Forum North, Whangarei

15/10/2013 - 15/10/2013

Howick Little Theatre, Auckland

11/10/2013 - 12/10/2013

Hawkes Bay Opera House, Hastings

05/10/2013 - 05/10/2013

Coasters Theatre, Hinemoa Street, Paraparaumu

01/10/2013 - 04/10/2013

Maidment Theatre - Musgrove Studio, Auckland

02/09/2008 - 13/09/2008

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

25/07/2008 - 23/08/2008

Centrepoint, Palmerston North

12/05/2007 - 26/05/2007

The Forge at The Court Theatre, Christchurch

21/03/2007 - 14/04/2007

Production Details

Written by Joanne Murray-Smith
Directed by Ross Gumbley

Musical Director:   Michael Lee Porter
Set Designer:   Julian Southgate
Lighting Designer:   Marcus McShane
Costume Designer:   Emily Thomas

A Court Theatre production


Sexy Savvy Play Celebrates Women

Savvy and sexy, Joanna Murray-Smith’s internationally successful play Bombshells tours to five North Island centres from July  to September.

Bombshells is a one-woman play which humorously exposes six women balancing the demands of their inner and outer lives with funny and touching portrayals of the modern female. Wellington’s Ali Harper takes on each of the six characters- from a feisty teenager to a 64-year-old woman who re-awakens an appetite for the unexpected.

Ali-Cat Productions presents Bombshells at Wellington’s Circa Theatre from 25 July to 23 August, before heading to Musgrove Studio at Maidment Theatre in Auckland from 2-13 September, followed by performances at Mosaic Theatre, Tauranga on 17 and 18 September, The OSPA Theatre, Pukekohe on 20 September, and at The Harlequin Theatre, Masterton from 23-26 September.

The characters are:

Meryl Davenport – A mother who delivers her non-stop day in a rapid-fire internal monologue
Tiggy Entwhistle – A cactus lover bravely attempting to rise above her relationship crisis
Mary O’Donnell – A feisty teenage schoolgirl competing in a talent quest
Theresa McTerry – An increasingly disillusioned bride on her wedding day
Winsome Webster – A widow with an appetite for the unexpected
Zoe Struthers – An American cabaret singer who’s had her fair share of personal problems.

“So good was Harper’s performance that by simply changing into a slightly frumpish costume and putting on a felt hat, it was hard to believe the character was being played by the same actress.” – Marlborough Express

“The wonderful thing about this play is that everyone will recognise these colourful women. Bringing them to life has been a fantastic way for me to capture and celebrate the feminine spirit,” Ali says.

Ali toured Bombshells around the South Island last year to rave reviews and sold out performances, opening Court Two’s rebranded The Forge with it in March 2007. She’s thrilled to be touring the play again in 2008.

“A splendid production. Funny, immensely enjoyable and sure to be a success. The audience gave a rousing ovation.” – The Press


25 July to 23 August:
Circa Theatre, Wellington |
Bookings Ph: 04 801 7992 or

2-13 September:
Musgrove Studio at Maidment Theatre, Auckland |
Bookings Ph: 09 308 2383 or

17 & 18 September: 
Mosaic Theatre, Tauranga |
Bookings at Ticketdirect on 07 577 7188 or

20 September :
The OSPA Theatre, Pukekohe |
Bookings River Traders, Tuakau Ph: 09 232 9424

23-26 September :
The Harlequin Theatre, Masterton |
Bookings United Travel, 8 Lincoln Rd, Masterton Ph: 06 377 0139

– – – – – – ORIGINAL SEASON – – – – – – – –
The Court Theatre is proud to launch its 2007 Forge Season with BOMBSHELLS – a savvy, sassy, exquisitely crafted one-woman play. BOMBSHELLS humorously exposes six women balancing the demands of their inner and outer lives with funny and touching portrayals of the modern female living life the edge.

Ali Harper takes us through six shades of the contemporary woman – in life and in love. The play has everything from a feisty teenager hell-bent on winning her school talent quest, to a sixty-four year old widow who re-awakens an appetite for the unexpected.

Murray-Smiths acutely clever writing wittily strips away polite veneers and social pleasantries to reveal women under pressure, and hidden desires set at full throttle.

Director Ross Gumbley says “BOMBSHELLS has a quality that belongs to all great comedy. A good joke reveals a truth about our lives. BOMBSHELLS is full of jokes and truths.”

