Abby Howells – La Soupco

BATS Theatre, The Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

09/03/2023 - 13/05/2023

Hamilton Gardens, Medici Court, Hamilton

25/02/2024 - 25/02/2024

NZ International Comedy Festival 2023

Hamilton Arts Festival Toi Ora ki Kirikiriroa 2024

Production Details

Creator Abby Howells

Presented by All Sorts Comedy

A screenplay written by Abby Howells when she was eleven years old, La Soupco *, is a nautical romance, set in the wake of World War II. No historical research, verification or corroboration was undertaken.

For the first time ever, La Soupco will be brought to life, onstage, as it was written.

Buckle up for an adventure.

*This name is not relevant in any way, nor does it make any sense. Abby does not know why she named it this.

Nominee – 2023 Billy T Award, NZICF

Hamilton Arts Festival 2024
Medici Court, Hamilton Gardens,
Sunday 25 February 2024
6:00pm – 7:00pm
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Comedian Abby Howells

Comedy , Theatre , Solo ,

55 minutes

Full of originality, disarming honesty and fanciful narrative

Review by Cate Prestidge 26th Feb 2024

Abby Howells is on!

Skipping onto the stage in nautical attire, Howells starts by thanking the audience for the various accommodations of a venue and time change. Moving from Hamilton Gardens to the Meteor Theatre was a sensible precaution from arts festival organisers after heavy rain in Hamilton earlier in the day.

After fulsome appreciations and acknowledgments, there’s just a split-second pause before Howells launches into a fast-paced intro full of unabashed self-disclosure. All the audience need do is buckle up and enjoy the ride.

The conceit of the show is an epic romance, La Soupco, written by 11-year-old Abby. No explanation is given for the name because Abby has no idea why she called it that but happily for us, the tale forms the thread of an autobiographical narrative that rollicks along for an hour.

Ironically nautical (given what we discover), the story of seaside adventure and post war romance nestles alongside revelations about young and current Abby as she navigates life, obsessions, triumphs and disappointments.

Her style is engaging and direct. She’s both slightly annoying and immensely likeable. I particularly enjoy the school scenes, entirely relatable and beautifully drawn. The top-drawer ladies are hilarious and mysterious, and I’m sure we all have our own versions of ‘a certain island’ and the people we might have sent there.

I also love the references to her obsession with trains, the Titanic and the Battle of Diện Biên Phủ, all of which form an exploration and explanation of sorts linked to her relatively recent autism diagnosis. And yes, of course I have googled Diện Biên Phủ entirely as she suggested.

The current Billy T winner, Howells first explored the La Soupco material in her show Dreamer from 2022. Under the direction of Hannah Smith and Anya Tate-Manning, she has built a fun show that showcases her rapid-fire mix of confidence and awkwardness all rolled into one.

The show is full of originality, disarming honesty and fanciful narrative that is both discursive in its anecdotes and side bars, yet complete and satisfying in its narrative arc. It’s a bit bonkers. I love it.


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A lively and insightful ride, bouncing between two states of being

Review by John Smythe 10th May 2023

The promo material for Abby Howells’ La Soupco* claims, “This name is not relevant in any way, nor does it make any sense. Abby does not know why she named it this.” But that was when she wrote her ‘screenplay’ at the age of 11, in a notebook she purchased in July 2001. Now age 32, she is sharing it for our edification and enjoyment.

Set in Europe four years after the end of WWII, she describes it as a nautical romance and confesses she dreamed up with “no historical research, verification or corroboration”. What emerges, then, are comedic insights into the world of a prepubescent girl who only last year discovered she was on the autism spectrum.

‘Comedic’ doesn’t do it justice. Apart from the ‘screenplay’ itself, which she shares in its entirety, the self-satirising commentary she intercuts it with provokes (dare I say it yet again, having first coined it as headline in 2014?) Howells of laughter.

Her passion for trains, formative nautical traumas and favourite nautical disasters, search for female role models and desire for romance feature as her abiding traits. Her list of reasons not to make enemies of people on the spectrum includes her commitment to justice (“Misdeeds must not go unpunished!”).

Breakup rage notwithstanding, her lifelong compulsion to perform live on stage is lightly traversed, compared with the searing insights of Harlequeen four years ago. Her high school netball experience exposes a dastardly conspiracy. A raft incident reveals why she hates the sea and is a pescatarian …  

All these diverting dips into Abby’s life spark off her reading of the ‘screenplay’, which is actually a prose piece wherein an old man tells of his poignant post-war romance in an interview with Oprah. As a one-set, 2-actor film it would have the advantage of being very low budget if it were not for Oprah’s fee. But perhaps it’s better regarded as a treatment for a screenplay, yet to be dramatised as present action.

I should mention that within the maelstrom of Abby’s dynamic delivery, I find myself puzzled when she mentions the Battle of Diện Biên Phủ (which happened in 1954 as part of the First Indochina War) – included, perhaps, because as a child she liked saying “Diện Biên Phủ”. Maybe I missed something.  

Nevertheless, I become so engaged in the make-believe of La Soupco that when it ends abruptly at the end of Act 2, I see it as a cliff-hanger ending and wonder if it might be better regarded as a treatment for a miniseries. But wait – yes, there’s more! She has now completed a 3rd Act which fully justifies the title and you’ll have to see the show to know how.

Apart from her compelling stage presence, Abby Howells’ skills as a writer are evident in the way she draws the disparate threads of her dual narrative together with call-backs (as they are called in the trade) of the themes. All up, La Soupco – co-directed by Anya Tate-Manning and Hannah smith, is a lively and insightful ride, bouncing between two states of being.  

Credit also to the lighting operator who rings the changes that denote when Abby is in La Soupco circa 2001 or commenting on it as she is now – adding to the overall excellence.

*When this show premiered in Dunedin last November, its title was Dreamer.


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