The Athenaeum Theatre, Lower Octagon, Dunedin

26/11/2015 - 05/12/2015

Production Details

The first Bulldog Drummond novel, by “Sapper” (H. C. McNeile), was published in 1920 and introduced the British public to this ‘gentleman adventurer’, a WWI veteran, bored with post-war life, who advertised his wish to seek adventures. The first novel was followed by many more as well as a number of successful short stories, plays and films. “If you like a good knock-down-and-drag-out yarn with excitement and violence on nearly every page, you can’t go wrong on Bulldog Drummond” (New York Times).

Drummond’s over-the-top adventures, xenophobia and encounters with melodramatic villains – and villainesses – have influenced many subsequent thriller writers. (Ian Fleming is reported to have suggested that his James Bond was “Sapper from the waist up and Mickey Spillane from the waist down”!) 

They have also been very successfully parodied in the 1974 play, Bullshot Crummond, a spoof on and an homage to the original, written by a group of people several of whom appeared in its first production.

The hero, Bullshot Crummond, is a languid, British ex-service-man who is forever getting himself into scrapes, escaping from danger in planes and fast cars and dodging death by seconds. In this play, he has been called upon to help the daughter of a professor, an inventor of synthetic diamonds who has been kidnapped by an evil villain (a Hun, of course) – and his even more evil mistress. Everything happens on stage – explosions, car chases, torture in dungeons, sabre fights – and much of the humour of the play derives from the special effects used to display these activities. 

It is completely silly – and lots of fun; an ideal way for the Globe to end its year in exile.

The Athenaeum Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin
Thur 26th Nov to Sat 5th Dec at 7:30
Sunday 29th at 2pm
No show Mon 30th

Ticket prices (includes light refreshments):  
General $25; Concession $20,
Globe members $15; Groups of 5 or more $15
School students (with ID) $10
Opening Night Special $15 everyone

Bookings 477-3274

Hugh "Bullshot" Crummond:  Miguel Nitis 
Miss Rosemary Fenton:  Juliet McLachlan 
Otto Von Brunno:  Warren Chambers 
Salvatore Scalicio:  Warren Chambers 
Lenya Von Brunno:  Laura Wells 
Algy Longwort:  Ashley Stewart 
Professor Rupert Fenton:  Ashley Stewart 
Policeman:  Ashley Stewart
Waiter:  Ashley Stewart
Inspector Scabbard:  Ashley Stewart
Wolfgang Schmidt:  Ashley Stewart
Maraovitch:  Ashley Stewart

Stage Manager:  Helen Fearnley 
Sound And Lighting:  Brian Byas 

Theatre ,

Spoof laughs less hearty as gags pass use-by date

Review by Barbara Frame 28th Nov 2015

We all love a good spoof and detective Bulldog Drummond, fictional hero of popular British books, films and plays seems as good a subject as any. Bullshot Crummond has all the right ingredients: scheming villains who’ll stop at nothing to get their hands on a secret formula, clumsy disguises, hidden microphones, sticks of dynamite, Mickey Finns, a beautiful and plucky heroine, and a resourceful, unflappable if not always supremely bright hero who modestly describes himself as “not wonderful, just British.”

Director Dale Neill and the cast of this Globe Theatre production have tackled their tasks with enthusiasm. Warren Chambers is splendidly mock-Teutonic as the wicked Otto von Brunno, and Laura Wells is convincingly evil as Lenya, his (presumably) wife. Ashley Stewart nimbly takes on seven minor roles, while Miguel Nitis dominates the stage as Crummond and Juliet McLachlan’s wide-eyed Rosemary suggests the ethereality of 1930s film stars.

There are some lovely low-tech props, notably a reversible cardboard cut-out car, a fat, squishy inflated tarantula and a stuffed-toy bird. Flamboyant costumes include flying-ace outfits, plus fours, fur capes and luxurious underwear.

So why isn’t it funnier? The answer lies, I think, in Ron House’s 40-year-old script. It contains laughs aplenty, but comedies don’t always age well and this one seems to have passed its use-by date. 

Apart from the dated humour, performance problems include slow pacing, timing (especially where there are fights or sudden reversals) and loss of momentum when scene changes could be slicker. 

The smallish opening-night audience laughed, but only occasionally. Although the play’s essential silliness comes through, true hilarity is sadly lacking.


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Crazy fun for the young and pleasant nostalgia for the mature

Review by Terry MacTavish 28th Nov 2015

So you are an evil villain. So you want to destroy the hero. So of course the obvious solution is to paralyse the self-righteous idiot with an untraceable drug, then get a glamorous femme fatale to pop a stick of dynamite into his rigidly open mouth, and depart before the explosion, which will allow him just enough time for a daring escape/rescue. See? Obvious. 

