Be | Longing: a verbatim play

Radio NZ Drama Online, Global

17/04/2020 - 31/05/2020

Lower NZI, Level 1, Aotea Centre, Auckland

22/02/2012 - 23/02/2012

Allen Hall Theatre, University of Otago, Dunedin

01/03/2012 - 10/03/2012

Fortune Theatre Studio, Dunedin

31/10/2015 - 07/11/2015

BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

17/11/2015 - 21/11/2015

COVID-19 Lockdown Festival 2020

New Performance Festival 2012

Production Details

Where do you belong?

Be | Longing tells stories of immigration, discovery, settling – and unsettling – in Aotearoa/New Zealand and shows how Kiwi culture is seen through the eyes of others.  It examines – and invites you to consider – what it means to feel ‘at home’ and where you feel a sense of belonging.

Be | Longing is produced by the team that created the verbatim play Hush, which toured Auckland, Dunedin, rural Otago, Southland, and South Canterbury in 2009-11. Described by reviewers as “moving”, “compelling”, “extraordinary”, and “extra special”, Hush was warmly praised for its “impressive” production values, its “passion and integrity”, and fine acting.  Be | Longing promises to be similarly engaging and intriguing.

Be | Longing has been created from dozens of hours of conversations with people who have come here from all over the world – Argentina,Ukraine,India,Iraq,Brazil,China,Germany,England – as well as with people who were born here.  In informal, filmed interviews, participants shared their stories of migration and their experiences of New Zealand life and culture.  This material has been selected, edited, and structured into a 75-minute play.

In performance the stories and conversations are vividly re-presented.  With the audio of the edited interviews playing in their ears, the performers not only repeat the original words, but they endeavour to replicate precisely the speakers’ inflections and intonation.  Also, in rehearsal they study the ‘physical score’ of the interviews in order to capture each gesture and body movements as accurately as possible.  Performances are required to be so exacting that the actors sometimes think of themselves as avatars.

Funded by a University of Otago Research Grant, Be | Longing is directed by Hilary Halba and Stuart Young of the Theatre Studies programme at the University of Otago.  The team also includes Martyn Roberts, Danny Still, Cindy Diver, Simon O’Connor, Erica Newlands, Karen Elliot, Gareth McMillan, and Kate Han.

Before opening in Dunedin, the production will feature in the New Performance Festival in Auckland in late February – the only South Island production participating in this showcase of cutting-edge work from New Zealand and abroad.

Following each performance there will be a brief discussion, providing an opportunity to discuss the issues raised and to ask questions about, and comment on, aspects of the show.

Be | Longingwill be performed at

Lower NZI, Aotea Centre, Auckland
Wednesday 22 – Thursday 23 February 2012

Adult $25, Senior/Student/Group $20
Book at THE EDGE for
Wed 22 Feb, 7.45pm
Thurs 23 Feb, 7.45pm

Allen Hall Theatre, Otago University
1 – 4 & 7 – 10 March 2012:  7.30pm
(4pm on Sunday 4 March).
Tickets:  $18; unwaged and tertiary students $12; school students and children $10.

Book at or by phoning 479 8896.

Be | Longing
at Fortune Studio on Saturday 31 October – Saturday 7 November 2015, 7.30pm

17-21 November 2015, 7pm

COVID 19 Lockdown Festival 2020
From 17 April 2020
Be/Longing by Talking House Trust Collective
recorded live at Bats Theatre as part of RNZ Drama’s Live on Stage, Now! initiative.
Directed by Stuart Young and Hilary Halba,
RNZ producer – Prue Langbein
Recording engineer – Phil Benge
Broadcast 8 April 2016
 Listen duration50′ :25″

Cast:Stuart Young, Hialry Halba, Cindy Diver, Will Spicer, Alex Wilson, Karen Elliot, Julie Edwards, Anya Tate-Manning and Stephen Butterworth

Verbatim , Theatre , Audio (podcast) ,

50 mins

Fascinating and poignant stories

Review by Brenda Harwood 18th Apr 2020

The stories of migrants, settled and unsettled in New Zealand, are explored through their own words and perceptions in verbatim play Be/Longing.  

Created by Dunedin theatre collective Talking House Productions for the stage, a performance of Be/Longing was recorded at Bats Theatre as part of RNZ Drama’s Live on Stage, Now! initiative.

Verbatim theatre is created by filming and recording many hours of informal conversations with a range of people, in this case migrants to New Zealand from all over the world: Argentina, Ukraine, India, Iraq, Brazil, Fiji, China, Germany, and England, as well as some who were born here.

The material is then edited and vividly re-created by actors, who replicate precisely the interviewees’ words, accents, posture and gestures.

