when his Facebook account got hacked and a scammer posted to his page that he had been mugged and robbed in the Philippines and needed money to be deposited into a bank account to help him get home.

But Earl and Stevie have plans well beyond a common Internet scam. They planned to rip off a charity for a six figure sum of money, and not just any charity but CanTeen – can anything be worse than scamming a charity to help teenagers with cancer.

CON by Gavin McGibbon. Directed by: Danny Mulheron. Circa Theatre, 26 October to 23 November 2013. Wellington, New Zealand. http://www.circa.co.nz/

Photo by Stephen A’Court

Complicating things is the entry of Holly, played by Acushla-Tara Sutton. At first she’s just a pick up in a bar, but it gets more serious. And what does it mean for Stevie when he finds out something personal about her? And how did Stevie end up a scammer? He was once a hero. What was his fall from grace, and is there a path back?

Jason Whyte completes the cats playing the victim, Jeffery, and a couple of minor roles.

The play kept you guessing throughout. There were numerous twists and turns, and not all of them easy to predict. Who was putting on and act, and who wasn’t? The characters were likeable, despite their activities, and you wanted to see how it all ends.

Quite rarely for me, I did think the play could have benefited from being a little longer. It’s 90 minutes long, and I would have liked to have seen more of Stevie’s background, but also more of how the main scam went down and the reaction to it.  It was a bit disjointed at times.

But that didn’t take away from it being a very enjoyable play, which kept you engaged throughout. The acting was excellent, and a nice satisfying ending – for some!

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Paul Jenden RIP

October 28th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Talia Shadwell at Stuff reports:

A bright light of the Wellington arts and theatre scene has been extinguished with the death of lyricist, writer and choreographer Paul Jenden, friends and collaborators say.

Jenden, perhaps best known for his hit Hairy Maclary Show and annual Circa Theatre pantomimes with Roger Hall, died in Wellington Hospital on Saturday evening after a long battle with leukaemia.

I’ve loved Jenden’s work, and would always get excited if I saw he had been involved in a production.

Close friend and collaborator Gareth Farr said Jenden was a tireless worker with a broad creative reach.

Although he was known for his wicked sense of humour and effervescent productions, he was a private man.

“He was just the most genius lyricist and writer,” composer Farr said. “I cannot think of anything I have enjoyed more in my life than working with him.”

Jenden introduced Farr to musicals and, over the past decade, the pair had collaborated on Troy The Musical and The Nero Show. Their working relationship culminated in one final offering this year: C – A Musical, which dealt with Jenden’s personal five-year experience of cancer, and starred his partner Louis Solino.

I saw that play – it managed to both be very sad and funny.

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Midsummer

October 1st, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Midsummer, at Circa, is a wickedly funny play. I laughed almost non stop during it.

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Photo by Yael Gezentsvey 

Kate Prior and Byron Coll play Bob and Helena. Helena is a lawyer and Bob a petty crim. They tell the story of how they met, and met again, and eventually their weekend of blowing $15,000 of cash embezzled from a local crime lord.

The scene of the initial hookup in the bar is hilarious, as their different interpretations of how it happened unfold.

Both Prior and Coll perform some songs as part of the play, but it is their acting which is just superb. They both played their roles with near comic genius. Kate Prior especially was spectacular when playing some of the minor characters such as the local crime lord ( Big Tiny Tam Callinan). Her Scottish accent, her eyes and her screwed up face were just a delight. Coll was excellent also.

They navigate a sister’s wedding (which ends with her 12 year old nephew declaring that Helena said it will only last a year as they met on the Internet), a failed bank deposit for the crime lord, and a visit to a local fetish club where they are left tied up most of the night by accident!

The set is worth a mention also. Simple yet effective with a series of boxes being used to create beds, steps, couches etc. And on the back wall you are intrigued by all the props hanging there which get used at some stage.

There are some serious themes to the play – Bob turning 35 and Helena’s failed previous relationship compared to her sister getting married. But the seriousness never gets in the way of a thumping good time.

The latter half of the play is slightly slower than the first half, but at 95 minutes in total you never get bored – far from it. My co-reviewer commented:

One of its singular charms is definitely its exuberant physicality. Both actors make such great use of all the stage, and undertake such acutely accurate and incredibly funny metamorphoses – into children, thuggish crims etc (let’s not forget the talking cock!). But as well as all the laughs, there was such a sweet poignancy to the recognisable lives and rites of engagement of the protagonists. The songs sung (and strummed) by the actors seemed to heighten both the energy and fun of the play as well as its tender intimacy and truth telling. What a rich and satisfying entertainment – all that laughing over all the clever (perfectly Scottish-accented) dialogue brought to life in such a masterly way by the actors.

