Centrepoint, Palmerston North

28/07/2012 - 25/08/2012

Production Details

CENTREPOINT THEATRE  from Saturday 28 July 8pm until 25 August.  

Centrepoint Theatre is excited to be bringing another world premiere to the Manawatu this July, with the brand new black comedy At The Wake.  

Family issues erupt in At The Wake, with hilarious and dark consequences.

Is it ever appropriate to discuss your sex life at a funeral? What if you are 70, and it’s your own daughter’s funeral?

Robert, a half-Samoan ex-pat returns to New Zealand to accompany his palangi grandmother to his mother’s funeral. But potty-mouthed Joan is hardly a conventional grandmother – she smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish; she loves men but hates Robert’s father with a passion, and she will make sure EVERYBODY knows it.

At The Wake is a brand new play from the pen of multitalented New Zealand playwright, actor, journalist and Shortland Street scriptwriter, Victor Rodger. The idea for the play came from Rodger’s own family background, when he pondered the question “What if my Samoan father, my Scottish grandmother and I were all in the same room?” and wondered what hypothetical scenario would bring them all together.

Rodger, whose previous plays include Sons, My Name is Gary Cooper and Village People, is known for writing vivid characters and complex character relationships and nowhere is this more evident than in At The Wake.

Lynda Milligan – last seen onstage at Centrepoint Theatre in You Can Always Hand Them Back returns to the Manawatu to appear in At The Wake as Joan, the granny with attitude.

Lynda’s character in At The Wake is light years removed from the cuddly, sweet, dulcet toned grandma that charmed audiences recently in Roger Hall’s You Can Always Hand Them Back.

Instead, Lynda is ready to shock and delight audiences, playing one of the most memorable characters you are likely to encounter on the stage this year: the chain-smoking, glamorous, foul-mouthed, devilish diva Joan, who seemingly lives only to embarrass her grandson…at her own daughter’s funeral, of all places.

Joining Lynda in the cast are Samson Chan-Boon, a recent graduate of the Pacific Institute of Performing Arts, as Robert; and Iaheto Ah Hi, as Tofi. Iaheto recently appeared in the hugely popular films, Sione’s Wedding and Sione’s 2: Unfinished Business.

Directing the play is Roy Ward. In addition to being an accomplished theatre director, Roy is a familiar face from his many screen appearances in shows such as Outrageous Fortune, Go Girls and Shortland Street. Roy also works as a television writer and script editor and has worked extensively overseas: he was based for a time in Amsterdam and has featured in a number of Dutch produced features and shorts.

Saturday 28 July – 25 August

Show Times: 
Wednesday 6.30pm, Thursday – Saturday 8pm, Sunday 5pm.

$37 Adults, $25 Seniors, $27 Under 30s,
$25 Community Service Card Holders, $15 Students,
$65 Dinner & Show.

Special Performances:
$15 Tuesday – Tuesday 31July, 6.30pm.
Bookings for $15 Tuesday open at 9am Monday 30th July. 

Phone 06 354 5740, online at, email, or visit 280 Church Street. 

Starring:  Lynda Milligan; Samson Chan-Boon; Iaheto Ah Hi

Set Design – Sean Coyle;
Lighting Design – Phillip Dexter;
Costume Design – Sara Taylor.

A fine new play

Review by John C Ross 02nd Aug 2012

Funerals and the brouhaha surrounding them typically bring people together who’ve not met for yonks – but what if they’ve had powerful reasons for staying far apart? Chuck into the mix the boozing that’s characteristic of a wake, leading on to the freeing-up of the voicing of grievances, grudges and ugly truths, and here comes trouble. 

Olivia’s funeral proper happens, implicitly, during the interval. What the play gives us first is the coming together beforehand of three characters: her mother Joan, her grown son Robert (flown in from the Big Apple) and Tofi, a Samoan man who had, years ago, shot through after getting Olivia pregnant with Robert. Afterwards, there are their further interactions during the wake, reception, or whatever you call it, with the lubricating add-on of a $300 bottle of whisky. 

Anyway, Joan furiously hates Tofi, and even while stone-cold-sober is vociferously blackmouth in saying so. Robert wants to get to know his biological father, and evidently, if he can, to sort out something between his father and grandmother. Tofi has turned up because Robert had invited him, and for reasons of his own one can guess at.

Nothing, as it turns out, about whatever happened in the past, or for that matter, human nature as represented, is simple or straightforward. The achievements of Victor Rodger’s play are that it makes none of this easy. It holds our interest throughout, keeping on offering surprising new twists nearly up to the end, and meanwhile is richly entertaining, and often funny or touching.  

