BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

24/04/2018 - 28/04/2018

BATS Theatre, The Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

14/09/2022 - 15/09/2022

Te Whare o Rukutia, 20 Princes St, Dunedin

14/04/2023 - 15/04/2023

Little Andromeda, Level 1/134 Oxford Terrace, Central City, Christchurch

20/04/2023 - 21/04/2023


Production Details

Written and performed by Bea Lee-Smith
Directed by Hilary Norris

Design by Tabitha Arthur, at Light Shade Creative

Presented by Fab Cabaret

“When you discover which season best flatters you, you will indeed be the fairest of them all.” – Carole Jackson, Colour Me Beautiful.  

When you look your best, you feel your best.  And when you feel your best, there is absolutely no limit to what you can achieve.  

Upper Hutt, 1984.  Bust out your shoulder pads and join Cecily as she discovers her true self, through the wonderful world of Colour Me Beautiful.  Cecily has escaped to the Antipodes following her divorce.  She finds herself befriending an eccentric group of women, intent on living life to the fullest, and finding fulfilment in ways she never expected.   Cecily’s journey takes some hilarious twists and turns, as she navigates her way through the minefield that was 1980s, Upper Hutt. 

Rich with nostalgia and the joy of self-discovery, come let Cecily colour your world…

BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome
Tues 24 – Sat 28 April 2018
at 6.30pm
No show Weds 25 April (Anzac Day)
Full Price $20 | Concession Price $15 | Group 6+ $14 

*Access to The Heyday Dome is via stairs, so please contact the BATS Box Office at least 24 hours in advance if you have accessibility requirements so that appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS.

Te Whare o Rukutia, Dunedin 14 – 15 April 2023 BOOK ($25 – $35)

Little Andromeda, Christchurch 20 – 21 April 2023 BOOK ($20)

Stage Manager – Gillian Boyes
Publicity by Vanessa Immink

Imagery - Aimee Sullivan
Publicist - Emma Maguire

Theatre , Solo , Comedy ,

65 minutes

A charming, light-hearted play

Review by Terry MacTavish 15th Apr 2023

Admittedly it is more prescriptive even than determining personality by the twelve signs of the zodiac – only four seasons to cover every shade of colouring, and a mere six stylistic choices for your 80s self: sporty, gamin, classic, ingenue, romantic, dramatic. But if In Search of Charm was the bible for my teen years, it was Colour Me Beautifulthat would guide me gracefully to sartorial maturity. Thus it is throbbing with delicious nostalgia that I enter Te Whare Rukutia, where the atmosphere is warm and nurturing, and Cyndi Lauper is serenading us with I see Your True Colours Shining Through.

This is the perfect theme song for Colour Me Cecily, and one that has become something of a gay anthem, a few months ago actually sung by Lauper as the Respect for Marriage Act was signed into law by President Biden. But the entire musical soundtrack is a joy, songs from Karma Chameleon to I Want to Break Free carefully selected to reflect Cecily’s situation, while evoking powerful memories of the 80s for those of us who survived them. 

For those who do not already know, Colour Me Beautiful was an indispensable part of the decade for all of us trying to reconcile our wardrobes with the bizarre lace-and-leather look of Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. At last, permission to ignore fashion trends and find what made us feel good, even terrific!

The poetic use of the seasons as a device to define skin tones and the colours that best set them off, turning drab to radiant, kept author Carole Jackson on the Bestseller list for three years, and emboldened many women to break away from the little black dress (not slimming at all, apparently) once they knew whether they suited warm autumn colours, soft dreamy summer ones, delicate spring or clear sparkling winter. 

Bea Lee-Smith has cleverly picked up on the phenomenon that was ‘having one’s colours done’, making skilful use of it to chart the journey to self-discovery of Cecily Adams, formerly Mrs Frank Barker. Cecily has felt herself, as she strikingly puts it, ‘disappear into a sea of neutrals’ after the collapse of her marriage, and is ripe for a makeover in every sense.

