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

17/05/2008 - 07/06/2008

Production Details

This harrowing dark comedy was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2004 and opens at Wellington’s Circa II on May 17th.

"John Donnelly has artfully intertwined the tales of the three characters," says the play’s New Zealand Director, Lara Macgregor.  "He brings us startling tales of pub-hopping, kebab-throwing, bridge-jumping and cow-slaughtering.

The stories are funny, moving, isolating and redemptive as they reveal the human cost of world events on ordinary people.

Donogh Rees (Shortland St, Doubt, The Graduate, Te Karakia) plays Helen: a farmer’s wife who is struggling to deal with both the loss of her husband to a heart attack and their entire farm stock to foot and mouth.

Phil Brown (Shortland St, Karaoke High, Beautiful Losers, The Jungle) plays Stephen: a marketing manager who dreams of exploding hand grenades in his office while battling with the harsh reality that the woman he loves has married someone else.

And Colin Garlick (Simple Velocity) plays Jamie: a troubled hothead who, spurred on by a distant memory of a sexual assault suffered by his sister, thrashes his way around the local pubs looking for a shag before shipping out to a war zone the next day.

Three lives are stripped bare in a modern world and stumble to a most unexpected redemption.

Macgregor first encountered Bone in Sydney while completing a diploma in directing at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA).  She has corresponded with writer John Donnelly during the development of the play in New Zealand.

"Originally, I conceived Bone as a play about England," says Donnelly.  "I thought it was too parochial to travel so I was thrilled when people from other countries responded well to an early draft at a playwright’s festival in Australia."

Circa’s enthusiasm for Bone has brought together a talented team of professional actors, designers and technicians from Wellington, Auckland and Sydney for this NZ Premiere.

Bone is proudly produced by He Waka Eke Noa Charitable Trust.

Bone by John Donnelly
Preview May 16th; Season: May 17th – June 7th
Circa II, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington

For bookings please contact Circa Theatre:  (04) 801 7992  

Donogh Rees as Helen 
Phil Brown as Stephen 
Colin Garlick as Jamie

Rita Carmody - set
Jen Lal - lighting
Todd Mohi & David Goldthorpe - sound

Tricky threesome

Review by Lynn Freeman 22nd May 2008

Three strangers, struggling to deal with personal tragedies, each find comfort in unexpected places.  They are all trying to escape their feelings … guilt, abandonment, heartache.  Yet their stories aren’t related, with British writer John Donnelly carefully and cleverly structuring his play as three monologues which intersect each other.  

Donogh Rees plays Helen, achingly lonely after the death of her husband, and the farm they created turned into a massive funeral pyre after a neighbouring property was found to have food and mouth.  The role is perfectly cast and lovingly performed. 

Phil Brown’s Stephen has also lost his love, who’s married another man, but he can’t let her go. On the surface he’s super smooth and successful, but it’s just a façade.  Brown is utterly engaging in the part, providing much needed comic relief without turning Stephen into a stereotype.

As the young soldier Jamie who’s about to shipped off to Iraq the next morning, Colin Garlick has the toughest part – and carries it off expertly.  Jamie is intent on getting drunk, and laid, before he leaves but on top of the fear he feels about his deployment, is a deep anger about his sister’s rape. 

While Helen tries to extract answers from her dead husband and contemplates suicide … Stephen fantasises about killing people and getting Sarah back any way he can … and Jamie brags of drinking 12 pints and his giant erection, but his anger is always only a whisker away from exploding.  

Lara Macgregor is a relatively new director.  You wouldn’t know it.  This is a tricky number to pull off, for the cast and the person with the overall vision.  It works on all levels, (though the relevance of the sandy set is beyond this critic). 


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A compelling portrait of three lives in crisis

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 19th May 2008

Rita Carmody’s Beckettian-like setting of sand and three oddly arranged park benches creates a wilderness of unease which is immediately heightened at the start of John Donnelly’s outstanding play Bone by the jarring dissonance of three rapid intercutting monologues.

This sense of unease is further strengthened by the description of fire, the smell of burning flesh and groups of patrolling soldiers by Helen, a middle-aged woman whose husband has recently died. This hellish scene we slowly discover is what happened on their farm when foot and mouth disease was found in their cattle.

Her sense of desolation is echoed in the plight of the tormented and cynical Stephen, overcome by the loss of his girlfriend who has jilted him and married someone else. Drink and dreams of revenge on his fellow office workers in the London marketing firm where he is stuck in a monotonous middle management job eventually lead him to a ledge on London Bridge.

The third lonely character is Jamie, a young squaddie, out on the town with his mates looking for women, booze and punch ups the night before he’s off overseas to fight. But under all his racism and bravado Jamie, who is haunted by what happened to his sister, is, like the other two, desperately seeking some sort of solace.

Lara Macgregor’s carefully orchestrated production of John Donnelly’s taut, meticulously written monologues of the three lives in crisis allows them to be revealed in counterpoint to each other with a depth, complexity, and biting humour, that are absolutely compelling. She is well aided by Todd Mohi’s subtle sound effects and Jennifer Lal’s lighting.

