Tag Archives: aucklandtheatrecompany

Horseplay with Backstage at ATC

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‘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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Backstage story – The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

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Another interesting Backstage with the Auckland Theatre Company.  (I sat next to a teacher who is on sabbatical for the year. He’s intern-ing with them for this production, furthering his skills in design and technical implementation.  Watch out next year kids! It’s going to be awesome.)

The night was MC’d by Colin McColl, ATC’s Artistic Director and director of this iteration of “The Importance of Being Earnest“.  He last directed it 20 years ago and is relishing the opportunity to look for new things in the play.  He describes it as “delicious and treacherous”.  Oscar was commenting on aristocrats and theatre and literature and behaviour and society. The play is essentially about aristocrats behaving badly…so they’ve taken inspiration from celebs rolling out of nightclubs, being busted by the police etc. The characters ‘live expensive lives in a bubble where the real world is kept away by money and priviledge. It’s high artifice.’  The cast are ‘discovering subversive things under the text.’   Colin described it as a “voyage of discovery”.  He said the actors were being very generous and that “some of them have extraordinary takes on the characters.”

It’s based in a society in the midst of change.  John Parker, Set Designer, explored options for the set design…most of which won’t be on the stage.  On the night he said that they’d “taken off in a different direction” that day. I think they pack in (to the theatre) on the weekend so I hope he manages to pin something down!  Some of the phrases he was using to describe the process were: facades and pretense; photographers studio; shift; when people and roles merge; opulent trappings; gangster.  He’s being influenced by Colin who stated that he was “very anti sets at the moment.”  (He wants audiences to be aware of the mundane nature of the theatre space.)

Costume designer, Elizabeth Whiting, reiterated that the process was very organic.  She said that everyone starts from a common base for the play so that there is a logical progression to the ideas that are tossed around.  She finds a series of images that say something about the character to her. Costumes say a ‘lot of different things about the characters the actors have built’.  Gwendolyn’s costume has a Lady Gaga influence which I can’t wait to see. Elizabeth  is also using the green carnation in the costumes.

Someone asked how the cast/crew are keeping the play relevant given that they’ve created (or will create) their own world.  The immediate answer was “There are still snobs.” (Everyone laughed.)  ‘There are different levels even in classless society. You’re judged on your shoes, your home. They tend to stick together with old friends, they network in an area, don’t stray too far.’  (Which was acknowledged as true of most of us.)  Colin talked about the idea of double identity, double lives and how the characters appear one way to one group of people and another way to another group of people. He felt his role was to ‘define but not limit the possibilities of interpretation’. The play satirises things about our lifestyles as well. Cameron Rhodes (who was in the production 20 years ago) agreed.  ‘There’s a public and a private persona. Hypocrisy is being exposed in this play’  Laurel Devenie said that the characters were ‘constructing their own truth; choosing the next piece of reality to put on.’

Colin has deliberately chosen not to esplore the gay subtext in this production. Oscar included jokes for his friends which are interesting to know but they can’t be played for a comtemporary audience as the code words and references don’t exist in our society.  (Colin then did an amusing little sketch and mimed jumping out at the audience playing a Footnote* “this is funny because…this is funny because…”)  He said that all the characters were eccentrics – it’s a play full of complete nutters. (The cast however are a ‘joy to work with, fun to find rebelliousness.’)

The biggest challenge for the actors is the language. The sentences are quite long and need to be spoken with effortless energy.  It’s a modern style of performance using old language which Colin described as “tricksy”.  Ash Jones  (who I think is playing Algernon) said that ‘Shakespeare gives you the energy because of the poetry but Oscar is quite different.’  Elizabeth Hawthorne (Lady Bracknell) said that ‘the language is unto itself. The play is written from a particular outsiders viewpoint’ and that she had to ‘make that mine.’

Lisa Chappell (Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax) and Adam Gardiner (John (“Jack”) Worthing) acted out the engagement scene for us.  Adam had a nice line in heavy-lidded, slightly sleazy self confidence which is what I was thinking about as Parker and Whiting were describing the world these character live in. (I’m wondering if they’ll play out the sense of entitlement that I was thinking about as well.)  Lisa talked about how difficult it was to explore opposites. The characters are ‘trivial about important things. important about trivial things.’ It ‘goes against every fibre of her being, not to connect’.  She feels her character is quite cool.  (I think her performance in the tiny snippet was wonderfully self-absorbed; a wide-eyed “well of course you love me!”)

Final sum up – I think that people who are familiar with the script are going to be surprised by this performance. 


