Brain Power

BATS Theatre, Wellington

13/03/2007 - 16/03/2007

BATS Theatre, Wellington

21/02/2007 - 25/02/2007

NZ Fringe Festival 2007

Production Details

written, directed and co-produced by Dean Hewison
set and prop designs by Seamus Arnel (co-producer)
lighting design by Debbie McGuire

stage manager: Francesca Carney



You know that feeling you get when your EFTPOS declines? Or the one when the bus shoots past & sprays you with puddle water? Ever wondered what those feelings look like?

From the award-winning writer of “Head of the House” and the award-winning director of “F**k You Orlando” (who both happen to be the same person) comes the world premiere of “Brain Power”, a strikingly inventive and hilarious film-noir styled comedy set in the darkest regions of the human brain and featuring a massive cast of 18 actors including Bevin Linkhorn, Matthew Saville and Tim Gordon. 

Inside the Vessel Michael Sanderson’s brain, a murder has taken place and a battle for power has begun. Amid all the Feelings, Concepts and Dreams, only one can save the Vessel from insanity. He has a long scientific name, but most people call him Justice.

With characters such as Big Scary Monster, P***ed Off, Embarrassed and the Concept of God, this is a highly original take on the hard-boiled noir genre. It marks the theatre directing debut of filmmaker Dean Hewison, and is his second play on the Wellington stage, after the NZ Young Playwrights Competition-winning Head of the House, which had Hewison nominated for a Chapman Tripp award.

Three costume designers have created a unique look for the huge array of characters, even going so far as developing a new pasta-based technique of making spikes for Big Scary Monster’s skin. On stage at BATS Theatre, the heart of the fringe, this is the show you’ll be Embarrassed to miss.

featuring a massive cast of 18 actors including Bevin Linkhorn, Matthew Saville and Tim Gordon

and Seamus Jolly - cello

Theatre ,

1 hr

Much needed humour amid the fragments

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 06th Mar 2007

Large cast plays are something of a rarity in the Fringe Festival so it’s pleasing to see Brain Power, the early evening show currently playing at BATS involving 16 actors and a musician in a production, while not wholly successful nevertheless has some interesting ideas presented creatively. 

In the style of a B grade detective movie come courtroom drama writer/director Dean Hewison has creatively put together a show involving a murder that has taken place within a brain – although whose brain, who has been murdered and why is never made clear.   

The Concept of Justice (Richard Falkner) and the Concept of Memory (Ben Powdrell) are investigating various other concepts (Ruthless Ambition, Violence, Jealousy, Embarrassment) to find the culprit, eventually bringing Guilt (Nic Gorman) to trial.  Then in the courtroom the Concept of God (Tim Gordon) presides over the Concept of Self Preservation – the Defence and the Concept of Punishment – the Prosecution (Andrew Waterson) who interrogate these other concepts for the truth. 

However the many fragmented scenes of the production with its many blackouts doesn’t help in illuminating what the play is about and what is actually happening. Suffice to say that all the actors do well with their emotionally charged characters often bringing much needed humour into the proceedings.


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A clever play

Review by Michael Wray 25th Feb 2007

As a child, my favourite comic strip was The Numbskulls. This showed the contents of a man’s head as little people in charge of the various departments. As an adult, one of my favourite films to watch with my own child was Osmosis Jones, where the molecular structure of an entire person is represented by little people. It is only fair then to acknowledge that the conceptual idea behind Brain Power is one to which I’m favourably pre-disposed.

A man lies unconscious or sleeping, but his brain is in turmoil. There is a trial underway to decide whether he should experience Guilt (a feeling played by Nic Gorman) for something he has done. In addition, there has been a murder in the brain.

Fresh from As You Like It, Richard Falkner is The Concept of Justice. He’s represented as a Phillip Marlowe detective. This may seem corny, but it makes perfect sense; he is the embodiment of the man’s perception of justice. Justice must solve the mystery of the murder of The Concept of Cleanliness (a cleaner) and discover what it has to do with the ongoing trial. He is aided or hindered by the archetypal scarlet woman, The Concept of Ruthless Ambition (Isabel Donelan), and news reporter The Concept of Memory (Ben Powdrell). With Allen Henry playing The Concept of Violence as a Mafioso, the 1930s time period is well represented.

