27/10/2018 - 10/11/2018
ASTROMAN MAKES ITS WORLD PREMIERE AT THE COURT THEATRE TWO HOURS AHEAD OF AUSTRALIA
On the 27th October Astroman will be making its world premiere on The Court Theatre’s stage, just two hours before opening across the Tasman at the Melbourne Theatre Company.
Astroman is a family comedy set in the 1980s written by Kiwi playwright Albert Belz, following a young Māori boy in Whakatāne finding his place – and potential – in small-town New Zealand.
Director Nancy Brunning (He Kura E Huna Ana) describes the play as being “about a young Māori boy genius whose coming of age is influenced by the ‘80s promise of bigger, bolder and louder. He has a vision of the world that is streaks ahead of Whakatāne and tries to manage his boredom with getting into trouble.”
That trouble lands Jimmy working for grumpy Scotsman Mr Macrae in Jimmy’s favourite place in the world, the Astrocade Amusement Parlour. Here, he gets an education of a different sort, with Macrae soon realizing how smart Jimmy truly is.
The play is bringing the world of the 1980s back to life at The Court Theatre, complete with a few video game machines waiting for gamers in the foyer that are sure to transport audience members back in time!
Speaking about where the story came from, Belz says, “I wanted to write a love-letter to the 1980s and Astroman was the result.”
Belz’s play was always intended to be a New Zealand story, but after moving to Australia, he started working on an Australian version of Astroman. In 2017 The Court picked up the play for its Meridian Energy 18/19 season and the Melbourne Theatre Company followed suit, leading to the simultaneous debut dates.
Talking about how one play can be translated across two cultures, Belz says, “there are some obvious differences in the ethnicity and related dialogue, but the themes it covers are the same. It’s very much a family story and whānau is universal.”
The whānau in the play are being brought to life by a group of Māori actors coming to The Court from across Aotearoa.
Tola Newbery (Macbeth & Waiora) is playing Jimmy, joined by Scotty Cotter (He Kura E Huna Ana) as his twin brother, Sonny. Their sister, Natalie, will be played by Ocean Jones, with Tanea Heke (Waru) attempting to control the teenagers onstage as mum Michelle. Outside of the family, Two Productions’ Tom Eason will be playing antagonist Mick; Matt Chamberlain (Shortland Street) as grumpy Scotsman Mr Macrae with Juanita Hepi (The Biggest) returning to The Court as Jimmy’s teacher, Mrs Mahara.
“Astroman is all about vulnerability, fear, courage and desires. It’s the perfect story for anyone unfamiliar with Māori storytelling, video arcades, the ’80s… you will learn a lot,” says Brunning. “Especially about how to play Pac Man, Defender and Donkey Kong!”
Astroman will be running for a limited two-week season at
The Court Theatre
27 October – 10 November 2018
Monday & Thursday: 6.30pm
Forum: 6:30pm Monday 29th October
Discuss the play with cast and creative team after the performance
Matinee: 2:00pm Saturday 10th November
Adult: $55.00 – $60.00
Senior 65yrs+: $48.00 – $53.00
Supporter: $46.00 – $50.00
Group 6+: $48.00
Child (U18): $26.00 – $30.00
30 Below (max 2 per person): $30.00
Bookings: phone 03 963 0870 or visit www.courttheatre.org.nz
Hemi ‘Jimmy’ Te Rehua: Tola Newbery
Sonny Te Rehua: Scotty Cotter
Michelle Te Rehua: Tanea Heke
Natalie Te Rehua: Ocean Jones
Mr Macrae: Matt Chamberlain
Mrs Mahara: Juanita Hepi
Mick Jones: Tom Eason
Director: Nancy Brunning
Set Designer: Nigel Kerr
AV Designer: Stuart Lloyd-Harris
Costume Designer: Amy Macaskill
Lighting Designer: Giles Tanner
Sound Co-Designer: Maarire Brunning-Kouka
Sound Co-Designer: Sheree Waitoa
Stage Manager: Jo Bunce
A light-hearted take on the challenges of games and life
Review by Lindsay Clark 28th Oct 2018
At the heart of this commissioned production, from award-winning playwright Albert Belz, persists a strong idea about patterns of behaviour and the impact of change in human affairs. Its protagonist, Hemi ‘Jimmy’ Te Rehua, learns first to see and then to apply such understanding in the course of his obsession with the local video games arcade. The script itself has been through several drafts, with a reworked version opening on this same date in Melbourne, though with slight adjustments for an Australian audience.
In addition, the playwright “wanted to write a love letter to the eighties” and the town of Whakatane where he did his own growing up. Local colour, then, and the underlying theme of facing challenges are twin preoccupations for director Nancy Brunning and her team, though the play does not take itself too seriously and its overall impression is one of a light-hearted take on the challenges of games and life.
For Hemi and his twin brother Sonny, life means the games parlour, Astrocade, where vicariously perilous adventure and triumph can be found. Hemi, it seems, has a natural talent for spotting the patterns used in the games and his ability with the logic and mathematics involved leads to an opportunity to further computer studies at university in a big city.
Competition on the games scene is fierce, though, and leads to a major confrontation with another gamer, Mick Jones (MJ), reputedly linked to the King Cobra gang and full of racist swagger. When Hemi defeats him in a ‘World Championship’ event, he trashes the arcade, leaving its owner, a boozy Scot – Mr Macrae, played by Matt Chamberlain – with unfulfilled dreams of his own, in a desperate state.
Hemi and his whanau come to the rescue, tidying and reshaping the mess into a better venue, applying the principle of breaking a pattern in order to win against the odds. Eventually its positive outcome emboldens the reluctant Hemi to embrace his own brighter future as an ‘Astroman’, taking up the challenge for study and the opportunity for a new life.
For all this coherence, the plot line seems at times frayed and its skirmish with reality superficial as diversions into minor sibling squabbles and break dancing episodes leave the main thrust of the play dangling, although they could probably be justified as part of building Hemi’s world.
The play has the practical problem too of allowing the audience to see and share the video games themselves so alluring and central to that world. They are played with the actor facing out, with brilliant AV effects designed by Stuart Lloyd-Harris supplying the illusion as far as it goes. Nigel Kerr’s sliding panels offer a set which captures the one dimensional world we are sharing as well as fluid movement between locations.
All the more important for our engagement, then, is the work of the cast. From the outset, Tola Newbery’s Hemi, narrating his story directly to the audience, confidently supplies the ongoing interest we need. His portrayal of the ingenuous but cocky Hemi carries the play, with colourful support in particular from Tom Eason as the vicious M J and Tanea Heke as his mother, Michelle Te Rehua.
It is fair to say that a loyal audience makes their appreciation clear, but for me experience and material offered by the social issues of this context are not fully explored. In its place, a cheerful and personal tale from a likeable young fellow has its day.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer