July 14, 2006


Gary Henderson’s PENINSULA
will feature at the Brisbane Festival next week
playing at The Visy Theatre, The Powerhouse
20, 21 and 22 July 2006.

The Original cast (Paul McLaughlin/Tim Bartlett/Katherine Kennard/Matt Sunderland/Stephanie McKellar-Smith) reprise their roles in this production directed by Gary Henderson. Chris Ward operates his own sound design, Martyn Roberts operates his LX design, Sonia Hardie stage manages on a touring set designed by Andrew Foster.

The next opportunity for NZ audiences to see PENINSULA will be at the Nelson Festival,  13-15 October 2006.


Below is John Smythe’s review from the National Business Review, 5 August 2005.


written and directed by Gary Henderson
at Court Theatre, Christchurch
until 20 August 2005

It is a great thrill to witness the birth of a brand new play that is clearly destined to become a classic. With Peninsula, a work of fiction drawn from elements of his own childhood, Gary Henderson consolidates his position as a major New Zealand playwright and director.

Commissioned by Christchurch Arts Festival director Guy Boyce, the play’s form and content has evolved over three years with Henderson involving designers as well as actors in the gestation process. This is a creative team that dates back over a decade to Boyce’s time as programme manager at Bats Theatre then Downstage.

Andrew Foster’s slatted deck, broken only by a clump of flax, furnished with half a dozen wooden school chairs and flanked by telegraph poles with crank-handle telephones, is backed by a wall of weather boards that acts as a screen for projected images. Martyn Roberts’ lighting unobtrusively contains the action, evokes the mood and facilitates some highly theatrical moments.

In a welcome return to theatre after working in film (Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong), Chris Ward, who designed memorable soundscapes for Henderson’s Skin Tight, creates a visceral sensation of living on a sleeping but not yet dead volcano amid all the elements of nature. It is sound you feel as much as hear.

The setting is Duvauchelle Bay on Banks Peninsula in the 1960s, when Cantabrian pop star Dinah Lee was doing The Blue Beat and Echo satellites orbited planet Earth. Michael (Paul McLaughlin) is at that intermediate age of heightened enquiry and vivid imagination where, as he tries to locate himself in an ever-expanding universe, his rite of passage through a loss of innocence is as compelling as it is inevitable.

The heightened realism of Michael’s world is superbly realised through deceptively simple theatrical conventions. Four of the five perfectly-cast actors (McLaughlin, Katherine Kennard, Stephanie McKellar-Smith and Matthew Sunderland) play a child and adult each without changing costumes or manifesting anything more than an internalised change of being. Tim Bartlett plays both the townie school teacher (from Wellington) around whom mystery hangs, and Pug the dog in exquisitely conceived humanoid form, again with no costume change.

The transitions are also brilliant in their less-is-more simplicity, usually achieved by one actor remaining on stage and almost imperceptibly metamorphosing into their other character to start the next scene. Thus all the performance and design elements conspire to recreate the very human story of Michael, his tell-tale sister Ngaire (Kennard), secret club and tunnel-digging best mate Alex (Sunderland), tag-along know-it-all Lynette (McKellar-Smith), parents Jack (Sunderland) and Valerie (McKellar-Smith), their friends Bruce (McLaughlin) and Sylvia (Kennard).

Unseen characters include Rhonda, the Mâori operator of the party-line switchboard, and not-quite-normal schoolgirl Shirley Slade, the butt of unthinking cruelty from her peers, including Michael. Gordon, the school teacher, does a great job of assimilating into the community and bringing the best out in his pupils until gossip, ignorance, fear and distrust take their corrosive toll.

While Bruce Mason’s The End of the Golden Weather is clearly an honoured ancestor, the boy in Peninsula is more challenging in his flawed behaviour. The device of using adults to play children is also redolent of Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills which in turn shares insights into the inhumanity of humankind with William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.  

What adds particular value to Henderson’s intensely personal and therefore highly original play is the way he tracks the domino-effect of negative actions based on bad feeling. While every character is fully responsible for their own actions, collective responsibility looms very large as a fundamental agent in everyone’s fate. 

Michael’s fascination with the way light passes through a pinhole and turns the world upside down stands as a central metaphor that epitomises the quiet ingenuity of this exceptional work. And be assured the story’s dark side does have a flipside of optimism.

In distilling a particular and unremarkable Kiwi childhood to its heartfelt essence with exquisite style, Peninsula makes the ordinary universal, timeless and extraordinary. The gripped attention, shared empathy and enthusiastic applause of the opening night audience testifies to the excellence of a play and production that needs to be seen throughout New Zealand and further afield.

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