BREAK-UP [We Need to Talk]

Matchbox Studios, 166 Cuba Street, Wellington

08/02/2014 - 08/02/2014

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

14/02/2015 - 14/02/2015

La Mama, La Galleria, 47 Great Jones St, NYC, USA

21/03/2015 - 21/03/2015

BATS Theatre-hosted online livestream, Global

18/04/2020 - 18/04/2020

Auckland Fringe 2015

COVID-19 Lockdown Festival 2020

NZ Fringe Festival 2014

New Zealand Performance Festival New York

Production Details


Aucklanders have the chance to see Wellington-based performance group, Binge Culture Collective’s Break Up (We Need To Talk) before it heads to world-renowned La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club New York. La MaMa has a worldwide reputation for supporting fearless and provocative theatre and Binge Culture (winners Best in Fringe, NZ Fringe 2013) is known for creating new experimental performance. The company has been hailed as  “one of the country’s most exciting, direct and original theatre companies” (NZ Herald 2013).

Binge Culture’s Break Up is six hours of desperation, negotiation and emotional blackmail, improvised non-stop by five performers playing two characters having one difficult ‘conversation’.

Break Up is an experiment in durational performance: “the audience witnesses the performers go through real exhaustion and various emotions as we talk non-stop for six hours” says performer, Fiona McNamara.

Break Up premiered in NZ Fringe 2014, where it was “Highly Commended” at NZ Fringe Awards and praised as “a unique and powerful experience” (Theatreview). 

Binge Culture was established in 2008. The company has had numerous awards and nominations in New Zealand Fringe, Auckland and Dunedin Fringe and feel ready to take on the New York stage.  “Some of the world’s most innovative artists began their careers at La MaMa and it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to be part of that history,” says performer Ralph Upton.  

Break Up plays at Basement Theatre on Valentines Day. Spectators can come and go from this one-off event throughout the day – or stay until everything is worked through, and are invited to live tweet commentary to #bingebreakup. Those who can’t make it to the theatre can follow the anguish on Twitter or live stream the performance at

Break Up (We Need to talk). 
Valentines Day – Saturday 14 February 2015, 11am-5pm. 
Basement Theatre, Lower Grey’s Avenue, Auckland CBD. 
Tickets $18/ $15 
Come and go any time or stay for the full six hours

Auckland Fringe 2015 is an open access arts festival where anything can happen. It provides a platform for practitioners and audiences to unite in the creation of form forward experiences which are championed in an ecology of artistic freedom. The 2015 programme will see work happening all over the show, pushing the boundaries of performance Auckland wide from February 11 to March 1.

New Zealand Performance Festival New York 2015

La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club
La Galleria
March 21 at 1pm – 7pm | Performance Installation 



Featuring Joel Baxendale, Freya Daly Sadgrove, Oliver Devlin, Fiona McNamara and Ralph Upton 
Devised by Binge Culture, Directed by Ralph Upton 
Performance design and operation by Claire O’Loughlin 
Produced by Joel Baxendale 

There’s no easy way to do this. Five performers, five hours, five locations, one desperate conversation.

Join Binge Culture as they lovingly create and destroy an entire relationship… by video chat.

Witness the negotiation, devastation and emotional blackmail. Tune in and out throughout the performance or stay until everything is worked through.

This is a koha event, anyone can watch it for free. We just ask that you buy a ticket at whichever price suits your budget if you can.

Watch Live Online Here.

18 April 2020 at 5pm
5 Hours
“Pay What You Can” $5
“Pay What You Can” $25
“Pay What You Can” $20
“Pay What You Can” $15
“Pay What You Can” $10

Featuring: Joel Baxendale, Freya Daly Sadgrove, Oliver Devlin, Fiona McNamara and Ralph Upton


THE PANOPTIC ★★★★ “The performances are pure brilliance”

Nominated TOTAL THEATRE AWARD for Innovation, Experimentation & Playing with Form

“Spirit of the Fringe” Award, Auckland Fringe, 2015.

