2010 Wellington Theatre Wrap

Various venues, Wellington

01/01/2010 - 31/12/2010

Production Details

A look back at Wellington theatre in 2010 – Comments welcome

Wellington theatre in rude good health

Review by John Smythe 22nd Dec 2010

 [Modified from my speech at the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards 2010 om behalf of ‘The Critical Mass’.] 

This has not been an easy year for Wellington’s theatre critics.

First, in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Roger Rees’s Vladimir and Sir Ian McKellen’s Estragon, played as out-of-work vaudevillians, passed the time by abusing each other, thus:
Vladimir:        Moron!
Estragon:        Vermin!
Vladimir:        Abortion!
Estragon:        Morpion!
Vladimir:        Sewer-rat!
Estragon:        Curate!
Vladimir:        Cretin!
Estragon:        (with finality) Crritic! 
Vladimir:        Oh!

Then Christopher Brougham’s Billy, in Greg McGee’s Me and Robert McKee, vented his spleen at his adult education scriptwriting class by calling critics vicious, bilious, backbiting, septic, leeching – expletives I’ve been asked to delete – concluding: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, review.”  

But the major test of our mettle has been the sheer volume of your output in the past 12 months. You have countered the recession with a record level of theatrical expression – and for the first time you’ve hit triple figures. Ladies and gentlemen, the number of productions wholly or partly eligible for this year’s Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards is 112!

Given the range of genres, styles, forms, venues and production budgets – let alone the actual content – it’s a miracle we came to a consensus on these nominations. Let’s not pretend it was easy. We each came away feeling bad that some piece of work we loved had not been nominated. (I guess it’s the same for Creative New Zealand’s Arts Board.) 

The nominations in many categories could have been credibly subscribed 2 or 3 times over. So while no-one’s been nominated who doesn’t deserve it, many have not been whose work was also exemplary, memorable, superb …

On behalf of Lynn Freeman, Laurie Atkinson, Elspeth Sandys and Uther Dean, then, huge thanks to everyone who has contributed to yet another year of excellence.  It truly has been an honour and a privilege to witness your work and write it into the critical record.

I won’t explain the process in detail here. Everything you ever wanted to know about the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards is now available on a brand new website created by Chapman Tripp: http://www.chapmantripptheatreawards.org.nz/index.html
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[Further to my CTTA speech:]

It needs to be said that by their very nature the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards cannot be seen as the last word in what was of value during the year. The tyranny of democracy, personal taste, and the fact that world premiere productions of highly original and creatively ambitious works will inevitably be flawed in some respect (compared with safer shows or regurgitations of already successful international plays) all conspire against much work of high value getting nominated.  

In my personal opinion, then, the productions that merit special mention now because they were not mentioned or were under-represented in the CTTA nominations include: Pirates Vs Ninjas (Gypsy Wife Productions), Alfonsina (LAB reseach theatre company), 360 (a Nightsong Productions and Theatre Stampede collaboration), Mark Twain & Me in Maoriland (Taki Rua Productions), The December Brother (SEEyD Company & Downstage), End Game (Capital E National Theatre for Children), The Great Gatsby and Me & Robert McKee (Circa). Everyone involved in these productions deserves credit for participating in something truly special.

Non-nominated newcomer actors worthy of note include Andrea Ariel (Alfonsina), Juanita Hepi (Mo & Jess Kill Susie), Aroha White and Matariki Whatarau (A Love Tail), Guy Langford (Wannabe and The Great Gatsby), Dan Weekes (End Game), Hadleigh Walker (The December Brother), Kay Smith (Te Kaupoi).

