Black Tuesday

BATS Theatre, Wellington

29/07/2008 - 09/08/2008

Production Details

 "There is a loaded gun pointed at Waihi" 

On Black Tuesday, 12 November 1912, six months into the Waihi miners’ strike, Fred Evans, miner, mason, martyr, was killed, one of only two fatalities in an industrial dispute in New  Zealand’s history.

On 29 July, Theatre Militia, the team behind the smash hit of this year’s Fringe Festival, Sensible Susan and the Queen’s Merkin as well as the highly acclaimed Bouncing with Billie,  Theatre Militia’s Symposium and  A Bright Room Called Day, premiere a new work based on this extraordinary turning point in our country’s past.

Drawing inspiration from a range of disciplines, including Brechtian techniques, poor theatre principles, cabaret, dance and stage combat, Black Tuesday will pack a powerful punch, showcasing the diverse and vibrant skill-set that has come to be synonymous with Theatre Militia.

Utilising the skills of talented AV designer Hamish Guthrie, Black Tuesday will go beyond the frame, highlighting the role of the media in political arenas and bringing balance to the historical record.

Black Tuesday marked the end of a long struggle between workers, unionists, ‘Scabs’ and police, a nationwide crisis which sparked massive change in working conditions and established the rise of the working class in New Zealand.

This is a New Zealand story that has been waiting to be told for nearly 100 years.

Strictly limited season, book now to avoid disappointment.
Bookings: 04 8024175 or


Fred Evans -
Richard Dey

Maria 'May' Evans/
Mickey Summers -
Bex Joyce

Gloria O'Sullivan/
Ollie Noakes -
Julia Truscott

Thomas Davidson/
Sargent -
Richard Falkner

Beth Davidson/
Sargent Skinner -
Hannah K Clarke

Llewellyn Kerr/
Pat Hickey -
Luke Hawker

Commissioner Cullen/
Bill Parry/ Bob/
Judge Frazer -
Simon Smith

Percussionist - Nell Williams

Miners, Scabs, Police played by all.

Producer - Rachel Lenart
Production Manager - Sherilee Kahui
Publicist - Kate Baker
Stage Manager - Nell Williams
Set Design - Karl Wakelin
Costume Design - Bonne Kemp
Lighting Design - Marcus McShane
Video Design/
Operator -
Hamish Guthery
Technical Operator - Deb McGuire
Graphic Design - Dylan Mercer
Photography - Jenny Dey (publicity), Rachel Lenart (poster stills)
Make up Design - Bex Middleton
"Black Lung" - An Original composition by Julia Truscott
Lyrics by - Julia Truscott and Nell Williams
Fight Choreography - Richard Dey and Luke Hawker
Dance Choreography - Luke Hawker and Sophie Dingemans
Set Construction - Karl Wakelin, Allan Anderson, Luke Hawker
Prop makers: - Luke Hawker, Nell Williams 

1hr 45 mins, no interval


Review by Lynn Freeman 06th Aug 2008

Waihi 1912.  Black Tuesday.  Fred Evans became one of only two people to die during an industrial dispute in New Zealand. We all know about the Waterfront Dispute, but Fred somehow has been forgotten over the years.

Researchers and writers Richard Dey and Felix Preval have put that right.  They haven’t fallen into the trap of creating a hero, but kept Fred very much an everyman, though one of principle, placed in an impossible situation.

This isn’t just Fred’s story, it’s very much about how the wives coped as the Waihi gold miner’s strike stretched from weeks, into six hungry long months.  We find out about the politics of the time, with the government sending in a vast contingent of police to break the strike and support the scab workers.  In this place at that volatile time, just saying the word scab could get you a prison sentence. The media (represented by Luke Hawker’s biased journalist) is found to be complicit too, supporting the government’s anti-strike line.

Richard Dey, as co-writer and in his portrayal of Evans on stage, creates a compelling portrait of a die-hard unionist.  Bex Joyce as his wife is just as staunch and courageous in her own way.  As the noose tightens, some of the miners join the hated scabs, good men like Thomas Davidson (Richard Falkner) and his wife Beth (Hannah K Clarke) finds herself ostracised from the community of wives, among them widows like Gloria O’Sullivan (Julia Truscott) who survive as best they can.

Commissioner Cullen (Simon Smith) is brought in to break the strike, it is his personal and professional mission.  One of the final scenes between him and a fatally beaten Evans is one of the most gripping theatrical moments you’re ever likely to see. 

