A Collection of Noises

November 4th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

A Collection of Noises is a one woman show at Bats produced by Alexander Sparrow, whom wrote and starred in the very funny De Sade (2014 Fringe Festival).

This was a very different play, although still at the some what disturbing end of the spectrum.

It’s a Grand-Guignol inspired psychological horror about a troubled school age girl who has a bizarre relationship with her mother, but also gets betrayed by her best friend.

The set when you walk in, looks like a stalker’s lair. Dozens of black and white photos of the girls hanging up.

At first Alice (Georgia Latief ) talks about her mother  and just deceased grandfather, but mixed in with that is the situation at school, and her lack of date for the school formal. She talks directly to the audience at times, accusing us of being almost being voyeurs.

As the betrayal by her best (and only) friend occurs, the focus turns more on their relationship and you see the thin line between love and hate. It becomes apparent it will end badly for someone, but whom and how?

It was a very dark production, and superbly acted. You do get engrossed in the plot, and have many moments of suspense as it builds towards the climax. But be warned – this is a dark production. It won’t be for everyone.

My one criticism would be that I would have liked to see the rather twisted relationship with the mother explored more. It seemed to have great potential, and while it was important to the show, I think even more could have done with it.

It’s on at Bats Theatre until Saturday 7 November 2015.

Rating: ***1/2


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November 3rd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I saw Ache at Circa on Saturday night. A very enjoyable play you could relate to about the dating scene in Wellington.

Richard Dey and Renee Lyons play the main characters, a man and a woman in their 20s who meet at the bar of a wedding. A chance encounter but not their only one. He’s uninspired and she’s just back from London. She’s also tottering in some ridiculously large heels.

Over the next 75 minutes they also meet up at a sushi restaurant, a police station, an art gallery, the beach and again at a wedding. Some of them unplanned, some planned.

The set design is very elegant and flexible. A few boxes being moved changes it from one scene to the next.


Dey and Lyons are joined by Amy Usherwood and Jack Buchanan who play multiple other roles from whiny girlfriends to police officers. All for actors are excellent and give a memorable performance.

You can see the comedic talents of director Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, and her knowledge of Wellington. As a Wellingtonian both the set feels very real, but also the encounters. Many of us have had the “meet someone interesting” at a function and not sure if you’ll see them again, along with the situation where you think both are interested but not both available.

The play was written by Pip Hall, the current President of the Writers Guild.

A very fun play that the young and young at heart can enjoy.

Rating: ****

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October 15th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Gifted is the story of two famous literary figures, and the 18 months they spent living together – Frank Sargeson and Janet Frame.

But it is no love story, unless you include Sargeson’s boyfriend Harry Doyle. But there is a strange bond between Sargeson and Frame – tense, respectful and perhaps even some paternal love.


Sargeson is played by Andrew Laing and Frame by Harriet Prebble. Both excelled in their roles. Prebble managed to conver the fragility of Frame, but also her strength and intelligence. Laing captured the urbane Sargeson to a tee, and showed charisma and vulnerability.

Simon O’Connor complemented them as Harry Doyle. He had a strong resemblance to the real Doyle, and managed to play a fairly unsympathetic character convincingly.

The play is what you would call historical fiction. Frame did stay with Sargeson, in his army hut on his property, from March 1955 to July 1956. It was known that their relationship was tense at times, but also that she completed her book while there.

The set includes Frame’s hut, Sargeson’s living room and garden, and his hedge. Oh, yes two typewriters also – which are constant companions in the play.

I wasn’t sure if the play would interest me greatly, but after around ten minutes I was hooked – purely on the strength of the acting. This isn’t a play of suspense, wondering how it would end. It was about enjoying the interactions of three such strong and strange characters.

Frame would often storm out on Sargeson, and refuse to talk to him. However he would find cryptic notes around his house, which were communications from him. His joy in finally deciphering them was superb, but the final note is left ambiguous.

You also sense the frustration of Sargeson as he is writing little at the moment, while Frame is feverishly working night and say – even breaking his rules about no typing after 1 pm. He is a literary giant and mentor, yet this strange young woman challenges him like he hasn’t had before.

Gifted runs at Circa until Saturday 31 October. If you are a fan of NZ literature, this is not one to miss.

