BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

04/12/2015 - 19/12/2015

Production Details

Music! Comedy! Satire! Christmas! Robots! Cookery! 

“Statistics tell us that over 1,001,001 New Zealanders want our theatres to put on more plays about, by and for robots,” says director David Lawrence, “but will Creative NZ listen??”  Of course not! All they care about are objectives and outcomes, like the robots they are destined to be replaced by.  So be thankful that your old pals The Bacchanals Are Back!TM and ready to punch common sense in the goolies by giving you what you really want for Christmas: a Christmas show featuring Christmas and robots, performed by a combination of humans and robots!  “The robots were meant to be a surprise,” laments Lawrence, “but they’re also the show’s main selling point so arghh!” 

A Christmas Karel Čapek is the true story of how terrible consequences ensue when David and Brianne (played by the real life David and Brianne!) decide to overcome their shared misanthropy by building a robot to do all their human interaction and Christmas shopping for them.  Will robots take over the world and kill all the humans?  Will a human and a robot fall in unnatural love and civil union each other and a dog?  Will Santa Claus make a terrifying appearance dressed as the Norse God Odin?  You decide! (not really, there’s a script!)  “But I like it best when The Bacchanals are being political and righteous,” you groan.  “We hear you, but sometimes we just have to be silly and frivolous.  Pleeeeeease let us just have this one show!” they groan back.

A Christmas Karel Čapekis by far the cleverest name a Wellington play has had in 2015 because only about three and a half people understand the joke: Karel Čapek was the Czech playwright who, in 1920, appropriated the Czech word ‘robot’ (meaning slave) to describe mechanical men built by humans to do their bidding in his famous play RUR (Rossum’s Universal Robots).  We’re explaining this in the media release because otherwise everyone will ask us “WHAT DOES THE TITLE MEAN??” and we could be talking about so many more interesting things than that, like Creationism or the Illuminati. 

A Christmas Karel Čapekis The Bacchanals’ first ever Christmas show! their third and final show for 2015! their 32nd show as a company!

The Bacchanals present A Christmas Karel Čapek  
Propeller Stage, BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace
Friday 4 December – Saturday 19 December, 2015 at 7pm
Special $12 previews on Wednesday 2 & Thursday 3 December
Book online at www.bats.co.nz or phone (04) 802-4175
Tickets: $20/15 


The Bacchanals are a multi-award winning Wellington-based theatre company, founded in 2000 and dedicated to making theatre accessible to all be it economically, intellectually or geographically.  They want theatre to remain a place for social, spiritual and psychological debate but more than anything they just want audiences to have a great time in their company.  Their work has ranged from the Ancient Greeks to Shakespeare to new New Zealand works and the NZ premieres of current overseas plays.  http://www.thebacchanals.net/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/TheBacchanalsNZ/
Twitter – @thebacchanals

Theatre ,

A Dickens of a Christmas tale with added robots and Daleks

Review by Ewen Coleman 08th Dec 2015

As their publicity states, Wellington’s The Bacchanals are best known for their text-based theatre, propagating social, spiritual and psychological debate.

But the programme notes for their current show playing at Bats, A Christmas Karel Capek, also says, as it’s Christmas the audiences get the night off from their usual fare.

Nevertheless, much of this production, very, very loosely based around Dickens’ story, with ideas from “fathers of science-fiction” Karel Capek and Isaac Asimov, does make many tilts at the establishment, capitalism, politics and anything else worth knocking. [More]


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Iconoclastic, absurd and humorous

Review by Jonathan Kingston-Smith and Pepe Becker 06th Dec 2015

Christmas is not a great time of the year for David (David Lawrence). In the face of the looming festivities a mediocre chicken tikka masala is enough to send him spiraling into a vortex of existential doubt, self-loathing and misanthropy; a grim fug that cannot be lifted – not even by a jauntily-performed piece of casiotone-assisted songwriting from his co-habitator Brianne (Brianne Kerr).

His misery is further entrenched as he recounts a ghostly visitation from his friend Salesi (Salesi Le’ota – who was not tragically killed in that opening night fire) and who has a terrible warning about the futility of human endeavour. But David has a solution to the sack of woes heaped upon his back. Something that will spare him the indignities of the season… 

He’s going to build a robot.