Rachel Lenart is one of Wellington’s great directing talents, and has developed a style very much her own.

There’s humour here amongst the pathos, drama, insight and meaning which make Black Tuesday one of the productions of the year.


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Cutting paper with a karate chop

Review by Jackson Coe 04th Aug 2008

I have a lot of respect for the Theatre Militia, whose plays for me have always managed to capture the essence of being a young and talented artist in the Capital. Their successes are widespread, their shows popular and their talents evident. For this, they deserve serious ups. And yet Black Tuesday left me desiring something slightly more enchanting than its final incarnation offered.

Aside from a wee bit of pre-show chatter, I walked into the theatre with little background knowledge of Fred Evans and the 1913 Waihi Miners’ Strike. Apparently it was a fairly significant event, although one from quite deep within the bowels of New Zealand’s socialist history. (Actually it would probably be a bit more accurate to say it’s from the oesophagus of New Zealand’s socialist history, given that the transpiring events occurred quite early within said history…but I digress.) I wasn’t particularly aware of what this event was and why I should find it significant, but at the least I was able make some fairly informed guesses. [More]


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Miners’ struggle told too simply

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 01st Aug 2008

Theatre Militia’s Black Tuesday revives a theatrical genre that has not been seen on our stages for some time. Back in the 1960s and 70s with the likes of Mervyn Thompson and Paul Maunder our political past was presented through militant, left-wing documentary plays that owed a great debt to Bertolt Brecht, Joan Littlewood, and Erwin Piscator.

O! Temperance!, Songs to Uncle Scrim and ’51 were liberally sprinkled with fervent protest songs, banners, beer crates, and slides of the historical events themselves as well as information to keep the audience au fait with the action. Each actor played many roles and the action was sharp, clear and usually compelling.

Black Tuesday, an account of the 1912 Waihi gold miners’ strike for better conditions, contains all of the above. It starts and ends with its cast of seven singing The Red Flag. Projected onto the backdrop in the final moments are the bald details of the aftermath of the riot between the strikers, the picketers, the police, and the "free labourers" outside the Waihi Union Hall, and a reminder to us all not to forget Tuesday, November 12, 1912.

The political background is very vaguely sketched in, with Prime Minister Massey, the Arbitration Court, Robert Semple, and the Federation of Labour barely mentioned, if at all. The action of the play is concentrated on the strikers and their wives, particularly Fred Evans (Richard Dey) and his wife May (Bex Joyce), and the treatment they received at the hands of scabs, the police and the courts.

In a Director’s Note, Rachel Lenart suggests the play is best thought of as a work of historical fiction because no one knows who or what actually caused the death of miner Fred Evans, who tried to find a moderate stance in the dispute even though he took a gun to the Union Hall on the fateful day.

The over-simplification and the lack of detail of the background events to this first violent clash between labour and capital in New Zealand does a disservice to the memory of the miners in that their struggle was far more complex and against greater odds than the simple melodramatics suggested here. Also it creates for the actors a problem: they have to breathe life into stage-bound stereotypes of oppressed workers.

On the other hand, the actors under Rachel Lenart’s inventive direction show off their skills to impressive effect in Richard Dey and Luke Hawker’s almost balletic fight choreography as we see strikers and police storming and defending the Union Hall from both sides with the use of a mobile door frame.

But the highlight for me was the cast singing the haunting and forceful Black Lung, written by Julia Truscott and Nell Williams, which sums up all we need to know about the miners’ way of life in this skillfully presented but simplistic account of an important event in our history.


Nell Williams August 1st, 2008

Yeah... Neil's my alter-ego. I'm almost definitely sure I'm a lady. [Oops - fixed - ED]

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Clever craft but where is the humour?

Review by John Smythe 30th Jul 2008

The 1912 Waihi gold miners’ strike played a seminal role in our political history. Australian socialist and firebrand orator Harry Holland hopped the ditch to escape a fine (for failing to register his son for compulsory military service), landed slap in the middle of it and was moved to co-write The Tragic Story of Waihi (1913) which became influential in the formation of the NZ Labour Party, which Holland – who apparently believed a socialist revolution that would crush capitalism was inevitable – eventually led …

But that’s not the story Black Tuesday pursues, although The Tragic Story … and Stanley Roche’s informal account of the strike, Red and the Gold, are credited as core texts in the evolution of this play.

