Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

18/08/2018 - 15/09/2018

WTF! Women's Theatre Festival 2018

Production Details

Lorae Parry’s Bloomsbury Women & the Wild Colonial Girl, will make its New Zealand premiere at Circa Theatre this August, directed by award-winning director Susan Wilson. In its exploration of female friendship and identity, the show intricately weaves together extracts from the personal writings of its literary subjects – Virginia Woolf and New Zealand’s most famous short-story writer Katherine Mansfield.

In 1908 Katherine Mansfield set sail for London, never to return. After meeting Virginia Woolf, KM wrote: “I have nothing to say to charming women. I feel like a cat among tigers.” Virginia’s first impressions of KM were equally unfavourable: “I’m a little shocked by her commonness… She seems to have gone every sort of hog since she was 17.” Against a colourful background of the people and places that shaped KM’s “many hundreds of selves” Bloomsbury Women & the Wild Colonial Girl shows these two literary rivals developing a special relationship which defies stereotypes and gossip.

“Parry’s KM, the ‘colonial / girl at large in a hard and dazzling world, takes us close to ‘the real thing.’ It is a play that does justice to the amusing, clever, compassionate, constantly self-examining personality it engages with. And it shows us Virginia Woolf as well in a freshly slanting light,” says writer and Katherine Mansfield expert, Vincent O’Sullivan.

Lorae Parry, whose previous works include Eugenia and Destination Beehive, is a playwright of critical acclaim. Finding herself “fascinated by the life [KM] lived and the company she kept during those vital years of her development as a writer,” Parry decided “to create a piece of theatre… that captured something of the relationship between Mansfield and the women of Bloomsbury.” Bloomsbury Women follows many of the themes typically prominent in Parry’s work: sex, gender identity, and class structure, however is distinctive in its stylistic approach. Parry has adopted something more akin to a curatorial role; piecing together verbatim extracts from the writings of both KM and Virginia (as well as other members of the illustrious Bloomsbury Group) into a cohesive and compelling whole. She also performed as KM in the original production, staged at The Katherine Mansfield Centenary Conference at the University of London, in 2008.

Susan Wilson, esteemed director (Switzerland, Joyful and Triumphant) and founding member of the Circa Council and Circa Theatre, says that this project is “close to my heart” and “something I’ve been waiting to do for several years now. I am a long-term Katherine Mansfield fan and have always been conscious of Katherine Mansfield’s importance in New Zealand literature. I grew up on Tinakori Road; I remember playing, as children, on the old swing bridge and always looking toward the grand house at 75 Tinakori, wondering about the Beauchamp family.”

Isobel MacKinnon stars, in her first major role at Circa, as the sharp-witted KM, alongside Jessica Robinson, playing both the steadfast Ida Baker (LM) and the visionary Virginia Woolf.

Bloomsbury Women & the Wild Colonial Girl will commence this year’s Women’s Theatre Festival (WTF!) on August 17th and also features as one of two Circa shows, alongside Modern Girls in Bed, included in the KM130 festival – a collection of events and performances, spanning nearly four months, which lead up to the celebration of Katherine Mansfield’s 130th birthday on 14th October.

This season of Bloomsbury Women & the Wild Colonial Girl is presented by arrangement with Playmarket and opens on August 18th at

Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
18 August – 15 September 2018
Special ticket prices available for the preview on August 17th and the Sunday 19th
(preview 17th August).
Performance times: Tues – Sat 7.30pm, Sun 4.30pm
Tickets: $25 – 52
BOOK: or by calling 04 801 7992

*The extracts remaining in copyright are included with permission from The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Katherine Mansfield. 

Katherine Mansfield:  Isobel MacKinnon
Virginia Woolf & Ida Baker (a.k.a Leslie Moore/LM):  Jessica Robinson

Directed by:  Susan Wilson
With music by:  Michael Nicholas Williams
Set design:  Marcus McShane
Lighting design:  Lisa Maule
Costume design:  Sheila Horton
AV design:  Haami Hawkins & Lisa Maule
Additional soundscapes by:  Oliver Buckley

Stage Manager/Technical Operator:  Oliver Buckley
Publicity:  Colleen McColl & El Yule
Graphic Design:  Rose Miller Kraftwork
Photography:  Stephen A’Court
Box Office Manager:  Eleanor Strathern
FOH Manager:  Harish Purohit 

Theatre ,

Insight, revelations, wit and pathos

Review by John Smythe 19th Aug 2018

Katherine Mansfield is alive and well (until she’s not) at Circa Two – and if you think you have seen all you need to about KM, you haven’t until you have been to Bloomsbury Women & the Wild Colonial Girl.  

