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

03/08/2019 - 31/08/2019

Production Details


Burn Her is setting fire to the capital this August with a sizzling behind-closed-doors peek at the storm of politics and PR.

The award winning, smash hit NZ political thriller is celebrating its Wellington debut with a phenomenal and highly acclaimed cast and crew. Burn Her is a searing script about charismatic and idealistic party leader Aria Robson (Kali Kopae) who clinches one seat in Parliament. That same night, an intern comes to her with a scandal that could sink the party by morning. 

A timely and whip-smart production from a powerful women-driven creative team.

“Thoughtful, engaging, and absolutely gut-wrenching” – Tearaway

In 2018, Burn Her left Auckland speechless. Q Theatre experienced record-breaking waitlists for tickets and the fervor and frenzy was inescapable – even from afar. Over the last few years Sam Brooks has solidified himself as one of New Zealand’s most poignant and eloquent voices – including being named “Auckland’s Most Exciting Playwright” by Metro Magazine. Now under the direction of national stage and screen legend Katherine McRae, Burn Her is rising from the ashes of last year’s success to be even bigger and fiestier. 

“His words are intelligent, confronting, genuinely funny, and crackle with a musicality that echoes his own sardonic yet considered wit.” – Theatre Scenes

The cast of the Wellington production is some of NZ’s very best: Kali Kopae (Not in our Neighbourhood, La Casa Azul) is our strong and empathetic lead, with Sophie Hambleton (Westside) as her ferociously clever publicist. Both Kopae and Hambleton are returning to work with McRae after a critically acclaimed season of A Doll’s House, where Pantograph Punch reviewed, “Hambleton is searing. Her performance is heart-wrenching and every empathetic bone in my body is screeching.” Alongside these two fierce leads is Jean Sergent (Say Something Nice, This Long Winter), The Court Theatre’s Lara Macgregor (Misery), Andrew Laing (Wonderful) and outstanding new talent Dryw McArthur (The Aliens). 

An exceptional cast and award-winning crew across generations and backgrounds have formed to make Burn Her the heart-wrenchingly real yet thrillingly heightened political masterpiece it is written to be. 

Director Katherine McRae describes this production as “fierce, fiery and electric” – and Burn Her 2019 boasts a creative team that will not let her down.

Circa Theatre
3rd – 31st August 2019
6.30pm Tues – Thurs / 8pm Fri – Sat / 4pm Sun
Tickets $25 – $52
Bookings from www.circa.co.nz / (04) 801 7992

** Most Outstanding Production WINNER – Sam Sneddon’s production of Burn Her (Auckland Theatre Awards, 2018)
** Adam NZ Play Award Highly Commended – Burn Her (Playmarket, 2017)
** Bruce Mason Playwrighting Award WINNER – Sam Brooks (Playmarket, 2016)
** Melbourne and Sydney Fringe Festival Tour Ready Award WINNERS – Sam Brooks & Jean Sergent for Say Something Nice (NZ Fringe Festival, 2019)
** Dorothy McKegg Award for Actress of the Year WINNER – Kali Kopae for Not in our Neighbourhood (Wellington Theatre Awards, 2015)
** Chapman Tripp Award for Actress of the Year WINNER – Sophie Hambleton for Katydid (Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards, 2010)
** Best Director of the Year WINNER – Katherine McRae for Enemy of the People (Champan Tripp Theatre Awards, 2003)
** Production of the Year WINNER – Katherine McRae’s production of Enemy of the People (Champan Tripp Theatre Awards, 2003)
** 3x Lighting Designer of the Year WINNER – Marcus McShane for A Doll’s House, Broken River, When the Rain Stops Falling (Wellington Theatre Awards, 2017/13/11
** Most Promising Emerging Artist Award WINNER – Eleanor Strathern (NZ Fringe Awards, 2018)
** George Webby Most Promising Newcomer WINNER – Eleanor Strathern (Wellington Theatre Awards, 2018)

ARIA:  Kali Kopae
GEORGE:  Sophie Hambleton
RICHARD:  Andrew Laing
LAUREN:  Lara Macgregor
HARRIET:  Jean Sergent
DANNY:  Dryw McArthur 

DIRECTOR:  Katherine McRae
SET DESIGN:  Debbie Fish
MUSIC COMPOSITION:  Charlotte Forrester

PRODUCTION & PUBLICITY:  Eleanor Strathern
GRAPHIC DESIGN:  Tabitha Arthur
SET CONSTRUCTION:  Ben Cunningham-Pow
PACK-IN CREW:  Taylor Nixon, Jen Eccles, Nathan Adam, Quinn Shaw-Williams, David Goldthorpe, Haami Hawkins, Isaac Kirkwood

Theatre ,

Distils the big themes of political intrigue with insight, flair, withering wit and a welcome humanity

Review by John Smythe 04th Aug 2019

Book now, read on at your leisure; trust me.

