BATS Theatre (Out-Of-Site) Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington

04/02/2014 - 09/02/2014

NZ Fringe Festival 2014

Production Details

In 2013, Freya and Uther found out about Gef. Gef is an enigma. Which is to say that he is a talking mongoose from the past.

In 2013, Freya and Uther met Gef. This is the true story of that meeting.

Venue: BATS Theatre
Dates: February, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9
Time: 6:30pm
Duration: 60 mins 

Full $18
Concession $14
Fringe Addict $12
Artist Card $12

Tickets: 04 802 4175 

Performed by Freya Desmarais and Chris Swney  
Additional Performance by Jess Old

Set Design Robyn Mathie
Sound Design Barney Olson
Lights and Technical Operation Bronwyn Cheyne

Stage Manager Bruce Colban
Assistant Stage Manager Jess Old
Production Assistant Floriane Malinski
Stage Hand Freya Boyle
Publicity Design Livvy Nonoa, Chris Swney and Cory Knights 

Theatre ,

Trundles along amusingly

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 07th Feb 2014

Citizen Gef is a comedy about two playwrights collaborating, arguing and going on a road trip as they attempt to write a play (actually a documentary) about Gef, a talking mongoose. Gef is really just a peg on which to hang the showing of the process of artistic collaboration.

Gef really was an English media sensation in the 1930s – check it out on Wikipedia – and was either a hoax or the imaginary friend of a lonely thirteen year-old girl, who the two intrepid Wellingtonian playwrights discover is still alive, aged 95, and living in that foreign country (to the playwrights) the South Island. 

Told in brief revue-like sketches the comedy trundles along amusingly as the relationship between the two playwrights waxes and wanes as they communicate with each other either directly or through some distorting technology which provide some of the funniest sequences from Freya Desmarais who plays herself and Chris Swney who plays Uther Dean.


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Whimsically insightful

Review by John Smythe 05th Feb 2014

Citizen Gef is so elusive and allusive on so many levels it’s hard to know where to grasp the tale for the purposes of review. 

The titular Gef is a talking mongoose, discovered on the Isle of Man in 1931 but born in New Delhi in 1852, according to himself. Surely you’ve heard of him? If you don’t believe me see the Wikipedia page.

But what the play is really about is the process by which Freya Desmarais and Uther Dean collaborate to make a documentary theatre piece about Gef. Although it could be said that is the vehicle by which they explore the essential nature of creative relationships, and modern methods of communication, be it the language forms or the technology involved.

Or is it mostly about the existential nature of life in a world where we’re told we can be whatever we want, just do it, and it’s the journey not arriving that delivers most value? The nature of play-making itself is also up for scrutiny, exemplified here with the countless ingenious devices by which their creative, emotional and physical journeys are shared with us.

There are elements that may seem very in-groupy and esoteric but then the same can be said of many jargon-riddled TV cop shows and medical dramas. It is the detailed particularisation of this very human experience that distils the essence of universal experiences anyone cannot help but recognise.

Freya Desmarais plays herself, very authentically. That is to say she inhabits a full range of human experience from confident and cynical to lost and vulnerable with many permutations betwixt and between, without ever seeming to ‘act’ except when she herself is pretending.

Chris Swney, in the role of Uther Dean, opts not for an impersonation but for a true evocation of the somewhat obsessive and sometimes frustrating creative and collaborative experience. He too navigates a range of emotions, revealing fallible character traits and sometimes becoming quite surreal in a perfectly realistic way.

And all the way through they – and their unseen assistant Jess Old – reference the metatheatrical realities of what is being played out, which in itself is intrinsically entertaining.

Robyn Mathie’s set of panels festooned with posters, clippings, images and scrawled notes – e.g. ‘My Precious Gef’ on a childlike landscape of Middle Earth – tells the story of comprehensive and in-depth research in a whole other way. And a series of placards, tucked away down-stage right (it’s easy to miss the surreptitious changes), gives titles to the Acts and Scenes which range from classical to pop culture references – e.g. ‘The Importance of Being Gef’; ‘My Dinner with Gef’; ‘Total Eclipse of the Gef’; ‘Journey to the Centre of Gef’, ‘The Road That Wasn’t Gef’ … etc.

The deceptively loose yet very intentional and subtly focussed conflation of action, thematic exploration and dramatic revelation is deftly directed by Bronwyn Cheyne, who also operates the lighting and Barney Olson’s sound design, all of which contribute much to the magic of the make-believe.

A whimsically insightful study of the youthful human condition, albeit provoked by a mythical (or is he?) mongoose, Citizen Gef is an inspired curtain-raiser to Wellington’s NZ Fringe 2014, which kicks off officially on Friday.


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