Basement Theatre Studio, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

02/04/2013 - 06/04/2013

Civic Theatre, cnr of Queen Street & Wellesley Street West, Auckland

11/05/2012 - 12/05/2012

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

02/03/2011 - 04/03/2011

The Granary Festival Café, Nelson

25/10/2013 - 25/10/2013

BATS Theatre, Wellington

02/05/2012 - 05/05/2012

Baycourt X-Space, Tauranga

26/10/2013 - 26/10/2013

NZ International Comedy Festival 2012

Auckland Fringe 2011

Nelson Arts Festival 2013

Tauranga Arts Festival 2013

Production Details

Look out there. You see that? Okay… now look… Beyond. 

Through. Inside. Outside… to the city of Constantinople. Amazing isn’t it. Now come back. Back to now. Do you see that man? He is Barnie.   

Barnie discovered his love of theatre at the tender age of four when he enrolled in the Theatre Arts Workshop in his hometown of Palmerston North. He attended the famous Bromley Clown School in London at age 7.

Upon moving to Auckland as a teenager Barnie began participating in theatre and music steadily. He has worked internationally and appeared in Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse in Barcelona (2000) not to mention numerous stints on the big and small screen back home and abroad – Shortland St, Power Rangers, Outrageous Fortune, Show of Hands, Labou.

He formed the company Theatre Beating with co-conspirator Trygve Wakenshaw which has made several works of genius – Happy Hour for Miserable Children (Best Comedy at the 2004 Fringe Festival), The Magic Chicken (which toured the nations arts festivals in 2005), Join us at Ricks, Rumplestilts, This Is A Plum (Best Outdoor 2006 Fringe Festival), and most recently The Pied Piper of Hamilton. The work of Theatre Beating centred around the art of slapstick, and Barnie has spent many years exploring this style, and has acquired a commanding knowledge of acro-balance and physical comedy.

Barnie has been writing absurdist plays for years, and his play Shit, Ubu Shit! won the 2008 SmackBang Playwrite award and enjoyed a two-week season at the Basement Theatre. Barnie’s musical explorations have included co-founding the 15 piece afro-soul band The Hot Grits in which he plays rhythm guitar and sings, and his new band History of Snakes is also arousing much attention. He also gigs regularly as a DJ under the cunning alias Uncle Barnie.

But back to…

Constantinople. Throughout the Middle Ages it was Europe’s largest and wealthiest city. And then suddenly, in 1930 the name of the city was dropped in favour of the Turkish name Istanbul. Curious.   

In this mostly one-man show Barnie Duncan explores a variety of subjects, that may or may not include the Ottoman Empire and possibly and excursion into the Byzantium Empire as well.

What were their parties like? Did their horses talk? 

All this and a selection of nice records to listen during the show, because as well as being an actor, Barnie is a DJ. 

Were there DJs in Constantinople? 
Barnie has been meaning to make a solo show for long time. He almost gets there with Constantinople, but gets some surprise guests to do some surprise business, so it doesn’t really count as a solo show.  

Constantinople. Look out for it. 

The Basement 
Wed 2 – Fri 4 March, 10pm 
TICKETS: Adult $15, Conc/Child $12 
BOOKING: (09) 361 1000  

As part of the NZ International Comedy Festival 2012 
now a 2-hander with Barnie and Trygve


Date:  Wed2 – Sat 5 May, 9.30pm 
Venue: BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce, CBD
Bookings: 04 802 4175
Tickets: Adult $20, Conc. $14, Group 6+ $14
Duration: 1 hour 

Date:  Fri 11 – Sat 12 May, 10.30pm
Venue: Wintergarden, The Civic,  Cnr Wellesley & Queen St
Tickets:  Adult $25 Conc. $20, Group 6+ $20
Duration: 1 hour 30 mins +

For a full line up of performances, booking details &more information, visit  

Dates & Times: 2 – 6 April, 9pm 
Venue: Basement Theatre Studio, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland CBD
Prices*: $20
*Booking fees may apply
Book Now  

Nelson Arts Festival 2013

The Granary Festival Café
Fri 25 Oct 9pm
GA Seating
Earlybird $20, Full $25
Plus service fee
Book Now »  

Tauranga Arts Festival 2013

Baycourt X-Space
Sat 26 Oct, 9pm

Auckland, 2011 - Barnie Duncan

Comedy Festival 2012 & 2013 return season: Barnie Duncan and Trygve Wakenshaw  


Serious silliness delivered with a goofy humility

Review by Gin Mabey 27th Oct 2013

Don’t expect to leave this show with sober information about a by-gone era… but  definitely expect some great gags and two lovably gawky performers.