Directed by Stuart Young and Hilary Halba, Be/Longing features the performances of Cindy Diver, Will Spicer, Alex Wilson, Karen Elliot, Julie Edwards, Anya Tate-Manning and Stephen Butterworth, along with Halba and Young themselves. Each fulfilling the role of a featured migrant, the actors faithfully reproduce their stories of welcome, rejection, joy, sorrow, and loneliness, as they try to settle here and understand Kiwi culture.

For some, Kiwis are stand-offish and not particularly welcoming, while for others the country’s people are surprisingly casual and informal.

Ultimately, Be/Longing invites the audience to consider the very nature of ‘home’ and what it means to belong.

Produced by Prue Langbein and recorded by Phil Benge, Be/Longing translates relatively well into an hour-long radio play, although at times the absence of the visual cues from the actors’ reproduction of the speakers’ gestures and mannerisms make it tricky to identify each migrant.

However, the resulting radio play has the feel of a radio documentary or podcast, and the fascinating and poignant stories of the migrants themselves lose none of their power.

With its broad range of viewpoints, from a joy in New Zealand’s people and landscapes to some uncomfortable home truths about our welcome (or not) of migrants, Be/Longing is both entertaining and thought provoking.



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Universality in every detail

Review by John Smythe 18th Nov 2015

How appropriate that Talking House from Dunedin, where Robbie Burns presides over The Octagon, should give us this gift of seeing ourselves as others see us. Seven actors channel sixteen immigrants, plus the odd interviewer, by recreating recorded interviews verbatim (as with last week’s The Keys Are In The Margarine). Thus we more entrenched New Zealanders get to see how ‘Godzone’ can be for newcomers to our shores. 

Ute (Anya Tate-Manning) from Germany finds our shopkeepers can’t pronounce her name so she calls herself Susan while ordering fish ’n’ chips. Fijian Tina (Karen Elliot) has to cope with cold summers, everybody staying indoors in the evening to watch TV, and the realisation she is just working to exist and has little quality of life.

Rosie (Cindy Diver), from Oman via India, works as a volunteer while trying to get a job but can’t even get to the interview stage. Mustapha (Stephen Butterworth) from Iraq is concerned for his teenage son Kareem (Alex Wilson) who dreams of going to university in the USA despite what that country did to Iraq.

It was fallout from the Chernobyl disaster that made Elena (Cindy Diver) find a way of fleeing Ukraine. Having come to NZ via Brazil, she has to modify her very elegant way of dressing and her passionate way of offering an opinion because Kiwis can’t cope with ‘spilling your guts’. Daniel (Will Spicer), from Brazil and therefore used to touching men while speaking to them, has to reconcile the friendliness of Kiwis at soccer games with their cursory “Hi” in the street.

Then there’s Ai-ling (Anya Tate-Manning) from China whose struggle to learn English here is contrasted with how her NZ language teacher Monica (Karen Elliot) goes about learning Mandarin. We discover how it felt for Ram (Alex Wilson) and Prasath (Stephen Butterworth) from India to have to expose so much of their private selves to Immigration officials.

Huberta (Karen Elliot) hails from Holland and initially found it difficult having nowhere to get a cup of coffee after the movies. For Laura (Julie Edwards) and Paul (Will Spicer) from the UK, our egalitarian and less formal ways take a bit of getting used to, when it comes to a neighbour having a baby, for example, or a friend’s parent dying: does one go to the funeral?  

Argentinian Maria and Juan talk over each other: a brilliant recreation by Anya Tate-Manning and Stephen Butterworth which would have been impossible to script and rehearse by conventional means. While this is the most obvious proof of the special qualities the Verbatim process can bring to theatre, and acting as a craft, its values are present throughout.  

These snapshots are the tips of a range of proverbial icebergs that have been moulded – by writer-editors Hilary Halba, Simon O’Connor and Stuart Young with Cindy Diver, Erica Newlands and Danny Still – into seven ‘movements’ which are, in turn, the visible peaks of dozens of hours of interviews.

The initial movement titles – ‘Origins’, ‘First Impressions’, ‘Language’, ‘Social Values and protocols’ – are self-explanatory. ‘It’s Never the Same’ refers to the experience of returning ‘home’ for a visit, where you discover you now have an English /Kiwi accent, and introduces us to the concept of ‘Third Culture Kids’: those raised in a culture other than where there parents come from, whose culture is therefore an amalgam of the old and new.

‘Where Do I Belong?’ reveals the ‘Two Leg Syndrome’ and how having children in New Zealand changes everything, not least by integrating you into the community more. For others, does buying a sofa tie you down? When does NZ become home? The point is made by someone that immigration is part of every New Zealander’s story and this is reinforced when – on arrival at, or departure from, the BATS Dome space – we are invited to mark out origins on a world map.  