Gifted Rating: ****

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The bookbinder

September 28th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Bookbinder is storytelling at its finest.

What first strikes you when you enter Circa 2, is how the theatre has been transformed. You can’t even see the stage when you enter. Instead you go down a corridor of books until you finally emerge onto the intimate set. The bookbinder’s office is in one corner of the theatre and the seating has been arranged at a right angle on two sides of it.

Ralph McCubbin Howell awakens from his desk, and proceeds to tell the story of the former apprentice. He plays the bookbinder, the apprentice, the  old woman, the young woman and even the Haast Eagle. Yes – a Haast Eagle.

Over 55 minutes he pulls you into a story, and into the story within the story. It is a story with purpose, and sometimes without purpose. After all sometimes you just can’t make an omelette!

Howell is a master of story-telling (and play writing), and gets both his vocal intonations and facial expressions just right. He dominates the stage. You get sucked in, wanting to know what happens next, and how the story ends. A godo play has to be emotionally engaging, and this succeeds.

He is backed up by an incredibly effective use of props. Various lamps are used to great effect, and some of the books themselves display their stories in three dimensions. Great creativity.

Howell works with director Hannah Smith (they are Trick of the Light), and the creativity that has gone into the play reflects their joint contribution. The props, the lighting, the sound and the story all blend together on the intimate stage.

You can see why it won best theatre at last year’s NZ Fringe Festival and also an award at the Sydney Fringe Festival.

It’s on until Saturday 10 October 2015 at Circa, both in the evening and also at 11 am.

Rating: ****1/2

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The Travelling Squirrel

September 14th, 2015 at 4:35 pm by David Farrar

Robert Lord was a prolific NZ playwright who wrote at least 19 plays from 1971 to 1992, when he died.

The Travelling Squirrel was written in 1987 and produced only once in 1994. It has been resurrected for Circa this year, directed by Susan Wilson.

Despite the passage of almost 30 years, it is not at all dated. In fact it seems better suited for today, than possibly the 1980s.


The play is essentially about a couple, Bart and Jane. Bart is an unsuccessful writer and Jane a very successful TV star. They are played by Paul Waggott and Acushla-Tara Sutton, who have some real chemistry together.

Bart would like nothing better than to have a quiet night in with Jane, enjoying a “picnic” (code for getting it on, based on their initial meeting when they picnicked next to each other). But Jane needs to get her profile up and attend society parties in New York.

The parties are hosted by gossip columnist Wally, played hilariously by Gavin Rutherford.  His lusting for the hunky waiter Daryl, provides much comedy.

You also have Jane’s social climbing friend Julie, performed by Carrie Green. Sarah is the brash illustrator played by Claire Waldron and Terry the arrogant publisher who has more interest in Jane than in Bart’s book.

But where does the title come from. Well Bart talks often to a squirrel in Central Park he has called Roger. And most days he invents great tales of what Roger has been up to, sharing them with Jane and others. Bart projects himself onto Roger.

He finally finishes his book, but the publisher is not interested in a collection of prose. However the tales of Roger the Travelling Squirrel are another thing, and suddenly Bart is on the verge of becoming a literary blockbuster, while at the same time Jane’s career is in trouble.

The second half of the play focuses on the changed dynamics as Bart is the one heading out to the parties, and Jane is the struggling one.

Will their relationship survive? Will either of them be successful? Who will Daryl end up with?

The play was two hours long, and kept a good pace. The acting was excellent, and there were lots of laughs. However I did find the plot not as good as it could have been. The ending was slightly predictable, and less than satisfying. There wasn’t any great moral lesson, just a possible redemption. Still a very enjoyable show though.

It is on at Circa until Saturday 2 October.

Stars: ***1/2

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June 10th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Edge, at Circa, is a one person show by broadway star Angelica Page, and she is a star.

We have many good actors in NZ, but Page is in the global league. Her performance was riveting and stunning. You can see why she won the Helen Hayes Award for Best Actress. She has a mastery of the stage which is compelling. A slight narrowing of the eyes can convey so much. A slight change in pitch speaks volumes.

The play is about the life of Sylvia Plath, set on the day of her suicide aged 30. It’s a very sombre and gripping play. Page narrates the life of Plath ranging from her childhood to her death.