Not a play for young kids, but definitely a play I can recommend to any adults wanting a great night out.

Midsummer is also reviewed at Theatreview.

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No Naughty Bits

September 24th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

No Naughty Bits is a play about a copyright lawsuit, specifically Gilliam v. American Broadcasting. Now you might wonder why anyone would see a play about a copyright dispute, but when you realise Gilliam is Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame, and the lawsuit was about ABC editing their shows in such a way that they were basically no longer funny, and hence it damaged their reputations, then the appeal becomes clear.

Monty Python were the comic geniuses of my generation, and their influence on comedy has been compared to the influence of The Beatles on Music. I can recite the script of Life of Brian almost word perfect, having viewed it over a dozen times.

Andrew Foster plays Michael Palin, the lead character in the play. He nails the part, as you can almost believe it is the real Michael Palin there at times. A wigged Gavin Rutherford plays Terry Gilliam to some great comic effect.

The other stand out actor for me was Stephen Papps as Judge Lasker.

No Naughty Bits by Steve Thompson. Directed by: Ross Jolly. Circa Theatre, 14 September to 12 October 2013. Wellington, New Zealand. http://www.circa.co.nz/

 

Photo by Stephen A’Court

The play is an engaging exploration of comedy, US vs UK differences, creative types vs executives and more.

It isn’t a recital of famous Monty Python lines, even though a fair few of them do make an appearance. It is about the right of a bunch of iconic comedians to say to a network that if you edit us so we no longer think it reflects our work, we want the right to withdraw permission to use our work. Through that you get to hear of the many edits ABC tried to make, and why. You are of course always on the side of the Pythons as they fight for their gags to remain. You do also however have some sympathy for the studio as dealing with a bunch of stubborn creatives can be a challenge to put it mildly.

If you are a Monty Python fan, you won’t want to miss No Naughty Bits. And if you are not a Monty Python fan, well you don’t know what you have missed out on!

Threatreview also has a review.

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The Price

August 22nd, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Price is another Arthur Miller classic, with an excellent production put on by Circa Theatre.

It’s s small cast of just four, focusing on the relationship between two estranged brothers who have had no contact for 16 years. They finally come together to dispose of their long dead father’s possessions, which have been in storage for 16 years. The planned destruction of his old building has meant their shared history is resurrected, in a tense dramatic performance.

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Photo by Stephen A’Court

Victor and Walter Franz are brothers, played by Gavin Rutherford and Christopher Brougham respectively. Victor is a poorly paid police officer whose wife resents their modest means. He was a gifted science student, but never had the opportunity to do tertiary education as he was caring for and supporting his father.

Walter is the seemingly successful brother, a fabulously wealthy doctor. The reasons for his estrangement with Victor are only hinted at initially, but laid out in the second act.

Jude Gibson played Victor’s wife Esther. She is almost ashamed of her husband’s lowly paid job, and doesn’t like him wearing his police uniform when off duty as it tells everyone how much he earns.

Finally you have what was for me the star of the show, Ray Henwood at the 89 year old Jewish antique dealer. Henwood was fantastic, and his performance alone is worth seeing the show for. A comedy delight.

All four cast played their roles well, with each character having sympathetic and unsympathetic traits. Your views on them change as the show goes on. The only slight negative was that the relationship between Victor and Esther wasn’t clear at the beginning, and you spend a fair bit of time trying to work it out.

The first half of the show, as is often the case, wasn’t as captivating as the second half. It made up for that with plenty of laughs from Ray Henwood’s character. There was also some added drama with a noticeable earthquake during the first half. Let me tell you a crowded theatre is not a nice place to be during an earthquake. The cast however just carried on with barely a pause, as the audience turned pale and started to look wistfully at the exits. Luckily the quake was relatively brief.

The second half is where the conflict is laid out in full, and there are twists and turns you don’t expect. The ending is a good one, albeit not the one I expected.

The Price is on until 7 September. If you like Arthur Miller’s other plays, you’ll like this one also.

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“C” – A Musical

July 8th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

C – A Musical is a musical about the Big C, or cancer. Paul Jenden is a long-time creative force at Circa, but this time the production was about himself – his battle against chronic lymphocytic leukameia.

It’s a sad topic for a musical, and at parts of the show, you do feel downright depressed. Mortality is not an easy topic. But despite that, the show is also uplifting and great fun.

It’s not a typical musical.  It is described as a play with song and poems.

Danny Mulheron plays Jenden himself, and is captivating and lively. He is so convincing, you would think he really was Jenden, the way he described the chemotherapy, receiving the news etc.