The focus is on the circumstances that led to the death of striking gold miner Fred Evans (Richard Dey, who also proposed the project to Theatre Militia and co-wrote it with Felix Preval). Director Rachel Lenart notes, "it is perhaps best thought of as a work of historical fiction," given their deviations from the (sometimes suspect) historical record and their imaginative filling in of gaps.

In period working class clobber the ensemble sits facing each other beneath coat hooks on either side of the performance space, which features an old upright piano, a mobile doorway and a window beneath which percussionist Nell Williams sits, her drum set masked by ABC beer crates. This meditative start becomes somewhat arduous on opening night when Pit Bar stragglers and waiting list hopefuls cause the show to start 15 minutes late.

After a snapshot pose around the piano, ‘The Red Flag’ workers’ anthem starts the show proper and a court sitting establishes the key characters and a status quo where calling someone a "scab" it is deemed "insulting language" punishable by 12 months in prison against a surety of £20. "The law is a loaded gun pointed at Waihi to preserve the peace." Here the law is personified by Simon Smith, as the Judge, Police Sergeant and Commissioner.

Sketched scenarios, poetry, songs (‘Bread and Roses’ especially well rendered), dance, stage combat and video projection (created by Hamish Guthrie to great effect) are utilised to articulate and dramatise the strike: the domestic hardships, the social conflicts, the personal and political value systems, the subversive means by which the ‘law’ sets the scabs against the strikers then claims justification for punitive measures …

Fred Evans, who as a moderate manages to avoid the law’s harsher penalties, and his wife May (Bex Joyce) hold the moral centre while Thomas (Richard Falkner) crosses the line and his wife Beth (Hannah K Clarke) finds herself pregnant with their fifth child. Meanwhile a Herald journalist called Llewellyn Kerr (Luke Hawker) begins by misrepresenting the conflict according to conservative principles (yeah right) only to change his tune, which gets him into trouble with his bosses.

It’s when Fred packs a pistol, hoping he won’t have to use it (yeah right) that his fate is sealed. A confrontation at the Miners’ Union Hall is cleverly evoked with the mobile doorway. A policeman is wounded by a gunshot, Fred is blamed and is lethally beaten by the police.

Julia Truscott – who also composed the excellent ‘Black Lung’ with Nell Williams (Dust on the lungs / Blood on the sheets …) – completes the seven-strong acting ensemble. They all bring great skills to their collective task while each effectively personifies a range of individual characters. An impressive list of production personnel is also behind this production (click the title above to see it).

Comparisons with Renée Taylor’s celebrated trilogy – Jeannie Once (Victorian Dunedin), Wednesday to Come (1930s Depression) and Pass It On (1951 waterfront lockout) – may be odious since her naturalistic style is more conducive to the deeply-realised characters and inter-relationships that make good productions of her thoroughly researched and carefully crafted plays so compelling.

Black Tuesday draws more on the ‘poor / popular / people’s / political theatre’ conventions developed by Augusto Boal, Bertolt Brecht, Joan Littlewood and Elizabeth LeCompte (misspelt as LeCompete in Lenart’s programme note). But, on opening night at least, the balance seemed too much in favour of their using this slice of history to demonstrate their theatrical skills, rather than vice versa. A sense of colour by-numbers theatre craft obscured their pursuit of a greater purpose, which could well be resolved as the season progresses.

As it stands, more could be done to mine the more profound dimensions of human feeling and behaviour: the moral dilemmas that arise when family wellbeing, if not survival, is pitted against group solidarity and loyalty to ‘the cause’; when self interest is pitted against wider social responsibilities; when short term benefits are pitted against long-term gains.  

Such values can be achieved through broad theatre conventions; consider how political cartoons can distil the issues to great effect. And yes, there are some effectively physically cartooned caricatures, especially when the girls play blokes, although the plastic-helmeted bobbies are played relatively straight.

What’s missing most is humour, be it the piquant comedy of insight into the human condition or the broad brush of satire. This is a strange omission in a ‘popular theatre’ piece, especially given Theatre Militia’s past work.

One way or another, Black Tuesday has yet to reach the heights attained by their previous productions (type Theatre Militia into the Search field to get a taste).


NellieB July 30th, 2008

Much as I'd love to take credit for that set, it was in fact designed by Karl Wakelin and created by him and his mate Alan- they did an awesome job. Churr. [Thanks fpr that Nell - credits now corrected - JS]

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