An Adagio Christmas

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

04/12/2009 - 20/12/2009

Production Details


The 2008 circus smash hit Adagio returns with a new Christmas adaptation

In 2008 Adagio took circus to a sophisticated new level with a bold mix of physical theatre, live jazz and comedy. Audiences were enthralled and reviewer comments included:
"Adagio offers a beautifully crafted hour of existential physical theatre." – John Smythe,
"What a circus, what a show. Go see!" – Laurie Atkinson, the Dominion Post

Epic and intimate, thrilling and thoughtful, bold and original, Adagio is back at Downstage this December with a new Christmas adaptation of the show with new acts, new artists, new music and the festive spirit.

Director Deborah Pope: "An Adagio Xmas is a gift for the whole family. It is about to burst off the stage with live music and new acts . It’s wickedly funny, beautifully sad and as special as Xmas can be." Deborah Pope continues: "Adapting it for Christmas has got us all into a festive spirit and we can’t wait to share it with you. It’s not all carols and candle light – there are moments of irreverence and audiences will laugh as they recognise familiar Christmas scenarios." 

Explore the crazy, funny and isolated worlds of seven characters and the beautiful, scary and spectacular moments when they break free and connect with each other. A story of mischief and camaraderie with jaw dropping acrobatics, stylish physical theatre and side splitting comedy, set to live jazz performed by Rosie Langabeer and Jeff Henderson, including music by Jonathan Crayford.

An Adagio Christmas is a great family show with all ages appeal, Downstage and Awkward Productions have gifted the entire opening night to 160 children in the care of Child, Youth and Family.  

"The community has demonstrated its support of Downstage this year, so we want to do something in return." says Hilary Beaton, CEO of Downstage. "We were wondering who we could approach when we realised – who better than those young people who can’t be with their families at Christmas." said Ms Beaton.

"Our kids have fewer opportunities than most to experience a spectacle such as this. Child, Youth and Family is overwhelmed by the generosity of Downstage in devoting opening night to our people," said Jo Field, Central Regional Director for Child, Youth and Family. "It’s important for all kids to have a wide variety of experiences. Going to the play and meeting the actors will give these children a memory that they will cherish long after the curtain falls," said Ms Field. 

An Adagio Christmas
Dates: 4-20 DEC
Times: 6:30pm Tue-Wed and 8pm Thu-Sat. Plus late Night – Wed 9pm
Prices: $25 to $45. Meet the Artists: Tue 8 DEC
Matinee: Sat 12 & 19 DEC @ 2pm, Sun 20 DEC @ 4pm  

Tickets can be purchased online,
by phone at (04) 801 6946
or in person at Downstage’s box office.

For up-to-date information visit 

Downstage is proudly sponsored by BNZ.

Mason West, Rowan Heydon-White, Angela Green, Jenny McArthur, Rosie Langabeer, Asalemo Tofete, Jeff Henderson

1hr 15 mins, no interval

Christmas must-see

Review by Lynn Freeman 11th Dec 2009

This is essentially the same adorable Adagio we saw and loved this time last year with a sprinkling of Christmas (until the miraculous finale).

Under Deborah Pope’s deft direction, this is subtle yuletide fare, but filled with wonder and magic, as Christmas was for us when Santa and his reindeer were real. (My neighbour’s son has just figured out this truth and it reminded me how sad that moment is).
There are small sadnesses within the stories told here, of the lonely dancer, of the man crammed into his tiny room and another obsessed with his TV.  As they emerge from their shells, there are plenty of laughs and gasps of wonder at the acrobatics and aerobatics.

Mason West and Rowan Heydon White are Circus Artists who are just astonishing, and Angela Green is just a joy to watch. I enjoyed seeing again Jenny MacArthur’s increasingly manic dance to a sports commentary and Asalemo Tofete hits the right note in performance and song.
If you haven’t seen it, go. If you have, it’s worth seeing again with the extra tinsel and snowdrops.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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A delightful confection of tinsel and tantrums

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 11th Dec 2009

Roll up! Roll up! The biggest Smallest Show on Earth is back in town with a lyrical, comical, ‘athletical’ confection that will delight both young and old. It will also delight those who saw Adagio 14 months ago at Downstage despite a great deal of repetition from that show.

The five lonely people of Adagio are still living in their tiny, dimly-lit rooms. One woman (Rowan Haydon White) still can’t find the right the dress to wear in her wardrobe; the romantic novel is still being typed by an enthusiastic would-be author (Angela Green); the dancer (Jenny MacArthur) is still itching to dance; the young man (Mason West) is still watching TV; and the fat man (Asalemo Tolete) is still toting his large suitcase.