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Photo by Stephen A’Court

Beyond any doubt the star is Jackie Clarke who plays the voice inside his head, and sings the songs. Clark is simply fantastic and was a knock out. Her acting, her voice, her costume were all flawless.

Jane Waddell plays Paul’s Mum, who died from cancer also. Some very poignant scenes, but also some funny ones. The one that sticks in my mind is when she is talking to an angel and keeps asking him how much more time she has. He keeps avoiding the question until he finally points out that if you are talking to angels, the answer is pretty obvious!

Sue Alexander does an excellent job on the piano and Louis Solini silently plays Carcinoma most effectively.

On the technical side, the lighting used was done incredibly well. Great use of lights to capture emotions and states.

Most of us know someone who has fought cancer – some successfully, and some not so. The lyrics of “say si si to C” are a statement we can all aspire to.

As I said the play is not a barrel of laughs. At times it is very funny and uplifting. At times very sombre and sad. You ride a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, but well worth seeing.

Threatreview also has a review.

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Tu

June 17th, 2013 at 7:20 pm by David Farrar

Tu is an intense drama.  A Maori East Coast family is torn apart both emotionally and literally by the shafts of love, strife and war.

The play is based on the novel by Patrica Grace. Old Tu (Tammy Davis) recounts what happened to him and his brothers and family as they went to war in the 1940s.

The three brothers are Philomel, or older brother; Boydie and Tu. They’re played by Jarod Rawiri, Taungaroa Emile and Kimo Houltham respectively. Boydie is the flashy charmer. Philomel is looking forward to life with Jess (Aroha White) and Tu is the typical younger brother. Tina Cook performs wonderfully as their Ma, and Kali Kopae is the at home daughter taking an interest in the US marines stationed in Wellington.

The set is surrounded by audience on both sides of it, making it an unusual viewing experience, as you can see the reactions of those seated opposite.

It’s a hard show to summarise, as so much of it is caught up in the emotional intensity of the scenes. You spend the last 20 minutes almost on the edge of your seat – even though you sort of know the inevitable ending.

A great NZ production, that resonated with the audience.

Also reviewed at Theatreview.

 

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After Juliet

May 27th, 2013 at 3:55 pm by David Farrar

After Juliet was written by Sharman Macdonald after her 13 year old daughter saw the film version of Romeo and Juliet and asked “What comes next?”. Macdonald’s daughter went on to act in the play itself, and is fairly well known today as Keira Knightley.

I greatly enjoyed the Circa production of After Juliet. It’s a lively sequel to the famous classic. Those with a good memory will recall that before Romeo loved Juliet, he had an unrequited infatuation for Rosaline. It turns out that the infatuation was in fact mutual, but Rosaline was just playing hard to get. Now Romeo is dead, and she blames the Montagues for it.

The play is produced by 1st Gear Productions, and all the cast were aged between 17 and 23. It was a nice showcase of emerging talent.  Neenah Dekkers-Reihana shone as the lead Rosaline. She was feisty and commanding.

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Photos by Stephen A’Court

Also a great performance from Sylvie McCreanor who played Bianca. Bianca is a cousin of Juliet who suffers from petit mai seizures, and she is very convincing.

After the deaths of Romeo and Juliet there is a truce between the Montagues and Captulets, laid down by the Prince of Verona. You also have a number of trials of those deemed responsible for their deaths, such as the nurse and the apothecary that sold Juliet the poison.

Rosaline is torn between her lost love, her anger, and another apparently unrequited love interest. She wants the feud to continue, and is challenging to be leader of the “Cats”, the younger members of the Captulets.

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The set consists of a corrugated iron fence, a tangled scaffolding type tower where the Montagues gather, and at the bottom of it flowers marking the graves of Romeo and Juliet.

One thing I loved about the play was the mixture of old and new. you had Montagues and Captulets battling it out with swords, while some of the Montague girls were videoing it on their iPhones!  While it is an ancient setting, they used modern devices to get across that this could also be a modern day story.

There were a few good laughs during the play, but mostly it is dramatic tension between the various cast, and most of all to see whether it ends with war or peace – or both.

The play lasted 90 minutes, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was good to see a talented cast of younger actors and actresses and a sequel to a Shakespeare classic.

Also reviewed by John Smythe at Threatreview. It is on at Circa 2 until Saturday 8 June.

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Midnight in Moscow

May 21st, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Midnight in Moscow, at Circa, is a lively story of love, loyalty and politics. It is set in the NZ Embassy in the USSR in 1947. At times it is a bit like a murder mystery, but instead of working out who was the killer, it is more who was the spy?