Other actors who missed the cut but did especially memorable work include Ngapaki Emery, Maaka Pohatu, Stephen Papps, Allan Henry – in fact the whole cast & crew of Mark Twain & Me in Maoriland, and the entire casts of 360, The Letter Writer, The Great Gatsby and The December Brother for their ensemble and individual work; Carmel McGlone in Mary Stuart, Michele Amas and Andrew Foster in Ninety, Mel Dodge and Gavin Rutherford in Dead Man’s Cellphone, Jason Chasland in The Nero Show, Amy Tarleton (End Game), John Bach (Father Familiar) …    

Newer directors not nominated this time but worth watching out for include Dena Kennedy (Sunday Roast and Paper Scissors Rock), Kate McGill (A Love Tail), Anya Tate-Manning (Pirates Vs Ninjas), Lori B Leigh (Dog Sees God) and Uther Dean (Doors. Wall. And Also Silence).

Non-nominated established directors whose work was exemplary include Murray Lynch (Mo & Jess Kill Susie), Susan Wilson (Ninety, Dead Man’s Cellphone and Parlour Song), Tim Spite (Lullaby Jock), Leo Gene Peters (End Game) and David O’Donnell (The Great Gatsby).

Excellent NZ plays that had premiered elsewhere but were new to Wellington were The Letter Writer by Juliet O’Brien, Lullaby Jock by Simon Ferry and The Birthday Boy by Carl Nixon. Branwen Millar’s Father Familiar, Whiti Hereaka’s Te Kaupoi, Rachel Callinan & Kate Morris’s End Game, Antonia Bale & Ban Abdul’s Sick! and Yael Gezentsvy’s Paper Scissors Rock proved we have strong young playwrights coming through. And I want to go on record again for saying Greg McGee’s Me & Robert McKee is a superbly crafted new play.

Given these are the supposed ‘also rans’ behind the CTTA nominees and award winners, there can be no doubt that Wellington theatre is in rude good health.  


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Wellington theatre’s highs and lows

Review by Lynn Freeman 22nd Dec 2010

Some years you just know will stick in your mind, no matter how many more hundreds of shows you will see in the future. 2010 is one of those magic years.

Most of the Chapman Tripp Theatre Award judges went into the voting process with over subscribed lists of potential nominees – for me, it was most of the acting and the set design categories which caused most anguish. We were however rapt to be able to present our long hoped for Wild Card Award for practitioners whose work is top class but doesn’t fit neatly into any of the existing award categories.

Three of the most memorable shows from 2010 came to us from Auckland – The Arrival which rightly cleaned up at the Chapman Tripps, 360 which was unlucky not to win Most Original at the CTs in my view, and Gene Pool. They were all shows that were commissioned, by the Auckland and Wellington Festivals and Bats’ Stab. That always helps. But Wellington’s theatre community was gracious at the awards and we should encourage more interaction between the Super City and our equally super city.

There were more than 110 shows in 2010 – remarkable even in a NZ International Arts Festival year. The Fringe accounts for a sizeable chunk, though this year’s event didn’t quite match last year’s in originality and OMG productions, especially those seeking out new venues. One of the exceptions was the delightful and disturbing Who’s Neat? You where we were trapped in a container with characters who seriously needed to chill out.

Aside from the award winning shows, there are several others that were outstanding. A Love Tail from Toi grads Matariki Whatarau and Aroha White was a personal favourite, Distraction Camp was deliciously strange, John Bach’s performance in Branwen Millar’s Father Familiar and all three actors in Parlour Song were knock outs, there was a lot of food for thought in For Real written and performed by the Original Scripts Youth Company, as one of three sisters I thought Yael Gezentsvey captured the dynamics beautifully in Paper Scissors Rock, and Vernon God Little from the Long Cloud Youth Theatre simply blew me away.

There were disappointments too, with Auntie and Me doing Kate Harcourt and David McPhail a disservice with its poor direction, STAB show Everying is OK starting out with a hiss and a roar then fading away, Salon not being a patch on its predecessor Hotel, and What’s in a Man? was a shocker.  

And to all those who voted for Jackson Coe and I to win the coveted Pash of the Year Award (Chapman Kips) – thank you, it was my first and consequently my most treasured theatre award, along with the Comeback of the Year Award. This was for the critics who put on The Real Inspector Hound in November as a thank you to the theatre community.


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