Horseplay with Backstage at ATC


‘Horseplay’ is a New Zealand play which had a limited run then disappeared without a second season.?? It debuted at Bats then fell off the radar.* Colin McColl (ATC Artistic director) wanted a New Zealand play for this part of the season.?? He was pleased to get ‘Horseplay’ and that he managed to entice director Simon Bennett away from TV to direct.

Simon has directed several of playwright Ken Duncum‘s plays.?? He says Ken writes about ‘characters in extreme situations, also about epiphany.’ He’s ‘always had Ken there. This is my first production without him.’ (Playwright Ken Duncum is at Monkton as the 2010 winner of the NZ Post Mansfield Prize) ‘The stage directions are there for a reason. The mechanics of the dramatic structure are clear. [I] can’t pull anything out or it all unravels.’ Colin commented that?? ‘until recently there was a sense that this is e.g. Wellington theatre, that was Auckland theated, this was Dunedin theatre.’ He believes it’s a coming of age of New Zealand theatre and that NZ audiences want to see it.?? (Apparently the New Zealand plays have been the most popular in the ATC season for the past few years.)

The play is a complete work of fiction (well, obviously, but I mean the bit about the writers meeting) which takes place over one night in the kitchen/living area of Ronald Hugh Morrieson.?? He’s entertaining a hitch hiker (James K. Baxter) but doesn’t let on that he is also a writer.?? An Aunt and a ‘slutty girlfriend’ are the other characters.?? (There’s also a key role of a dead horse…)

John Leigh plays Morrieson. ‘He lost his father young. The parents were musicians.’ His mother and aunt raised him – it was like being bought up by grandparents.?? They considered themselves normal but they weren’t.?? He was in trouble with the cops a lot.?? We know more about Baxter but with Ron it depends on who was telling the story – was he gentleman or animal?’?? Elizabeth McRae?? who plays Ron’s aunt adds ‘He was very fond of his mother. Very fond of his aunt. They were not social people – they lived their own little lives. The rest of town thought they were snooty.’?? (Elizabeth didn’t say much through the evening but she did tell a marvellous story of attending a lecture by Baxter.?? Apparently he walked in and said “I don’t want anyone to talk while I am talking but I dont mind if you copulate in the back row.”)

Tim Balme who plays Baxter says ‘Baxter walks into the play in a state of utter confusion. He’s aware he’s close to death, needs to make peace with god. Sometimes it feels like a one man show – he’s completely self absored. A key thing that I was aware of when I read the play but which became obvious in rehearsal is that 90% is Baxter’ own words. Poetry and prose. It’s very cleverly woven in and is a real delight. It’s surprising how easy it is. Often the question is ‘How do you get round poetry being declamatory?’ The play makes it easy because the writing is so clever. It’s interwoven though stories.’

Toni Potter plays the girlfriend, Wilma. ‘Wilma is a combination of the woman in Ron’s stories and in his life. Everyone in his stories is based on people he knew. What the girlfriend wants provides a drive through the story. She wants marriage, kids. It spoils his plans, he has to keep reorganising. She’s got ambitions in music but also wants to settle down.’

Tracey Collins is the set and costume designer.?? ‘I’m responsible for actioning the script. The logistics of the action are exciting. There’s cooking on stage, windows, a fridge. speak of work and lace where they are. The second is to support the psychological intensity of the piece. .?? I’m hoping to find vintage clothes for the costumes. Then I’ll do an art finish – break them down, give them a dirty negected feel.’?? Tim adds ‘It’s a very physical play. So the option of glueing on a beard is not working. We’re going with a beard and hair extension option. The chance that hair will go flying is too high.’

John Gibson, Sound Designer, says there’s several roles that the music has in the play. ‘The first is to highlight the generation gap between Ron and his Mum.?? The second is the sound for the horse. The third and biggest was about finding a match for Ron.’?? He’s excited about ‘finding a match for Ron from composer Anthony Watson.?? It’s a string quartet and sounds like Bartok if he was drinking. It’s razorlike, has speed and macabre passion. Extraordinary stuff.’

Colin commented that most of the cast have big careers in television. Simon said that the two mediums were quite different.?? ‘In television everything is focused on a small screen, you have to concentrate on shooting the scene. The aim is to try to capture the spontanity of moment as well as keep continuity. Once it’s done it’s locked, fixed, finite.?? We’re creating an artifact…unless you release a directors cut, wresting it back from the studio. Once it’s finished it’s finished. Theatre is a unique experience every night. In theatre, you have to craft, sustain and shape a performance over the entire evening.?? There’s a energy when the audience is enaged. You’re riding the wave of audience engagement. It’s thrilling and terrifying.’

Final comments about Horseplay:
Colin – ‘It’s entertaining, quite sad in parts and profound.’
Simon – ‘ It butts up comedy and tragedy.’
Tim – ‘It’s not a play about a Hasidic Jew.’

*Update??05/05/2010??with further information (thanks Gary!) “Fell off the radar” …apart from a season in Dunedin and a run in Hawera. Apologies for what must have been my bad notetaking on the night.

Horseplay by Ken Duncum
Maidment Theatre 6-29 May
Tickets $25-57

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3 thoughts on “Horseplay with Backstage at ATC

  1. Gary Henderson says:

    Horseplay had a season at the Fortune Theatre in Dunedin in 2000, featuring Peter Hayden as Morrieson and Simon O’Connor as Baxter. Hayden and O’Connor had also read the parts at a workshop before the play was produced anywhere.The original Wellington production with Duncan Smith as Morrieson and William Kircher as Baxter also had a short run in Hawera. (Never quite made it to jerusalem.)

  2. Anonymous says:

    Kia ora Gary. Thanks for the clarification about performances and the details about the actors. (Obviously a little Auckland-based bias coming out…my bad.) I didn’t know about the Dunedin season but John did mention the Hawera run. Apparently the locals weren’t sure about the play. They had known Morrieson and said he "wasn’t like that at all". k

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