Backwards in High Heels

The Forge at The Court Theatre, Christchurch

12/08/2006 - 09/09/2006

Production Details

By Stuart Hoar
Directed by Rachel More
Designed by Martyn Roberts

Presented by arrangement with Playmarket

Dancing is dangerous. It has the power to disturb, subvert and confront and it puts us in touch with the very rhythms of life…

A middle-class couple in their early forties, Holly (Ali Harper) and Jonathan (Peter Rutherford) are well off, successful and bored. To rekindle their fading passion they turn to dance. The move has a surprising effect on their comfortable lives when Martha (Jane Donald), a mysterious woman, introduces them to the animal world of tango.

“‘Sexy and syncopated, paired, promiscuous and predatory; the tango is both a dance and a modern secular symbol.’ This is a great description of tango. I was inspired to write a play featuring tango because it is both a wonderful dance and a wonderful metaphor for relationships; personal, political, perhaps even animal.” — Stuart Hoar, playwright.

Ali Harper
Peter Rutherford
Jane Donald

Gloria Passarella and Graham Whittington

Theatre ,

1hr 10mins, no interval

Too much, too young, too little to care about

Review by Ron Kjestrup 18th Aug 2006

I’ve noticed a genre. Mid-career author writes about middle-aged couple having mid-life crisis. Drama is initiated by arrival of complicating relationship. There are many versions in literature and at least one other in New Zealand theatre.

Stuart Hoar is one of our leading wordsmiths powerfully turning his hand to radio, novels, theatre and even a very successful libretto for Anthony Ritchie’s opera Quartet. In Backward in High Heels he picks up the genre and adds a tango metaphor for the relationships he describes.

Holly and Jonathon are a middle-aged couple in an uneven relationship. He’s a post-modern ad-man, she’s a romantic school teacher. He is remote and over intellectualises their relationship, she is lonely and wants to rekindle the passion. Enter the biological determinist tango teacher, Martha. A version of the eternal triangle ensues amid much discussion about how much responsibility and control we have over our own lives.

It all seems a bit much. Hoar has squeezed in so many ideas that despite some lively dialogue and interesting debates we find it difficult to identify with the characters.

This isn’t helped by the fact that Ali Harper and Peter Rutherford are both far too young for their roles. Harper’s abilities as an actor overcome some of our disbelief that this young woman has grown up children but amidst the science lessons and the socio/political discussion there is so much going on (including interludes of actual tango from Gloria Passarella and Graham Whittington) that we never really get a chance to care about her relationship with her husband.

The strongest moments are actually between Harper and Jane Donald as Martha. The two have an easy rapport and the biggest emotional response we have as an audience is a sense of loss as that friendship seems to end.

Director, Tony McCaffrey, could have taken a cue from the sparse but effective set and worked his actors a little harder to find some space and clarity in this production. It does seem, though, that Hoar had a bright idea for an interesting metaphor and then couldn’t stop himself.

See also John Smythe’s review of Stuart Hoar’s first stage play, Squatter, at Te Whaea (SEEyD Space).


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