I’m a shade disappointed that displayed on the simple stage-set are scarves of just one colour for each of the four seasons, as there are actually thirty hues shown for each ‘type’ in the book, and surely a brilliant excess of colour would make a lovely background for Cecily, demure in her grey flared skirt, and the white blouse with its typical, strangely contradictory, masculine shoulder pads and feminine pussycat-bow.

Clearly Cecily’s confidence has been completely undermined by the shock of discovering that her perfect marriage was fatally flawed, a back-story revealed with admirable timing and ingenuity. Ladylike and refined, Cecily has been the model wife and homemaker. She has always played by the rules of the time, yet they have betrayed her. So, bravely leaving her vile lawyer-husband, she sets out for a new life in the Antipodes. Upper Hutt, of all places.

Partly through luck, and partly because she is a naturally sweet and appealing person, lonely Cecily makes friends and is initiated into a group of lively women who meet at the local pub, drinking paint-stripper wine from cardboard casks, to plan goals for achieving their dreams. All are made plausible and entertaining characters by writer/actor Lee- Smith, but the most fun is wanna-be actress Jill, fervently spouting Tennessee Williams. Observing Cecily’s eye for colour in a WEA art class (taught by a rather attractive chap, but that’s sub-plot) her new friends encourage her to embark on a thrilling, almost evangelical career as a colour consultant.

After watching some rather loose solo shows during Fringe Festival, I note with relief and admiration Hilary Norris’s tight and thoroughly professional direction, which has resulted in a controlled, polished performance by Lee-Smith. Each of the many characters is efficiently delineated with an amusingly swift change of stance and accent. 

The truly delightful comic highlight is the wedding party, with ghastly bride and horrendous bridesmaids exploring – or exposing – their true colours. Lee-Smith succeeds brilliantly in showing us a whole roomful of increasingly tipsy terrors who make for a true test of whether Cecily’s growing assurance will give her the confidence to triumph over them. 

The play is well-scripted, grounded with references to 80s politics (and naturally Princess Di) and there is plenty of humour in Cecily’s shrewd observation of kiwi mores of the time, with details like, “Cess?? I began to admire the endearing habit New Zealanders have of shortening your name within minutes of meeting you.”

The audience responds readily to being addressed as Colours workshop participants, giving the impression that they would happily welcome more involvement in the show. It does seem for an exciting moment that Cecily is about to bring a patron onstage to ‘have her colours done’, and I am quite sorry the opportunity is not taken.

But after all the play is not really about choosing our own colour palettes, but about Cecily’s journey. And here the Colours philosophy, if a trifle corny, is relevant and quite uplifting. Jackson writes, “The real fun comes as you develop your own sense of style, the look that says ‘I am me.’ Style is not fashion. Style is the positive expression of your individuality.” 

Cecily’s struggle for identity rings true for my guest, a trusted friend, who confides that when she started living on her own, after so many years meeting the needs of family, it took a long time to figure out what she actually liked to do, when those needs were no longer there as the structure of her life. Having choices was initially bewildering, and like Cecily, she first needed to find an authentic self-image.

This is a charming, light-hearted play it would be hard not to enjoy, whatever our formative decade. We have grown fond of Cecily, Lee-Smith’s vivid and affectionate creation. We admire her resilience, her all-round niceness and lack of pretension, and we are pretty pleased that her true colours are finally shining through.


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Unashamedly a throwback – a committed gem

Review by Margaret Austin 15th Sep 2022

The eighties is the era in which this piece is set. Although I am considerably older than the majority of the audience (mostly women) at BATS The Stage for Colour me Cecily, I’m amazed at how much of this show resonates.

Cecily, personified by writer and performer Bea Lee-Smith, has lately left her husband and homeland of England for the far reaches of New Zealand. And has chosen, of all places, Upper Hutt to begin a new life.

