Back Story

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, The Edge, Auckland

19/03/2009 - 11/04/2009

Auckland Festival 2009

Production Details

BACK STORY explores how storytelling is used as a means to connect with one another, either through fantasy or reflection, entertainment or education. Constructed from the real-life stories of people met in the street, this is theatre that speaks with the boldness of today’s generation. An authentic narrative which confirms that existence is not generic.

THE ENSEMBLE PROJECT plays for a strictly limited season. Bookings are available now on 09 357 3355 or at

For those of you needing to be super thrifty at the moment, we are offering a low-priced preview with all tickets available for just $20.00 for the following performance:


Thursday March 19th to Saturday 11 April, 8pm
Herald Theatre, THE EDGE

Experience the thrill of the new.


set design:  JOHN VERRYT
costume design:  VICTORIA INGRAM
lighting design            :  JEREMY FERN
sound design:  JASON SMITH
movement:  JULIA MILSOM   

stage management:  LAURYN WATI
properties management:  BECS EHLERS
technical management:  SEAN LYNCH
technical operation:  JONATHAN CROSS
set construction:  2 CONSTRUCT
graphic design:  CONCRETE
production photography:  AARON K

A little inspired improv quirkiness helps make real characters out of stereotypes

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 23rd Mar 2009

Back Story is a high energy devised work that takes the pulse of the city with improvisations around material that was collected by asking randomly selected citizens to provide a story for a play.

It is an intriguing process that has produced tales of anxiety, loneliness, frustration and yearning. The characterisations are all easily recognisable stereotypes, but the interview technique has given each role the quirkiness of a particular individual. [More]


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Perfect last word in a festival of existentialism

Review by Nik Smythe 20th Mar 2009

The process for evolving the content for Back Story began, as I understand it, with each performer approaching a stranger and asking them for a story to use in a play.  Bringing the stories to the group, they developed the characters of their interviewees to make them their own, workshopped their stories up together and wove them all together for the stage with a fresh vibrant conceptual attitude.

The first ten or twenty minutes are kind of awkwardly confusing as the cast launches straight into a theatrical universe that accords it’s own set of laws, without any form of didactic explanation of the structure, so it’s up to us to pick up the language.  This really pays off once we start to get what’s going on, and as we get to know each character we really want to know how it’s all going to turn out for them.

The first one we meet is Ivan (Sam Snedden), a gay Swedish mathematician whose obsessive determination to crack the mystery of romantic love through algebra threatens his relationship with his frustrated lover, James (Dan Musgrove).

From there we are introduced to the multiple protagonists incrementally: Middle aged housewife Jan (Rachel Forman) whose dispassionate husband Brian is so neglectful he doesn’t even have an actor to play him.  For her neurotic daughter Alison (Renee Lyons), an unfortunate day seems to set off an explosive early midlife crisis. 

Bree Peters brings us Pita, a gentle, ageing Samoan whose supermarket job belies his considerable intelligence and sagacity, evident in his search for god outside of the mission that first brought him to this country.  Natalie Medlock’s Clive, a stiff upper lipped old Brit with an unapologetic racist bent, is halted in his life’s tracks when a personal tragedy unexpectedly shakes him to the core. 

Crowd favourites are the shy Lena (Fern Sutherland), a pretty young librarian determined to make a blockbuster-style epic romance of her life, and her would-be Romeo, Alan (Musgrove again), the loveable, bumbling adolescent out of his depth.  And then there’s Rex (Johnny Bright), another dreamer who’s worked for twenty five years in tele-sales but hopes to one day make his mark on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire… or alternatively Stars In Their Eyes

Each actor plays markedly different types to their roles in Life Is a Dream, on the whole with conviction and humanity.  This is particularly impressive when attractive young women Peters and Medlock have us believing they are respectively a 54 year old male Samoan minister-come-philosopher working at Countdown, and a 60 year old male English bigot. 

And when Dan Musgrove’s’ subject, a young girl named Minty, comes through some sort of space warp to find herself in the play, the paradox somehow gives a sense of cohesion to the whole work.  Inside word has it Minty was accidentally left out of the initial story workshop process due to actor Musgroves’ substantial roles in the stories of Ivan and Lena, so her resulting presence as the dimensional bridge between their reality and ours is a serendipitous one. 

There are a couple of unexpected conclusions to the eight central narratives, and one satisfyingly predictable one.  Most are left open-ended, assumedly in accordance with the physics of Newton’s Laws of Motion, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and String Theory, which are frequently discussed by various characters. 

Oliver Driver directed the spunky young cast through this convoluted set of interwoven plotlines; also movement coach Julia Milsom and especially vocal coaches Cameron Rhodes and Tama Waipara ought to pleased with the result of their efforts. 

The set, costume and lighting designs of John Verryt, Victoria Ingram and Jeremy Fern unobtrusively dress the hard working performances.  The one piece of charming set gimmickry is the transparent glass wall, upon which Ivan feverishly scribbles his algebraic inquest and other performers write lists and draw diagrams.  There is no sound design credit; the amusingly cheesy soundtrack consists mainly of 80s pop music, presumably examples of the director and/or cast members’ guilty pleasures.

The concept of the Ensemble project, having two such different and major productions to alternate between, could be a source of confusion for the cast, but the impression I get is more that their distinct qualities give each work a clearer focus.  There are fewer actors this time (eight) than in 2007 (twelve); the convolution of Back Story is hard to imagine with more performers without getting unwieldy and over complicated. 

This was my last show to review in the Auckland Festival and Fringe.  I have repeatedly pointed to a recurring theme of existentialist discussion and debate, in fact if you type existential in the search box you’ll probably find at least half of my reviews of the past three weeks.  I am aware that this theme is in fact ancient, and frequently explored in the arts; nevertheless this has been for me a festival of existentialism, in which Back Story is the perfect last word.  Through our involvement with these theatrically interpreted strangers we discover each other, and ourselves, and someone even gets to be God. 


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