The final movement, ‘Post | Script’, was added for the recent Southern Tour and this Wellington season, from follow-up interviews conducted two-and-a-half years after the initial round. And here the gift “to see ourselves as others see us” is offered back to the interviewees.

Longing to belong is part of the human condition. Can we ‘be’ without belonging? The abiding existential question of identity is profoundly canvassed by Be | Longing: how do we define and judge ourselves and each other; what does it take to make us feel we belong – and for us to help others feel they belong?  

This is a project that contributes great value to everyone involved, every which way you look at it. There is universality in every detail.


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Moving look at migration

Review by Barbara Frame 02nd Nov 2015

Arriving audience members are shown a map of the world and encouraged to mark the spot where they feel they ‘belong’. This helps establish the emotional context for Be/Longing’s exploration of the unsettling experience of moving to another country, and possibly a quite different culture. 

Be/Longing is a verbatim play, created from recorded conversations with immigrants from all over the world, including South America, the Middle East, Europe, India and Fiji. The actors’ aim is not to interpret or embellish the speakers’ original words and actions, but to replicate them as faithfully as possible: a technique familiar to people who’ve seen Talking House’s Hush or The Keys are in the Margarine.

The reasons for people’s decisions to migrate range from curiosity to desperation. First impressions, becoming familiar with values, customs and Kiwi English, and the implications of temporary or permanent return to the home country are vividly recalled and contrasted. Making friends is sometimes hindered by ignorance, suspicion or overt racism, and some local characteristics, such as cold houses and personal space conventions, are regarded with incredulity.

Be/Longing has been funded by a University of Otago research grant, and directors Hilary Halba and Stuart Young are assisted by an experienced production team, seven highly regarded actors, the people whose stories form the play’s raw material, and numerous other people and organisations.

For the audience, there’s a strong sense of personal involvement, and at the end of the 80-minute play an opportunity to chat to other audience members, and the cast, about what they’ve just seen and heard.

The play has considerable emotional impact and, by allowing migrants’ own perceptions to be clearly heard, makes a sensitive, intelligent contribution to debates about migration. Anyone with an interest in the subject, as well as people who’ve seen Talking House’s earlier work, will want to see it. The season will run until Saturday.  


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Stories bravely and generously shared

Review by Kimberley Buchan 01st Nov 2015

Where do you belong? Do you even think about it? For some people it is a most pressing and insistent question. For those who have only ever lived in the country they were born and have the benefits of having their culture being the dominant one in the land perhaps this question has never occurred to them. For everyone else it is quite different.

Talking House have interviewed 16 migrants to New Zealand and put their stories on stage. Their stories cover huge world changing events like the Chernobyl disaster and the war in Iraq and smaller but still poignant anecdotes about deciding how much to tell when asked ‘how are you?’ and what name to put on your order at the fish and chip shop.

Be|Longing is a verbatim play. Verbatim is about truth, representing things as they are, no interpretation, no enhancing for dramatic effect. People are interviewed and the actors study the films of these interviews and replicate them exactly. They listen to the interview through earphones as they perform and match the original speakers syllable for syllable, breath for breath.

There is a curious power in the knowledge that these are real people on the stage, that these are the exact words that they spoke. It is a deeply personal style of theatre because of this. You can be sitting in the audience right next to one of the people who are being represented on stage and witness them reacting to their own story as it is told.

The audience tonight are drawn in and recognize the accuracy of so many statements about New Zealand culture. Certain elements of the audience are so drawn in they run their own commentary about their own cultural epiphanies.

This performance of Be|Longing is compelling. Part of the reason for this is the stories that are so bravely and generously shared with us. The other part is the fabulous cast. They all play more than one character and switch between them with impressive clarity and ease. Each and every one of the cast is a superb and accomplished performer in their own right, and together they create something special.

I saw the original version of Be|Longing two and a half years ago and this is the superior performance. It does help that some of the technical issues have been smoothed out. The 2015 version of this play revisits the interviewees two years later and adds a postscript about their feelings about the play and their experiences over the last couple of years. Ute says that she feels that seeing herself and the others on stage made her feel like they were doing something important, sharing stories of migration, prejudice and acceptance. She is right.

After the show finishes, the audience burst with energy sharing their own stories and their thoughts on the issues raised. Come and share your own. Be|Longing runs until the 7th of November [then opens in Wellington ten days later]. 


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Lovingly drawn

Review by Terry MacTavish 03rd Mar 2012

Only when I arrive in the theatre and am asked to mark my birthplace on a world map does it occur to me that I am an immigrant myself. This play is about me!