It is important to note Sam Brooks – named our Most Exciting Playwright by Metro Magazine – had written Burn Her by the time he won the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award in 2016, well before the last general election in September 2017 and the rejuvenating change in the Labour Party’s leadership that occurred six weeks earlier.

The play posits a Labour victory with the old guard at the helm and the surprise entry of the idealistic new Aroha Party with one electorate seat – but not enough party votes to gain any more members of parliament. They have won on merit, taking the seat from Labour, so there is no Act/National-style deal that gives them governmental leverage in exchange for support. But there is potential for a closer relationship.

Before the play starts we get to contemplate the superb set, designed by Debbie Fish, which features an elegant spiral staircase to the elevated office of the Aroha Party leader, Aria Robson. Two and three quarter hours later, as the opening night audience at Circa Theatre thunders its applause, I see it as a metaphor for spin; for how screw ups are screwed down by PR staffers.

As the inspiring leader Aria, Kali Kopae is luminous in delivering her victory speech to the party faithful, emphasising Aroha’s compassion and their flagship policy that no New Zealand child will go to school hungry. Her mentor Richard Miller, who jumped-ship from Labour to help establish the Aroha Party, basks in her praise and appreciation, putting on a good face despite having just missed out on that second seat. Andrew Laing is majestically benign in the role – until he’s not.

As celebrations continue at Party central, Aria’s Communications/PR Adviser, George, is too busy to exchange her cellphone and laptop for a glass of bubbles. But she does pause when her Labour Party equivalent, Lauren Rush, drops by to pass on congratulations from the PM. She knows who to praise for the victory. Her line, “There are no good leaders, just good spin,” is but one of the countless zingers in Sam Brooks’ dynamic dialogue. (I’ll reveal no more; trust me.)

Before the night is out, Aria gets a visit from eager but troubled young intern, Danny. What he tells her becomes – for Aria, Richard and the Aroha Party – the potentially lethal molten core at the nucleus of Burn Her. George takes commanding control and her strategies for sealing off and burying the potential scandal drives the plot of this intensely dramatic, searingly insightful and therefore frequently funny play. Eruptions of laughter abound.

As George, Sophie Hambleton navigates the twists of outrageous spin with riveting authenticity, revealing formidable strength with glimpses of vulnerability as we struggle to judge whether she is professionally shrewd or a sociopathic control-freak; a saviour or dangerously subversive. Her battles with Aria are epic as the leader’s idealism is tested. Both Kopae and Hambleton command our empathy as they manifest every emotion in their roles and provoke us to judge their actions.  

Lara McGregor’s Lauren epitomises the ruthless expediency that comes with years of experience in the deep, dark engine-room of political power. She is clearly a survivor and her representation of what it takes to be one also gives us pause.

The third ‘sister’ encircling the cauldron (the fate of suspected witches is specifically referenced and of course is the source of the play’s title) is newspaper journalist Harriet, winningly played with astute assurance by Jean Sergent. And again the question of integrity – integral to the play’s core theme of integrity versus survival, let alone power – keeps us captivated.  

As for Danny, the intern, perfectly pitched by Dryw McArthur, he becomes but a pawn in a bigger game, despite Aria’s genuine commitment to keeping him safe. My one question about the script is, why does no-one articulate his right to privacy when it is so callously breached? It certainly causes a huge gasp of collective shock in the audience. You have to be there; trust me.  

The exclusive interview with Aria is extraordinarily dramatic, given what has gone before, and we are left to wonder how Harriet will write it up, what directives her editor may impose and what sort of headline the subbies will give it. Is the nightmare over or just beginning?

An epilogue evokes two congruent job interviews that leave us questioning whether the resolution has been the right choice or not. We leave the theatre wondering what might happen next and why, undoubtedly more alert to the media and political landscapes we live within.

All six actors claim their roles so completely it’s hard to imagine others playing them (despite the glowing reputation of the Auckland premiere earlier this year). Director Katherine McCrae has corralled the creative elements exquisitely on Debbie Fish’s excellent set, beautifully lit by Marcus McShane – most notably when people are in the media spotlight. Charlotte Forrester’s portentous music holds the tension well between the scenes.

As a political thriller that focuses on relative ‘small fry’ in the greater scheme of things, Burn Her distils the big themes of political intrigue with insight, flair, withering wit and a welcome humanity. This is a must-see production in every respect and I’d advise you to book early.

I’m sure I’m not the first to think it would make an excellent TV drama and could well spin off into a series.


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