“The wonderful thing about BOMBSHELLS is one can’t help but recognise qualities in each of these colourful women – it’s these similarities, both in personality and social situation, to people we know, perhaps even ourselves that provide so many of the laughs in this show. Bringing these incredible women to life is a fantastic way for me to capture and celebrate the feminine spirit in all its guises” says Ali Harper.

2013 tour

A savvy, sexy and exquisitely crafted play featuring temptress Ali Harper 

Six SHADES OF … a modern woman

The producers of BOMBSHELLS announce that their savvy, sexy and exquisitely crafted production featuring temptress ALI HARPER, will spice up towns throughout New Zealand in October and November 2013.

This critically acclaimed Court Theatre production of the one-woman play outlines the life and love of six woman on the verge of a break down … or breakthrough. From the feisty teenager to the beleaguered mother and on to a 64 year old widow who reawakens an appetite for the unexpected, Harper cleverly morphs herself from young tearaway to wrinkly rebel. 

Harper – a past winner of the prestigious Chapman Tripp Actress of the Year award — exposes six women balancing the demands of their inner and outer lives with humorous and touching portrayals of each character.

 “A splendid production. Funny, immensely enjoyable and sure to be a success. The audience gave a rousing ovation.” – The Press

Joanna Murray-Smith’s intensely clever writing strips away the polite veneers to reveal the social pressures and hidden desires of a modern day life.

Tickets on sale now


1-4 October Coasters Theatre, Paraparaumu, Kapiti Coast, 7.30pm 

5 October Hawkes Bay Opera House, Hastings, 7.30pm  

6 October CHB Municipal Theatre, Waipawa, 3pm & 7.30pm 

9 October Rotorua Convention Centre, Rotorua, 7.30pm  

11-12 October Howick Little Theatre, Howick, 7.30pm  

13 October The Victoria Theatre, Devonport, 7.30pm 

14 October Turner Centre, Keri Keri, 7.30pm 

15 October Forum North, Whangarei, 7.30pm 

17 October The Playhouse, Hamilton, 7.30pm 

18 October Wanganui Repertory Theatre, Wanganui, 7.30pm  

19 October Expressions Theatre, Upper Hutt, 7.30pm 

20 October Picton Little Theatre, Picton, 7.30pm 

22-25 October Rangi Ruru Theatre, Christchurch, 7.30pm 

26 October Ashburton Events Centre, Ashburton, 7.30pm 

27 October Inkbox Theatre, Oamaru, 6pm 

29-30 October Repertory House, Invercargill, 7.30pm 

31-2 October Fortune Theatre, Dunedin, 7.30pm 


3 November Gore Repertory Little Theatre, Gore, 4pm 

4 November Arrowtown Atheneum Hall, Arrowtown, 7.30pm

What the critics said

“So good was Harper’s performance that by simply changing into a slightly frumpish costume and putting on a felt hat, it was hard to believe the character was being played by the same actress.” – Malborough Express

“Harper’s timing was impeccable, her delivery polished, her stagecraft spot on.” – Nelson Mail

“Terrific verve and versatility.” – Dominion Post 

Performed by Ali Harper

Lighting and Sound Operator:   Corinne Simpson
Marketing and Publicity:   Sally Woodfield - SWPR Ltd

For Circa:
House Manager:   Suzanne Blackburn
Box Office:   Linda Wilson 

Theatre , Solo ,

2 hrs 5 mins, incl. interval

Unforgettable characters, writing and performance

Review by David Stevens 16th Oct 2013

It takes nothing away from Ali Harper – who delivers an extraordinary performance (or series of performances) in Bombshells – to say that I, a writer, think the star of the evening is the writer, Joanna Murray-Smith. 

For me, the script succeeds on every level. It is insightful, it is well structured, it is written with clarity, grace and an elegant sense of wit. I take pleasure in the sheer craft of it and especial delight in the juxtaposition of words to create lines that are revealing to the heart, engaging to the mind and pleasing to the ear.

It isn’t a play in the usual sense, it is a series of six ‘playlets’, each concerning a different woman, very ordinary women, struggling to cope with their lives.  Their various crises don’t matter to anyone but them, and the triumph of the evening is that these tiny crises do matter to us. And yet it is a play, in that the individual vignettes, each satisfying in their own way, intermingle with, and are dependent on, each other to achieve their full effect.

The evening gets off to a rollicking start with ‘Meryl Davenport’: a suburban mum with a new-born child struggling to cope as wife, housewife and mother and wondering if there is a little bit of time in all that left over for her.  It is acutely observed and Meryl is completely without self-pity. She is puzzled, as much as anything, with her life as it has become and how to cope with that life; scared that she is failing other people’s expectations of her, including her children’s – and her own.