No sooner has David unveiled his creation – Bri (Kirsty Bruce) – than tensions tangle between him and the nonplussed Brianne. You see, David’s goal for Bri is purely selfish: he wants her for a domestic slave, to perform tedious domestic tasks while simultaneously removing all need for him to interact with the rest of the world. Effectively, he wants Bri to supplant him. Granted, that is pretty much what all technological innovation has been intended for since the turn of the millennium. Brianne, on the other hand, has grander plans – she believes that robots can be used for the advancement of civilisation, the betterment of humankind and the salvation of critically-endangered pandas. Well, mainly the bit about the pandas…

Alas, as with all the very best-laid plans, no sooner than you can say “Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics”, it looks set to end in the enslavement of the human race, the death of the world, time travel and a surprise visit from Santa Claus. 

Largely eschewing the fiercely-spat political vitriol of their recent productions, here The Bacchanals serve us up a heaped helping of Christmas silliness while maintaining their delightfully eccentric approach to theatre. Immediately they confront us with a piece of meta-theatrical dictation – outlining their goals for the play and addressing the audience out of character (although, given their characters are kinda themselves,the line is utterly smudged from the get-go). If you’re looking for a fourth-wall illusion-of-reality play, you’re well out of luck. What follows is a brain-befuddling hour and a half of pop-culture references, wonderfully-realised songs, nods to cult sci-fi flicks, dissections of theatrical process and acting technique, snide-swipes at various political parties, home-made robot costumes and a very special guest appearance.

All of which still leaves enough room for a hilarious interlude from Jonny Potts (well, maybe you won’t find it quite so funny if you happen to be Welsh) and an on-stage cooking lesson on the art of making a really fine curry – whatever narrative function it serves, it smells delicious.

Oh, and Theatreview gets a mention.  As does John Smythe.

As always, the barrage is a thrilling one. I’m certain a great many of the allusions slip by me but the ones I grasp are a delight and missing any of them steals nothing from the play. It is a dizzying volley across the entirety of the brow (from high- to middle- to low-). Personally, I am quite fond of the literary references; if nothing else, they slightly vindicate my largely-unusable university education.

The play is a wonderful mix of the miniscule and the macro: huge ideas about society, enterprise and humanity swim in a slurry of trivia, factoids and random rants about TV shows. It sweeps from the politically pointed to the pithily (and poignantly) personal. And ultimately, its message is a teensy bit heart-warming, even as it emerges from the black and brackish heart of the thoroughly-disillusioned David.

The cast all acquit themselves well. Special mention must go to Lawrence, Kerr and Le’ota who carry the show superbly. All three of them are commanding and compelling performers who engage well with the audience. The stage design by Harriet Denby is a delight, bedecked in posters and kitsch bric-a-brac. The bedroom set for the dream sequences is a particular highlight. Lighting design (operated by Charlotte Simmonds) is evocative, immersive and – like everything else – utterly self-aware.

So, once again The Bacchanals have delivered an exciting work that will entertain and exhaust in equal measure. It is a sparking live-wire of a play. A piece that is iconoclastic, absurd and humorous… and highly recommended as an energising Yuletide treat.   


John Smythe December 8th, 2015

A splendid evening of profound trivia or trivialised profundity, whichever you prefer. And thanks for the plug for The Plays of Bruce Mason – a survey. There’s just one thing I feel compelled to take issue with, in your prologue. It is mischievous and arguably dangerous to perpetuate the myth that naturalistic plays render their audiences ‘passive’; that it is somehow disenfranchising to keep us in the dark while the ‘make believe’ story plays out in the light. Quite the opposite is true.

It can be extremely engaging and interactive, emotionally and intellectually, for us to willingly suspend our disbelief in characters, their relationships and circumstances, and the actions they take to achieve their objectives (or not); to share their struggles, wrestle with their dilemmas, confront their tragedies and/or celebrate their triumphs through empathy. Nothing involves us more profoundly than asking, ‘what would I do – and why?’

If there is one thing that will save the human race from its self-destructive course (to address a key theme of this play), it is empathy for each other, and testing our own value systems, personally and collectively. Live theatre that nurtures and strengthens our capacity to empathise and challenge ourselves surely has great value – and this is a consistent quality in Bruce Mason’s plays.

Of course there can be great value in other genres too. There’s room for all.

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