It was workshopped by the Auckland Theatre Company last year, and Centrepoint’s production is advertised as its “world premiere”. Roy Ward’s direction of it is seamlessly competent, and with plenty of variety of pace there is not a single flagging nor a flat moment – which is, also, a tribute to the writing, and to the actors, but especially to him. 

The role of Grandmother Joan is a glorious character part, and Lynda Milligan gives it lashings of passion, complexities and gusto. Robert, played by Samson Chan-Boon, is comparatively straight, if not so in every sense, and sympathetically rendered.

Iaheto Ah Hi also does well in the role of Tofi, likewise relatively straight, yet a character who is diffident and apologetic in the awkward circumstances, but with clear signals that he has a separate and strong life-role somewhere else, in his own social milieu. 

Sean Coyle’s set keeps it simple, with changes needed only to the dressing, yet offers some visual interest with rather striking reflective vertical panels around the stage-left exits. 

All in all, this is a fine new play, and this first full production of it is beautifully acted, and well-presented generally.  


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Insightful, compelling and humorous piece about life, love and loss

Review by Richard Mays 30th Jul 2012

“That bastard dog shit on the front lawn again!” And with these opening words we are introduced to the formidable ‘dame’ Joan, a 70-years (plus) peroxided (former) bombshell, and chief (so she reckons) mourner at the funeral of her daughter, Olivia.   

Earlier this year, for Centrepoint’s premiere of Roger Hall’s You Can Always Hand Them Back, Lynda Milligan played a more benignly traditional style of grandmother swaddled in warm fuzzy moments and melodies; in this new play, she crosses over to the other side.

As an old ‘luvvie’, Joan enjoys being loud, inappropriate and outrageous. The curtain may have come down on her acting career, but she is determinedly still centre-stage, and enjoys nothing better than a bout of racy banter with her 25-year-old part Samoan grandson Robert, played by Samson Chan-Boon, who is back from New York for the funeral of his mother.

This is a wickedly delicious role and in relishing it, Milligan is in her element.

For the ‘after-match’, Robert, part of New Zealand’s US-based MFAT team, has bought in a three-hundy-dollar bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label. Joan can’t wait to get started on it, while challenging Robert to a round of recounting salacious sexual trysts at funerals. Robert, who is gay, has the last word, as he does over wearing an ie faitaga (formal lava-lava) to his mother’s send-off.

What Joan doesn’t know is that Robert has invited his absentee father, Tofi to the funeral. 25 years previously, Tofi was Joan’s gardener, and ‘knocked up’ Olivia, before doing a runner. When Iaheto Ah Hi’s Tofi turns up during the service, Joan is outraged, and her pent up bitterness spills over.

This may be Missing Pieces gone pear-shaped, but up until this point, Victor Rodger’s play had been doing a reasonable job of being a brittle caustic black comedy of modern manners that perhaps was in danger of subsiding into superficiality. But here, there is a sudden gear-change and by interval, theatre patrons are left wondering just which way things are going to jump. The injection of Ah Hi’s Tofi also sharpens up the production’s pace, which had dallied somewhat on the slow side.

You could say At The Wake is something of a bushwhack. Lured by the promise of a rip-snorting comedy with a larger than life diva, the audience is being stalked and waylaid by a scenario that threatens to evolve into a fully-fledged multi-layered human drama.

During its second act, At The Wake continues to build in depth and dimension – without being preachy or sacrificing the play’s comic momentum.

Not only is Robert’s father a reformed drinker and smoker, he is also a born-again Christian and a member of Bishop Brian’s Destiny Church – just how big a target does the spirited and spirits-laden Joan need? And as the whisky takes hold and the characters enter spill-the-beans mode, what will be Tofi’s reaction when he learns his long lost son is gay?

Throughout, Chan-Boon and Ah Hi temper their encounters with finely nuanced and sometimes moving performances. 

Inspired by the playwright’s thought: “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?”, the main difficulty is imagining the intensity of shots fired attracting so little notice in a crowded funeral function room, and there being so little interaction with other mourners.

Certainly, there are spoken acknowledgements, nods and even apologies to these unseen entities, including Olivia’s husband Gary, but for all intents and purposes, this highly selective dissection takes place in a tightly focused three-person bubble.

Inside it, with more than a passing reference to Jean-Paul Sartre’s play Huis Clos and its ‘Hell is other people’ maxim, the antagonists continually redefine their relationships with each other. 

On Sean Coyle’s arresting, partially reflective black set with its dark gauze picture window, offset by white furniture, these three excellent performers conjure memorable characters in an insightful, compelling and humorous piece about life, love and loss in a way that truly resonates. 


Phil Grieve July 30th, 2012

I'm assuming you mean Sean Coyle, Richard?  
[Thanks Phil - corrected and apologies for not picking it up.]  

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