BATS Theatre, Wellington

23/02/2008 - 26/02/2008

NZ Fringe Festival 2008

Production Details

Dare to confront the fragility of life with Charlie

"When I was a kid I slept with the light on…now I wait for darkness" 

Don’t miss the opportunity to be one of the first people to see this new piece of theatre written and directed by North Shore [Auckland] resident, Fleur Fitzpatrick. 

"Charlie" tells the story of Anna, a 30 year old woman who waits her fate on death row, and Josh, a prison officer who comes onto her watch 17 days prior to her execution.

This daring play confronts the fragility of life and asks its players to look deep at their reflections as they face their own mortality and ask the big questions in life: "How do I want to be remembered?" and "Is there a voice inside that is screaming for change."

In each other the characters see qualities that they dream of possessing, and in doing so realise that the stereotypes we place on prisoner and prison guard are completely unfounded.  In the face of adversity and raw emotion they form an attachment to one another unique to it’s situation, and show us that even in tragedy and death there can be hope and light.

Research for the piece took the author behind the walls of Mt Eden Prison where her own stereotypes were broken as she interviewed a group of truly inspiring "salt of the earth" men and women who spend their days dealing with things that many of us can not even imagine.

Featuring dynamic and engaging performances by "ones to watch" CJ Shelford and Jeanene Tracy, this will be the professional premiere performance of "Charlie" for "Twin Engine Theatre", a company that Fleur has set up in honour of her own twin, Timothy, who passed away in 1997. 

Fleur feels strongly that there is a lack of new theatre being produced in New Zealand and wanted to lead by example, thus writing "Charlie".  Her vision for Twin Engine Theatre is to become a forum for new and upcoming playwrights to get their work produced and performed in a professional environment.

a provocative new theatre experience
23-26 February, 9:30pm nightly
BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington 

Anna:  Jeanene Tracy
Josh:  CJ Shelford
Twin Engine Theatre

Set:  Zac Boyd

Lighting: Martin Searancke

1 hr, no interval

Flat and clunky despite explosions of emotion

Review by Lynn Freeman 06th Mar 2008

Charlie is written and directed by Fleur Fitzpatrick. It’s R16 – containing offensive language & nudity, so that’s a potential drawcard.  It’s not dissimilar territory to the excellent film, Dead Man Walking, and suffers in comparison. 

Anna is a 30 year old convicted murderer on death row for nine years, with only days until her execution.  Her prison guard finds himself attracted to her – finds her "unexpected" – and increasingly dissatisfied with his safe life on the outside.  She challenges him to take risks, speaking from experience that you don’t get a second chance at life. 

I’d love to tell you the actors’ names but there is no programme for the play and nothing on the Bats listings to help me out with that useful information.   The actress is extremely good, chiseled features, devastated eyes.  The actor struggles in a damned difficult role and fails to make us believe in his all consuming, life changing love for this woman. 

There are explosions of emotion occasionally, and the finale, while predictable, looks amazing.  But overall the play feels flat and the often clunky monologues don’t help.  


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Heartfelt romanticised cliché

Review by Melody Nixon 29th Feb 2008

In its publicity notes Charlie, a new play by Fleur Fitzpatrick, is described as “explosive, provocative theatre” that challenges “all your preconceptions and stereotypes.” These are pretty wild claims for any piece of theatre, one would think, but they mark the earnestness with which Fitzpatrick and her acting duo Jeanene Tracy and CJ Shelford approach this production. Anguish, screams, violence and non-stop, whack-you-over-the-head dramatics mean that audience members are left with no doubt whatsoever as to exactly how they are being provoked, and, sometimes, exploded.

Both Jeanene Tracy (as the 30 year old Anna, in her final days on death row) and CJ Shelford (as her prison guard, Josh) manage well with what is a relentlessly unmeasured and over-emotional directing style from Fitzpatrick. In a way reminiscent of Jean Betts’ directing, the play is at times intemperate to point of being dogmatic. Each emotion, mood and thought is dictated to the audience in a series of monologues that amount to straight-up exposition. The interlaced scenes of dialogue echo this exposition, and do nothing to explain why the relationship between Anna and Josh is intensifying so rapidly.

