Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

25/11/2014 - 06/12/2014

Production Details

From the creative team who bought you Black Faggot and My Name is Gary Cooper comes the Auckland premiere of the deliciously dark comedy AT THE WAKE playing at the Herald Theatre from November 25 – December 6. 
“A Black comedy with brio, attitude and guts …” – NZ Listener 

Chain-smoking, booze-swilling Joan holds court at her daughter’s funeral. Keeping it together with the help of a $300 bottle of Johnny Walker, this fading diva is thrilled to see her gay grandson Robert – but apoplectic when his estranged father turns up to pay his respects. Nobody is safe as Joan unleashes hell at the wake. Family drama erupts in hilarious style as these unforgettable characters deal with loss, love and misunderstanding. 

Penned by award winning Kiwi/Samoan playwright and screenwriter Victor Rodger, AT THE WAKE was inspired by Victor’s own family background, when he asked, “What if my estranged Samoan father, my Scottish grandmother and I were all in the same room?” Dubbed the “enfant terrible of New Zealand script writing” by The Listener, Victor is known for creating vivid characters and complex relationships in a series of hit plays including Sons, Ranterstantrum and My Name is Gary Cooper. His most recent hit comedy, Black Faggot, swept the 2013 Auckland Fringe Festival awards and toured internationally to Melbourne, Brisbane, Wellington, Auckland and Edinburgh winning rave reviews from critics and audiences. 

AT THE WAKE boasts a stellar cast uniting veteran actress Lisa Harrow with screen favourite Robbie Magasiva and rising talent Taofia Pelesasa, all returning home from overseas acting engagements for this production.

Lisa Harrow is one of New Zealand’s most accomplished performers. Hailed as a “screen legend” by the NZ Women’s Weekly, Lisa studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company. She played the lead in the BBC series Nancy Astor and was Lizzie Kavanagh in the John Thaw series Kavanagh QC. Her many memorable film appearances include The Omen III and The Last Days of Chez Nous. Lisa most recently played meddling mother-in-law Marion in the TV2 comedy Step Dave.

Robbie Magasiva returns to the stage fresh from starring as prison guard Will Jackson in the award-winning Australian television drama Wentworth. Robbie is best known for his role in the best-selling Sione’s Wedding films. Television series include The Strip, Jackson’s Wharf and Shortland Street. This is his fourth appearance in a Victor Rodger play; critics praised his work in Sons, Ranterstantrum and My Name is Gary Cooper

Taofia Pelesasa joins the cast after touring to Australia and Edinburgh in Pacific musical The Factory, a Pacific musical by Kila Kokonut Krew. Taofia also starred in The Factory web series. He appeared in Black Faggot in Melbourne, Brisbane, Wellington and Auckland, where his performances were praised as “electrifying”, with “superb timing” and “huge performance energy”. 

AT THE WAKE is directed by Roy Ward, who developed the play for its debut season at Centrepoint in 2012. This is his third collaboration with Victor, having directed My Name is Gary Cooper and Black Faggot.  Roy is a freelance director, actor and writer and former Associate Director of Auckland Theatre Company.
“A rip-snorting comedy with a larger than life diva” – Theatreview 

Tuesday 25 November – Saturday 6 December at 8pm,
Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre
Public Preview: Tuesday 25 November, 8pm
Matinee: Saturday 29 November, 2pm
Tickets:  $40 full, $35 concession, $30 groups 6+, preview $20/$25, plus bookings fees. 
TICKETS GO ON PUBLIC SALE Wednesday 15 October
Book at

In the Wake of Genius

Review by Sharu Delilkan 28th Nov 2014

Victor Rodger’s uncanny ability to write dialogue, that’s often self-censored in real life, is both refreshing and hard-hitting, which captures our attention right from the start. And this is evident as soon as Joan (Lisa Harrow) opens her mouth. The barrage of profanities that emit her gob can only be likened to proverbial verbal diarrhoea. There’s no question that we’re in for a no-holes-barred bumpy ride like no other. 

