Cold Fire

Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington

15/02/2006 - 25/02/2006

NZ Fringe Festival 2006

Production Details

Jack Winter's Dream by J K Baxter
Directed by Ingrid Sage

Effie’s Burning by Valerie Windsor
Directed by Iona Anderson


James K Baxter’s Jack Winter’s Dream (seduction, robbery and murder – a lyrical play for voices) and Valerie Windsor’s Effie’s Burning (when ‘care’ fractures her life, Effie reacts with unexpected and shocking power).

CAST for Effie's Burning:
Christine Hunt as Effie
Kate Sanders as Ruth
Robert Hickey as the surgeon, Mr Jessop-Brown.

Theatre ,

1 hr 30 mins, incl interval

The ethics of care

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 18th Feb 2006

Having mentioned in a previous Review that Fringe 06 is becoming a Festival of extremes it is pleasing to note that Stagecraft Theatre’s contribution of two short plays under the title of Cold Fire is very much at the upper end of good, competent and entertaining theatre.

The first of the two plays is James K Baxter’s well known radio play Jack Winters Dream about the final night of Jack Winter in Central Otago during the 1870’s gold rush days. Jack lies asleep in a pub dreaming while the other patron’s drink on.  But before the night of revelries is over the publican’s daughter is seduced, a robbery takes place with the night culminating in a murder.

Baxter’s writing in the late 1950’s, when Jack Winters Dream was written was very much influenced by Dylan Thomas, which is very much in evidence by his use of a narrator and the lyricism and imagery of his writing.  And in this production director Ingrid Sage loses none of this in her staging of the play, even though it is very physical at times, the strong cast bringing Baxter’s words alive and building wonderful pictures through both the words and the acting.

Effie’s Burning is the second play of the evening by English playwright Valerie Windsor. Effie (Christine Hunt), now in her 60’s, is in hospital, badly burned from a suspicious fire having been in care since she was 13.  While in Hospital she is being cared for by a surgical Registrar Dr Ruth Kovacs (Kate Sanders). 

Through Effie’s story the play questions the effect of institutionalisation on the mentally ill while through the doctor it questions the whole medical "system" and the ethics of care and through the Senior Consultant Mr Jessop-Brown (Robert Hickey) the effect of power and authority in the medical world and freedom of choice of both staff and patients. 

Director Iona Anderson has crafted a subtle and sensitive production with the actors giving depth and meaning to their characters, Hunt in particular having a great understanding of Effie, imbuing the character with many layers of emotional intensity.


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Contrasts and similarities

Review by John Smythe 16th Feb 2006

Targeting "Mature theatre-goers who feel a Fringe show might just be a bit too – well ‘fringey’," amateur theatre group Stagecraft pairs two short plays, one Kiwi, one British, as their contribution to Fringe 06. Entitled Cold Fire, the plays contrast male and female perspectives in tales involving frost and fire, while sharing insights into social outcasts.

The last time Wellington saw James K Baxter’s Jack Winter’s Dream was in the 1988 International Festival of the Arts: an epic and almost oratorical rendition staged at the Wellington Town Hall with the NZSO playing live an original score by Ashley Heenan. Originally made as a radio dram some 30-years before, the Festival performance was recorded live and is held by the Sound Archives.

This staging, directed by Ingrid Sage, is a far more modest effort performed by mostly young actors not quite able to capture the various states of Baxter’s largely displaced, dissolute and demonised men. His idealised women fare better, albeit at the mercy of the pre-prophetic drink-obsessed poet’s incipient misogyny.

With poetic narration setting the scenes and managing the who’s-who and what’s-what expositions, it’s a while before actual interactive drama kicks in. Apart from questionable accents and the odd mis-timed sound-cue, the story of Jack’s demise through drunken gold-rush dreams is clearly told, the space is well used and the songs are nicely handled.

More successful in production is Valerie Windsor’s three-hander Effie’s Burning (first produced in 1987), directed by Iona Anderson. Ingeniously non-linear, it compels our attention by having a less than confident Dr Ruth Kovacs preparing to give evidence in court – for what?

Her patient is an apparently self-inflicted burns victim, Effie (real name Gloria) who turns out to have been long-term resident of a mental hospital until restructuring saw her moved into a rehabilitation hostel. In revealing her story, and the professional positions Ruth finds herself in, the play comprehensively interrogates the societies and cultures that allow them to happen.

Ruth’s capacity to finally meet her foe and move onwards and upwards serves to emphasis the disenfranchisement of the likes of Effie who, categorised as a moral defective, has become the victim of society’s inability to take full responsibility for its own inadequacies.

Christine Hunt excels as the not-so-simple Effie, Kate Sanders brings clarity to Ruth’s complexities and Robert Hickey makes a strong foil as the pompous surgeon, Mr Jessop-Brown.


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