The mystery of Edwin Drood

March 31st, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is one of the largest productions I have seen at Circa, with 34 members of the cast (and one dog!).

It is a globally successful musical that has won five Tony Awards, and had long runs at West End and Broadway.

The name of the play, and its basis, come from Charles Dickens. It was his final novel, and he died before he finished it. Playwright Rupert Holmes turned it into a musical with a twist – the audience decided how it ends.

It is what you could call a meta-show – a show within a show. The New Zealand cast play a music hall cast performing the Dickens play.

There are 11 principal parts, being:

  • Chairman of the Music Hall Royale – Gavin Rutherford
  • Edwin Drood, murder victim – Awhimai Fraser
  • Rosa Bud, betrothed of Drood – Barbara Graham
  • John Jasper, uncle of Drood with a crush on Bud – Jack Buchanan
  • The Princess Puffer, opium den matron – Jude Gibson
  • Rev Septimus Crisparkle – Lloyd Scott
  • Neville Landless, a suitor for Bud – Ben Paterson
  • Helena Landless, sister of Neville – Flora Lloyd
  • Bazzard – Alan Palmer
  • Durdles – Andy Gartrell
  • The Deputy – Frankie Cur

I thought the entire cast performed very well. Barbara Graham has an exceptional singing voice and excelled. Awhimai Fraser also stood out with her performance as Edwin Drood. But all the principals performed both acting and singing well.

Also worth a mention was the 20 strong ensemble. They gave the performance a real cabaret feel, and many of them spent almost the whole performance on stage, responding to the events of the play.

The directing, music, set and lighting were all done very well, combining to create a very captivating production.

The audience participation is a highlight – ranging from the characters introducing themselves before the play starts, to voting on how the play ends, with members of the ensemble tallying up the votes from different parts of the audience.

You get to vote on how the mystery detective is, who the killer is, and which two characters should have a romantic ending. I won’t reveal who our audience voted but I will will reveal who I voted for – which was Helena to be the detective, Rosa to be the killer and the romantic couple to be Neville and Helena (heh).

I often get restless if a play goes on for more than 90 minutes or so. This production is 140 minutes long (with an interval), but not once did I feel it was dragging on. The plot advances at a brisk rate, and the songs are so enjoyable, time flies. You could tell the entire audience was loving the performance, and there was a huge ovation at the end.

Highly recommended for an entertaining evening out.

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The Pianist

March 12th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I loved this show.

Thomas Monckton was like a combination of Mr Bean and Jim Carrey. it was great, and he was hilarious.

Mockton plays a pianist who wants to make a triumphant appearance and then perform on the piano. But over the next hour everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

You don’t even see him for the first few minutes as you just see the figure trying to break through the curtain. You’re laughing out loud at the clawing motions you can see.

Then when he finally gets out, watch out for the chandelier, the piano legs, the cover, the lighting – well just about everything.

Monckton doesn’t speak the entire play. His antics and facial expressions are more than enough to keep you amused – along with his somewhat spiky hair.

The sound and lighting combine with great timing to make the show spectacular. And the lighting operator even plays a part more directly in the show – which was one of my favourite parts.

The audience also get involved at various stages.

It is the funniest show I have seen for years. You really don’t stop laughing. It was nice to have such simple uncomplicated physical humour. A great way to unwind after work or at the weekend.

I really can’t imagine anyone, whether aged 10 or 80, not enjoying this show.  It’s been performed in Edinburgh and London and is now back in NZ.

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Yep, Still Got It

March 2nd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Yep, Still Got It is on at Circa Two until Saturday 21 March.

It’s a one person show by Jane Keller, who delights and excites the audience for 75 minutes.

Keller is facing retirement and unsure what to do, so she decides to hire a life coach. After her life coach recommends various unsatisfactory options such as being a phone sex operator, Keller decides to become a life coach herself – a job anyone can do with no training!

The rest of the show is spent with Keller playing herself as life coach and her various clients. It is a great mixture of dialogue and singing. Keller is fantastically talented as she sings risque lyrics, combined with facial expressions that have you laughing almost non stop.

Michael Nicholas Williams accompanies Keller on the piano, to his normal excellent standard.

Keller is a master of comical delivery. Not only does she deliver 75 minutes of laughs,but she has to memorise a huge number of songs and verses. Only once during a very long song did she falter, but her grace in asking Williams for a reminder was so smooth, it detracted nothing from the show.

My only complaint is that so many of the problems we heard from clients were so funny and interesting, I would have liked to hear more about what her advice would have been. Regardless a very funny show, that appeals to young and old.

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Wake Up Tomorrow

February 23rd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Wake Up Tomorrow is on for a week at Circa as part of the Fringe Festival. It is far removed from traditional theatre, as you might expect from the Fringe Festival.

Wake Up Tomorrow is primarily set on a plane and and a large cast entertains you with multiple scenes and plot threads. Some of them are related, and some are just there for fun.

The production is in collaboration with Active, a service for youth with an intellectual impairment. They provided the ideas for the plot, and make up the vast majority of the cast.

The 60 minute show was very heart warming, with many moments of laughter. The central plot was focused on whether Agent 009 would identify Spyfox before he could cause harm.

The show was a bit disjointed. While probably deliberate, some scenes did not seem to mesh well with others. This was probably a creative tension between letting the cast explore what they could do, but it did somewhat diminish the viewing experience. In the end it wasn’t so much a show with a plot, but rather a show about imagination. The Olympics scene at the end I found especially amusing, due to its ridiculousness.

All of the cast did well in bringing their vitality to the stage, and pulling off a show that both they and the audience enjoyed. Janiece Pollock, who played Bella and Kwame Williams-Accra as Spyfox were especially good.

The show also made good use of four dancers who performed dual roles in moving props on the stage, and helping move the show along.

Overall it was a cute and inspiring performance which I’m glad I got to see.

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The Demolition of the Century

February 3rd, 2015 at 6:06 pm by David Farrar

The Demolition of the Century is a clever but frustrating play at Circa. It’s a cabaret style experience with a neat mixture of narration and singing.

The play is created by Duncan Sarkies who also is one of the two performers. Sarkies reads out a series of extracts or vigenettes from his novel of the same title. They are followed or sometimes blended with nine musical numbers performed with excellence by Joe Blossom (Sean O’Brien).

The novel is about Tom, who we are told is an insurance investigator who seems to have lost his job, his ex-wife, his socks and his 10 year-old son. The first extract pricks your curiosity as a dead horse becomes part of the mystery.

Blossom composed three of the nine songs he performed, and used a mixture of an electronic keyboard and various guitars. He’s a great performer and you enjoy the music, even if you struggle to relate at it times to the narration.

Just as we struggled at times with how the music fits in, it was also a challenge to work out how the different extracts all relate to each other. The final extract does help close the loop to some degree, but for much of the play I was in a state of mild confusion.

This was not accidental. Sarkies said “Yes, it’s all part of a much larger jigsaw puzzle, but I won’t be giving you enough pieces to work it out, so just relax and enjoy the mystery.”

For me though, not being able to work it out did detract from the otherwise excellent productions values, set, acting, and music. My partner commented that you want a play to be greater than the sum of its parts, and in this case it wasn’t.

The play did make me want to buy the novel (on sale for $30) as the plot sounded intriguing from the parts I worked out. As an advertisement for the novel, the play was successful. But as an evening’s entertainment, I’m afraid it was less so for me. That may be a reflection of my inability to catch onto some of the subtler aspects of the play, and certainly it got a great reception from most in the audience.

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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.

Kate Byron Doorway_lowres

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.

The Price 10 bigger

 

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.

S1057-circa-web

 

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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