Mason Ward and Rowan Haydon White zip up and down poles with the skill of monkeys and make my heart stop as they slide at speed headfirst towards the stage. Rowan Haydon White’s aerial silk work has a balletic quality that I have not seen in other performers of this skill, and she and Angela Green perform on a trapeze an amazing romantic duet which makes one forget that they are performing it swinging in the air high above the stage.

The comedy is fresh and funny. A falling-out between Mason West and Asalemo Tolete becomes silent movie clowning and a touch of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, while Angela Green and Asalemo Tolete join forces in their hilarious ventriloquist act, and the piano still moves magically about the stage.

Rosemary Langabeer, the pianist, still has many hands to help her play, while William J. Henderson plays with only his own hands a cool clarinet , a saxophone, and, briefly, his own musical instrument called The Poly Twanger.

The finale (marvelously lit by Marc Edwards) is much the same as it was 14 months ago but this time there’s a Christmas twist to it which was received with acclaim by the cheering, foot-stomping, delighted audience – though I pity the poor stage manager!
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Guaranteed to entrance young and old alike

Review by John Smythe 06th Dec 2009

Given its meaning in music, I had assumed the Adagio title indicated the show was quite slow by ‘normal’ circus standards. Now further investigation reveals that in circus terminology, Adagio is another word for Acrobalance, which is the art of partner acrobatics, where performers use each other’s bodies to create statuesque poses and dynamic sequences in a duet of counterbalance.[i]  

This is certainly a major part of An Adagio Christmas, mostly involving the supremely skilled circus artists Mason West and Rowan Heydon White. ‘Adagio’ may also describe what the seven disparate characters in this entertainment have in common, as they attempt to find their point of equilibrium between independence and community, privacy and public encounters, loneliness and togetherness.

As Christmas looms, and over Christmas, it becomes a quest for balance between stress and pleasure, tension and relaxation, which are fundamental to acrobatics, dance, drama, comedy and music – all of which are variously combined to create this entrancing, heart-stopping and finally heart-warming show, splendidly directed by Deborah Pope. 

This is an evolved version of last year’s Adagio, recontextualised for Christmas and with Jeff Henderson (clarinet, sax & percussion, including his home-made Poly Twanger) joining Rosemary Langabeer (piano & piano accordion) to manifest the music composed by themselves, Jonathan Crayford, Shostakovich and Bach.

Once more isolation is the starting note. Rowan Heydon White is somewhat immersed in her wardrobe. Angela Green is confronting her writer’s block. Mason West is having trouble with his TV reception. Jenny McArthur shares her solitude with cigarettes and a bottle. Rosemary Langabeer tickles her ivories, unaware of Jeff Henderson’s grouch gazing down from above.

Asalemo Tofete arrives trundling his suitcase and crams into the remaining available cubicle. They could be the inhabitants of any block of apartments, with the emphasis on ‘apart’. And yet their separate sounds create a rhythm … Except people tend to be intolerant of other people’s noises.  

It’s this rhythm of life that drives West up a pole. It’s curiosity that brings Heydon White down another – or is it just that she wants to turn off his telly? Whichever way you interpret it, the pole work is stunning. That the skill was able to be learned without fatality or brain damage is a testament to their training.

Green’s wannabe steamy romance writer searches for elusive similes, and achieves her climax nevertheless, while McArthur lets loose the sound of yesteryear that she has trapped in her tins. Beneath her coat, it emerges, hides a ballerina and much of her time now becomes devoted to recapturing the lost splendour of her swan-like youth – although high anxiety returns when she mistakes the men’s shouting at the rugby on telly for a dance-master’s instructions.

Contemporary aerialist Heydon White presents as happily independent, not least as she unravels, ravels and revels in strips of hanging fabric. Her encounters with West – whose character may be a touch agoraphobic – are robust and seemingly dangerous while totally trusting in their execution. In one routine they start poles apart then, once on the same pole, she climbs rings around him.

A comic chase involving West, Tofete, and upstairs door opening into space and a pole is one of the energetic counterpoints to the default ‘adagio’ tempo.

The intimacy of Downstage (compared to a big top) allows for a tiny finger opening a suitcase zip from the inside to have a huge theatrical effect. Green’s facial ‘mask’ skills as Tofete’s ventriloquist’s dummy – or is it the other way round? – elevates an excellent comedy duo routine to a level of excellence that’s up there with the aerial acrobatics. Her vocal skills are excellent too, although in a later appearance – involving her having to get some coaching from Jesus in order to find the courage to say the ‘s’ word – she unaccountably lapses into a strong American accent, of which there was but a tinge in the earlier scene. (Such is the fate of kids brought up on Sesame Street?)