With this beautifully written and acted scene, I think I am ready for anything, but with the arrival of the next character, ‘Tiggy Entwhistle’, both writer and actress ratchet up the ante. With Tiggy, they are skating on much thinner ice over much deeper water.

It is as this point that I should mention the director, Ross Gumbley, who has defied the modern fashion for ‘star’ directors to draw all the attention to themselves (even, in Australia, claiming authorship of classics) and who puts himself at the service of the play, making his own work invisible. There is no “look at me” direction here, there is only the play and the truth of the characters, which is no mean feat for any director. 

In a program note, Mr Gumbley talks about the stresses of the modern world these characters feel, but what strikes me forcibly, especially with Tiggy, is the timelessness of the characters; Ms Murray-Smith’s choices are of the ages. There have always been mothers struggling to cope, it is only the externals that are different. And there have always been unloved spinsters who develop an obsession for something – in this case cacti – as a substitute for the love that is missing from their lives.

Perhaps Tiggy might yearn to swap her own loneliness for Meryl’s problems. This tension is palpable throughout the scene. It would be so easy to laugh at Tiggy and yet we never do (although there are plenty of laughs), and I am sharply reminded of the great English actress Joyce Grenfell, who, fifty years ago, would have made Tiggy her own.

What I now understand is that the writer (and actress) are softening us up for a later creation, Winsome Webster. But more of that later, in its proper place.

The first act ends almost frivolously with ‘Mary O’Donnell’, whose problem is comparatively tiny: someone else steals her routine for a talent quest. For a moment we, audience, are let off the hook; we know that Mary will survive this crisis but we are involved in her dilemma, and – as I now understand it – we are being softened up again for a later character, Zoe Struthers. 

Looked at in overview, this is terrific writing: the first act is not only entertaining in its own right, but it is also building the foundations for the second act, when the full complexity of the tapestry being woven before us will be revealed. 

It happens almost immediately, with ‘Teresa McTerry’: a triumphant bride on her wedding day, exuberantly confident of her happiness, present and future, and almost utterly self-absorbed. Which is her downfall because self-analysis leads her to understand that she may become like Meryl. In what Tracey is we see what Meryl once was, just as in Meryl we saw what Teresa fears her life may be. It is a great way to begin Act Two and not the least delight is the vaulting self-confidence of the character that Ms Harper displays. 

Which brings us to the climatic creation, ‘Winsome Webster’, a widow in her sixties, who is what Tiggy Entwhistle might have become. Winsome found love and was married but now she is alone, with only other widows for company. It is a sad and touching portrait and reminds me of Alan Bennett’s great series of monologues (mostly for woman) Talking Heads, especially the play made famous by Maggie Smith – ‘A Bed Among the Lentils’. The differences are greater than the similarities, but each woman defines her life in (beautifully observed) trivia and each finds love – or at least sex – from an unexpected and unlikely source.

It is a tribute to Ms Murray-Smith’s writing that I can put her in such stellar company and a tribute to Ms Harper’s performance that she can hold her head high given such formidable comparisons. These characters have stayed with me and I can only wish that we had a national television broadcaster who would record them for posterity. They would cost sixpence, and they deserve the widest audience possible. 

Which brings me to the only negative of the evening: the size of the audience. I’m being generous when I say that the Capitaine Bougianville theatre [a.k.a. Forum North] was half full and it should have been packed. This seems to be happening more and more in Whangarei. We’ve had some terrific touring shows this past winter and yet the audiences, while always appreciative, have seldom filled the venues. Even the wonderful Niu Sila at the smaller Old Library, did not get a sell-out house. We know the audiences are there – the Northland Youth Theatre can fill bigger spaces, as can almost anything Kelly Johnson does – but somehow, these touring shows are not, generally, drawing the crowds. 

And yet, generally, the audiences that do attend love what they see and they gave Bombshells a riotous reception at the end, partly because of the final scene: the wonderful ‘Zoe Struthers’ who is the riotous crowd pleasing character of the night.

Just as Act One of Bombshells ends with a potential entertainer, Act Two ends with a has-been entertainer; a once-fine singer and a recovering (she says) alcoholic, reduced to touring the provinces. And it is here that Ms Harper let’s fly with a truly knock-out performance using her extraordinary voice to suggest that Zoe’s singing talent, while good, was never quite good enough to be an enduring star. She has the audience at her feet and many rightly rise to their feet, cheering at the end. 

