Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

20/09/2020 - 20/09/2020

Online, Global

20/09/2020 - 20/09/2020

Production Details

The latest offering from long term collaborators Nightsong, with writer Carl Bland and director Ben Crowder. Always full of surprise and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in theatre, Call it a Night explores the failing relationship between an actor and their audience, trying to discover the spark that made them first fall in love.

15 minutes of humour and sadness, Call it a Night – starring Jennifer Ludlam – is part of a three instalment series produced by Theatre Live Online. An invited audience will watch it live at Auckland’s Herald Theatre – and simultaneously everyone else worldwide can catch it online by clicking which will stream the production from 7pm NZST on Saturday 15 August 2020.


An established writer, Bland’s last work Mr Red Light was shortlisted for the Adam New Zealand Play Awards in 2019 and he was the recipient of the highly prestigious Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship in 2018.

Live Online from Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland CBD
Sunday 20 September 2020

Webcast , Theatre , Solo ,

30 mins

An existential threat becomes an existential treat

Review by John Smythe 28th Sep 2020

The angst of an actor experiencing the classic nightmare – what play am I in, who am I playing, what are my lines? – albeit without the actual nakedness that such a dream usually involves, may seem a bit esoteric. But in the hands of playwright Carl Bland, his Nightsong co-director Ben Crowder and actress Jennifer Ludlam, Call it a Night goes to the heart of the human condition. Think Samuel Beckett with a touch of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads.

The online version finds Jen (as she calls herself) in extreme close up, waiting to enter and oscillating between panic and the usual calming techniques known to anxious actors. But this time there is no cue to bring her on or spark her response, so she enters anyway … and appeals to the audience (an appropriately distanced Level 2.5 gathering at the Herald Theatre) to give her a clue. We don’t see them as those who are there might see each other, but we sense their presence and can empathise with the awkwardness they must feel.

As with the hopes and expectations we have in life, that get us out of bed in the mornings, trusting an actor to deliver what we came for, and wilfully suspending our disbelief in what they and the production team create, is our part of the implicit contract. But being asked to leave before the show proper has started (or has it?) brings us to a point of angst and excitement – fear of the unknown? – that echoes what Jen is feeling.

Ludlam’s ability to totally experience and thus share every twist and turn of Jen’s emotional turmoil makes for riveting theatre despite the premise that the play is a non-starter. One moment she is a commanding presence, the next she is utterly lost and vulnerable. She and we experience the full spectrum of emotions in the eternal quest for love, happiness and a sense of meaningful existence.

This is not an internal monologue. A God-like male voice (Bland, I’m guessing) makes a few authoritarian interjections and a female audience voice wants to know if it’s relevant for them to be here. Of course Jen knows – and we know – she is here to establish and sustain a relationship with the audience. Her attempts to understand and critique the nature of our relationship and what has gone wrong with it cannot help but resonate on multiple levels.   

Allegory and metaphor also imbue the use of a mirror as a door, the question of who is free to come and go, and the realisation of another actors’ dream: a captive audience. It is part of the magic of theatre that an existential threat can become an existential treat.  

On a technical level the use of a radio mic allows Ludlam’s Jen to deliver an intimate screen performance (in contrast to the UK National Theatre Live shows which are pitched for live audiences in large theatres).

Although this iteration is entirely satisfying, I believe further development is contemplated – again, not unlike life itself. I’ll look forward to a Nightsong production any day.


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A thought-provoking, beautifully crafted, meta-theatrical conceit

Review by Leigh Sykes 21st Sep 2020

It feels very special to be in a theatre again with a live, if carefully documented and distanced, audience. This fact permeates through the experience of the show and enhances the message that is delivered.

Before the show begins, Director Ben Crowder gives us a number of instructions relating to the livestream that we will be a part of tonight. It’s clear from this that many creative decisions have been made in response to the challenge to create new work for both live and online audiences. These decisions aim to make the show as engaging for the online audience as it is for us here in the theatre, and we, as the live audience, are politely asked to support those decisions.

This gives us a few aspects to think about and look forward to before the show begins, and also points to the underlying theme of the show. The show begins with voices offstage. I’m not sure at this point if what is said is being pitched for the online audience or for us in the theatre, as I can hear some things very clearly, and some not at all. I understand that a performer is unsure of her cues, and then a door at the back of the stage opens and the performer walks purposefully into the space.

Played by Jennifer Ludlum, the actor, ‘Jen’, proceeds to address us and allow us to hear her thoughts on being in this space at this time. She even invites us to ‘call it a night’ and leave as she is not sure of her ability to deliver what we’ expect. This is immediately engaging, as Ludlum brings great pathos to the role of the unsure yet proud actor. When she asks for responses from us, these are obligingly provided, adding a new layer of interaction to the performance. There is so much to enjoy here as ‘Jen’ muses on the nature of her relationship with the audience, and the format of the show suggests new layers to this relationship. From where I sit, I can see the screens where the camera operators mix the show as it happens and stream it live to numbers of people unseen.

This gives added poignancy to the performer who is asking a possibly invisible or even non-existent audience for a response, and we feel this in the theatre as we follow the instructions we have been given by the Director. At a certain point, another intriguing-looking performer (played by an unrecognisable Paul McLaney) enters the space, causing us to reconsider what we may have been thinking about the performer’s situation so far.

The show is an accomplished meta-theatrical conceit that makes us consider the possibility (even though I hope against hope that this is never the case) that theatre without a live audience may be forced to become more common in our global ‘new normal’. While there is possibility and creativity to be found in finding new audiences online, exploring the potential breaking of the bond between performer and audience is at the heart of the show. Like any long-standing love affair, the possibility that it may become irretrievably broken is all the more heart-breaking because we are witnessing that breakup happening in front of us.

This is a thought-provoking, beautifully crafted show, and I feel very fortunate to have seen it live. I’m now very keen to experience this and the other shows in the series in their online format. 


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