An aerial trapeze-de-deux between Heydon White and Green is sublime, with Heydon White the trustee, this time, to Green’s truster: simultaneously heart-stopping and heart-warming in its lyrical sensuality.

This time West’s tower of balanced chairs is dedicated to hanging the Christmas star. (Last year he was taking his rabbit-ear aerial aloft to find better reception. It has to be said that while many of the routines are familiar, they remain just as entertaining as when a rock band plays their hit repertoire.)

The comic highlight involves Langabeer at her piano discovering that many hands make for a remarkable experience and musical outcome. Tofete brings his dulcet tones to a Christmas lullaby (in place of last year’s ‘Blue Smoke’) as the Christmas fairy spins aloft …

The finale echoes Slava’s Snow Show in showering us with flakes. I suppose there’s no southern-hemisphere summer equivalent to supplant that old Christmas cliché.  

A foot-stamping ovation affirms that our widely age-ranged audience absolutely loved it. The balance is tipped in favour of community. An Adagio Christmas is a family show guaranteed to entrance young and old alike – and a group booking will make an ideal corporate gift to clients. _______________________________
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  



Graham Atkinson December 19th, 2009

Well having now seen the show I must congratulate Radio New Zealand on managing to make a volcano out of a pimple! What's more I saw the show on a late night so it certainly wasn't censored post Nat Rad.

What I saw was a satisfying blend of physical and verbal comedy and absolutely nothing I suspect that kids in CYPS care hadn't heard or said daily.

Well done everyone involved - keep it up and to the poor Nat Rad reporter I can only say "Get a Life"

John Smythe December 7th, 2009

Exactly. See Circa's Dick Whittington and his Cat, in which a man dressed as a woman asks the children, "Has anyone seen my Dick?" then "Has anyone seen my pussy?"  Where are the headlines on that?

Michael Smythe December 7th, 2009

With all that publicity about (mysteriously anonymous) knickers in a knot Downstage should double its entendres and mount a good old fashioned pantomime!

John Smythe December 7th, 2009

Shock! Horror! The top story each hour on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report today is about the “swearing” and “sexual content” in An Adagio Christmas.  Presumably a reporter went along, with a tape recorder, to get a feel good story about how Downstage and Awkward Productions gave the opening night to children in the care of Child, Youth and Family (CYF) – and decided to beat it up into a moralising scandal.

So what happens? In a childish outburst the ventriloquist’s dummy calls the ventriloquist a “fat fuck”, instantly acknowledges that’s a wrong word – and later, in a comic sequence trading on how hard it can be to say “sorry”, sets about apologising for calling him fat.  

As for the “sexual content”, that involves the wannabe writer planning a story in which someone “loses her virginity … no, maidenhead” and later she has a self-satisfied moment where, to appropriate musical accompaniment, she brings her story to its climax (in tones redolent of many a Margaret Mahy tale). Only those mature enough to ‘know’ will perceive the orgasmic implications.

The ‘news’ story asserts care-givers were shocked but so far no-one has said so on air. Indeed a senior manager from CYF expressed surprise at being interviewed about those aspects and kept saying what a wonderful experience it was for the children.  The “gasps” the news item keeps saying were drawn from the audience were exactly right for those theatrical moments.

This audience presumably included children who have witnessed or experienced violent and sexual abuse in violent and dangerous environments.  To reclaim swearing as part of the naughtiness of name-calling and take it through to acknowledging the difficulty and efficacy of apologising is not only OK – it is positively good. 

Likewise reclaiming the notion of sex as a pleasurable experience – in a way that will only register with those who already have an awareness of it – can only be a very positive contribution to damaged lives.

Not that the show has been devised for any such purpose. Downstage director (not the director of the show, as RNZ kept asserting) Hilary Beaton made the point that it would have been condescending to the children to censor the show especially for them. She also described circus, and this show, as being about trust and strength - and I certainly agree with that. It is billed as a family show, it is also ideal for end-of-year corporate entertainment, it contains nothing that is not part of most people’s daily lives and it quietly affirms the positive values of love and supportive communities.

So yes, it is a most peculiar media beat up – which can only add up to good publicity for the show and Downstage, albeit with a nasty taste around it.  But isn’t it sad that that’s what it takes to for theatre to hit the news headlines?

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