I shall not easily forget the characters I met last night, and I shall not easily forget the play. If it comes your way, I urge you to see it. It is, I think, a classic of the New Zealand repertory that defies the test of time and it is a proving ground for any actress.


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Sheer brilliance

Review by Adey Ramsel 12th Oct 2013

Howick Little Theatre played host to a mighty talented lady last night as Ali Harper stopped off on her nationwide tour of Bombshells. Written by Joanna Murray-Smith and produced by Christchurch’s Court Theatre, Harper and director Ross Gumbley have resurrected this masterly award winning, one woman show for the delight of the country. 

Six monologues encompassing the whole canon of emotion is a feast for all and Harper is a non-stop express of energy and perfection, each line timed within an inch of its life. This is one talented lady! She takes my breath away with her presence and power.

The vignettes range from static widower who reads to the blind, to a ‘has been’ alcoholic cabaret singer, staggering and attempting to strut her stuff around her comeback stage. Harper injects each with her power and panache, delivering six one act plays, after which you will swear you’d witnessed six full length biographies played out.

I find myself shaking my head more than once in awe at each creation and on two occasions – the aforementioned widower and hobby speaker Tiggy Entwhistle – I cannot see the performer within the character. What better accolade than that? 

Gumbley and Harper have no doubt been a double act in bringing Murray-Smith’s acute and observant script to life. Pace and truthfulness are paramount and the crossovers are as mesmerizing as the scenes themselves. The characters are linked by the cold hard reality of what we all desire and what we actually end up with. Some cope and move on, others stagnate. Some are mistresses of their own fate, others are victims of what others decide is their fate. It is a smorgasbord of pathos, heartbreak and laugh-out-loud comedy. 

My favourite is the opener, giving us a day in the life of stay-at-home mum Meryl Davenport. Being a stay-at-home dad, I cheer Murray-Smith’s observation that though the phrase ‘stay-at-home’ gives the illusion of ‘feet up’ and ‘mid day tv’, it is anything but. Meryl Davenport deserved more vocal laughter last night as my wife and I found ourselves holding in our belly laughs. Maybe the majority mature audience was feeling too distant from her. 

Tiggy Entwhistle appealed to the crowd more I think, and at risk of being rude to my home area, appealed to the Howick sense of community. We can count more than one Tiggy walking amongst us and indeed the area does boast a cactus and succulent hobby group!! 

The second act and interval wine livened up the crowd who found more in common with Winsome Webster, a 60 year old widower. They also enjoyed a bit of risqué humour from Teresa McTerry, a soon-to-be-wed socialite. 

Julian Southgate provides a backdrop of elegant drapes, six wired classic mannequins and a central oval chaise. During the final scene Tour Operator Tod Harris, proved his worth by thankfully fitting the volume immediately to the crowd and intimate venue. 

I urge you all to see this tour, if you don’t you’re missing out on a classic of theatrical storytelling that extracts both laughter and lumps in the throat. Sheer brilliance on the part of all three creatives – Murray Smith, Harper and Gumbley.


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Versatility with aplomb

Review by Karen Beaumont 06th Oct 2013

Ali Harper’s performance in Bombshells is, to take a line from the character Teresa McTerry, both ‘buffed and polished’. This is a well-rehearsed, slick presentation with smooth transitions between character changes.

The simple staging – 6 wire mannequins representing each character, the transitional bed/sofa/podium, French interior and interlude French backing track – all add ambience to this series of six monologues by Australian writer Joanna Murray-Smith.

Bombshells is an expository consideration of being a woman and the messages within each are as pertinent now as they were when written in 2004 – and first performed by Harper in 2006.

Although linked by the vagaries of womanhood, each monologue stands on its own merits. Through our teenage years to widowhood and the many journeys in-between Harper takes us on an emotional ride encompassing tears, laughter, embarrassment and humour.

Meryl Davenport is a stay at home mum, juggling the demands of good parenting. Although at times the pace is too quick for clarity, the voice changes, switches from home to car to school are managed with precision and grace.

Harper steps seamlessly into the role of Tiggy Entwhistle. The control of delivery and complete change of tempo presents a whole different atmosphere. We don’t know whether to laugh at Tiggy or cry with her. She is the character we never want to be but feel that we have met at some point in our lives.

Although not so convincing as Mary O’Donnell, a teenager entering a talent quest, the off-key singing and awkward dance moves capture what we have all seen or experienced: that self-assuredness in our own ability that isn’t really there.

Bride Teresa McTerry and widow Winsome Webster are the strongest performances of the evening. Harper’s ability to switch from one character to another, to be a different person, is clearly evident here. 

