C’Mon Black!

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

08/06/2011 - 02/07/2011

Lake Wanaka Centre, Wanaka

13/04/2011 - 13/04/2011

16th Avenue Theatre, 174 16th Ave, Tauranga

26/10/2011 - 27/10/2011

Southern Lakes Festival of Colour

Tauranga Arts Festival 2011

Production Details

Following a hugely successful national tour in the 1990s, Roger Hall’s Rugby World Cup comedy C’Mon Black! is back. This brand new production features the stellar talent of Gavin Rutherford (Le Sud, Robin Hood) as the rugby-mad South Island dairy farmer Dickie Hart.

Cow-cockie Dickie has never been off the farm to travel, but it’s a World Cup Year (1995) for heaven’s sake! Dickie sets off to South Africa on a supporters’ tour to follow the best rugby team in the world, and to see them bring home the World Cup. With Jonah Lomu, Zinny and Fitzy on the team, how can they possibly lose?

On his trip, Dickie encounters big games and big game; Zulus, Aucklanders and other foreign cultures; and learns a heap about himself.

This big-hearted revival of one of New Zealand’s favourite plays – written by the country’s favourite playwright about our favourite sport – is the ideal entertainment for World Cup year.

Directed by Andrew Foster, and produced by Armstrong Creative (Niu Sila, King and Country, Le Sud), C’Mon Black! is a once-in-a-lifetime World Cup trip you won’t want to miss.

With thanks to Playmarket 

13 April, 7pm, Lake Wanaka Centre 
14 April, 7pm, Cromwell Memorial Hall 
15 April, 7pm, Glenorchy Hall
Door sales from 6pm 

Duration: 70 minutes no interval
Price: $36
Bookings: Book Online

Supported By: Creative New Zealand, Pub Charity
Sponsored By: Aurora   

Downstage Theatre

8 Jun – 2 Jul
Book at our box office, phone
04 801 6946

Opening Night:  Thurs 9 June

Performance Times
Tuesday – Wednesday 6.30pm
Thursday – Saturday 8pm
(no shows Sun and Mon)

Matinees:  Sat 25 June & 2 July, 4pm 
Meet the Artists:  Tue 21 June (post show)
Duration:  95 min including interval

Ticket Prices (Allocated Seating) 
Best 100:
Full A Reserve:



Featuring Gavin Rutherford as Dickie Hart

Producers – Caroline and Dave Armstrong, Armstrong Creative
Lighting Design – Paul O’Brien
Stage Manager – Miriam Sobey
Technical Operator – Brian Fairbrother
Photography – Stephen A’Court
Producers – Caroline and Dave Armstrong, Armstrong Creative
Lighting Design – Paul O’Brien
Stage Manager – Miriam Sobey
Technical Operator – Brian Fairbrother
Photography – Stephen A’Court 

1hr 10min, no interval | 1hr 35min, incl. interval

A stereotype in three dimensions

Review by Deb Meldrum 27th Oct 2011

The stereotypical New Zealand cow cockie steps onto the stage interacts with his audience and we are off on a trip to the 1995 World Cup in South Africa. As an audience we were totally involved from the beginning: the irritations of sharing a hotel room, the bus trips to scenic tourist traps and of course the games! 

I am not a rugby aficionado but even I was caught up in the blow by blow account of the semi-final – New Zealand against England.

Gavin Rutherford as Dickie Hart had us all thinking of him as a friend sharing his memories with us. We were with him all the way.

The final New Zealand v South Africa game had us all feeling much as we did last Sunday night only without the euphoric ending. I think most of us, as we watch Gavin’s/Dickie’s anguish and depression, felt that could have been us. 

This is Roger Hall at his best. Dickie may be a stereotypical Kiwi character but he is three dimensional and we watch him expand his horizons and develop as a person. Hall does it with a very light touch and the political undercurrents are quietly integrated into the humour and the story line. 

This is great entertainment. 


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Far from being just a game

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 13th Jun 2011

To tell a rugby loving nation like New Zealand that as a sport, rugby “is only a game” is tantamount to heresy. This was never more evident than in the aftermath of the 1995 Rugby World Cup held in South Africa where Laurie Mains All Blacks lead by Sean Fitzpatrick were beaten in extra time by the Springboks. 

Having done so well through their pool matches and in the quarter and semi-finals, this All Black team were a sure fire winner of the Webb Ellis cup. But it wasn’t to be and the subsequent unsubstantiated allegations of food poisoning only added to the pain and misery felt by the nation at the loss. 

Playwright Roger Hall was there to witness the event, going on a supporter’s tour to research a new play. The result is not so much a play as one man’s recollection of the events and the emotions and feelings experienced through the various stages in the build-up to the final match.