Highly Commended for “Most Original Concept” New Zealand Fringe 2014

@jojo2511 [audience member] if your penultimate show of#edfringe isn’t five hours long and doesn’t involve improv & bananas have you even done the fringe#bingebreakup

Theatre , Performance installation , Improv ,

6hrs (come and go)

Strangely riveting

Review by John Smythe 19th Apr 2020

Saturday night is surprisingly busy in my Bubble but I tune into Break-Up: Lockdown like a flatmate happening to overhear another flatmate talking on line with their lover who is locked away in another house. I shouldn’t be eaves-dropping of course but the more I become aware there is a slo-mo emotional ‘train wreck’ in progress, the more compelled I feel to watch it … Well hey, they shouldn’t have left the door open!

Live on stage versions of Break-Up [We Need to talk] played in Wellington in 2014 then Auckland and New York in 2015, taking six hours each time. This Break-Up: Lockdown online version spans five hours and fully embraces the way things are in NZ in April 2020 as the nation conspires to defeat Covid-19 by staying isolated in tiny family or flat-mate bubbles. Of the many experiments under way for creating performing arts content under Lockdown, this is especially ideal.

This time the players are Joel Baxendale, Freya Daly Sadgrove, Oliver Devlin, Fiona McNamara and Ralph Upton – each beaming in from their own isolated space via a Facebook Live Event. And they’ve gone bananas. Each is dressed as a banana. Make of that what you will – but somehow, as a levelling mechanism, it works. Each also has a candle burning in the background and I am unable to tell, over the five hours, whether they are real and burning down, or electrical and not.

The convention is that two people are inexorably breaking up but on screen there is a Top person conversing with four across the Bottom who collectively, in ordered sequence, speak for the other person in the relationship. When one says, “Do you want to come back here?” everyone digitally moves along, placing someone else in the Top spot (operated, I presume, by performance designer Claire O’Loughlin). And the conversation continues …

Initially they chat about how the Lockdown experience is affecting them and my first impression, as a dreaded Boomer, is: how Millennial! I mean, like, this is like the conversation we’ve all like heard day-in day-out for the last like more than three weeks, I mean like yeah, like endlessly on like every form of media, expressed by reasonably like articulate people so yeah, it’s like pretty tedious listening to it all like said again in such a like painfully drawn-out way – like, I mean like, yeah. Meanwhile, given the title of the ‘show’, we tune into the subtext, looking for cracks …

The other thing about Millennials is they have learned from an early age how to respectfully negotiate differences of opinion through Conflict Resolution strategies, so there are no bitter or savage accusations; no histrionic blow-ups or stormings out and slammings of doors (which would have been hard to manage, anyway, within the technical constraints).

Of course when one does feel under attack they accuse the other of ‘weaponising’ a word of phrase. Covert hostility, I think it’s called. And sometimes someone does say something that powerfully strikes the collective solar plexus, provoking a long silence while its implications are internally processed.

So the journey – from recurring utterances of “I miss you” and “I love you”, increasingly spaced-out and almost imperceptibly desperate, through differing memories of key moments at the start of their relationship, increasing clarity of the current circumstances of each partner, and growing awareness of how divergent their hopes and expectations of the future are, to the eponymous break-up – is glacial. Or maybe a gradually building avalanche, watched in slo-mo, is a more appropriate metaphor.  

Focus narrows on the idea of what sort of house they would like to live in when they can afford to contemplate the possibility, and the question of who is being realistic and who is fantasising, and why, becomes an increasing point of stress and contention. Meanwhile it becomes apparent that Top’s flatmates have decamped to family bubbles so they are alone in their flat with rooms to spare, even though space is required for their Lego addiction. So – once the withholding of that information is confronted and dealt with – the possibility of Bottom moving in, when the rules allow, becomes a much more immediate pressure point.

As I see it Top is a commitment-phobe while Bottom has come to a stage in life where, quite reasonably, they do not want to invest time, energy and emotion in a relationship that is not going to prove ‘the one’ whereby the innate desire for home and family is fulfilled. When a poll option pops up, asking who we support, I click on Bottom but the result is 69% for Top and 31% for Bottom, which presumably is down to the audience demographics. I can’t help but wonder how I would have voted in my late 20s/early 30s (the same, as it happens, but it didn’t work out).

‘Performance’-wise the listening and developing skills of all five players are very apparent and referring back to established elements – like the avocado tree and what needs to be done if you want it to bear fruit in your lifetime – brings welcome coherence to this strangely riveting and increasingly emotion-rich drama.