You also get intrigued by whether that gay man and the young girls’ blossoming friendship may in fact be something for her aunt to worry about. Will the wife find out her husband’s affair with the mistress of Boris Pasternak?

There is of course a political theme to the play, as expected from playwright Dean Parker. Young Madeleine (played by Chelsea Bognuda) have a naive appreciation of the wonders of the worker’s paradise. Her aunt, and head of mission, June (Carmel McGlone) lays out the reality of what the Soviet Union was really about – political prisoners and repression.

Other embassy staff have some surprising views, which reveal themselves during the play.

The star of the show for me was Gavin Rutherford as the witty, urban, flamboyant and promiscuous Kit. His character provides many of the laughs. he provides the signature quote from E M Forster “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country”. Stephan Papps also excels as Boris Pasternak.

Jon Pheloung and Jessica Robinson play husband and wife Hugh and Sophie. Hugh is helping the famous Boris Pasternak  translate Doctor Zhivago into English, and also having an affair with Boris’ mistress Olga (Miranda Manasiadis). Hugh’s character is based on NZ diplomat Patrick Costello, who was suspected of being a Soviet spy. The debate continues today as to whether he was. For my 2c I think he was.

There is a chilling moment when Pasternak gets a phone call from Moscow, and it turns outs to be Stalin himself. This is of course based on real life, and I’d encourage people to read the awful treatment of Pasternak and other authors under the USSR.

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Photo by Stephen A’Court

Parker has crafted a very clever play that shows how awful the USSR was (and certainly was not an apologist for it as a Herald review suggested). There were also some lovely moments such as when the three female staff rehearsed for their role in The Mikado, bing out on by the British Council.

I enjoyed the play, but I did have a couple of criticisms.

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The set was very well done, but I found the suits worn by the men (especially Kit) did not look anything like the 1940s. They looked like very modern suits. Maybe I’ve been spoilt by how well shows like Mad Men get the look and feel of an older era so well, but the suits did jar with me, as not fitting into the era.

Another minor point was the idea that a woman would be head of delegation in 1947. I know of course that a play is fiction, but again it made it harder to get into the play. The best plays are where you forget it is a play, and you are one the edge of your seat wondering how it will all end.

I also like a play that grabs your attention at the beginning, and found the opening monologue didn’t quite do that. Also the poetry scene with Hugh and Pasternak went on a bit too long for my simple tastes. The play lasted two hours 15 minutes (plus a 15 minute interval). I thought the first half dragged on a bit and could have been shorter or brisker. The second half though was much more enjoyable, and overall was a very good production.

John Smythe at Theatreview has also reviewed the play. It runs at Circa One until Saturday 8 June.

UPDATE: I am informed that in fact the head of delegation in 1947 was indeed a woman, so wasn’t NZ progressive!

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Tribes

April 8th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

When a play gets the half time interval, and you are annoyed that there is a break, its a good sign that the play has managed to grip your attention and you want to see how it ends.

Circa’s production of Tribes was excellent. A great mix of tension, humour, light and sound.  Thoroughly enjoyed it.

The set is a typical living room, with a large screen behind it. The screen is an essential part of the show, where the sign language is translated, and very amusingly sometimes the private thoughts of the cast also.

The play by Nina Raine, originated in London, and has won three major international awards.

The cast is primarily a family of five, all creative. Father Christopher is an academic critic who critiques everything from his children’s boyfriends and girlfriends to the deaf community and Northerners. His long suffering wife Beth is writing a a book that was originally about a marriage breakdown but hilariously also includes a murder mystery now.

The kids are all in their 20s. Daniel and Ruth have both moved back home, and ignore their father’s entreaties to “fuck off” and get real jobs. She is an wannabee opera singer and he is writing a thesis on language. Daniel has some psych issues (his father blames on pot) and hears accusatory voices all the time. He used to have a stutter, and it returns when his brother Billy moves out.

To a degree the show is about Billy. He was born deaf. His siblings are very protective of him. His father has been determined not to let his disability define him and he has learnt to lip read par excellence, rather than use sign language.

The family is charming and engaging in their mild dysfunctionality, and then things get interesting when Billy meets Sylvia. She can do fluent sign language as her parents are deaf. She was not born deaf, but is losing her hearing and becoming deaf.

Now don’t think this is some sort of woe are the deaf, how miserable their lives are play.  It is a play about tribes – the family tribe and the deaf community.

Father Christopher is very sceptical of Sylvia and asks her at one point about the “deaf community”. She replies that it is very hierarchical with people judging you on whether or not you were born deaf, or became deaf, if you can sign or lip or both, etc etc. She also  comments “Plus of course, we’ve all slept with each other” which rarks the family up as Billy has never had a girlfriend.

