BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

10/11/2015 - 14/11/2015

Production Details

“Disneyland remains the central attraction of Southern California, but the graveyard remains our reality.”– Charles Bukowski  

Who am I? 
Twenty-somethings Emma, Henry and Tyler have found the answer to the eternal question. A company that promises individuals the chance to meet their past life reincarnation has emerged in L.A and the Disneyland employees volunteer to take part in the trial procedure. 

“Peter Pan can detach himself from his own shadow but he doesn’t want to. He should embrace it.” 

With the new found knowledge of who they once were, mixed with their inevitable quest to find out who they are now, Emma, Henry and Tyler soon start on an offbeat journey. It doesn’t take long for the trio to fall into the dark depths of their post-teen self-interest as they start discovering their questionable beginnings and fearing their undiscovered futures. 

[Ben Wilson: Playmarket NZ b425 nominated writer of I’ll Be Fine.]


BATS Propeller Stage
Tues 10 – Sat 14 November 2015
$10 Student Night Wednesday 11 November, arrive at the Box Office with your Student ID or email to book your ticket!
Ticket Prices:  Full $16.00 | Concession $13.00 | Group 6+ $12.00

Emma: Greta Evans
Henry/Peter Llewelyn Davies: Keegan Bragg
Tyler: Isabella Woods
Ray/Bukowski: Liam Kelly
Grace/Fran: Sam Tippet 

Lighting Design: Ryan Knighton
Operator: Michael Trigg
Set Design: Jack Hallahan
Stage Manager: Bernadine Gladding  

Theatre ,

Captures the zeitgeist with flair

Review by John Smythe 11th Nov 2015

This is Ben Wilson’s second ‘gap year’ play. Last year’s I’ll Be Fine involved two young blokes taking a road trip as they tried to work what to do with their lives. Call Me Bukowski focuses on two young women and a guy facing the eternal question, “Who am I?” and in playwriting terms it takes a quantum leap from its predecessor.

Wilson has made some bold, surprising and somewhat cheeky choices that elevate what could have been a rather prosaic or turgid enquiry into a juicy and absorbing 70 minutes of character and theme interrogation. His lively dramaturgy carries a highly articulate text that dramatises urgently enquiring minds with alacrity.

Emma, Tyler and Henry are in Los Angeles, working at Disneyland – “The happiest place on Earth!” – and availing themselves not only of the weekly counselling session offered by their employer but the chance to participate in trial ‘dream state’ procedures with The Reincarnation Company. To find out who you are, it may help to know who you were.

An early scene between 1960s and ’70s poet, short story writer and novelist Charles Bukowski, dubbed the “laureate of American lowlife” by Time magazine, and Peter Llewelyn Davies, who was J M Barrie’s inspiration for Peter Pan, turns out to be reimagining the past lives of Henry and Tyler. The impressionistic dream state device whereby they reappear separately, while Henry or Tyler are submitting to ‘the process’, works well – and somehow Wilson gets away with the dramaturgical sleight-of-hand that allows Bukowski and Llewelyn Davies to appear in scenes together.  

Emma’s past lives, however … [spoiler averted]. Her quest for self-awareness and self-esteem starts with a strong response to an ex-boyfriend who watched porn every night despite their being in a relationship, and involves a fascination with the ‘beat poets’ Kerouac and Ginsberg. Greta Evans captures our interest and empathy from the start and sustains it through scene after scene it with a strong, focused performance as Emma.  

The lighter tone Isabella Woods brings to the more innocent Tyler is also compelling. Tyler writes her own poems and sings them beautifully at the Gaslight Bar, assisted by the production’s excellent composer /musician Leon Van Dijk (who should be given a named role for those scenes).  

Henry epitomises the 21st century version of the self-serving, arrogant intellectual, legitimising his incipient misogyny through Bukowski. Keegan Bragg nails Henry with unnerving accuracy while offering a total contrast in Peter Llewelyn Davies, bewildered in his post-war publishing role, in the wake of fame as ‘Peter Pan’, being awarded a Military Cross, and losing one brother to the war then another to drowning at Oxford.

Liam Kelly embodies Charles Bukowski in a way that sets him up beautifully for the strong denunciation Emma delivers in a highly-charged debate with Henry. He also bring evangelical energy to Ray, a purveyor of the reincarnation process, along with Sam Tippet’s somewhat more responsible Grace. Tippet plays the Counsellor well as well and adds a heartfelt cameo as Fran, the mother of Bukowski’s child, who arguably speaks the most abiding truth in the whole play. 

First time director Adele Tunnicliff has clearly empowered the actors to fully embody their characters and anchor themselves totally in the many situations they find themselves in. The rhythm and pacing maintains a compelling dynamic with furniture-moving transitions kept to a minimum in Jack Hallahan’s flexible setting, lit by Michael Trigg.

One could say Call Me Bukowski uses too many devices to interrogate that eternal question but we live in an age of information overload and young people confronting adulthood are awash with it as they try to work out who they are and what to do with their lives. This play captures that zeitgeist with flair.

I would be loath to rein in Ben Wilson’s creative energy this early in what I hope will be a long and productive career. Indeed I am keen to see what all these creative people come up with next. 


Michael Wray November 14th, 2015

I do wish friends of the cast wouldn't sit a couple of rows ahead of me and spend their time at the play using their phones to film, photograph and tag the performance. It is bloody annoying having two bright glowing screens directly in your eyeline. One of the friends got quite distracted checking their other apps so clearly missed as much of the play as I did, a fair chunk, by this distraction. 

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