Zoe Struthers gives Harper the opportunity to show the power and range of her singing voice: a cross between Minnelli and Bassey. She is a convincing American diva.

The ability and fitness to maintain the pace, be convincing as six different women and to hold the audience are all carried off with aplomb. The laughter, attentive silence, wolf whistles and final applause are all indicators of the audiences’ reaction to, and enjoyment of, this one woman show.


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Shell-shocked by this woman’s huge talent!

Review by Lesley Staniland 20th Sep 2008

Ali Harper has talent _ that’s talent with a capital T-A-L-E-N-T. Ask anyone who packed the Mosaic Theatre last night and they’ll agree _ she was superb.

The one-woman performance was Bombshells, a Court Theatre production written by Joanna Murray-Smith and directed by Ross Gumbley, in which Harper played the roles of six different  women, changing her personality and accent along with her costumes to portray women in all guises _ and hilariously, even extracting belly laughs from the smattering of males in the audience.

First was the frazzled mother of young Amy and Ben. There were shrieks of delight from the audience who recognised and empathised with the plight of this woman who described herself as a "stupid, disorganised mother" who suffered huge pangs of guilt because she wasn’t a good mother and wife and because she spent the household money not on paying bills but on frivolities such as sunglasses.

Then came Tiggy Entwhistle, a drab soul in a drab brown suit wearing a drab brown beret and a drab air of despondency who was making a public speech about the love of her life _ cacti and succulents. But the fact that husband Harry, who she described as a 49-year-old, lactose intolerant, balding parking officer with tinea, had left her for a younger woman, became a part of her speech.

Her accent and mannerisms resembled somewhat the incredibly naive Frank Spencer from Some Mothers Do’Ave ‘Em.

Next Harper portrayed "a good little Catholic" girl, Mary O’Donnell, performing in St Bridget’s talent quest. Another entrant "stole" her number so at the last minute she performed to the music from Shaft, wearing a catsuit with a very long and manoeuvrable tail that was put to good use. Totally funny!

She was an upper-class bride marrying Teddy for all the wrong reasons but the climax, so to speak, came with her portrayal of a cabaret singer _ and this is where a couple of men in the audience were treated to some one-on-one attention.

Harper proved in this finale that she can not only act but as a cabaret singer she had all the attributes _ sexiness, the right actions and wow, what a voice!

I would urge anyone who missed last night’s performance to see it tonight _ but I think the sold out sign might be out again as it was last night.


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One woman does everything

Review by Jesma Magill 05th Sep 2008

The modern woman’s lament seems to be that in trying to do everything, they do nothing well. But in Bombshells, a play just opened in Auckland, Wellington actor Ali Harper does everything and what’s more, she does it all superbly.

This internationally successful one-woman play, where Harper plays six different female characters, isn’t just a show for the girls, either. She takes her audience on a breath-taking, clever, funny and sensitive psyche-tour of six very different female characters during very different stages of their lives. Each is grappling with her place, needs and dreams. [More]


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Acting’s appealing but the play’s a stinker

Review by Shannon Huse 04th Sep 2008

All plays require a successful marriage of performer, direction, design and playwright, but for a one-person play it is even more crucial that all elements are in place.

With just one person on stage there is no way to hide a substandard performance and the playwright’s words are thrown into sharp relief. Bombshells at the Musgrove Studio gets only part of the equation right. [More]
For more production details, click on the title at the top of this review. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


Maggie September 6th, 2008

I think the reviewer needs to develop a sense of humour. The characters are all over-the-top caricature figures that we can all relate to in some way. We can laugh at their foibles and have a thoroughly enjoyable night out. The reviewer sounds extremely sour and bitter. Is she very elderly that she can't stay out after 10 pm?

Welly Watch September 5th, 2008

Hear hear Karlene. BOMSHELLS is avowedly ‘post feminist’. It liberates women into a real world of human fallibility which is of course the stuff of comedy.

Comedy, Ms Huse. You know, that thing in theatre where we get to see the human imperfections that we recognise as part of ourselves and the world around us. Did you think you had booked for a seminar on correct female behaviour?

Karlene Robinson September 4th, 2008

After reading Shannon's review, I almost decided not to use the ticket that I had bought for the performance this evening.  I really didn't fancy the thought of watching a "sorry parade of stupid, shallow and downtrodden women".   I'm very glad that I went along anyway.  Rather than being victims, I thought the play showed a series of women who were busy making the best of life ... despite perhaps their own limitations or the challenges that life had thrown at them.  Overall, I found myself agreeing with the other reviewers (who were resolutely positive about the play) and thinking how sad it would be if many other people missed out on a thoroughly great night of theatre based solely on the review.