The ludicrous tales of 1930s British detective heroes with stiff upper lips really parody themselves. With barely a tweak, Bulldog Drummond becomes Bullshot Crummond, and we are in for a feast of nonsensical derring-do, complete with dastardly Germans (well, it was in between the wars), mad professors, damsels in distress and the clean-cut, square-jawed hero who will inevitably triumph.

Is the genre recognisable to modern Kiwi audiences, I wonder? I assume my guest is too young to have experienced the joys of Biggles and his ilk but he assures me that in his youth, indigenous literature for boys was so limited that his dad’s books were his own bedtime reading. And then there were the film clubs, where local cinemas ran serials that always ended with the hero in an impossible situation – oh, I don’t know, let’s say hanging from a cliff – which ensured the kids would be back next Saturday to witness his near-miraculous escape. Television soap operas adopted many features of the style and movies like Indiana Jones exploited it with gusto. 

This spoof by Ron House and friends is cosily familiar, then, and highly suitable for our holiday season, although set in an England that never existed. Dale Neill has directed a cheap and cheerful show that conveniently relies for its humour on the endearing incompetence of amateur theatre. With the Globe Theatre still out of its usual home, this has the great advantage of meaning the sets can be skimpy, the props woeful, and the special effects lamentable. On purpose.

The play opens as it means to go on, with a clumsily staged plane crash ‘somewhere in England’ that lands evil German Otto Von Brunno and Lenya, his vampish mistress (or wife or daughter), near the remote home of Professor Rupert Fenton, inventor of a formula for synthetic diamonds. The plot is hardly significant but seems to involve the capture of Fenton, theft of the formula, flooding of the diamond market, and consequent destruction of the entire British way of life. 

Every cliché is lovingly recreated, as the professor’s beautiful daughter appeals to Bullshot for help, and they fall in love while foiling the evil plan. I try to tick off the stage conventions merrily abused, but quickly lose count … There are the silly clues that lead to the most improbable deductions, the preposterous disguises that fool no one, the Danny Kaye poisoned chalice trick, the wild chases and ridiculous rescues.  The best, to my mind, is the car chase, ingeniously staged with characters sitting behind a two-dimensional cut-out of a black car for the baddies, which is neatly reversed to make a white car for the goodies. 

The actors get to overact outrageously, revelling in the lusciously absurd stereotypes and nutty situations.  

Miguel Nitis is a fine choice for bungling Bullshot, thrusting out a manly jaw and contorting his long legs and elastic body into weird and wonderful shapes.  Nitis is able to employ many of his special skills, from dashing swordplay (Macbeth was his most recent role) to his street performer facility for making balloon animals: his desperate battle with a black balloon tarantula is a real treat! 

Warren Chambers is a worthy antagonist as villainous Otto, with his thick accent and unrelenting hatred of his former flying ace rival. There is a bit of the Red Baron about Otto, actually. Chambers’ tour de force is the incredible quick-change fight with himself, dashing behind a screen as one character and popping out immediately as the other, when Otto battles gangster Scalicio to the death. 

Most fun is had by Ashley Stewart, who differentiates jolly well between seven characters, including upper class twit Algy (with a man-crush on Bullshot), and, in frightful wig, doddery Professor Fenton. My favourite though, is his much put-upon Waiter (in the tea rooms where Bullshot meets Rosemary), played by Stewart with just the right mix of deference and contempt. 

The ‘ladies’ both understand farce and bring a charmingly light touch to their roles, delivering some classic lines with a nice insouciance. Laura Wells is sultry and darkly enigmatic and rather alarming as femme fatale Lenya, oozing sex appeal even when garbed in WW1 flying gear. Juliet McLachlan is her perfect foil as the beautiful blonde ingénue, Rosemary, who is less incompetent than she seems, but still somehow ends up dashing around in her silky underwear. 

Newcomer Chuck the Chicken is doubtless doing his best, but is more convincing as the shot pheasant or even the valiant carrier pigeon than in his appearances as Lenya’s vicious falcon, a role to which his somewhat plump build is less suited. 

This style of parody demands intense sincerity and ferocious confidence, matched by a spanking pace that never falters, which is not quite achieved on opening night. My guest, who is an architect and notices such things, suggests that if the stage area were compressed the production would be tighter and swifter. The play is so similar as to invite comparison with the very polished recent Fortune production of The Hound of the Baskervilles, a spoof of Victorian crime fiction, presented with absolute assurance and fully professional technical support. Fortunately backstage incompetence is here a necessary component.  As the season progresses and the actors hit their stride, their energy and confidence should develop, and Bullshot Crummond fulfil its undoubted potential as rousing holiday entertainment. 

The play has left my guest with happy memories of all those Boys’ Own Adventure Stories, and me with embarrassing recollections of disastrous productions I have known. We are agreed, however, that Bullshot provides both crazy fun for the young and pleasant nostalgia for the mature. I hope it gets good houses. And that no one absent-mindedly eats Chuck.


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