Bent Not Broken

Hagley Open Stage, Christchurch

17/04/2007 - 27/04/2007

BATS Theatre, Wellington

13/03/2007 - 16/03/2007

Production Details

Adapted by Merrin Cavel from "Bent Not Broken" by Lauren Roche
Developed with Ban Abdul
Directed by Steven Anthony Whiting (for the premiere) and Ban Abdul (for the tour)

This is a truly inspiring Story about turning your life around.

Bent Not Broken is Lauren Roche’s extraordinary journey from working as a prostitute to becoming a doctor.

Merrin Cavel has turned this extraordinary work into a captivating and innovative one woman show.

Roche demonstrates tremendous resilience, courage, intelligence and humour in chronicling her personal trauma and ultimate triumph. Her story will anger and shock you, make you laugh and make you cry.

After 20 years of destructive experiences, including a turbulent childhood and adolescence, and her years as a prostitute and stripper, imprisonment as an illegal alien, sex, drugs and teeny-pop, Lauren dreamed of becoming a qualified doctor.

After the birth of her second child and the end of an abusive relationship Lauren decided to follow her dream.  She went back to high school then university, eventually graduating Otago University as a medical doctor.

Roche’s book – an international bestseller – is a story of hope for people who need a second chance. Bent Not Broken is available in German translation under the title “Schattenlicht”.  It is also about to be released in China and a Spanish translation s currently underway.

Lauren’s Message: ” Whatever happens, don’t give up on your dreams.”

“Bring inspiration, hope and self-belief to those who need it” – Lauren Roche

“Lauren wasn’t going to let the life she had write her life” – Ban Abdul

Performed by Merrin Cavel

Theatre , Solo ,

55 mins, no interval

Inspirational novel fails to translate

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 15th Mar 2007

Bent Not Broken is an autobiography by Dr Lauren Roche, a Wellingtonian whose early life, to put it mildly, was a difficult one.

Her book, which I have not read, is also apparently inspirational because after a childhood of sexual abuse, her mother’s suicide, and being shunted about amongst relatives and attending numerous schools and then becoming a teenage mother, and ending up as a stripper and then a prostitute in Cuba Street she was able to rise above it all and turn her life around and achieve a life-long dream of becoming a doctor.

For Merrin Cavel’s solo stage adaptation 12 chairs have been placed in a large circle as if a group therapy session will take place. Over the twelve o’clock chair a lab coat has been draped. In the middle of the circle is a large box which is used as a table, a bar, and amongst other things a hiding place on an American ship on which Lauren Roche (aged 14) stowed away with her sailor boyfriend to end up in Oregon.

Starting at the one o’clock chair Merrin Cavel takes us through each disastrous episode till we get to the last chair when the doctor’s lab coat is finally put on. The accounts of sexual abuse, dysfunctional parents, smug psychiatrists, and feckless men are unfortunately all too familiar and there is nothing in the adaptation or the acting to make them either moving or in any way distinctive from numerous other similar stories in films, plays, novels, and autobiographies.

However, where the adaptation really falls down is that we never get to know the most interesting thing about Lauren Roche’s life: how the transition from stripper/prostitute to doctor took place. How did she manage it? What difficulties stood in her way? What toll did it take on her life?

The transition finally takes place on stage in about four minutes flat without explanation or emotional charge. Compound this with Merrin Cavel playing too much of the dialogue without projection and facing upstage and therefore often inaudible, and the script lacking any dramatic tension or humour to relieve the grimness (the shipboard scene could have been funny even if the truth had to be distorted to make it so)  Bent Not Broken remains a book to read.

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Fizzles where it should flare

Review by John Smythe 13th Mar 2007

It stands to reason that an inspiring story about a young woman turning her beleaguered life around in young adulthood should make great theatre. Doesn’t it?

Lauren Roche lived the story she has told in her book Bent Not Broken (Steele Roberts, 2000) – which now has a sequel, Life On The Line – and now Merrin Cavel has adapted it and is replaying it in this solo play of the same name.

Born to young delinquent parents near Tairoa, largely neglected in favour of booze and other drugs, Lauren takes life as it comes in her childhood. At school in Adelaide – where they live in a caravan park – her questions about God, the universe and everything remain unanswered by the headmaster she has a crush on. Mum plays up with another man while Dad’s away working. Sexually initiated by statutory rape (‘Uncle’ Phil), Lauren is sent back to Wellington and finds brief respite in the welcoming home of her grandmother in Wellington, until Mum returns to make a spectacle of herself high up the Cuba Mall bucket fountain.

When Mum has to go to "the funny farm" for a bit, Lauren enjoys further contact with a better life in Auckland’s Parnell, with her aunt and uncle. But her mother’s suicide is not conducive to growing self esteem. She leaves school at 15, works as a hospital cleaner, does her bit to make American sailors feel welcome, stows away on their ship and lives on her wits in the USA until she’s deported.

Not welcome back at school she works at McDonalds then as a stripper and prostitute to make a living and feed a pill habit, becomes pregnant at 17, keeps her son, briefly marries a Canadian, starts dating a cop, becomes a replica of her always crying and depressed mother … But all that passes. She returns to school, then goes to university and becomes a doctor. And writes her life story … and the sequel. 

The plan is to tour the play nationwide. Developed by Cavel with director Ban Abdul then directed for this premiere production by Steven Antony Whiting, Bent Not Broken the play starts well but has yet to find its full dramatic form and structure. Despite the extraordinary story it tells, it somehow gets stuck in a dual groove, and at the end it fizzles where it should flare.

A large packing-case is the central scenic prop, set amid an encounter-group circle of chairs. The dual dramatic device inter-cuts alienated Lauren, reluctantly but conveniently narrating her story, with active Lauren, reliving the present moments as a child, teenager and young adult, and occasionally role-playing other characters in her story.

The juxtapositions work well for a while – Cavel is a very competent performer – but the unchanging format begins to pall as the hour-long performance proceeds. What is also missing is effective emotional engagement, especially at such crucial turning points as the death of her mother. We are told and shown what happens but there is not much we get to discover – and, as with the sharing of secrets, it is discovery of what is between the lines or below the surface that usually generates the greatest interest for live theatre audiences.

The all-important transformation from hopeless mimic of mother to white-coated doctor, and presumably helper of others, should be climactic but it feels tacked on at the end. Dramatised, if that’s the word, via Dr Lauren walking around her circle of chairs and referring to notes as she tells us how she turned her life around, it winds up sounding clichéd and unconvincing. My guess – correct me if I’m wrong – is that the ending has been hastily rewritten to bring the running time to within an hour (as required at BATS when another show opens half an hour later).

That Lauren Roche’s story truly happened is little help. What works on the page does not readily transfer to the stage, and it takes special skills to take the truth of real life experience and render it as compelling drama. Bent Not Broken needs more work, not least to make its twists and turns more engaging in performance.


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