Plath, a Pulitizer Prize winner, was married to UK Poet Laureate Ted Hughes. A lot of the play focused on their relationship. He is the charming urbane womaniser, she is the neurotic masochistic victim. She is mentally unstable – her first suicide attempt was at age nine. Later in life she has electroconvulsive therapy.

An enduring controversy has been how much Hughes is to blame for her death. He left her for his mistress (who later also committed suicide, in the same manner as Plath). There were accusations he abused her, and for 20 years her gravestone was constantly vandalised to remove his name from it.

Page makes Plath real. She is funny, brittle, sad, mad, and strong at varying times. You get a picture of her loves and fears. It made me want to go buy the biography of Plath that the play is based on.

By coincidence there was a Q+A with Page after the play, moderated by Ran Henwood. A fascinating 45 minute discussion on Plath and the play. Questions ranged from whether Plath really intended to kill herself (she had many previous unsuccessful attempts which might have been cries for help) to what did people who knew Sylvia think of the play.

This isn’t a play that will appeal t everyone, but if you like dramatic solo performances, then this is as good as it gets.

It is on every second night at Circa, alternating with Turning Page (the story of Page’s famous mother), so is on Fri 12, Sun 14, Wed 17 and Sat 20 June.

Stars: ****1/2

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Second Afterlife

May 30th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Second Afterlife at Circa is a very smart production that resonates with the social media generation.

The play starts with a flat party. Most people are partying, but Dan is too busy facebooking the party, to actually be enjoying it. We all know a Dan! I was once a Dan!

The next day we see the various flatmates emerge (including from under a sofa!) and we learn Dan (Michael Hebenton) has hooked up with the dreadful Sadie (Mahalia Sinclair-Parker), much to the annoyance of flatmate Bea (Bronwyn Ensor), who appears to have a crush on Dan.

But this is not a Neighbours type soap opera. In fact the flat is soon left behind as Dan decides he has had enough of social media, and tries to delete his Facebook profile. This is harder than many would imagine, and as Dan battles with Facebook, he gets drawn into the Second Afterlife – a sort of Internet limbo where he is confronted with the memories of his past – both real and online.

Dan’s guide in the afterlife is the perky and slightly annoying The Guide (Ruby Hansen). Is she friend or foe as she leads him from You Tube to Bebo to Word of Warcraft to finally Facebook.

Dan’s friends Simon (Michael Trigg) and Ethan (Matthew Staijen) pop up regularly, along with Sadie and Bea. You learn more about all of the characters as the play progresses through its 75 minutes. Special mention must be made of Sinclair-Parker who really does well making Sadie that self-obsessed girl at school we all knew!

The set and lighting deserves praise also. You have two to three dozen (fake) computer monitors all hooked up through a very visual web. And each of them has an image projected onto them. It must have been incredibly challenging to set up and co-ordinate. Also very good was the music and sound effects by the on stage operator. Some of his whispers into the mike were the funniest scenes.

What I especially enjoyed about the play was the ending, as Dan realises who has really been there for him the whole way through. Not quite the ending you might expect, but very funny and satisfying.


The play also had several fight scenes, ranging from Fight Kitchen to Air Guitar to World of Warcraft. The scenes were really well done and a highlight, managing to be both realistic and funny.

A very enjoyable play, that will appeal to the social media generation.

Stars: ****

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May 26th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Lysistrata is a very old play, performed by a very new cast, at Bats Theatre.

The play was first performed 2,426 years ago in Athens, produced by Aristophanes – a comic playwright who wrote 30 plays. 11 of them survive today.

Lysistrata is based on one woman’s (Lysistrata) effort to end the Peloponnesian War, by persuading the women of Greece to stop having sex with their husbands to force them to negotiate peace. I guess the flaw in the plan should be that they’ll probably just start having sex with each other (they call it Greek style for a reason!), but we’ll overlook that.

The play is put on by The Bacchanals, in a 90 minute production.  The cast of 12 skillfully interlace a very old comedy, with some modern references. It combines into a very fun show.

Ancient Greek comedy is very dirty and far from subtle, and so was this production. It most definitely is not a play for children or people offended by large artificial penises and/or profane language. It also has some nudity.