And what is more the play ends with glimmers of hope and redemption, which Donnelly describes in a programme note written especially for the New Zealand premiere as "partly about the coherence of the human spirit. We all have something to give one another. Often we just lack the words."

Phil Brown as Stephen brilliantly mines every ounce of humour from the role when he tries to assert his authority at work, travelling on the undergound and even when he’s teetering on the edge of London Bridge, while Colin Garlick’s Jamie is brutally alive and dangerous, and Donogh Rees’s Helen, despite a certain vocal monotony, is a soul in torment constantly reliving her immediate and shocking past. It is an exciting evening of theatre and you leave, surprisingly, uplifted.


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A rich experience of three lives

Review by John Smythe 18th May 2008

In stripping its three characters back to the bone, this play takes an x-ray snapshot of contemporary England, or parts of it at least. And in the process of plumbing their darker depths, as each wrestles in private with intense emotional stress, it generates an extraordinary amount of humour.

Helen (Donogh Rees) is a farmer ‘drowning’ in the wake of the apparently unnecessary slaughter of her stock – she calls them her children – at the height of the Foot and Mouth Disease scare, her husband Tom’s sudden death and the loss of her own will to battle on. Her monologue is addressed to Tom.

Jamie (Colin Garlick), driven by his persistent ‘boner’ and an unspoken fear of where he is headed, is out on the town one last beer-fuelled time before embarking for active service in Iraq. In the wake of his father’s death, with a mother who’s taken to booze and blokes, he blames himself – his failure to be ‘the man of the house’ – for his sister’s sexual assault at the hands of a ‘foreigner’, some time ago. He brings a skinhead’s (lack of) sensibility to his unresolved anger: kneejerk racism and sexism, always a hair’s breadth from violence, compulsive spouting of irrational rationalisations to anyone willing to listen.

Stephen (Phil Brown) is a city slicker Marketing Manager, still walking the talk on a tightrope over a gaping void of cynicism brought on by the failure of his relationship with Sarah, who has married someone else. It is her he’s talking to (in his head), and being hyper-conscious of his own shallowness does little to alleviate his deepening despair. But it does fuel vengeful fantasies seem compellingly real, and make for great one-liners – e.g. "I’m in control of my hair, ergo my life."

Alone in their own upsets, despite the interactions the day and night brings, their ‘daze-in-the-life’ scenarios play out as a 3-ply rope, taking each to the end of their tether and bringing them face-to-face with their mortality before the new day dawns.

It’s a huge creative challenge for actors, director and designer, because while they occupy the same performance space the characters are in different story places and never interact. Director Lara Macgregor returns to NZ armed with a recent diploma in directing at NIDA (gained after many years of acting in the USA – 12 years away in all) and meets the challenge with distinction.

Fellow NIDA grad Rita Carmody has created a sandy expanse in Circa Two, furnished only with three park benches, which simultaneously suggests a wasteland and playground. It could be seen as the sands of time they are running out on, and of. Or the dust of cremated bones.

Abetted by Jennifer Lal’s heavily textured lighting plot and Todd Mohi’s crackling, dark-toned sound design, Macgregor and the actors use the space well, astutely pacing their unravelling stories, although as the season progresses I expect the modulations will become more subtle.

It’s the sort of play which needs to invite us into to private places, especially when played in a space as intimate as Circa Two. But on opening night there was a tendency to over-project, with Donogh Rees’s Helen verging on the declamatory at times, perhaps in fear of being obliterated by the soundscape. While she gives a clear and heartfelt account of Helen’s state, I’m thinking we’ll empathise more when we’re drawn in to share the experience more.

Colin Garlick – recently graduated from UNITEC – gets away with bunging it on because that’s in Jamie’s nature, and as he does so we become increasingly aware of the vulnerability and frailty his bravado hopes to hide. Despite the odd line fumble, which reminds us how isolated they all are in their roles, it’s a professional debut to be proud of.

Most assured, in a superbly modulated performance, is Phil Brown’s treacle-smooth Stephen. The more he reveals his inadequacies the more we are drawn to him. It’s a comic tour-de-force.

Overall, Bone immerses us in a rich experience of three lives that are bound to stay with us well beyond its 85 minutes. And this production brings fresh talent to Wellington that is very welcome grist to the creative capital’s mill.


John Smythe May 22nd, 2008

Thanks Corrine. Such corrections and clarifications are essential as this site endeavours to hold an accurate historical record. The production page data has been corrected.

Corinne Simpson May 22nd, 2008

"and Todd Mohi's crackling, dark-toned sound design" I am the stage manager and operator for 'Bone' and just wanted to clarify that much of the sound design (also positively highlighted in Laurie Atkinson's review), including the pre-show radio soundscape and the ambient tone that underscored much of the play, was in fact designed by David Goldthorpe.

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