Basement Theatre Studio, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

11/06/2014 - 21/06/2014

Production Details

Auckland 1847. A land of opportunity. Caught in a web of violence. 

Always My Sister tells the true story of Margaret Reardon, through the eyes of her sister Sophia Aldwell. 

Reardon, an Irish immigrant, unwillingly found herself in the middle of one of early Auckland’s most notorious crimes, the 1847 triple murder at Devonport of Lieutenant Robert Snow, his wife, and child, by Margaret’s common law husband, Joseph Burns.  

Joseph Burns was publicly hanged for his crimes on the Devonport foreshore, having travelled by cart down Queen Street sitting in his coffin, and then taken across the harbour. 

The case provided many firsts: Reardon was the first and only NZ woman to receive and serve the sentence of transportation to Van Diemen’s Land, whilst Burns was the first Pākehā to be hanged in New Zealand. 

Writer Michelanne Forster says of the play:

“As the newly appointed Michael King Writing Fellow in 2010, the idea of dramatising a story that was connected to the Devonport signalman’s house, was enormously appealing. I was soon lost in research that gradually become more and more disturbing. This was not a story for the faint-hearted.

“Domestic violence is a hot topic, with the daily news offering us endless variations on Maggie and Joe’s story. From the time of New Zealand’s earliest colonial history, ordinary people grappled with love and violence, poverty and vengeance, powerlessness and addiction. There’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to human nature.” 

The story is bought to life with live music and a dramatic retelling of the story that illuminates the darker side of Auckland’s beginnings.

On Friday 13 June, there will be a special fundraising night for Te Whare Marama O Mangere, a women’s refuge based in Mangere. $15 from each ticket will be donated to the refuge.

Cast: Chris Tempest (Shortland Street, The Outfit Theatre Company), Torum Heng (Go Girls), Jess Sayers (Mo and Jess Kill Susie, Just Above The Clouds)

Performance details:
Always My Sister 
7pm, 11 – 21 June (no shows Sunday or Monday)
The Basement, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland
Tickets: $20 – $25 from 

Further information: People involved 

Michelanne Forster

Michelanne has written prize-winning plays for adults and children, as well as nonfiction, children’s books, television scripts and short stories. Her plays have been performed by theatre companies throughout New Zealand, and in the UK, Australia, and the United States. She has been awarded The Buckland Prize for Literature, The Ursula Bethell/ Canterbury University Writer in Residence and the Michael King / University of Auckland Writing Fellowship. Her latest books are: 20 NZ Playwrights, written with Vivienne Plumb, and Downfall: Three New Zealand History Plays. Both are available from Playmarket.

Always My Sister marks the first time Michelanne has directed her own work.

Chris Tempest

Chris is best known for playing Dr. Josh Gallagher from 2012 – 2013 on Shortland Street. On stage, he’s a founding member of The Outfit Theatre Company, and also appeared in The History Boys at the Maidment Theatre in 2009.

Torum Heng

Torum made her professional debut in The Producers at The Court Theatre, followed by Anything Goes. In 2009 she notably played the role of Dinah in the national tour of Starlight Express with UK’s Really Useful Group. She has also performed in a number of childrens’ shows for The Court Theatre, NZ Playhouse, Crash Bash, Imagine Theatre, and most recently four shows for Phineas Phrog Productions. Torum made her television debut in 2013 as ‘Tiana’ in the latest season of Go Girls. 

Jess Sayers 

Jess is a recent graduate of The Actors Programme, and has recently appeared in Elevator, Mo and Jess Kill Susie, and Just Above the Clouds. Jess is also a playwright, and recently won the Playmarket award for best writer under the age of 25. 

Cast: Torum Heng, Chris Tempest, Jess Sayers 

Costume design: Charlie Baptist
Lighting design: Ruby Reihana-Wilson

With generous help from Sandra Rasmussen and music assistance from Don McGlashan.

