AUTOBAHN: a short play cycle

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

04/11/2009 - 14/11/2009

Production Details

Theatre Classic’s Drive New Talent in a LaBute Premiere

Combining the talents of theatre luminaries with the next generation of talent, The Emergency Room is excited to present the NZ premiere of LaBute’s provocative collection of one-act plays –  AUTOBAHN, playing at the Basement Theatre from 4th-14th of November.

Set within the confines of the front seat of a car AUTOBAHN explores the mine-field of abusive, controlling, or otherwise toxic relationships. From a break-up gone awry, to a kidnapping thinly disguised as a road trip LaBute’s unsettling montage gradually reveals the scabrous force of words left unsaid while illuminating the delicate interplay between intention and morality.

The star-studded cast boasts a stable of high profile actors and directors including Shane Bosher (Ruben Guthrie, Holding the Man), Bruce Phillips (The History Boys, The Wife who spoke Japanese in her Sleep), Elisabeth Easther (Outrageous Fortune, Shortland St), Margaret-Mary Hollins (Blackbird, Ooh Baby Baby!), Colin Moy (The Mercy Seat and many acting credits including In My Fathers Den and Betrayal) and Annie Whittle (The History Boys, The World’s Fastest Indian). This impressive ensemble work alongside NZ’s rising new stars of acting and directing to deliver a stripped back, claustrophobic and captivating production.

"There is no playwright on the planet these days who is writing better than Neil LaBute."
–John Lahr, The New Yorker

Acclaimed playwright and director Neil LaBute has received high praise from critics for his edgy and unsettling portrayals of human relationships. The staging of his plays in NZ including The Shape Of Things, The Mercy Seat, This Is How It Goes and Bash have developed a strong home audience for his work.

Newly formed theatre production company The Emergency Room are delighted to present this LaBute premiere as their first foray into the NZ theatre scene. They aim to produce work that pairs experienced industry professionals with emerging talent to fill the gap between fringe and top end work created by companies such as Silo Theatre and Auckland Theatre Company.

November 4 -14 at 8pm. No Sunday or Monday performances.
Tickets $15 – $20 (booking  fee may apply)
Book at  or ph (09) 361 1000

directed by Margaret Mary Hollins
and with Julia Croft, Peta Rutter

Bench Seat
directed by Shane Bosher
and with Todd Emerson, Rachel Forman

All Apologies
directed by Edwin Wright
and with Ross Anderson, Elisabeth Easther


directed by Dena Kennedy
and with Andi Crown, Simon London

Road Trip
directed by Colin Moy
and with Olivia Tennet, Will Wallace

directed by Kip Chapman
and with Bruce Phillips, Annie Whittle

Lightint & Sound Design - Michael Craven
Set Design - Brad Knewstubb
Produced by - The Emergency Room

Snapshots’ word play drives the front-seat action in Butesville, USA

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 09th Nov 2009

Neil LaBute has cultivated a reputation as one of theatre’s bad boys – notorious for shocking audiences with bitterly funny works that embrace the violence and nastiness lurking beneath the sunny colours of the American dream. Autobahn is a recent play, representing a mellower, more nuanced examination of the apathy and anger that consumes the inhabitants of Butesville, USA.

The cycle of six short pieces provides a challenging workout for a talented team of 12 actors and six directors assembled under The Emergency Room’s mission statement which aims to bring emerging talent into contact with established practitioners. [More]
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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On the road with the faithless, thoughtless, selfish and often passive

Review by Lillian Richards 05th Nov 2009

"Sitting in an automobile was where I first remember understanding how drama works… Hidden in the back seat of a sedan, I quickly realized how deep the chasm or intense the claustrophobia could be inside your average family car." – Neil LaBute

Take this claustrophobia and innate intensity and add the dialogues of 12 separate characters and you have Autobahn: in the equal parts awkward, funny and disturbing love child of a writer who can clearly see the subtle insides of what causes us to fracture.

Neil LaBute was quoted as saying "Great good can come from showing the bad". This, perhaps in self-defence of his misanthropic tendencies, is the circular logic navigated by Autobahn: a play made up of six separate dialogues played out in the front seat of a car.

These interactions are delivered by a catalogue of characters who dodge between both surreal and hyper-real, depressing and funny, sinister and innocent – at all times on the knife-edge of both good and bad.

I say dialogues but there are monologues also, where one passenger is mute listening to the interminable ramblings of the dominant other and it is sometimes these that are the most telling.
The first in the cycle, ‘Funny’ (directed by Margaret Mary Hollins), is one such one-sided relationship where the prodigal daughter (played with alarmingly well-paced malice by Julia Croft ) returns from an unconvincing stint in rehab and spends the suffocatingly tense and ill-fated car trip in a maniacal diatribe. Her mother (imbued by Peta Rutter with a deep stress and sadness) listens on in silent anguish.