Though my mother was born right here in Dunedin, due to the vagaries of fate I was conceived in Peking, born in Taiwan, and lived in Africa, arriving here when I was seven. I too endured teasing and lost my foreign accent as quickly as possible. Now a cast member writes my name carefully in Chinese characters and I feel honoured.

This exercise engenders a cosy sense of community; actors and audience mingle and wander across the set, which is no more than a few chairs and one table in front of a screen. All very low key, and suited to the style of verbatim theatre.

Be / Longing is created by a group from the University of Otago Theatre Studies programme that has been exploring this form of documentary drama for some years. Many hours of interviews with migrants to New Zealand are edited and shaped, to share with us their experience, under headings which are projected onto the screen: Origins, First Impressions, Challenges, Language, Social Values and Protocols, Where Do I Belong?

The actors all have Mp3 players that relay the words of the immigrants, while they are actually performing. As nearly as possible the cast reproduces the accents, inflections and intonations of the interviewees. (And yes, their anacoluthons!)* This is indeed community theatre.

I was greatly impressed by Hush, the team’s previous verbatim work, which dealt with domestic violence, and wondered whether this topic could have the same impact.

But though there isn’t the same dramatic tension in Be / Longing, it does make for totally absorbing viewing. Our sense of where we belong is fundamental, after all, and it is also fascinating to learn how we appear to others. Through sharing their experience we gain a deeper understanding of ourselves.

I am struck by the sheer skill of the actors, as they switch accents and body language, even their gestures meticulously copied from the filmed interviews.  With a couple of additions, the actors are the same highly proficient cast from Hush, and again they show they can suppress their own egos, not interpreting but replicating.

On opening night, a technological hitch means a section must be repeated. This is apparently a rare occurrence, but I’m glad of it, as now it is possible to see how precisely the actors are following the voices in their earphones. The repetition is perfect, without the slightest alteration, breath for breath the same.

The immigrants themselves are very diverse. Among my favourites are the German Ute, with a welcome astringent quality clearly conveyed by Erica Newlands; and Elena with her disturbing story of escape from the radioactive Ukraine, relayed by Cindy Diver; while Simon O’Connor shows us a father from Iraq who must listen to his son reject the old values as he becomes a New Zealander.

The couples are appealing, with Kate Han as sweet Yan Li, interacting with Karen Elliot as her language teacher; and Gareth MacMillan, completely silent but most powerfully present as the husband of a delightfully voluble Fijian woman.

Cutest of all though is the charming Argentine couple, played by Newlands and Danny Still, who kick off the play, “I’ll start, and you correct me.” It produced a curious thrill to realise that these two were actually sitting in the audience, watching themselves, and obviously loving every moment.

Some of the things we learn are not exactly comfortable. Our priorities seem pretty peculiar to fresh eyes, from our tolerance of cold homes to our intolerance of the warmth of physical contact. We don’t try too hard to pronounce names that are unfamiliar. No Pakeha in the Maori culture class, just ‘foreigners’ or Maori wanting to reconnect. Suddenly we are the ones under the microscope.

The audience is engrossed though, and perhaps the laboratory feel is why people linger afterwards, talking with the performers, checking out the map showing our surprisingly different origins, stealing sly looks at the interviewees from Argentina…

There is ongoing discussion on Theatreview about what makes a truly New Zealand play. No one could doubt that these interviews, so lovingly drawn from people who are now New Zealanders too, represent a profound effort to show us who we are.

Verbatim, one means of ensuring that (apologies to Abe Lincoln) theatre of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth!

*That’s for Nic Farra, who remarked on my use of the term in my review of Hush!  


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Stories from the Source

Review by James Wenley 23rd Feb 2012

New Zealand, famously, is a land of immigrants. Waves of migration over the country’s history have created a rich fabric of cultures, as well as perhaps an uncertain ‘kiwi’ cultural identity. What is it about New Zealand that makes it unique, and what is this discovery like for new arrivals? How do they become part of the ‘culture’? Do they want to?  We can learn a lot about ourselves – good and bad – for those on the outside looking in / fitting in.

Be | Longing, directed by Hillary Halba and Stuart Young from the University of Otago Theatre Studies programme, is a verbatim play, using interviews from immigrants (new and old) to the country. As explained at the beginning of the show, using dialogue from real interviews between interviewer and subject, the cast listen to MP3s of the interviews which they speak in real time, capturing all of their inflections, pauses and idiosyncrasies. The interviews were also filmed – the actors studying them in detail to portray the real body language on the stage. The interviewee, as communicated through the actress, was slightly dubious at the idea – “people sitting like us… just talking?” What sort of theatre show is that? [More


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