Some things never change

Review by Janet McAllister 13th Jun 2014

These sketched-out scenes of a real-life tragedy relate the raw harshness of 1840s Auckland settler life: dirt floors, public hangings and passers-by humiliating those locked in the stocks at the bottom of Queen St.

But the production itself, written and directed by Michelanne Forster, uses simple touches to create beauty: the small stage is partially lit by two lines of jar candles, and the action opens with the three actors singing the Irish folk tune As I roved out as a wonderful three-part harmony. [More]


Make a comment

Compelling and haunting

Review by Candice Lewis 13th Jun 2014

Stepping back in time to the 1840s Auckland, we meet Irish sisters Sophia (Torum Heng) and Maggie (Jess Sayer). Maggie is not about to pay attention to her sensible sister; she is swept up in a palpable wave of lust upon meeting Joe Burns (Chris Tempest), a ‘good looking’ man quick to tempt her with his hip flask and pleasures of the flesh. Michelanne Forster’s take on these women makes sense to me – perhaps to anyone watching someone they love walk smiling into Hell.

Based on bizarre real events in Devonport (that I shall not give away here), this is more than just an ‘historical piece’ as it carries the weight many abused women drag in their silent and shaking wake. Who knew the North Shore was steeped in blood?

There are elements of horror in this play – my heart is beating really fast – especially watching Chris Tempest’s portrayal of Joe. He swings from charm to sudden cruelty and madness, but it’s well measured and in keeping with the pattern many abusive men (and women) follow.

I am especially moved when he appears to be seducing Maggie and she playfully pretends to be resisting; then as soon as she says something he can find fault with, he flings her aside.

I have worked with women who have been horrendously abused and many admit that they still feel love for their partner. I also have family members who have suffered severe abuse at the hands of charismatic men who professed their love; many of us do.

When Maggie leans back into Joe, I am reminded of this. Here she is, the woman leaning back into the arms of a man and hoping for love when he is not capable of it.

Despite this, it’s frustrating to find myself feeling as straight and tightly wound as Sophia, annoyed with Maggie’s choices and not feeling as much compassion as I would like to. I’m not sure if this is because naïve and beautiful Maggie is meant to elicit a certain amount of irritation, or if Jess Sayer is still forming the more subtle aspects of her character.

Joe is the most real of them all; Tempest has found the thoughts of such a man and allowed them to seep into his pores and glow from lying eyes. And oh the lies to come! 

Throughout the play there are gorgeous old songs that mark significant moments, and I find the sound of each voice incredibly rich, pure and haunting. Sophia kneels before Maggie and sings to comfort her – and this is a moment that feels authentic and tender. I allow myself a few tears, for no matter how naïve, no matter how drunk, no matter how childish the choice, no one ever deserves to end up with a Joe Burns.

A compelling and haunting story.


Make a comment

Sometimes, not always

Review by Matt Baker 13th Jun 2014

Michelanne Forster has a penchant for dramatising historical New Zealand murders, from the highly acclaimed Daughters of Heaven, based on the infamous Parker/Hulme murder, to the shooting of John Saunders by Senga Whittingham in My Heart is Bathed in Blood. In her programme notes for Always My Sister, Forster writes that “What interested [her] about the story were the silent women behind the grisly drama…” While this interpretation certainly provides more dramatic fodder than following the sociopathic drunk Joseph Burns, the duration of the play and the pace at which it is performed results in the dramatisation of these women remaining rather under-dramatic.

At under an hour in length, the entire play can afford to slow down. The first half races through, offering short, signposted scenes of the progression of the relationships, while everything post murder, which should drive through as it contains the dramatic dilemma and has the opportunity to provide the pathos of the piece, is ironically dragged out. There are brief moments of the poetry that Forster imbues in her writing, but it is overshadowed with a sense of the practicality of storytelling, which results in a historical play as opposed to a historical drama. [More]


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council