Even if you are unfamiliar with New Zealand’s most famous expatriate short story writer, let alone Virginia Woolf and the rest of the Bloomsbury Group, you still have a great treat in store. Those who do recognise literary and historical references, however, will have a slightly richer experience.

In essence this play and production offers timeless and universal insights into a brilliant young woman’s liberation from what she sees as a stultifying family and homeland, and her escape to Britain where she glows (and sometimes glowers) in the shadow of a formidably talented and opinionated clique of writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists, only to find New Zealand is in her “very bones” and the vital source of her creative inspiration.

Either adrift and out of her depth or soaring off on her own trajectory, depending on which way you look at it, Katherine does what she feels she must to survive and thrive, consuming and expressing all life has to offer her heart, mind and body before consumption curtails her too-short life. Riddled with paradox, her story rings much more true than those of many well-crafted fictional characters.

By focusing mainly on the fraught yet interdependent relationship between Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf, creating her script entirely from their words and those of others who shared their lives, Lorae Parry generates a dramatic energy that surges from the insecurities within, the conflicts between and the mutual admiration of both highly individual and trail-blazing women. Their blistering critiques of each other and their works reveal as much about themselves as about the other (an occupational hazard for any critic) while their respect for each other’s undoubted achievements and shared quest for new forms of writing forge an ambivalent bond.

The relatively rarefied KM/VW interactions are counterpointed by the more commonplace and domestic co-dependent relationship between KM and Ida Baker, summed up thus on the website: “Constance was Ida’s middle name and constant she was: as Katherine’s confidante, doormat, devotee, housekeeper, and ultimately nurse. Katherine called her ‘LM’, ‘Jones’, ‘the faithful one’, ‘the mountain’, ‘the slave’, ‘Albatross’.”

Isobel MacKinnon is luminous as Katherine, fully committed to each vividly true moment on her emotional roller-coaster, compelling our empathy and understanding even when we recoil at her less-than-pleasant traits. The initial shock of her astonishing physical likeness manifests as a definitive embodiment of every dimension of KM’s being, from libidinous to lost, insightful to gauche, witty to cruel … I defy anyone of any age, stage or gender not to be riveted by MacKinnon’s performance.

Jessica Robinson brilliantly contrasts the formidably intelligent yet self-doubting (probably bi-polar) Virginia Woolf with the down-trodden yet devoted Ida Baker (aka Leslie Moore or LM). Robinson also flicks from one state of being to another with an alacrity that belies the skills required, allowing us to and bask in the company of a legend and identify with Virginia’s vulnerability, and laugh at then empathise with Ida.

The way MacKinnon and Robinson work together is exemplary. Despite much of the text arising from the inner thoughts and writings of KM, VW and LM, there is always a sense they are interacting – facilitated by director Susan Wilson who ensures the play is always active and vibrant; always moving through time and space, both internal and geographical.

Sheila Horton’s gorgeous costume designs speak volumes about the time, place, status and state of each character, and the way simple changes of garments, hats or accessories denote new times or places is a key contribution to the dynamic action.

Lisa Maule’s set of simple but evocative furnishings and wall panels upon which abstract designs and portraits are projected (AV design by Maule and Haami Hawkins) is integral to play’s seamless flow, abetted by Marcus McShane’s excellent lighting design, Michael Nicholas Williams’ timely music and additional sound effects by Oliver Buckley.

For a story that is finally tragic, in that – following the appalling waste of human life in a war that took her beloved brother – a great talent was lost well before it had fulfilled its potential, Parry’s play mercifully avoids sentimentality, choosing instead to leave us with a strong sense of KM’s enduring vitality.

Bloomsbury Women & the Wild Colonial Girl kicks off this year’s Women’s Theatre Festival (WTF!), it is the first of two Circa shows (the next being Modern Girls in Bed opening on 1 September) to contribute to the KM130 Festival and it may also be seen as a ‘curtain-raiser’ to NZ Theatre Month given it runs until 15th September.

There is lots coming up so I recommend you get in early to see Bloomsbury Women & the Wild Colonial Girl: 90 minutes of insight, revelations, wit and pathos.


John Smythe August 23rd, 2018

Here is the link to my chat on RNZ with Jesse Mulligan about Bloomsbury Women & The Wild Colonial Girl. 

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