As well as the Concepts, we meet some Feelings. Pissed Off (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) and Embarrassment (Jamie Burgess) are assigned the bulk of their work. Brianne Kerr triples as Sad, Scared and Jealous. I only really recall Jealous coming out to play, so perhaps that was a three for one deal.

At the trial we meet the opposing counsels in The Perception of Self Preservation and The Perception of Self-Punishment. These are excellently realised by Leon Wadham and Andrew Waterson, respectively. Waterson’s costume is a thing to behold. All I can say is, eye contact only kids! The trial is presided over by The Concept of God (naturally) played by Tim Gordon, who really seemed to be enjoying himself in the role.

The other costume of note is for Big Scary Monster. Clad in something out of the World of Wearable arts, he’s like one of the characters from Monsters Inc unsure if he’s still scary. The programme notes say that the costume was made from 20 metres of polyester lining which was poked through penne pasta and then baked in the oven. World of Wearable arts indeed!

There are 18 performers, an impressive volume for a Fringe show. Two of these performers only appear on film, which is a shame. The format fits the style of the show, with the film medium used for memory-based testimony at the trial – though I could envisage it being played out through one of the upper doors of the Bats stage just as well. Writer and director Dean Hewison provides the brain in which all this plays out as the The Vessel Michael Sanderson, though he too only performs on film.

Live music is supplied by Seamus Jolly, assigned the title of The Concept of Atmosphere. The recorded music is original and played by Jolly together with Falkner and David Hoskins (The Concept of Security).

Brain Power is a clever play, with an enjoyable concept that is well played out. It fully deserves the second run it will get at Bats in mid-March.


Helen Sims February 25th, 2007

Hi John I didn't quite "get it" by the end either - but I felt that this was the result of plot holes rather than missing the meaning. However, overall I agree with your assessment of stylish and inventive (also on my review on

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Extraordinary imaginings

Review by John Smythe 22nd Feb 2007

How splendidly profligate, to gather a cast of eighteen – fifteen on stage, two on video only, one musician aloft – to manifest the feelings and other conceptual drivers that activate the brain of one comatose man. In some ways the dramatic convention recalls the ancient morality play where Everyman, called on to account for himself at the Dreadful Day of Judgement, calls the Vices and Virtues as his witnesses.

The genres of Film Noir thriller and courtroom drama also inform the style and content of Brain Power, written, directed and co-produced by Dean Hewison, who also plays The Vessel Michael Sanderson, lying in the aforementioned coma. The result is a very stylish ride.

The Concept of Justice (Richard Falkner, in trench coat and fedora) is investigating the murder (or attempted murder?) of a person (a ‘dame’?), with photographer / journalist The Concept of Memory (Ben Powdrell) in attendance, as The Concept of Cleanliness (Cara Waretini) tries to tidy up.

Was this crime committed by Michael Sanderson, is he another of its victims or, given the question, is she “a psychotic cross dresser or a dyke with a grudge?” are they one and the same, and ‘she’ is not yet dead? Might he be on a mortuary slab, clinically brain dead but still reviewing events in the deepest recesses of his brain?

That I remain unclear on these points, even after the show, seems like a problem to me. Either I missed something crucial or the convention of dramatising only what’s happening in this brain means it is not possible to communicate any objective facts. Even so, some moment of lucidity, experienced out-of-body, perhaps, could help.

Meanwhile Happy Hour in the Feelingz Bar, presided over by The Concept of Service (Powdrell), is under threat by Pissed Off (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), unless Embarrassed (Jamie Burgess, in a backless red hospital gown) can mollify him. Big Scary Monster (Bevan Linkhorn in blue dragon garb) – a remnant of childhood? – drops in for a drink while the emotions Sad, Scared and Jealous (white-clad Brianne Kerr) lurk, intensely felt but largely unacknowledged.

