ALBERT BLACK Jukebox Killer

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

29/07/2014 - 02/08/2014

Production Details

ALBERT BLACK Jukebox Killer

Written by Peter Larsen
Directed by Jarrod Martin

Based on Redmer Yska’s All Shook Up: the Flash Bodgie and the Rise of the New Zealand Teenager in the 1950s (Penguin 1993) 

“Young love will kick the chairs about and like a rush fire burn” – James K Baxter

Based on actual characters and events, ALBERT BLACK is a new play chronicling the fiery emergence of New Zealand’s first teenagers. It’s a Kiwi Rebel Without A Cause, set amongst – as one newspaper described it at the time – “a wasteland of warring juveniles, delinquents, teenage sex, no parental supervision, all-night dives, blaring jukeboxes – even a cult built around the banned books of Mickey Spillane.”  

Vivid as a comic book, the play follows Belfast immigrant Albert Black – a frowned on Bodgie – as he scrapes by in the conservative and surreal New Zealand of the mid-fifties – a country in the grip of a crime wave which could have been ripped from the pages of one of Spillane’s hard boiled paperbacks: the Parker-Hulme murder, the Milk Bar Murder and the notorious Jukebox Killing that led Albert to his tragic demise.

The play explores the causes and effects of the Sidney Holland led National Government’s infamous “Mazengarb Report” into juvenile delinquency and the consequent employment of the death penalty. “In the 50’s New Zealand went through a classic moral panic,” says playwright Peter Larsen. “Albert Black guides us through the hysteria of the times as absurd politics and social mores reap their strange and dreadful fruit.”

Produced in association with the National Youth Theatre Company the play celebrates how teenagers remade our world. Featuring a large cast of professional and emerging actors, ALBERT BLACK is the story of NZ’s first teenagers as they struggled to find – often with outrageous and disastrous consequences – their place in our society.

So blame rock and roll. Blame slick-back heart throb James Dean. Blame the pulp fiction of Mickey Spillane. Called “Riotous, shocking and thought-provoking” by David Stevens (Theatreview), ALBERT BLACK is a ripping truth as entertaining as it is insightful.

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29th July – 2nd August
The Basement, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland CBD
Matinee Sat 2nd August at 4pm.
Adults $24, Students & Beneficiaries $16.

Dan Veint, Jackson Bliss-McCauley, Alistair Browning, Seamus Ford, Sophia Johnson, Abigail Laurent, Rachel Nicholls, Claudia Nixon, Preston O'Brien, Ruby Payne, Ashlee Rayes, Vanderal Talagi, Lane Twigden, Devon Webb, Courtney Yanez. 

Seamus Ford/Peter Larsen:  Co-Producers
Jarrod Martin:  Director
Charlie Baptist:  Costumes

Infectious commitment and energy

Review by Johnny Givins 30th Jul 2014

Albert Black is youth in rebellion Kiwi style.  A full house and standing ovation greet the opening night of Jawbone Production’s Albert Black at the Basement Theatre. The play, original staged in Whangarei in 2013 by the Northland Youth Theatre, opens its Auckland season with a new cast and throbs with energy, cartoon character, rock ’n’ roll, scandal, death penalty and the history of the NZ youth of the 50s.

‘Potential’ is the keyword for ‘Youth Theatre’ and this production with a large cast exudes talent and potential for future performing arts.  The young ensemble cast (with some older supporting actors) take on multiple roles and tackle a huge canvas to tell this most interesting and vibrant story from our 1950s history.

Albert Black tells of a young Belfast boy who survives the WWII Blitz and death of his father to become, at 19, a ‘10 Pound Pom’ immigrant to NZ. Importantly Albert Black is a Bodgie; just the sight of him enflames the conservative NZ society.  Albert tells his story directly to the audience.  He is charming, naughty, with Irish lilt and sparkling eye.  It’s a mammoth role for a young actor as heo guides us through the personal joys and traumas, NZ social history and his tragic demise in the ‘Jukebox Murder’, all from his fresh and unique teenage perspective.  It is a fascinating performance from Dan Veint.

Other main roles are the liberated 16 year old Molly (Abigail Laurent), her angry fake ‘American’ boyfriend Alan Jacques aka Johnny McBride (Jackson Bliss-McCauley), and the little bit loony American cowboy fanatic Freddie Foster (Stuart Timmins), who becomes Milk Bar Murderer.  These are all well played in the style and context of the production with clarity and conviction. 

The quiet and harmonious society of NZ in the 50s was ripped apart by the Parker-Hulme murder in Christchurch: two teenage lesbian girls murdered one of their mums.  The world media went crazy and NZ teenagers were branded as dangerous delinquents.  There were, for the first time, gangs of unrestrained unsupervised young people in the streets of Lower Hutt and Auckland, all night parties, teenage pregnancy, binge drinking – a whole subculture with “nothing to do”. The Prime Minister demanded the infamous ‘Mazengarb Report’ into Juvenile Delinquency. 

It was a time where NZ went into moral panic – and who got the blame? American teenage culture.  These modern, evil and immoral creations of music, literature, and films were declared the cause of corruption for our youth and quickly banned. 

These and other stories are told in vignette form by the ensemble cast,* playing Belfast parents in the Blitz, Irish immigrants, NZ Customs officers, parliamentarians, prison guards … and most importantly the wonderfully joyous and liberated group of Auckland teenagers. 

There are some wonderful moments of comedy and tragedy as the story unfolds with the Milk Bar Murder and the absurdity of the politics and behaviours of the times.  The sheer unreasonableness of the time is palpable. The tragic and sad scenes were well played but I would have liked more made of the anger and sexual tension somewhere in the production.

Central to all this is Albert and his gang of Widgies and Bodgies.  What a time they were having just being young and different.  They inhabit the milk bars of Queen Street and party house where excess of everything is tolerated.  These were the first young generation who faced the real threat of atomic annihilation, knowing the world had changed but just not knowing what to do about it or how to live in this new world.  Hollywood made James Dean an emblem of the different and very sexy outcast.  Albert Black is the NZ version of this phenomenon as Albert and his friends struggle to find their place in this new world, with tragic consequences. 

The canvas is huge and does at time tend to overwhelm with its wide range of vignettes as the actors play the moments from 50s. This very good production, directed by Jarrod Martin, is all done with a sense of commitment and energy which is infectious. 

The programme has great information and background to this remarkable time when teenagers were thrown into an almost surreal world.  Unfortunately it took NZ quite some time to recover from the shock.  Each generation since seems to have developed their own version of these renegades but Albert Black gives us a wonderful insight into the first delinquent teenagers.

It is played on a basic all-purpose set designed by Kenah Trusewich with Kaihid Parker’s simple lighting and there is some interesting National Film Unit archive footage by Keyframe Pictures.  The production is inventive and is a great platform to show the potential actors of our future with lots of stuff to think about.  

*The roles are not specified in the programme. The full cast is: Dan Veint, Jackson Bliss-McCauley, Mike Lowe, Seamus Ford, Sophia Johnson, Abigail Laurent, Rachel Nicholls, Claudia Nixon, Preston O’Brien, Ruby Payne, Ashlee Rayes, Vanderal Talagi, Stuart Timmins, Lane Twigden, Devon Webb, Courtney Yanez.


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