Conjugal Rites

Centrepoint, Palmerston North

02/04/2011 - 14/05/2011

Production Details

Written by: Roger Hall
Directed by: Kate Louise Elliott

Tickets are already selling fast to Centrepoint Theatre’s production of Conjugal Rites by New Zealand’s most popular playwright, Roger Hall. The production, due to open on 2 April, will star New Zealand actor, director, writer and producer Alison Quigan along side well-known actor Tim Bartlett. Tim Bartlett starred in Fortune Theatre’s production of Conjugal Rites early last year and will play Quigan’s husband in this story about midlife marriage.   

“These two actors are simply electric on stage. Their experience and talent smacks you right between the eyes. I spend rehearsals gobsmacked, go home exhausted, and I haven’t done a thing” says director Kate Louise Elliott. 

Alison Quigan has been a familiar face on NZ television, playing the role of Yvonne Jefferies on TV2’s Shortland Street for the past six years. Alison’s theatrical credits span over 30 years, and as well as writing 12 original works – most of which were first produced at Centrepoint Theatre, Alison was the Artistic Director of Centrepoint Theatre from 1987 to 2004. In 2001 Alison was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for Services to Theatre. 

Tim Bartlett is still widely recognised from his role on Shortland Street as Bernie Leach, but has appeared in countless TV shows and theatre productions, in a career that began in 1974 with Auckland’s Theatre Corporate. He was in the Fortune Theatre’s original production of Conjugal Rites over 20 years ago as well as appearing in their latest production of the show last year.

The cast was originally programmed to include Greg Johnson who starred in Penalties, Pints and Pirouettes and Four Flat Whites in Italy last year at Centrepoint Theatre. Unfortunately Greg became ill on the first day of rehearsals, and although he will make a full recovery, it was Greg’s suggestion to recast urgently to remain on schedule for the opening night on Saturday 2 April – which sold out over a month ago. 

We have been very fortunate to secure Tim Bartlett who was able to fly in on very short notice. 

The hilarious story joins Barry (Tim Bartlett) and Gen (Alison Quigan) as they celebrate their 21st wedding anniversary. 

After 21 years of marriage there’s definitely very little left of the honeymoon. Teenage children, ageing parents, sagging bodies, changed priorities, job disillusionment, a new career and outside temptations – all of the joys and the problems of marriage.

“This is classic Roger Hall. One of the best. It’s like going to couples counselling – only you enjoy it!” says Kate Louise Elliott.

Show Times: 
Wednesday 6.30pm, Thursday – Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 5pm. There will be no Sunday performance on 3 April.

$37 Adults, $25 Seniors, $25 Under 30s, $25 Community Service Card Holders, $15 Students, $65 Dinner & Show. 

Special Performances: 
$15 Tuesday – Tuesday 5 April, 6.30pm.
Bookings for $15 Tuesday open at 9am Monday 4 April 

Phone 06 354 5740, online at, email, visit 280 Church Street. 

Starring:  Alison Quigan and Tim Bartlett 

An easily enjoyable production of a fine play

Review by John C Ross 03rd Apr 2011

Take one middle-class bedroom and one middle-aged, professional, urban, Pakeha couple, doing the various kinds of stuff you do in bedrooms over a chunk of time. Fancy making a lively full-length comedy (with a bit of drama mixed in) out of that, as Roger Hall has. Amazingly, it works.

Amazing, also, to realise that this play, which as the author’s programme note says, “went on to do very nicely thank you,” including morphing into a Pommie soap that went through two whole series, had its premiere production here at Centrepoint, back in 1990.

I can recall that production sufficiently to recognise that this one is a bit different, shifted to a later decade (there’s a cordless phone, from the beginning), and with a few changed bits of text. Roger Hall has a marvellously sure gift for nailing speech-modes and behaviour in ways that are amusing (sometimes quite funny) yet feel right, and the play does not feel dated.

Someone or other has said, too, that ninety percent of interpretation is in the casting. Being able to cast two such talented, skilled and experienced actors as Alison Quigan, as Jen, and Tim Bartlett, as Barry, is excellent, yet the director needs then to achieve a synergy with them, as to what they can best do. Doubtless, Kate Louise Elliott has here done so; and the timing and nuances and facial expressions are splendid.

With Tim Bartlett, especially, already manifestly middle-middle-aged, he does not seem to get significantly older; nor is there a very strong sense of a shifting power balance between the two, because right from the start he is a bit jaded vis-à-vis his career as a dentist, which remains same-old same-old, and his wife is already quite feisty, although she has not yet got very far in her law firm. So, the emphasis is rather on her developing an area of her life outside the marriage, among her lawyer colleagues, and Barry’s reaction to that, and on his own belated fling with a patient, and the consequences of Jen’s full discovery of that – which means there’s a good deal more happening in the second half than in the first.

Still, their one successful sexual congress, with both of them actually lying flat side- by-side, giving utterance to their thoughts and responses, is a very funny happening.

Offstage somewhere intermittently are their offspring (one of each), other family members, friends, a dog, a whole city (in this production it’s Palmy North), evoked in one way or another. Still, what the play comes back to is: how can two individual people with some spirit and differing interests go on living with each other, year after year after year? It’s not made too easy. 

Nicole Cosgrove’s set design is good looking and efficient, and her costume design is lively, with Jen especially having to make some quick offstage changes, especially as she moves more upmarket. Graham Slater’s lighting design is capable. Some ingenuity has clearly gone into the choice of songs played before and between episodes.

This is a very good and easily enjoyable production of a fine play. 
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