See here.


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Sincere, clever, utterly uncontrived journey to raw discomfort

Review by Sarah Burrell 25th Mar 2015

Binge Culture has a history of pushing theatrical forms, of showing you something you’ve never seen before, all while being playful and clever. Their work questions the nature of theatre and asks what it might be. Break Up (We Need to Talk) is no different. It is a six hour come-and-go durational unscripted performance. 

La MaMa’s Galleria space is expansive and white with wooden floorboards; more white cube than theatrical black box. The five performers, dressed as bananas (yes bananas, more on that later), walk into the middle of the space and draw straws to determine who will be the central performer while the other four take turns to be their significant other. It is a strange call and response game.

There are indeed elements of a game to the form Break Up takes: a loose framework to guide their improvisation. It is not theatre as we know it so much as agreed upon behaviour, in the same family as Allan Kaprow’s ‘happenings’ of the 1960s. For a performance it feels very real and very raw.

The show charts the protracted fracturing of a couple, their subtle bickering and reliance on one another. Through their dialogue a picture begins to form. They are young, travelling to New York on holiday. They talk about what they might do that day in the overly familiar way of couples that have been together for possibly too long. There’s underlying tension, it’s a passively combative conversation — they talk about going to the MoMA, eating cheesecake and whether their cat might have HIV. The quotidian nature of their conversation is offset by the surreal banana costumes. There’s absurd humour in having an argument with someone when they’re dressed as a piece of tropical fruit. It undermines the seriousness of the situation, reminding us of its theatricality.

I decide to go off and when I come back two hours later the line of questioning has got more intense. No more dancing around questions of what to eat that day but asking the deeper questions at the heart of relationships, “If you have kids one day do you want them to be with me?… Am I the person for you?” The performers’ delivery is brilliant. They are sincere and clever and utterly uncontrived.

I think about the level of mental acuity it must take to sustain this level of concentrated dialogue for six hours. Things get very real and the room goes silent. You know everyone in there is recalling when they’ve been in the same situation in past relationships, playing their own break up stories in their heads.

Break Up cuts to the real heart of it; it is uncomfortable and raw. The banana suits remind us that we are watching a performance but it is one that is stripped down to its bare bones. It reminds us of what theatre can be — not something that takes us away from our everyday lives, relationships, and interactions but rather something that allows us to see them more clearly.


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Come back here

Review by Matt Baker 16th Feb 2015

Walking out of the theatre is the strongest statement an audience member can make, and I have never regretted it until I walked out of Break Up. To clarify, the six-hour show allows its audience to come and go as they please, and it was only due to personal commitments that I left after the first hour and a half, before returning for the conclusive 40 minutes.

Performers Ralph Upton, Gareth Hobbs, Joel Baxendale, Claire O’Loughlin, and Fiona McNamara deserve nothing less than absolute respect for not only their theatrical endurance, but also their commitment to presenting their audience with a truthful and unabashed journey.


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An interesting commentary on what we perceive to be theatre

Review by Dione Joseph 15th Feb 2015

I have watched The Bold and the Beautiful for more than 20 years of my life. 

Not quite as religiously as some but over three different continents and often across different channels (some of which showed versions that were ahead or behind) I kept pace with the lovelorn interests of a bunch of people who may have (disturbingly) had something to do with my perturbed expectations of love and the world. 

The lives of these women and men who argued, loved, hated, broke up, got back together – and then did the same thing not once but multiple times – seemed to be the diet upon which a large proportion of the population (considering its international broadcasting reach) seemed to feed.

Is Break Up [We Need to Talk] really that much different to watching daytime soaps? Yes and no.

It’s a six hour marathon for the actors who are dressed in banana suits (surely they must be hot) as they tease and muddle through all the various reasons to stay together – or not. There are heart shaped helium balloons staggered around the Basement space and five chairs, four at the rear and one in front, facing the audience. There are two people in this relationship, one who sits in the ‘hot seat’ answering to the eternal stream of consciousness comments from the other four who sit behind, taking turns to agitate, antagonize and equivocate.