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Six characters in search of an insight

Review by Elspeth Sandys 01st Sep 2008

When a one-woman play is commissioned with a specific actress in mind, the chances of it turning out to be more than just a "showcase" are slim. Bombshells, by multi-talented Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, came into being as a result of a Melbourne Theatre Company commission for a piece designed to display the talents of actress Caroline O’Connor. It might equally as well have been written with our own Ali Harper in mind, Harper being an actress not afraid to explore the farthest reaches of her impressive versatility.

But there is a problem … [More


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Harper the right stuff

Review by Lynn Freeman 07th Aug 2008

Solo shows are tough enough, but when a playwright gives an actor six very different characters, that’s either mean, or a superb opportunity to show what you’re made of.

Christchurch singer and actor Ali Harper is made of the right stuff for Bombshells by Aussie writer Joanna Murray-Smith.

Each of the roles fits her as tight as the wedding day corset she wears at one stage. And if you think that’s impressive, these roles span six decades and none of the aging (backwards or forwards in time) is done with make up. It’s all her formidable acting ability.

The women, and in one case child, we meet are all isolated in some way – from their schoolmates, from their children, from their husbands and for one, husband to be.

A young mum is on a treadmill she just can’t escape, only just coping with three children and the demands of school and society. Words pour out of her (sometimes too quickly to pick up) as she frets and dashes and worries.

That whirlwind is followed by a static lecture from succulent-lover, Tiggy, whose husband has abandoned her for a succulent young thing.

Zoe is a singer who’s seen better days, then there’s the bride to be who’s having second thoughts, a school kid with vaulting ambition to win the school talent contest and a widow who finds excitement with someone unexpected.

With such a breadth of stories audiences will enjoy or identify with some more than others, but they’re all treasures, and performed with such depth and gusto that you care for each and every one.

A bouquet also to Ross Gumbley; multi-character solo shows are just as tricky for the director. I wish we could keep Ali Harper in the capital – what do you say Ali?
For more production details, click on the title at the top of this review. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


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Characters of substance

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 30th Jul 2008

Having toured the critically acclaimed one-woman play Bombshells through the South Island last year, actress Ali Harper and director Ross Gumbley from the Court Theatre in Christchurch are now in Wellington for the start of their North Island tour.

And as the title suggests this is a bombshell of a show, energetic with pace and pizzazz mixing humour with pathos, showing six different women running the full gamut of emotions most women go through at some point in their lives.

Though somewhat formulaic in its structure – the older, more sedate character in each half sandwiched between two highly charged characters – it does allow the actress to develop some depth to each character, unlike many other multi-character one-person shows.  And these characters certainly have substance.

As playwright Joanna Murray-Smith states in her introduction – "these are six women on the edge – their private and public selves intersecting as they try and bridge the gap between the wilderness of their inner worlds and the demands of their outer worlds".

And Harper and her team have done more than justice to this in a polished, professional presentation, her finely tuned performance never missing a beat.  Well known locally for her work in musical theatre, Harper shows in this production that not only does she excel at song and dance routines but she is an exceptionally versatile actor as well. 

Though highly charged and animated through the opening character of each half – the first following a day-in-the-life of a harassed mother-of-three while the second has Teresa, an upper-class, snobbish, bride-to-be, having second thoughts about her man Ted – Harper is most engaging and at her best in the contained, heartfelt internal agonies of Tiggy Entwhistle talking about succulents through which she regales us about why Harry left her, and the widow who, as a diversion from all her widow activities reads for the blind.  When she has to read for a young male student all her suppressed inner fires and passion are ignited in away that is both hilarious yet touching. 

Harper’s phrasing, use of pauses and intonation of key words through these pieces is exquisite making the portrayal of these characters totally captivating. 

Her final cabaret character allows her to give full rein to her singing prowess which she does with consummate ease, ending this highly enjoyable and entertaining production on a high upbeat note. 


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Sextet of post-feminist women offer entertaining insights

Review by John Smythe 27th Jul 2008

Why is it called Bombshells? In this production the ‘blonde bombshell’ turns out to be its solo performer Ali Harper: a truly dynamic talent. But instead of shattering and splattering, as bombshells do, she and director Ross Gumbley honour the essence of Joanna Murray Smith’s sextet of monologues by bringing re-creative cohesion to the shattered lives of six very different women. 