It is debatable as to whether rugby loving Kiwis want to be reminder of the yet another unsuccessful attempt at the Rugby World Cup so close to being the solo host of the event this year, but it is undeniable that Hall is an astute writer who can combine humour and pathos in one sentence and who has an unnerving ability to tap in to the Kiwi psyche – in this instance, the male one.

Not only do we follow the final matches through various towns and cities in South Africa, but we also get a idea of the new nation emerging after such a long regime of apartheid. This was the first year of Nelson Mandela’s reign as president. 

In the character of Dickie Hart (Gavin Rutherford) we get what is perceived as the typical Kiwi bloke, although it is hoped that 16 years later the males of NZ have moved on from many of the stereotypical traits of the character, even at a rugby match. 

When phoning home to his wife Dickie, asks about the welfare of his cows before asking after her. But as well as the passion of Dickie riding out the highs and lows of both the games and travelling with another bunch of Kiwis, Hall also gives the piece depth by imbuing the character with some real humanity shown through his reactions to the sights of South Africa. 

When visiting a safari park he is more interested in a local village where women have to carry water for miles in buckets in their heads than the animals. 

In Gavin Rutherford’s performance as Dickie Hart we get a very affable, down to earth Kiwi bloke off on his first trip overseas who is able to bring both humour and humanity to the character and Hall’s story telling. Believable and engaging, Rutherford makes the character his own, taking ownership of all the character’s traits so that it comes across as being told for the first time and not as a learnt script.

The excitement and tension of the final moments of that game was created on stage by Rutherford as real and believable making this a most entertaining piece of theatre.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.   


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Interesting anecdotes short on emotional engagement

Review by John Smythe 10th Jun 2011

When Roger Hall’s C’mon Black kicked off on 1996 – at Dunedin’s Fortune Theatre with Tim Bartlett as Dickie Hart, then at Wellington’s Circa theatre with Grant Tilly in the solo role – the tragedy of the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the optimism of the new South Africa, of which Nelson Mandela had become president in 1994, were fresh in our minds.

Dickie Hart – a small-minded dairy farmer whose primary focus was his cows, the milk yield, rugby, his dogs and the wife, Glenda, in that order – had supported the hugely polarising 1981 Springbok tour of NZ. The play finds him recently returned from his first ever trip overseas, on a package tour of South Africa with the All Black Supporter’s Club for the ’95 Rugby World Cup.

Although his greatest love was the rugby, and the outcome of that tour (as we all know) was tragic, the experience was life-changing in many ways. And 16 years ago his sharing of it met our own needs to process the loss and gain further insight into how the new South Africa was faring. (Hall did the trip himself so the research was first hand.)

Resurrecting C’mon Black now, as this year’s RWC looms in our very own land, puts it in a very different context. In hindsight it is easier to contemplate the possibility of political sabotage; of the ABs being sacrificed for the greater good of the new SA’s self-esteem. As Dickie takes us on his journey, tracing it with magnetised silver fern badges on a large map and ‘showing and telling’ with mementos from his suitcase – my curiosity about all that is overlaid with pondering how his international equivalents might fare when they traipse through our topography in the coming months. 

But what makes a play like this work in performance is the sharing of a transformative human experience and our empathising with it. Dickie Hart is a Kiwi ‘Everyman’, an innocent abroad who has experienced a broadening of his horizons and a greater understanding of the wider world closely followed by the deep shock of failure. He now needs to process all that.

When I reviewed Hall’s later solo plays, The Book Club and You Gotta Be Joking (a sequel to C’mon Black) in 1999, I complained that he set his characters “adrift in limbos devoid of present-time actions, quests or concerns. They are simply there to tell of events that happened at some time past. But nothing hangs on this exercise. There is nothing at stake, no ‘now’ choice to make and there will be no consequences. There is nowhere for them to stand and no immediate motive force to drive their stories.”[1]

C’mon Black fares better in that Dickie is clearly placed right here, right now, in the theatre (although this time we have to imagine it’s 16 years ago for it to work), and his anecdotes often slip into the present tense as he revisits a time, place and action. He also inhabits the odd other role, by way of illustration, which adds to the entertainment value.

In this production, directed by Andrew Foster, Gavin Rutherford is a relaxed and amiable Dickie who seems to have worked it all out for himself before the show begins. This rather robs his storytelling of a driving purpose and reduces the play-of-two-halves to a series of fairly interesting anecdotes. I concede the actor and director need to work hard to find these underlying drivers in the script, and suggest the key lies his needing to share his experience by way of coming to terms with both our failure to win and his political awakening.  