The reality is, that dilemma is one of life’s binaries: to break up or not to break up. And if you’re having the conversation (whether it be in person, text or skype) well then … you’re pretty much already more than halfway there. So why would an intelligent bunch of people choose to play out the awkward, hilarious and, yes, often crushingly painful moments of coming to terms with what it means to no longer define oneself in terms of another?

Ralph Upton, Gareth Hobbs, Joel Baxendale, Claire O’Loughlin and Fiona McNamara are a talented bunch, undoubtedly, and they seem to see this form of emotional exorcism as a feat to be endured. At the very least.

On the other hand audience members are not required to spend the entire six hours glued to their seat. We can wander in and out, or alternatively watch it live on YouTube. In a rather static space, this is an improvised game with specific cues to move the story forward (drama teachers take note) and also quite a strenuous test in stamina because, despite the free rein given to the actors, there’s really no chance for any physical contact or intimacy, ensuring they rely entirely on the power of words and silences. And a truckload of expletives every now and then. 

I watch the initial hour or so, on Valentine’s Day, and return later in the afternoon to see the long drawn out inevitable conclusion come to its crashing end. The wreckage is evident: actors are rubbing their eyes; slouched shoulders, tears and laughter have begun to mingle and sheer exhaustion is evident on many faces. But in the same way that after travelling for a while I find myself watching The Bold and the Beautiful once again, it only takes me a few seconds to catch up to with the story. And the reality is that despite – or perhaps because of – its meanderings, it has simply inched slightly closer to its predictable conclusion. 

So Break Up [We Need to Talk] doesn’t score very high for me on originality of content (and seriously who really wants to be reminded of those episodes with their ex?!) but what is interesting is the form. Its deliberately transgressive emphasis on prolonging a result and maintaining a dynamic for the actors themselves, as much as for their audience, is an interesting commentary on what we perceive to be theatre and indeed, how much time we’re willing to invest. 

While certainly no Einstein on the Beach or even Sleep No More,we may be watching the slow evolution of a different, interactive and alternate version to the theatrical fare we are currently being served. We will just have to wait and see. 


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A unique and powerful experience

Review by James McKinnon 09th Feb 2014

At 0100 on Sunday morning, when Binge Culture finally throws in the towel, the venue is packed. People are sitting on the floor in front of the seats and standing two rows deep behind them. As a person who typically shuns performances longer than 90 minutes, I am surprised to find myself and so many others still gazing on with rapt attention after six hours of watching Binge Culture perform a single action that people now often perform with a single text message: “breaking up.”

They certainly earn their standing ovation. But how? What sustains our interest? How can we sit through – and even enjoy – six hours of what is essentially plotless talking by still, seated performers? This achievement requires close investigation.

The performance took place in the Matchbox Gallery on Cuba street. The white walls, lined with artwork, frame a small performance space defined by four chairs placed in a semi-circle across the back of the gallery, and one more chair placed in front of them, where it becomes the focal point of the other four. In front of this chair, a small metal candle-holder shaped like a cupid, holding a long purple taper. Several helium-filled, red, heart-shaped balloons on red ribbons complete the décor; the ribbons are anchored to various points around the space so that the balloons float up to different levels. Some have made it to the ceiling.

Several rows of chairs, bean bags, pillows, and cushions wedged in around the support columns complete the space and separate the performance space from the darkened shop front. The ceiling of Matchbox, significantly, is basically a skylight, so the performance begins in bright natural light, which gradually darkens along with the mood, leaving the performers and audience in the dimmer, yet harsher light of a few hanging incandescent bulbs.  

The performance begins at 7:00 when the five performers, wearing banana costumes, emerge from the curtain at the back of the gallery. The house is already full, and is joined by a virtual audience following on Twitter (#bingebreakup) and/or watching a live web stream. Joel Baxendale starts out on the “hot seat” in the centre of the room, and so the bananas’ split begins. Over the next six hours, the performers invent a conversation that leads inexorably to the break-up of a long term relationship. 