Actually ‘scattered’ is a more appropriate word for the mother of three (Meryl Davenport*) who hits the ground running too early in the morning to meet the needs of her baby, of little Amy with a cold who needs to know how many countries there are in Africa, and of Ben who hates school. What Mum needs is a coffee …

Husband Barry seems not too demanding. But when he gets home from work with news of his day and wants to know about hers, she can think of nothing to say even though we have been witness to a jam-packed anxiety-riddled schedule … Key line: "I’m not mad enough to get good help, but I am mad enough to be a bad mother." Then it all starts again.

Harper’s rapid-fire delivery as Meryl, through which she also personifies her three children and a squeaky supermarket trolley, is impeccably paced and modulated. 

In total contrast Tiggy Entwistle, in her brown suit, beret and sensible shoes, is inclined to drift into poignant silence amid her sibilant address on succulents, delivered with the aid of a microphone and sad slides of prickly cacti. Describing herself as a cactiphile from Silverstream (the scenarios have been relocated in NZ and place-names localised to suit each venue on the tour), this is remedial therapy for her.

The bombshell in Tiggy’s life has been the departure of her husband Harry, a parking infringement officer, for some flibbertigibbet who has yet to discover his long list of faults and bad habits – and yet all she wants is for him to come back. Such paradoxes and juxtapositions pepper all the monologues and mark Murray Smith as a writer of richness.

Strongly caricatured but played dead seriously, Harper squeezes tear-inducing pathos from the comic gem that is Tiggy Entwistle.

The first triplet ends with egomaniacal schoolgirl Mary O’Donnell who lives for the annual talent quest, which she won last year. Now, clad in her home-made costume, she is all set to repeat her triumph with O’Shaughnessy from CATS – until she discovers Angela McTerry is doing it too. So she ransacks her CD collection … and why shouldn’t a Kiwi school girl in a cat suit do Shaft: "Groovy, soulful, black…"?

Her ‘improvised’ interpretative dance while miming the song is a splendid contrast to earlier pieces and Harper scores in that league too.

After interval, the up-market and frightfully well-spoken bride (Theresa McTerry) shares her delirious happiness with us as she dons her frock and approaches the altar and her future with Ted. Wherever it is she has fetched up now (it is not specified) she has moved on from a 1970s Euro-trash ethos to dreams of a Knightsbridge townhouse …

And she’s right: "wife" is a weird word. Her dreams of emulating Princesses Di or Grace, and a range of other celebrities, start to corrode in the face of disconcerting doubts … What does a girl do? You’ll have to see it to find out.

Again a whole life and lifestyle, and the other people who share it, are deftly conjured up by Harper (and Gumbley) with the simple aids of costumes designed by Emily Thomas and lighting by Marcus McShane, on a set by Julian Southgate that features intriguingly different wire sculpture torsos, worth contemplating further in the pauses between as the detail of each becomes more meaningful after each character is revealed.

Winsome Webster is a very respectable widow from Khandallah whose week has become a predictable litany of ritual activities shared with other widows. She fantasises about the unexpected. The ‘good works’ component of her week is reading to blind people in their homes and her story – the only one told retrospectively, although she does relive the key moments – focuses on her taking on a new client. What happens may be true or her fantasy, take your pick, and certainly comes as a ‘bombshell’-like surprise.  

With the soft touch of respectability masking a deeper reality, this piece is very redolent of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues, not least because of the slight Yorkshire cadences Harper brings to Winsome’s voice. (In the earlier pieces I note a tinge of Cockney in some vowel sounds which feeds my suspicion that this is a distinctive element of the Canterbury Kiwi accent. If anyone has done a study of NZ dialects, I’d be keen to have that confirmed – or discounted.)

The finale, funnily enough, involves the most clichéd character and is the least conducive to empathy. Given the play was originally commissioned by Melbourne Theatre Company artistic director Simon Phillips for Lancashire-born Australian actress Caroline O’Connor, who has featured in many musicals including Baz Lurhman’s Moulin Rouge movie (as Nini Legs in the Air), this was clearly crafted as the set-piece show-stopper to showcase that special talent.

Zoe Struthers is an American cabaret singer whose ‘bombshells’ have been somewhat self-inflicted but hey, she’s sober now (yeah, right). Vamping – a-la Judy Garland / Lisa Minnelli / Ertha Kitt – she belts out a genre standard, ‘The Lady Is Back In Town’ … In the process she reveals herself to be a needy emotional wreck that can still pack a powerful showbiz punch.