The nude (well topless) scene was slightly discordant for me. I’ve been to lots of shows with nudity with no problem, but in this show I slightly know the actress concerned, and when it happened I near-automatically started looking everywhere around the theatre except at the stage.  It was interesting how you react differently to nudity of strangers and someone you know.

The show is pretty faithful to the original, but has a feminist and pacifist theme running through it. You don’t need to agree with the politics, to enjoy the show – in fact quite the opposite.

It’s on in the Dome at Bats Theatre until Saturday 6 June. Makes for a fun bawdy night out.

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Comedy Festival: Spyfinger!

May 6th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Went to Spyfinger! at Bats last night. Was my first time there since their massive renovations (thanks Sir Peter Jackson) and it looks great. A larger and better located bar and multiple venues.

Spyfinger! is a parody of spy films, and they carried off their show with charm and a near zero budget. They are to theatre, what Southpark is to animation – done on the cheap, but very funny.

Instead of using actual special effects, they just verbalise them. So when in Iceland, and playing an Icelander they just say “Icelandic, Incelandic, Icelandic”. It actually works and is very funny.


It’s a cast of three – Hannah Banks, Alex Greig and Paul Waggott, directed by Uther Dean.

In a sixty minute performance they entertain through a series of puns and scenes. Some highlights:

  • The villain showing the various torture methods, including torture by revealing Games of Thrones spoilers. The look of anguish on the hero’s face is priceless.
  • Managing to work into the script a reference to the title of every James Bond movie ever made
  • The skydiving scene – played out on the floor
  • The final line of the show
  • The references to ponytails
  • The slow motion fight scenes

It’s a fun wee show that doesn’t take itself seriously. If you’re a James Bond fan, you’ll enjoy this. It’s on Saturday 9 May, every evening at 7 pm.

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A Servant to Two Masters

May 5th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Circa’s production of A Servant to Two Masters has been my favourite show to date of 2015.

The play was written in 1743, and was adapted by award winning playwright Lee Hall in 1999. It may be 275 years old, but it is still hilarious.

The play has nine characters. They are:

  • Beatrice, whose brother was killed by her lover Florindo – played by Kathleen Burns
  • Pantaloon, who is searching for Beatrice – played by Richard Dey
  • Clarice, who was engaged to Beatrice’s brother – played by Acushla-Tara Sutton
  • Silvio, now engaged to Clarice, played by Jack Buchanan
  • Dr Lombardi, father of Silvio, played by Stephen Gledhill
  • Pantaloon, father of Clarice, played by Patrick Davies
  • Brigjella, an innkeeper, played by Gavin Rutherford
  • Smeraldina, Clarice’s maid, played by Keagan Carr-Fransch
  • Truffaldino, the servant to both Beatrice and Pantaloon


Photo from Circa

The star of the show is of course Truffaldino who desperately tries to earn money and feed himself, while serving both masters. He acts, sings, juggles and performs superbly. A very physical performance.

But the show is not just about Truffaldino. You have no less than three love stories in play, plus some grasping parents. Also of course is whether Beatrice’s disguise as her dead brother will be discovered.

The play runs for 140 minutes (with an interval) but not once did it seem slowly paced. In between the comedic elements, the plot advances at an intriguing pace.

Simon Leary as Truffaldino is the star of the show, but the whole cast performed really well, and Ross Jolly’s direction had the play flow very smoothly. Special mention must also be made of Kathleen Burns who excelled in playing Beatrice pretending to be her brother.

As I said my favourite show to date of 2015, and one I can recommend to anyone who enjoys a great comedy. It may be 275 years old, but good comedy is timeless.


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Don Juan

April 29th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Don Juan in on at Circa until 23 May.

It’s a cabaret style show mixing atmosphere, singing and acting like a good cocktail. Talking of which, they actually serve you cocktails in the theatre during the brief interval, as part of the show (if you pay for one in advance).

Five actors perform the life of the legendary womanising Don Juan.

It’s a high energy performance with a huge amount of audience interaction. Some of the audience actually sit on chairs on the stage, and get pulled into the show.