‘Bench Seat’ (directed by Shane Bosher) is a more easily digestible piece of awkward humour played out between a couple for whom the song ‘Breaking Up Is Hard To Do’ has particular relevance. Todd Emerson plays the young man with a subtle and convincing Canadian drawl, a palpable dis-ease and a charismatic anguish whilst Rachel Forman delivers a superbly believable performance as a nightmarish girlfriend.

‘All Apologies’ (directed by Edwin Wright), the third in the cycle, is a little clunkier in its delivery but a part of that could be intentional, with Ross Anderson playing a klutz of an alcoholic husband spewing out words and dancing around nouns in an attempt to form an apology to his beleaguered wife.

Elisabeth Easther, as wife, doesn’t feel especially connected to the innate heaviness of such a sad and cyclic relationship, instead taking the ramblings in what feels like her slightly superficial stride. Still, there are moments of intimacy where we see a glimpse of her character’s vast burdens.

‘Merge’ (directed by Dena Kennedy) stands out as being a very well crafted piece of wordsmanship, coupled with some stunning acting by Andi Crown and Simon London, who together bring to life the hilarious dialogue of a desperately conflicted husband and an interminably contrary vamp of a wife. 

Easily the most disturbing in the cycle is ‘Road Trip’, directed by Colin Moy, which immediately smacks of Stockholm syndrome. A young girl, played sweetly and with great measure by Olivia Tennet, is being driven into the wilderness of ill intention by some undisclosed older man. Played by Will Wallace, who effortlessly balances charm with sinister, he delivers simply the most affecting line in the play: "I’ll just use two fingers…"  

The namesake of the whole cycle is elucidated in the final play, directed by Kip Chapman, where two ex-foster parents are driving home from returning their ill begotten and now abandoned foster son to the state services. Annie Whittle plays the ‘mother’ who rants and raves in circular illogic about their making the right decision and obviously not being to blame. Whittle’s husband is played by another veteran actor of exceptional talent, Bruce Phillips, both of whom have just finished a no doubt exhausting stint in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys and perhaps this took its toll as Whittle wasn’t altogether put together on opening night and failed to quite fill out the character with much conviction. Phillips’ role calls for stoic listening and he does this with a believably stressed silence that speaks of ‘dad whilst driving’.

The Brad Knewstubb-designed set is intentionally sparse and although this is often a forlorn trait in New Zealand theatre it works here, leaving the audience to focus on the relationships being played out between the passengers. Having said that, there are well directed moments where the set becomes a foil: heads turning to glimpse a stationary deer as it moves quickly from imaginary sight; the incidental prisms cast by Annie Whittle’s garish jewellery feeling like other cars passing in the night … Michael Craven’s lighting is to good affect too, being rather responsive and clever at times.

The wardrobe – evolved by each pair of actors and their director – is fantastic: each character lovingly pushed into the likes of plaid or velour, whatever their particular stereotype calls for. Although though the shifting directorships work in this instance, they might also have had something to do with some of the weaker moments. Perhaps some continuity would have been a strength here.

There are moments where the script seems to reverberate endlessly, bending an idea or sentence around itself, revealing subtle layers of meaning. The actors take off clothing or put it back on as though to cast a light on chasteness, deception, vampishness; a line of Whittle’s where she says "the whole country’s living with us now" hints at the massive carload of characters we all carry with us, and Julia Croft ‘s character willfully misinterpreting the idea of truth, by manipulating it in order to continue being untruthful, leads one to think about the very definition of truth as ‘that which never changes’.

Annie Whittle’s last monologue, aimed at presenting a greater metaphor for the whole play as though we are all one speeding car in the night passing another, untouched by all that’s going on inside is an interesting way of raising the issue of fervent isolationism within our society.

This is a play that, like all good art, exists on different levels. There is the basic satisfaction from a good production, the slightly harder-to-achieve enjoyment of very good acting, and a script that calls into question the fleeting nature of our faithfulness, that uses words to play on the reasons behind our thoughtlessness, our general selfishness and often times our passivity in the face of great complexity.

These are very human stories and very worthy retellings of them. 
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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Michael Wray November 12th, 2009

The same correction should be applied to the sentence that says, "Peta Rutter's character willfully misinterpreting the idea of truth..."  Unless of course I missed some hidden depths in Peta Rutter's non-speaking character!

- Absolutely right - now fixed. Thanks Michael - ED

Editor November 5th, 2009

When this was first posted Julia Croft was inadvertently said to be playing Peta Rutter's mother! The vice, of course, is versa. Apologies. Now corrected.

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