Fleur Fitzpatrick’s long fascination with opera (her first operetta, “Shellshock,” was performed in 2001) is evident throughout the piece. So is an appreciation of other high art forms like abstract painting and haiku poetry, though many of the references fall into cliché, appearing superficial and romanticised. We are not sure why Anna wants to go to Italy and listen to Porcini, or is so inspired by butterflies and haiku; other than the reason that these things are taken to be generally romantic and beautiful.

Charlie’s fast paced theatrical style may appeal to some, but combined with a superficial script the play risks losing too many people. Lines such as “everyone else sees a killer… you see a woman,” and “I would kill for her,” allow for very little interpretation on behalf of the audience. In the eyes of this reviewer the lack of space for interpretation means that the play has very little emotional impact. This is sad given the obvious and impressive amount of work and drive that has been poured into the production, particularly the plastics. The set is elaborate and impeccable, and so is the range of thorough, naturalistic props.

One is left with a feeling of appreciation that Fitzpatrick has taken on noble aims with Charlie, and the play is nothing if not heartfelt. If there was an echo of the set’s naturalism in the dialogue of Anna and Josh or in the path of their relationship, viewers would benefit immensely. Perhaps Charlie can progress with (further?) workshopping, or find its niche with a young and more easily impressionable audience.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


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The bath scene is bathos

Review by John Smythe 27th Feb 2008

Named for a cocaine code-name, Charlie finds Anna (Jeanne Tracy) on death row, facing execution in a few days time after a nine year wait. It emerges – late in the piece, when we really want to know – that it was a cocktail of drugs and alcohol that had further impaired her already love-warped judgement to produce the action that has sealed this fate.

She knows what she did, she’s sorry and she is fatalistic about her impending punishment.

Josh (CJ Shelford) is a third-generation prison guard, happily married with a child, who would rather paint water colours, and he is new to the death row beat. And he goes and falls for Anna – as does she for him.

Were this a thoroughly researched naturalistic drama, where their respective institutionalised mindsets initially got in the way of feelings that began to arise against their better judgements, the premise could work. Her disastrous experience of ‘love’ and his relatively perfect experience of it are nicely conceived opposites.

But writer/director Fleur Fitzpatrick has things she wants to say about facing premature death and she simplistically makes her characters her mouthpieces. Given the subject matter and setting, the virtual absence of building dramatic tension is remarkable.

Despite strongly focused and committed performances from the two actors, their actions and interactions become harder and harder to credit. I don’t mind the fact that we have no death penalty here; it works fine as a ‘what if we did?’ scenario (and I’d rather that than they use phoney American accents and a setting that makes the story all too clichéd). But their too-easily articulated emotive outpourings, his extreme naivety and his final act of love-fuelled supposed compassion lie way beyond credibility for me.

Earlier, in the context of the P-fuelled horrors that have made recent headlines, and what people can do in the name of ‘love’, Anna’s description of her actual crime has been compelling, because we cannot dismiss the possibility of such an atrocity happening.

The rest leaves me cold and – despite Anna’s passion for opera and the use of Puccini’s Mme Butterfly score – the bath scene, I’m sorry, is bathos.

Zac Boyd’s prison cage set is excellent and Martin Searancke’s mood-shift lighting if effective if over-used


Super Dooper February 28th, 2008

'The bath scene is bathos' eh? Minor point, but I'm pretty sure the 'Charlie' which gives the play its name is the lover who had a Charles Manson-like hold over the condemned woman. I'd like to thank Twin Engine for reminding us that you can have lighting and a set at BATS.

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Sinks into melodrama

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 27th Feb 2008

Over written and lacking the originality and creativity of the former production, Charlie, written and directed by Fleur Fitzpatrick, is based on the Charles Manson syndrome, the power an individual can have over another to the point of doing anything for that person, even murder. 

This is what happened to Anna who has been nine years on death and is row about to be executed.   Her guard, Josh, new on the job, becomes obsessed with her case, succumbing to the same situation Anna found herself in originally. 

Set in a prison cell, it follows the themes of countless American films and TV drams.  Thus it is a big ask of an audience to transport themselves into this alien world without using American accents. 

The actors however, equipment themselves as best they can with the script given them, spending much more time telling then showing. But when Puccini’s music from Madam Butterfly surges up through the end of the play, it is hard to take it seriously as it sinks into melodrama with the actors pouring out their angst in the ‘oh-woe-is-me’ style of acting.


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