The cast play a troupe of Lily, Julie, Maurice, Philippe and Ginger. They each have their own story, and again some interact with the audience. Philippe has a crush on a university lecturer and Ginger’s ex is in the audience, and both add comic to the production.

I found the show a wee bit slow to get into, but after around the first 15 minutes I really enjoyed it. The five actors all have really really good singing voices, and they way they interact with each other to tell the story of Don Juan is a credit to the show’s direction.

Possibly now a show for older audiences, but a very enjoyable production for the young and young at heart.

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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.


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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Guest Post: REVIEW: Dr Who “Deep Breath”

August 26th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

REVIEW: Dr Who “Deep Breath By John Stringer

BBC Season 8: Episode 1 (Peter Capaldi, new Doctor).

Global simulcast and cinema screenings 23/24 August 2014.

I was tempted to take a rubber toilet plunger with me to DR WHO 8:1 (the 12th Doctor, well sorta the 13th or maybe the 15th) that opened worldwide yesterday as Season 8, Episode 1 (ok, both the numbering of the Doctors and episodes is as confusing as the time continuum).  In New Zealand it was featured at Hoyts cinemas. I attended the sunday 10am session (both sessions completely sold out) with Sky Goddess and Off Spring 2.  Here’s the official trailer as an appetizer before we get in to it…

Dr Who, Romance and Same-Sex Marriage

This outing is written by Who master Steven Moffat, responsible for much of the genius of the revived franchise and was directed by Ben Wheatley.

It returns several old favourites: Strax the Sontaran (who opens this meal), the Silurian Madame Vastra (in a same-sex marriage) and companion Clara (whose ‘romance’ with 11Dr Matt Smith is well and truly ‘put to bed’ [pun intend].  Capaldi 12Dr: “I’ve made some mistakes, but I intend to do something about that…I am NOT your boyfriend!”  “I miss Amy…”  “WHAT?” “Nothing.”).

Well, I’m glad we got that sorted out: no more ambiguous metro-sexual shenanigans in the Tardis, thank you, we’re British! And being an older man (“who worried these wrinkles on to my new face?”) it’s nice to re-establish the Hartnell plutonic-ness of an older Doctor hanging about in Police Boxes with young attractive women in public places. Rolf Harris and all that.

And as if to reiterate the point, Capaldi 12Dr wears a… but we’re getting ahead of ourselves (how very Time Lord of me).

The Opening (Strax)

Episode 8: 1 opens with a humorous video report to camera by Strax recapping the respective reincarnations of the Doctor, which is very useful for new entrants.  Lots of tongue-in-cheek references to chins, ears, scarves and Strax continually mistaking Dr Who’s gender.  Hilarious.  I’ve never really liked Strax, he’s kind of like Pumba from Lion KIng, and as a military race(“Kill them and melt them with Acid!”), Sontarans should have deeper more menacing voices, like the Zygons. They’re like happy Mr Potato Heads in armour.

And Strax is rendered permanently cartoonish when 12Dr’s opening lines are to confuse him with “Grumpy?” “Sleepy?” “Dopey?” of the Seven Dwarves.

This ability to laugh (and Strax roars with laughter) at the previous actors has always been an ease of the Dr Who writers and an accepted playfulness.

The Previous Doctors

Previous doctors have been nicknamed by other Doctors, as:

  • 11Dr. Chinny -Matt Smith
  • 10 Dr. Sandshoes -David Tennant (married to 3Dr’s daughter in real life).
  • 8.5D.r Granddad -John Hurt, to which we might add:
  • 3Dr. Dandy –Jon Pertwee
  • 4Dr Scarfie –Tom Baker
  • 5Dr Cricket -Colin Baker.
  • 12Dr Capldi will perhaps win the moniker “Eyebrows.”  “Look at these eyebrows. These are attack eyebrows! They could take off bottle caps!”

Capaldi as 12Dr

Peter Capaldi is brilliant: quirky, sexless, eccentric, old(er), darker, all hands and legs and YES a Scottish accent that wafts in and out. 12Dr: “You all sound… English! You’ve developed a fault!” He is a conscious move away from the younger Dr Whos of the past decades This is reinforced by the new costume, a throw back to the coat tails of the 1Dr (Hartnell) and 2Dr (Troughton) but with contemporary accessories (Dr Martin type shoes and a red inner lining). Capaldi pulls this off.  I would place him as a combination of Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee.

