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OTAGO CHARACTER BROUGHT TO LIFE

Print Version

Here's Hilda!
Written & performed by Jan Bolwell
Director/dramaturg: Ralph McAllister

at Fortune Theatre - Hutchinson Studio, Dunedin
From 13 Feb 2007 to 18 Feb 2007
[1 hr 10 mins, no interval]

Reviewed by Barbara Frame, 14 Feb 2007
originally published in Otago Daily Times

Hilda was writer and solo performer Jan Bolwell's grandmother, and Bolwell has taken incidents and impressions from Hilda's life to craft the 70-minute entertainment playing at the Fortune this week.

Born on the Taieri in 1896, Hilda Blair emerged from a jolly-hockey-sticks girlhood to marry North Otago farmer Arthur Gardiner, and to become a pillar of the National Party, the Presbyterian Church and numerous community organisations, eventually being awarded the MBE.

Through anecdotes, imaginative episodes and re-created dialogues (sometimes with granddaughter Jan) Bolwell adds layer upon layer to our perceptions of Hilda's character. As a Christian whose favourite hymn is, significantly, Fight the Good Fight, Hilda vehemently opposes a church minister's emphasis on matters of social justice.

As a Holyoake supporter, she's convinced that the Labour Party embodies the worst aspects of communism. As one of New Zealand's first women drivers, she becomes increasingly intolerant of legal requirements such as driver's licences and the observance of road rules. As an eager royalist, Hilda drags her large family to Dunedin for a glimpse of the newly-crowned Elizabeth.

She's the kind of woman not intimidated by recipes that start with the instruction "Take ten hares", and she can go comfortably from spreading manure to attend a tea party, and back again, in the same afternoon.

There is very little story to Here's Hilda. That doesn't matter. Its strengths are its presentation, scene by scene, of a complex character — resourceful, generous, prejudiced, often maddening — and the evocation of social history from times only the oldest New Zealanders now remember.

Bolwell's performance is infused by her adoring, sometimes exasperated, admiration of Hilda. Last night's largely female audience almost filled the Fortune Studio and clearly enjoyed the production.
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 John Smythe
 Laurie Atkinson (The Dominion Post);