The storyline inspired by Rodger’s own family background aptly answers the burning question he must have grown up wondering i.e. ‘What it would have been like had his estranged Samoan father, Scottish grandmother and him ended up in the same room together?’ [More]


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Underneath hilarious comedy is concern with painful reality of relationships

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 28th Nov 2014

The attraction of playing with fire is brilliantly displayed in a new work by Victor Rodger that lights the fuse on a volatile mixture of outrageous comedy and raw emotion. 

The resulting explosion has the force of a volcanic eruption that blows away the veneer of social convention to release layers of pent-up emotion and deeply embedded pain. 

Revealing family secrets in the charged atmosphere of a funeral is a familiar dramatic device but At the Wake manages to confound expectations with complex characters engaged in a series of neatly structured reversals. [More]


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Finely wrought work performed with rambunctious audacity and finesse

Review by Dione Joseph 27th Nov 2014

When Victor Rodger wondered, “What if my Samoan father, my Scottish grandmother and I were all in the same room; and what would be a hypothetical scenario that would bring us all together?” he laid the foundations for what is inevitably a modern day domestic clash of clans.

At the Wake chronicles the sequence of events that unfurl at Olivia’s funeral. Daughter of a mouthy Scottish diva, she was knocked up by her Samoan lover at the tender age of sixteen and left to rear her baby boy on her own. Fast forward 25 years and cancer has brought the three most important people in her life into the same space as they gather together to mourn her passing.

Olivia’s son, young afakasi Robert (Taofia Pelesasa), has just flown in from the Big Apple and despite his insistence on wearing a ie faitaga, his arrival brings much delight to his Scottish Nan Joan (Lisa Harrow), whose greatest concern on this occasion seems to be whether or not to don headgear. She is, however, less than thrilled to discover that Robert’s father Tofilau (Robbie Magasiva), after all these years of silence, has dared to show his face at her beloved daughter’s funeral.

Initially it’s tempting to think that At the Wake is entirely about a mother coming to terms with the loss of her daughter and the swine who broke her child’s heart. Farrow is in impeccable form as the loud and increasingly acerbic matriarch who enjoys lewd banter and bawdy jokes with her grandson. She is the perfect nicotine-puffing, quality booze-swilling nan walking a tight line between bravado and layered tenderness, and her caustic behaviour towards the man who abandoned her daughter and grandson is laced with barbed jibes that nevertheless seem to do little to pierce his newly found placidity as a member of Destiny’s church. 

But there is in fact more. Much more.  

The funeral is over (and so is interval) and the second act commences as the three (and undoubtedly other family member and guests) gather around for the wake. With a 300 dollar bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label and some less than impressive sausage rolls for sustenance, the three generations indulge in a chinwag that uncovers secret after secret after secret.

Both Magasiva and Pelesasa come into their own in the second act, with nuanced performances that oscillate from moments of cradled tenderness between father and son to admonishments for a lack of respect and an unequivocal critique of absenteeism. Assumptions are torn down, repeatedly, and from having been in the limelight Joan finds herself trying to juggle the escalating emotions of the father and son who might be linked by blood but are in fact complete strangers to the man each has become. 

Rodger’s dialogue is unrelentingly acidic and the humour is both contagious and recognisable. Immediately we are drawn into the lives, virtues and vices of this trio as they salute a woman whose presence may indeed be most keenly felt through those left behind to keep vigil. While the play is a tad too long (particularly towards the end when story is steeped in plateauing melodrama), it is an exquisitely sculpted work.

Under the excellent direction of Roy Ward, three powerful actors give highly sophisticated performances that are heartfelt and potent.

Produced by Karin Williams from Multinesia productions, At the Wake showcases a brilliant creative team whose success is reflected in the collaborative effort of all involved. From perfectly-adjusted lighting states to simple monochrome sets and costumes, and above all a story that resonates, each facet is in genuine conversation with the production and its performers.

A rare treat to see such a finely wrought work performed with such rambunctious audacity and finesse.


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