Ali Harper, of course – a cabaret diva in her own right – has all the musical and acting talent required to pull this off with tragic flair and it’s not her fault Zoe is finally less engaging than Meryl, Tiggy, Mary, Theresa or Winsome.

Overall Bombshells offers an extremely entertaining insight into the lives of six women in the post feminist era. It’s a huge challenge for one actress (elsewhere multiple actors are sharing the roles) and Ali Harper meets it with alacrity, using her formidable skills to show us the women rather than vice versa.

On this tour, the Wellington season (at Circa Two) is followed by Auckland (Musgrove Studio, Maidment), Tauranga (Mosaic Theatre), Pukekohe (OSPA Theatre) and Masterton (Harlequin Theatre) – click here for details.

Oh by the way, apropos the monologues forum that debates the issue, this show is a perfect example of how well it works to dramatise a solo piece in a present tense, present action format.
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*The programme doesn’t list these character names and only some get mentioned in the script. I got this list from the internet.


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Strong women, strong production

Review by John C Ross 19th May 2007

We need strong parts for women, and here an Australian playwright has created six of them, end-to-end, to provide challenges for a virtuoso actor. From a school-girl in a cat-suit coping with a talent contest through to a widow in her sixties breaking free from soul-crushing routine, each character exemplifies the theme of `women on the edge,’ close to imploding.

What makes this a coherent show is a skilful modulation of intensity and pace, with a strong beginning and  an even stronger ending, and a quieter, slower-paced piece within each group of three.

Each character works through her own little drama.

In this production, premiered at Christchurch’s Court Theatre, Ali Harper takes up these challenges with terrific verve and versatility. It’s maybe just as well that the sixth character, a cabaret singer, round about forty, belting out a fiercely self-affirming song, can be seen to be winning her battle with near-exhaustion without much to spare. Still, she does sing well, unlike the school-girl.

The role of the first character, a frenetic mum struggling with the demands of a baby, two young kids, and getting a meal on the table for her family, must be quite tiring in itself.

Each character is associated with an elegant metal construct like a tailor’s dummy, draped with some accessory, and the transition between pieces involves a half-visible change in costume,  shoes, and headgear, with the character herself shifting around any props needed.

It’s a good show, and well worth seeing.


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Forge opens with a bang

Review by Lindsay Clark 22nd Mar 2007

There is nothing trepid about The Court’s intentions to stage scripts ‘that couldn’t be ignored’ in the studio space, now renamed The Forge.

This inaugural production, of a popular Aussie play, has flamboyance and theatricality to spare, showing no signs of wear and tear after a 3-week tour of South Island towns. Julian Southgate’s elegantly practical set with its six crushed velvet, tasselled stage curtains and an all purpose ottoman, allows six very different performances to blossom.

Written as a showcase for the talents of a Melbourne actress, the piece is made up of six vignettes, each demanding in scope and testing in skill. Characters struggle, says the writer, to ‘bridge the chasm between the wilderness of their inner worlds and the demands of their outer worlds.’ This seems to overstate things a little but there is certainly plenty of tension, a veritable cornucopia of moods and enough breathing space between them for the changes of tempo to be relished.

It takes phenomenal energy to sustain this sort of compilation and Ali Harper delivers the goods with class. After a breathless opening stampede through a day in the life of  a harried, self-doubting wife and mother, it is a wonder that she does not call for a cold compress and a massage. But no, here she is, back again, to give us middle aged Tiggy Entwhistle, deadpan newcomer to the world of cacti, painfully articulating one of those speeches which tells more about the speaker than the subject under discussion.

From the hilarious, if overstated agony of a botched talent show, to the bride who ‘only wanted to wear the dress’, the pathos of a 64 year old widow, and a rocky cabaret artiste making a comeback, the one woman parade sweeps along with many a laugh and sometimes the sort of rapt silence which suggests that the audience has shifted into deeper territory in spite of the overblown writing.

Essentially, the actress is filling in the highly coloured, somewhat satirical cartoon figures with punctilious pacing and rich performance detail. Ali Harper’s vocal athleticism is no surprise to Christchurch audiences, familiar with her prowess  as a vibrant lead in musical theatre, but the range of physical agility and sensitivity called for in this piece is a different challenge and one well met.

If contemporary audiences want their theatrical bread well buttered, this production should satisfy most. It glitters with irony, itself a trifle repetitive as a comedic device. The catalogue is generous however and there is another character, another situation, another bout of self delusion or revelation a few breaths away.

The Forge is launched with a bang, not a whimper.
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