At a more prosaic level, I cannot help but wonder if the quest for a national song (other than the anthem) could be used as the means of building towards the achieving a small victory and a sense of dramatic resolution. Sure, that could be a bit of a stretch. But Dickie does bemoan, as a running theme, the lack of a Kiwi equivalent to ‘Waltzing Matilda’ (Australia) and ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ (England), an attempt to redress the balance with ‘Po Kare Kake Ana’ makes its salutary point, and a parody of ‘Ake Ake Kia Kaha E’ (a.k.a Maori Battalion March to Victory’) is part of the show as a sing-along number. Given the show ends with a reprise of that song, could it’s earlier introduction have been tweaked to contribute to a sense of dramatic structure and quest fulfilment?

I’d like to think Hall chose ‘Ake Ake Kia Kaha E’ in full cognisance of the irony, that the Maori Battalion itself was formed through a sense of racial apartheid, but nothing in the play prompts our awareness of this. While it’s not the sort of insight Dickie himself might have, his all-knowing school teacher travel buddy Gary could well have held such a view and provoked him with it. (This has been my abiding frustration with Hall’s plays, that so often he gathers a rich array of ingredients then falls short of using them to their best dramatic potential.)

Hall and Rutherford do give us an entertaining array of characters, including Ronnie the Soweto-raised bus driver, tour guides Stella and Marilyn, Pat the Maori tour host, Gaylene “the divorcee on the rantan”, the ever-rolling “Video George” and Lois from the hotel who is invariably the harbinger of doom.

Witty observations and insights keep the smiles on our faces but there are few laugh-out-loud moments, which does seem strange for a Roger Hall play until we remember this one is, in essence, a tragedy – in which we may see some value in rising above the ignominy of defeat.

What’s missing is a strong sense of Dickie’s emotional engagement with the events as they unfold. This may deepen as the season progresses. If it does I predict audience empathy will strengthen and so too will the laughter.  

To be fair there is an emotional payoff at the end, and evidence that Dickie’s consciousness has been raised. I just see no reason for him not to feel a lot of things more deeply throughout – and of course in the process of his trying to suppress those feeling, we would feel them too.
– – – – – – – – – – –

PS: My fantasy for this year’s RWC is that a concerted effort will be made to teach us all to sing ‘Poi E’ with celebratory commitment: imagine tens of thousands of Kiwi rocking our stadiums with that!

PPS: I feel a need to say, at last, that I wish we could do without Downstage CEO Hilary Beaton’s pre-show speech from the stage on opening nights. Given the important guests gather at the top bar before the show, could she not greet, thank and acknowledge them there? I believe the creative team is entitled to design, manage and control the ambience of the evening from the time their audience enters the auditorium, and that the show on offer should be presented on its own terms without any foregrounding from management. Just saying…
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 

[1] JS, National Business Review, 10 December 1999. 


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A tragic-comic challenge

Review by Caroline Harker 15th Apr 2011

There is no doubting that Roger Hall is a great playwright, and Gavin Rutherford an accomplished actor. But why, at the Festival of Colour where almost every theatre show sells out, do we get a play which was written in 1996 and feels out of date? Wanaka festival-goers are used to cutting edge theatre and want to be challenged, and C’mon Black just doesn’t fit the bill.

The play is about Kiwi dairy farmer Dickie Hart who goes overseas for the first time to follow the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa. His wife Glenda suggested Italy or Greece, but when Dickie chooses the rugby tour she didn’t want to go.

Though hilarious in parts, the redneck aspects of the play didn’t always go down well in Wanaka. Dickie complains about his room mate who snores and farts. “Even worse he would read at night” (not many laughs). When he phones home his first question is “How are the cows?” (heard that one before). When he visits a wildlife park and sees the baboons with their “dongers hanging out…that’s when I realised I was missing Glenda” (outrageous – but it went down well).

The play bombards us with endless details of different rugby games. It must have been too much even for the actor – Gavin Rutherford (as Dickie) keeps referring to his notebook. The only time it wasn’t too much for a rugby ignoramus was during the description of the infamous final (South Africa versus the All Blacks) where Rutherford delivers Hall’s script with great humour and poignancy. We all felt the tragedy of the loss.

As a one man show the play is a huge challenge for an actor and Rutherford can hold an audience in his hands taking them through a huge range of emotions and portraying some delightful character development. 

There are some powerful moments when Dickie is stunned by what he sees: “Women carrying water in buckets on their heads – that’s hard yakka.” His mimicry of the tour’s racist South African guides is superb, and Hall writes in a wonderful scene where the Zulu bus driver takes advantage of the guide’s absence and diverts his busload of kiwis through Soweto to show them another side of his country.

Hall has a remarkable ability to write plays that hit the stage at the right time. Think of his first big hit Glide Time – a delightful dig at the public service – and The Share Club, in 1987 (year of the crash).

C’mon Black was a huge success when it premiered at the Fortune Theatre in 1996 and has had successful seasons around the country and in London, but now it feels tired. It might still be a good safe play to attract a wide audience but, even in World Cup year, for a festival it’s way out of date.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


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