The performance is unscripted and improvised, but it has certain rules that create interest for the spectator while keeping the performers focused. Part of the fun, in fact, is trying to deduce the rules from the clues of the performance. One performer sits in the central “hot seat,” becoming half of the imaginary couple. Each time he or she speaks, one of the four seated behind him/her responds. But once a performer in the back row has taken their “turn,” they cannot speak again until the others have spoken. This format puts the person on the hot seat through the wringer, because he or she has no time to think, while forcing the “back row” to stay focused, because their turn is always coming up. As the performers become exhausted, the system breaks down, which is also fun to watch.

After a while (roughly 30 minutes), a performer on the back row will say, “Do you want to come back here?” and offer to swap places with the person on the hotseat.

The whole thing is unscripted, and there are no previously existing “characters”; so not only the break up, but the couple itself, and their entire relationship, are invented before us. Part of the thrill for the spectator comes from knowing that we are discovering this relationship at the same time as the performers who are simulating it.

Because each performer takes turns playing each half of the disintegrating couple, they not only need to remember the details they have invented earlier in the night, but also which of the imaginary people has identified a particular passion or aspiration, or used a particular metaphor; made a specific accusation. This becomes increasingly difficult as the details accumulate and exhaustion sets in.

The static staging creates a huge challenge. This is effectively another ‘rule’ of the performance: the performers cannot move or physicalise their conflict in any way (e.g. by touching, pointing, hugging, throwing stuff, etc.). In fact, they can’t even make eye contact, since the back row can only see the back of the performer on the hot seat, and the person on the hot seat can only see the audience.

The absence of action or even eye contact raises the stakes for the performers by demanding enormous concentration on their part, but most spectators probably don’t realize how difficult this is. In addition, by anchoring themselves to chairs, the performers put themselves in a position not conducive to maintaining performance-level energy. Eventually, the performers begin to sag and slump in their seats, and become difficult to hear as bad posture compromises their ability to project.

However, this and other signifiers of the irresistible force of time are part of the point of this style, known as ‘durational performance’. Time is a critical component of all performances – and of the experience of life itself – but it is rarely acknowledged as such. One of the objectives of durational performance is to emphasize how time shapes meaning, and Break Up does this by allowing us to experience and witness the effects of stress and exhaustion on the body over time.

This is not the theatre of pretend and make believe; it is performance, in the same sense of the word used to describe athletics. It is about reality, not fantasy.

Having said that, the imaginary break-up was surprisingly compelling and accurate. The tropes and patterns of the conversation were recognizable to anyone in the audience who has experienced such a break-up, and the (surprisingly numerous, all things considered) spectators with dates had some cringe-y moments.

Of course it was often extremely funny, too – the audience particularly relished the awkward discussions about sex, petty disagreements about groceries, and incompetent yet persistent nautical metaphors. The “couple” run out of things to say, but as we all know, that doesn’t signify the end of a break-up conversation so much as the beginning another cycle. 

Perhaps the athletic nature of the performance was on my mind because I was watching sports simultaneously. Break Up does not demand the spectator’s complete and uninterrupted, silent concentration for six hours. Indeed, Binge Culture encouraged spectators to get up and stretch, or take breaks as needed. After paying $5, spectators were free to come and go as they pleased, and we did – only one or two iron-willed individuals remained in their seats for the full six hours. I nipped across the street to take in a little of the IRB Sevens finals, while continuing to participate in Break Up via its other media, Twitter and web streaming.

It’s a completely alternative model of performance and spectatorship to the conventional, tacit agreement that we will all lock ourselves in a dark room and wait politely and silently for the performance to finish. 

The model works, too. As the performance began to hit the home stretch, and the impact of exhaustion on the performers became increasingly visible, spectators did not disperse – on the contrary, they accumulated. Those who had seen an hour earlier in the evening returned to see what had changed. Those who had been there throughout went out to get snacks and refreshments.

A slightly carnivalesque feeling set in as we made coffee, sipped beer, and passed chocolates and popcorn around, watching the break-up become increasingly inevitable, the performers more erratic. We all chuckled when the performers popped open a bottle of wine with about 80 minutes to go, and felt their collective agony when they realized it was all gone only 20 minutes later.

Fiona McNamara’s heroic last turn on the hot seat injected a burst of adrenalin, and Simon Haren took the anchor lap. When he snuffed out the candle, relief and euphoria swept through the room. It was a unique and powerful experience, and felt like the sort of thing that those present will often reflect on and recount when they run into each other in the future.


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