The importance of being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Maidment Theatre 11 March – 03 April
Tickets $52-$57


*Footnote *hahaha* with trivial information…
Another question from the audience – New plays are often workshopped, was this play workshopped originally?  Colin said that no, it wasn’t but the Theatre Manager suggested that the original four act play was cut to three. Oscar cut the act out. There is apparently another act but that act not out of copyright so it isn’t performed much. He says that it ‘doesnt really matter’ as the play is ‘much snappier without it.’

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Auckland Theatre Company – ATC – 2010 Clash Season: The Importance of Being Earnest

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Backstage story for “The importance of being Earnest” Monday March 1st @ 6.30pm.

Art Lounge, New Gallery, Auckland Art Gallery, Lorne street.

Bookings and reservations are not needed for this free event.

See you there?

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“Taihoa. I’m talking to my mate.”

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“Le Sud”. Some clever revisionist history which manages to reference French history and New Zealand towns as they might have evolved had the French managed to claim the South Island before the British did. It’s been well reviewed all over the place by critics and audiences alike.

I went to one of the preview nights so the cast were still figuring out how to incorporate the audience into the rhythm of the play. We definitely laughed in places they weren’t expecting. The political scandals referenced have been well documented by the media so I don’t think you need to do any further research. There are some excellent Super City jokes plus some Auckland related jokes (which you may have heard before.)
My favourite conceit/s of the play were the different languages used with the expectation that the audience would understand it. (Thank god for third form French!)

The set really is quite lovely. It is very elegant in golds and creams, and fades into the background when the actors are on stage. There are quite a few people playing two sides of the game so keep your eyes open….

Le Sud
Maidment Theatre to 06 March
Tickets $35-$57

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Backstage story – Le Sud by Dave Armstrong

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Auckland Theatre Company do a really cool “meet the creative team” thing before their plays.  The one for “Le Sud” was on last week.  Now I have to confess I wasn’t entirely sure about this play.  It’s a political satire and I don’t really keep up with what the pollys are doing. (Nothing worse than going to a comedy and not getting the jokes. That just leads to drinking and we all know where that leads…) Apparently though the cast have been sending suggestions to the writer and he has been tweaking the play so that it now has lots of Auckland based jokes (e.g. Supercity!*) so I can be sure to laugh at something. 

The director Raymond Hawthorne said that it must be hell on the actors to have the changes made so quickly and so often.  He’s worked with the play from the very beginning and he sounds impressed with the structure. They talked a lot about the rhythm of the play which of course completely changes when the audience is introduced.  Jennifer Ward-Lealand said that the “audience is the missing link for us. It’s like riding a completely new rhythm.”  Preview shows are very important for a play like this.  It’s contemporary but the writer has to make sure that the jokes are still relevant.  Sometimes jokes based on situations that might seem dated are still relevant to the audience.  Hawthorne said that we will laugh at the “recognition of us”.

The team was well represented with the director, the full cast and a couple of the designers on hand to talk about what they were up to.  In fact I think the only person missing was the writer.  They were constantly referring to him (“impressively fast turnaround for scripts”) and complimenting him (“best work ever!”) so it was almost as if he was there.  There was also a guy who I think is the ATC Artistic Director acting as the MC/Chair for the night.

It was neat to watch the dynamics between the cast.  They looked like they were having fun with each other and with the play.  They say that they all crack up in rehearsal everyday.  ‘Political correctness goes out the window with such broad characters but it’s never offensive.’  I personally found the designers interesting.  They talked about their influences and how what they ended up with (my words) the essence of the thing.  In other words the set and lighting design didn’t have to be exact but had to support the play without overwhelming it. Phillip Dexter said ‘Can’t be too realistic otherwise the audience  won’t believe; need to suggest.’  I wasn’t that surprised to see how many different influences there were on the look and feel of the play – once I stopped to think about it.  For example, here are my notes about Tracy Grant-Lord “starting point was landscape. fancy french places, hall of mirrors versaille. lots of different influences, oval office, hotels in paris, opulence scenic wallpaper, neoclassical style.” That wasn’t all of them either.  The costume I’m most keen to see is Miriama McDowell‘s one which is a ‘cross between Malibu Barbie and Tame Iti.’

A French colleague in Wellington tweeted me this morning to say “it was really funny” so it’s not just the NZers who will have fun with this.

I’ll leave the last words to the director.

“Don’t bring your children.”

Le Sud by Dave Armstrong
Maidment Theatre 11 February – 06 March

* Exclamation mark is mine. I’d add *ironical jazz hands* too but that might be excessive.

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