The quest for Justice is not made easy in the face of The Concepts of Ruthless Ambition (Isabel Donelan, vamping in a slinky red sheath) and Violence (Allan Henry, in mafia hitman gear).

Once The Concept of Security (David Hoskins) has checked everyone out, the trial gets under way, presided over by a rather tired Concept of God (Tim Gordon, in a black toga). As Guilt (Nic Gorman) awaits the verdict, The Concept of Self Punishment (Andrew Waterson in Dungeon Master drag) appears for the prosecution while the defence is in the hands of The Concept of Self-Preservation (Leon Wadham, safely encased in flak-jacket and protective headgear).

As those we’ve already seen come to the witness stand, they are obliged to wear a Thought Sucker. Video testimony is brought by Broken Glass Tony (Matthew Saville) and Full Moon Neil (Phil Vaughan) and it strikes me some clarity as to what exactly happened might have been forthcoming here. There is mention of a drinking binge … (is his coma alcohol-induced?). Perhaps I was too entranced on opening night, or otherwise overwhelmed by the ingenuity of it all, to pick up the crucial information.

Hewison’s dialogue is as well wrought as his conceptualising, and smoothly delivered by his astutely selected and very able cast. The costume designs by Fiona Brown, Gemma Crouch-Gatehouse and Bonne Kemp are superb, the set and prop designs by Seamus Arnel (co-producer) and Francesca Carney (stage manager) are also excellent. Debbie McGuire’s lighting adds the right Noir touch while Seamus Jolly, as The Concept of Atmosphere, does wonders with his cello.

With all this talent brought to bear on making manifest Hewison’s extraordinary imaginings, I feel a twinge of guilt myself at not finally getting it. But it’s scheduled for a brief return season at Bats, 13 – 16 March by which time either my head will be clearer or the work itself will have improved through a further iteration of creative distillation. I’ll be back!


Dean Hewison March 19th, 2007

We're glad you chose to come back! And thank you very much for your comprehensive thoughts and feedback.

John Smythe March 15th, 2007

The return season of Brain Power (BATS, 8pm, 13 – 16 March), brings tweaks to the script that clear up much of my earlier confusion. The dead dame is The Concept of Cleanliness, which led me to wonder if the crime committed by The Vessel Michael Sanderson was that he hadn’t cleaned his room. But it turns out the trial is neither for that nor the murder. The Concept of Ruthless Ambition has made TVMS steal money from his hotelier employer in order to discredit a colleague and so achieve promotion. And TCoC was murdered (by TCoRA) because she was about to retrieve the thoughts that had been trashed for fear they would incriminate TVMS if they were returned to his memory … Fearing, myself, that I had only got it because I’d come a second time, I canvassed members of the audience for whom it was new and discovered they too had worked it out. But it does remain more of an intellectual exercise than it needs to be. What’s missing – amid the super-stylish performances, strong characterisations, excellent ensemble work and impeccably timed staging – is any emotional engagement that may let us empathise, even for a moment, with either his desire to get ahead in life, his guilt at what he has done or his fear of being found out. But then the ‘noir’ genre is by nature reticent about deep emotional involvement. There are temptations, of course, but The Concept of Justice (characterised as the private dick) keeps passion at bay. Which is not to say passions don’t manifest themselves in many forms through the other characters, in ways we can readily relate to. It’s just that it’s not easy to see their entertaining behaviour in direct correlation to the major ambition that has got him into trouble. I suppose what I’m asking is, why don’t all the other concepts, feelings and emotions have very focussed responses TCoRA, to the extent, even, that her life and/or liberty is on the line? It must be added that Holly Shanahan has replaced Cori Gonzalez-Macuer as ‘Pissed Off’ and, after months as the principal girl in Circa’s Aladdin panto, she’s having a ball being foul-mouthed and stroppy. In short, Brain Power – which is in itself ambitious – abounds with creative energy, theatrical style, splendid performances and witty insights. It’s very funny and deserves full houses for the next two nights.

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