Hamilton Gardens, Mansfield Garden, Hamilton

01/03/2024 - 02/03/2024

Hamilton Arts Festival Toi Ora ki Kirikiriroa 2024

Production Details


Described as ‘existential clowning’ by The Guardian, Beautiful People is a hilariously dark comedy about ageing and death. 

Violet and Norman are an incredibly old couple. It takes them a full 10 minutes to sit down in a chair. Then another five to get up again and fart. Things speed up occasionally when it’s time for coffee, or when a shady figure called Arthur arrives and stirs confusing memories of a love triangle…

Beautiful People was awarded the Herald Archangel Award at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019 and has performed in just about every major festival in the UK. This is the first time this highly lauded piece of theatre will be seen by a New Zealand audience. 

“Every laugh is like a sharp physical pain in the heart.” – Stagedoor

“Bloody Magisterial.” – Sydney Morning Herald

“They’ll have you laughing till it hurts.” – The Age

“A masterful and brilliantly executed piece.” – Fringe Review, Brighton

“It is very, very funny, shocking and as an actor’s sacrifice for his art, almost awe-inspiring.” – British Theatre Guide

“Like being kissed and hit with a fish in rapid succession.” – Evening Standard

“A masterful and brilliantly executed piece. Everyone should see this.” – Fringe Review

Hamilton Arts Festival Toi Ora ki Kirikiriroa 2024

Mansfield Garden, Hamilton Gardens 
Friday 1 March 2024 5:30pm
Saturday 2 March 2024 7:00pm
 General Admission: $36.00 each
 Concession: $32.00 each
Buy Tickets

David Woods
Jon Haynes

Theatre , Clown ,

It is both absurd, and utterly real

Review by Cate Prestidge 03rd Mar 2024

As early evening casts shadows over the Mansfield Garden and the audience settles, the door of the impressive homestead façade opens. An elderly couple appear. The show is beginning.

I realise my choice of ‘appear’ implies something dynamic. Not so!

We start with a glimpse. A pale face peers out, then a quivering hand, an arm, a shape emerges and becomes two. Rather than ‘elderly’, the couple are almost cadaverous, shuffling inch by inch through the door and onto the verandah.

It feels like time is standing still. We wait. We will them on, and on, and on.  If I’d been wearing a watch, I would have been checking it. But of course, the excruciating slowness, and the sense of waiting for something, for anything, is part of the absurdity.

Eventually they stand on the precipice of the small set of steps, Norman (David Woods) breathing heavily while Violet (Jon Haynes) clings determinedly to his arm. He stares down then utters the first audible sentence: “I hate heights”.

They are dressed to impress, with Norman tall and gaunt in black tie, and Violet bent double in a formal jacket and skirt, her long necklaces singing as she takes each step.

Once he has settled Violet, Norman, with mouth agape and fluting voice, welcomes we ‘beautiful people’. There’s a sense of relief, hospitality, guests, an unspecified grand occasion, possibly an anniversary?

What unfolds is a slow revelation of a relationship, of age, of an earlier life, a third party, Arthur (also Haynes), of loss and confusion. It’s subtle and absurd, perhaps too much so for anyone expecting something different from the mention of ‘clowning’ in the show’s promo. But this is sophisticated clowning, with subtle references: Norm’s oversized shoes, Violet’s long necklaces, their pale chalk-like faces, the exaggerated physicality of bending, and stiffening, of farts and of words implied, half-said or gasped.  

The show (originally titled Die! Die! Die! Old People Die!) is usually performed inside but they make the most of the homestead and garden setting and Woods skilfully integrates the occasional barks of a support dog in the audience.

While the action works well on the elevated verandah, the row seating causes sightline issues for a lot of audience members when the performers are on the lower aera. Given how sparse and nuanced the action is, this is an issue, although the informality of the outdoor setting does mean some people simply move back and stand up, and there is quite a bit of sharing going, “Oh, he’s on the first step” or “No, she’s slipped down”.

Woods and Haynes are impressive performers, skilled in their craft and utterly committed to their characters. The couple are bonded, their hands fluttering, almost touching, then more strongly connected with Violet clinging (and somewhat saucy).

The character of Arthur doesn’t quite land for me, I feel I’ve miss something when he first appears although I can see he is both enmeshed, and apart, from Norman and Violet, and his devotion to her becomes clear.

Beautiful People is more than an exploration of ageing, it has elements of rituals and pattern, of strong bonds, of love and occasion and the somewhat overwhelming nature of daily life.  

Over the course of the hour I laugh, I feel nervous, I cheer, I wonder, I feel impatient, I worry, I applaud. It is both absurd, and utterly real.


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