Babylon Heights

The Forge at The Court Theatre, Christchurch

15/06/2007 - 14/07/2007

Production Details

By Irvine Welsh
Directed by Jon Pheloung

The Court Theatre’s recently re-branded studio theatre, The Forge, is set to fully realize its new name and artistic vision with Babylon Heights, a gritty, physical, pitch-black comedy from the writer of Trainspotting. 

Irvine Welsh has teamed up with Dean Cavanagh to create this nightmarish journey into the flipside of The Wizard of Oz. It’s Hollywood, 1938; four ‘little people’ arrive in the world’s movie-making capital to take up roles as Munchkins in a brand new Technicolor movie – yet the dazzling colours on set pale in comparison to the mayhem and debauchery that goes down after hours. All four actors share one room in a dingy hotel, isolated from the ‘big people’ and, so legend goes, are “paid less than Dorothy’s dog, Toto”. As things become unstuck the scenario goes from bad to worse.

Shocking, scandalous, yet incredibly stylish, this production is not for the faint hearted. Inspired by rumours of wild sex orgies, opium binges, and general ‘dwarf debauchery’ Babylon Heights is a voyeuristic trip into the alter ego of one of the world’s favourite family films. This is adult-only territory – language and subject matter may offend.

“It’s a pleasure to work on such a funny and provocative play”, says director Jon Pheloung. “The actors are in a world that is too big for them, which is both comedic and tragic. We all love the strong language, with rehearsals here continually halted by us laughing.”

Laura Hill (Shortland Street‘s Toni Warner) makes her Court Theatre debut and a welcome return to the stage having last appeared in David Williamson’s Up For Grabs with Auckland Theatre Company. “I’m having such a good time playing with a character that is so different to the one I play on Shortland Street,” says Hill. “And not being constrained by 7pm-on-TV-appropriate language and behaviour is great!”

“Babylon Heights is not for everyone – but it may well be just what some people are waiting for, says The Court Theatre’s Artistic Director Ross Gumbley “This is an incredible theatrical work with real bite. It is, in a way, the true measure of what The Forge can offer – something which contrasts with and compliments our traditional season and widens the palate for theatre lovers.”

Babylon Heights opens in The Forge at The Court on June 15 and runs for a strictly limited season until 14 July. Book now at The Court Theatre Box Office, on 963 0870 or at  

Timothy Bartlett
Martin Howells*
Cameron Douglas
Laura Hill
*Replaced on opening night, with 3 hours notice, by Philip Aldridge

Set by Julian Southgate
Costumes by Annie Graham
Sound and lighting design by Joshua Major

Theatre ,

2 hrs 20 mins, incl. interval

Risky theatre

Review by Lindsay Clark 17th Jun 2007

Munchkin time, 1935 in glorious Hollywood, where Judy Garland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the magic of film is all coming together, though the rainbow song is not going to be sung. There is always a ‘but’ as they say, and this one is at the heart of  the latest challenge on offer at The Forge.

We were promised a ‘pitch-black’ comedy; we got one.

Four  midgets from the cast are the stuff of the play. They  share a dark hotel room where everything is too high or too big .Outside is the world of ‘the big people’. Inside the place which should be a haven becomes a littered trash can of debauchery and betrayal. From sedate comedy as each arrives and comes to terms with Julian Southgate’s slightly sinister set and props, the play moves steadily into darker and darker territory where personalities and relationships start to curdle. It is strong stuff.

It would be unfair to give too much away about the plot – enough that the pot of gold at the end of this particular rainbow comes in the form of hush money so that the scandalous and tragic goings on in Room 224 will not spoil the idyll which is the business of the film.

The material calls for careful pacing and there are some unwieldy sequences in the first half where things seem to mark time, although the claustrophobic set up is obviously going to cause trouble. After interval, the situation is very different. Filming is now underway and the grotesqueness of events is heightened by the munchkin costumes now part of the scene. Reality strikes most cruelly in these circumstances.

As a young and naïve recruit to the world of dwarf show biz, Cameron Douglas is at the centre of developments and rounds out his performance with sensitivity and some fine detail. At the other end of the experience scale is the dope and whisky saturated Bert, played with relish by the robust Timothy Bartlett. With scarcely a blink to remind us that he is standing in for an incapacitated actor and has therefore a script in his hand, Philip Aldridge, more usually encountered as The Court’s Chief Executive, turns in a chilling portrait of a warped yet vulnerable predator.

Warnings accompany this play as to the explicitness of content and language. The language causes more laughter than offence, rising as it does from an irrepressible character. Events, as they unravel are indeed shocking, all the more because they arrive with hysterical intensity. It is risky theatre, for the most part paying off. Without lapsing into remorseless cynicism, it repeats the old lessons about illusion, human nature and rainbows.


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