Jeffery Thomas is excellent as Christoper, Billy’s father. He provokes and frustrates, and provides much humour. Nathan Mesiter also was very good as Billy’ brother. He is both smart and suave and stammering and lacking self-confidence.

The play is 140 minutes long, with a break. As I said at the beginning I found it got me interested from the first scene, and never let go. There are so many tensions that you want to find out where it all leads. There are no saints in this play, just a mosaic of flawed but loving family.

A lot of humour keeps you engaged also. The thoughts on the screen. The asking Sylvia to sign a translation of “Fucking her was like making love to a concrete mixer” was memorable.

When a local theatre takes on an award winning international play, the worry is that they will not do justice to the original. But the production team and cast have shown this is not the case – it was a great play, and well worth seeing.

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Mike and Virginia

March 24th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Mike and Virginia opened at Circa on Saturday night, and it was 100 minutes of almost non stop laughs.

It is billed as a romantic comedy about romantic comedies. The lead characters of Mike and Virginia are both lecturers in film studies and the audience at times are their class. Virginia is the ice queen who tells you how romantic comedies always have an incompatible couple (due to personality, background etc) who implausibly overcome all barriers to show love conquers all, even though it doesn’t.

Mike is the popular wise cracking Kiwi bloke, who is a published author as well as a lecturer. Of course Virginia hates him, and vice-versa and of course they form the focus of their own romantic comedy.

There is some audience interaction, which was also comic. Mike has a thesis that all films have a monster. He goes through various films such as Shawshank Redemption and asks who the monster is. He then gets to Love Actually and asks the audience who is the monster in that film. The woman behind me yells out “the writer” and we’re all in hysterics.

There were five actors making up the cast, and while in some plays there are one or two stand outs, I thought in this play all five nailed their characters.

Gentiana Lupi (you may have seen her in Eagle vs Shark) was the icy Virginia. Her character started slightly one-dimensional but as the play progressed you saw her sense of humour and playfulness.

Will Hall (Kip from Shortland Street) was perfect for laid back wise cracking Kiwi bloke Mike.

Jennifer Martin was hilarious as the young and beautiful but rather clueless student poet who falls madly in love with, well I won’t give the plot away. But you’ll love her performance.

Stephen Papps and Perry Piercey play the respective best friends of Mike and Virginia – their characters are Harry and Sally!

Papps’ Harry shares his nuggets of wisdom in a very droll fashion and generates aughs a plenty. He just fits the role of down to earth tradesman so well.

Piercey’s Sally is an actor, and gets possibly the best lines of the play. I won’t give too many plot details away but one part of it is how they are meant to be just friends with benefits but Virginia freaks out when Mike holds her hand at one point. She heads home alone complaining to Sally that Mike is getting too intimate. Sally responds with “You’ve had his dick in your mouth with no problems, and you’re complaining that he held your hand!” – classic.

The music and sound effects were done incredibly well, adding to many a dramatic moment with comic effect.

Mike and Virginia was hilariously good fun. Is on until 20 April, and well worth seeing.

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Talking of Katherine Mansfield

March 10th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I’ve lived in Thorndon for around 20 years, and in the area of Thorndon that is within 100 metres of so of the Katherine Mansfield birthplace. Despite that I only visited her birthplace for the first time a few weeks ago.

I never studied Mansfield at school, and don’t actually know her story and her works as well as many New Zealanders. So the Circa show Talking of Katherine Mansfield seemed a good opportunity to get to know her better.

The 80 minute show is by Catherine Downes, who is a Mansfield expert. She’s been playing her for over 30 years. The play is a mixture of Catherine talking about Mansfield’s life and reading out some of her writings.

I found it a bit slow to engage initially, but perked up with the recital of Leves Amores and the references to The Thistle Hotel in Thorndon. And from there we learnt of her outraged father who was happy to have her go back to London after she published such scandalous (for the times) prose.

You learn about her relationships and influence on so many other leading literary figures such as D H Lawrence, Virginia Woolf and of course John Middleton Murry. Murry is not the most sympathetic of figures as you heard about how he would write to Mansfield complaining how hard her dying was on him!

This isn’t a play for everyone, but if you are a fan of Mansfield or just wanting to know about her, it’s a pleasant introduction to her work. Downes has a real passion for Mansfield’s work and she doesn’t just act off a script but engaged the audience in her recital of Mansfield’s life and works. I suspect every night the show is slightly different.

The lighting in the show is worth a mention. The final scene where Katherine dies is done beautifully and to powerful effect as her face fades from view.

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