She introduces herself as she hangs four very differently coloured scarves as a backdrop. She is a colour consultant for Colour Me Beautiful – cue “having your colours done”: very eighties – and was given a start at a chance meeting with a bunch of Kiwi women, who, in a bar amidst dartboards and hunting trophies, declare their intentions to renew their lives by fulfilling personal ambitions.

The laughter of recognition ripples frequently through the audience – principally at our performer’s skilfully produced Kiwi accent that most of the other characters suffer from.
“No chardonnay – only red or white,” opines the barman.
“I’m 32 and never been to the South Island,” one of Cecily’s new friends proclaims.

There’s a brief flashback to the cheating husband who pleads – eighties style – for his wife to stay with him. A marriage counsellor – eighties style? – sides with him. Our heroine – of all times – demands nothing but her freedom and the fare to New Zealand. Bravo!

Alongside her burgeoning career as a colour consultant, Cecily joins a WEA class in water colour painting. The class is taught by Geoffrey who’s shy and nice. We get an inkling.

“Do you love colour? Do you have a passion for fashion?” Cecily is addressing us now, and we’re getting the impression she’s hitting her stride. “Colour Me Beautiful changes lives”. She says she’s empowered. We grin with delight – we almost believe her.

“You’re looking radiant,” Geoffrey says and you can guess the rest.

Colour Me Cecily is not a send-up or a take-off. In that lies its success and its effectiveness. It is, unashamedly, a throwback. And its impact is based on the performer’s absolute commitment to the story and the characters. A gem.

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A gem to be treasured

Review by John Smythe 25th Apr 2018

As we find our seats in BATS’ Heyday Dome space, the minimalist set finds an elegant woman reading a Colour Me Beautiful booklet. It emerges we are attending Ms Cecily Adams’ first Colour Me Beautiful seminar: a clever device for sharing a much bigger story.

As well as generating much humour about ‘the way we were’, this 1980s throwback reveals the abiding constants in a woman’s quest for self after 15 years of dutiful marriage. And it does so with a fluency and lightness of touch that belies the skill and hard work that has gone into its making as a play, performance and production – written and performed by Bea Lee-Smith, directed by Hilary Norris, designed by Tabitha Arthur.

In the wake of her divorce from lawyer Frank Barker, refined Englishwoman Cecily Adams has chosen to escape from London to remote Upper Hutt to recover, or rather discover, herself. Gentle humour about living in the Hutt, the Kiwi accent and our (lack of) taste in wine and food seasons our getting to know would-be children’s book writer Rebecca from the library and the other ‘girls’ from her regular Friday night ‘Ladies at the Embers’ group: Emily (or have I misheard Abby/Ebbie?) who likes her “Pumms” and wants to travel; Maureen whose mum was half Italian and who dreams of running a decent café …

Then there are those at the WEA art class run by gentle Geoffrey, including am-dram queen Jill … The present (1984) story seamlessly integrates the backstory of Cecily’s marriage, discovery of infidelity and divorce, bringing us Frank, the ‘other woman’, the marriage counsellor, and her realisation she doesn’t know who she is other than Frank’s wife.

It is robust Liz Tucker who introduces Cecily to the miracle of seasonal personal colours and clothing personality, and the impending wedding of Maureen’s sister Amanda that allows Cecily to practise her new-found art with the bride and bridesmaids – and discover she can take control when necessary. (I do feel compelled to note that while these Kiwi characters are wonderfully captured and distilled, it is the English equivalents we have seen on ‘reality’ TV who attest to the truth of the syndrome.)

Along with references to onion dip and ‘The Inner Wheel’ (it’s a Rotary thing), snippets of 80s music – e.g. ‘True Colours’; ‘I Want to Break Free’, ‘Karma Chameleon’ – further evoke the era. 

The exquisite crafting of the script is reflected in Bea Lee-Smith’s seemingly effortless manifestations of the multiple characters – all in the service of capturing our empathy for a person confronting a radical change in her life. Paradoxically her lack of self-pity heightens our compassion and admiration for her, even as we laugh at the means by which it’s achieved. 

Colour Me Cecily is a gem to be treasured.


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