Capaldi has been in Who before, as a Roman character, but is perhaps best known to us as the scientist at the back end of World War Z with Brad Pitt.

This 12th Doctor is confused and ‘lost’ in the ruin of his latest transformation, and dashes about like a concussion patient, rambling manically, but eventually gets to the crusade.  That helps to establish this character as a bit darker a bit more unpredictable (doesn’t Dr Who always reflect his age, as in era)?  The girlies are left abandoned and gasping, only to be saved and reunited “just as friends” in time to hold the female audience (who after all, like older men?).

The wrinkles and gravitas coupled with the Matt Smith and David Tennant acting physicality is a perfect blend.

The Tardis and its Arrival.

The Tardis arrives creatively, caught within the throat of a ginormous roaring female T-Rex godzilla-ing herself around Edwardian London and threatening to knock over Big Ben.  “Sorry, I brought you over accidentally…I’m not flirting…but you are a big sexy female…”  Momma T.Rex eventually gets roasted from within by the bad guys.

The Tardis is re-decorated for this new Doctor, evoking the eternal script line, “You’ve re-decorated! I don’t like it.”  “Yes, I miss the roundy things, I need more roundy things.”


Is awesome.  There is a very moving phone call between Clara and 11Dr Who (Matt Smith) through time and space that helps embed the transition to Capaldi…but no spoiler on that.

Let’s get to the baddies.

Rubbish Robots from the Dawn of Time

A new alien beastie.  A half man half robot restaurateur, not a cyborg exactly, who makes a ghastly Edwardian air balloon out of human skin.  He’s all ‘borrowed’ eyeballs and clanking clock wheels, oh, and a blow torch on his Hellboy fist stump.  None of them breathe, thus the episode’s title “Deep Breath.” His minions evoke the scary Weeping Angels but with slashers. BothOff Spring 2 and I thought we were witnessing the origins of the Cybermen.

Like the Snowmen, and the Weeping Angels before them, these clockwork cyborgs tap the rich Dr Who vein of childhood fairy tale creepiness (Victorian clockwork dolls).

Oh and head Rubbish Robot looks like Liam Neeson. More of that Scottish theme again, to go with Clara’s tartan mini skirt.

Brick Bats

I did not like the new theme version, it was a bit ‘soft.’  Bring back the grimy mechanical earlier versions.

I’m a bit tired of the London period pieces, and Matt Smith’s Western episodes were a bit kitsch. I’d like some more alien planet stuff (cue some obligatory BBC CO2 smoke).  But 8:1 I guess sets off from where it began, London, and British Victorian and Edwardian stables. British Empire and all that hurrah!  Dr Who is re-colonising the world, including the USA.

Extra Features

There were some extra features, and we got to view Who and Clara (Jenna Coleman) at the first script reading of Episode 8:1 with the other actors.  You see here just how brilliant these actors are and how much talent is required to pull this stuff off.

The real hero for me was the writing.  The dialogue is quick, witty and fun.  The show is able to be hilarious, almost cartoonish, yet sinister and moving. Not many shows can achieve that (and over 50 years?): Dr Who does this in Zygorian spades.

Here are some of my favourite quotes from the first episode.

•12Dr and Silurian Vastra: “I never bother with sleeping. I just do standing-up cat naps.”
”And when do you do that?” 
”Generally, when everyone else is talking. I like to skip ahead to my bits [of the script].”

• “I could use it to blow this whole room if I see one thing I don’t like, and that includes karaoke and mimes.”

• “He’s seen stars fall to dust. You might as well flirt with a mountain range.”

• “I need clothes. Yes, clothes and a big, long scarf. No… never mind that. That’ll look stupid.”

• “Have you ever looked in a mirror and thought, ‘I’ve seen that face before’?”

• Re the same sex marriage between Vastra and Jenny…”I don’t like her, ma’am, I love her. And as to different, well, she’s a lizard.”

Great relaunch and reincarnation.  Full of change and re-setting, with lots of back to the Future and framing the future with the Past.  Dr Who just keeps us guessing. We-oo-o-ooo.

~ John Stringer.


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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