The experience starts on entry into the space. A tall, bearded actor in a toga saunters over and gives every audience member a grape or two. He has instant charisma and is fun to watch before the show starts; he has some great dance moves. The upbeat music sets a party scene, and the initial interaction with the cheeky actor (Trygve Wakenshaw) lets us know that it is ok to relax as an audience member and he wants us to have a good time. 

The newly-transformed exhibition space in Tauranga’s Baycourt Theatre is very simply set: a table and couch. It’s hard to know at first, where the show is heading, if you hadn’t already read about it. Trygve is prancing about and giving us permission to have as much fun as he seems to be, but Barnie Duncan sits, composed and quiet, so perhaps this will transform in to a reasonably straight show? This is not the case. Barnie meets the toga dress-code eventually and the two begin to work together with hilarious results. They introduce the general theme of the show by belting ‘Constantinople is Istanbul’ with impressive strength. 

I become rather aware that I am in the very front row… I prepare myself for some audience interaction… but I won’t give it away. 

At one point, during an account of a horse and his physiotherapist, Barnie accidentally kicks his fellow actor in the… sensitive area… No-one can mark them down for breaking into laughter as red-faced Trygve lies crouched for a good twenty seconds. If this is a staged effect, it is done remarkably well. 

The show really shines when the jokes go further and further into ‘cringe’ territory, where an all-or-nothing approach seems to have been taken. There are ghosts, a tie-asp and a fruity bomb… These boys know how to find a good pun.

I think the show could be taken further in terms of physical comedy and use of the space; I don’t think there is danger of going ‘too’ far. The actors suit the absurd and can afford to push it further – but that is purely my curiosity speaking! The show is great as it is but it’s fun to imagine what else these guys have up their sleeve as a team. 

I had read these boys referred to as “lovely idiots” and it is very fitting. It is great to watch two actors take their performance seriously… But they are serious about delivering silliness, and present it to their audience with a goofy humility.


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Crazy, zany and off the wall slapstick

Review by Gail Tresidder 26th Oct 2013

The large audience is in stitches from the outset.  Perhaps it is Wakenshaw’s ridiculous wig – rather like the horsehair birds-nests trailing tail feathers latterly worn by barristers in court – and maybe just that it is the start of a holiday weekend and we are feeling free and light-hearted. Whatever, we eat the proffered grape instead of saving it – traditional symbol of an orgy ahead – and settle back to laugh. 

These two lovely idiots have been compared to the Monty Python Circus lovely idiots.   Yes, their seemingly spontaneous craziness, actually very slickly timed, is similar.   One also recalls the delicious Frankie Howard in the BBC telly series Up Pompeii.  Maybe it is the togas but this daft-as-a-brush pair with their silly gags are of the same ilk.  Mad as a snake – and fittingly, as in every Greco /Roman drama (think Cleopatra) an asp, aka a tie, makes its hissing appearance.  

Duncan is a marvellous steed, pawing the ground, tossing his mane, whinnying and making other horse-like noises.  He is the emperor’s favourite chariot-racer, Trimming Beard and, poor equus, is on a salt-lick diet. We have more total tomfoolery – on it goes.  Duncan, this time as Constantine’s favourite dj, demonstrates sleight-of-hand with his switching of turntables in the local disco, immaculately coinciding with the recorded sound.  His pot-pourri of genres morphs in to a rousing version of ‘The Hallelujah Chorus’.  Oh wonderful, how daft.  

Ties manifest themselves in various forms, notably on an arm, indicating which of the pair is giving “the lecture” of spurious historical facts.  It is loose and it is lovely. 

Forlorn flax leaves are a feature of the set – homespun and suitably rough – perhaps the boys knocked it up themselves. And a large pepper-mill does splendid service in various forms, some rather risqué.  It is a pity that the action has to compete with loud music from the adjacent Festival venue but it doesn’t mar the whole.  Duncan and Wakenshaw just carry on being clever fools and making us laugh.   

Slightly out of my comfort zone, I still really enjoy this clever lunacy and, judging from their smiling faces at the end of the show, so does everyone else. It is crazy, zany and off the wall slapstick. 


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Grape fun

Review by Matt Baker 06th Apr 2013

Constantinople has a rich and impressive history, a history that is manhandled to fit the mold for Trygve Wakenshaw and Barnie Duncan’s show of the same name. Though some of the facts are true, the majority of the storyline is warped to accommodate a series of bizarre scenes including a horse and his physiotherapist, Rod Stewart, and a DJ and the eponymous Constantine himself. 

Wakenshaw is a superb comedic performer, with great physical articulation. His playfulness on stage is constantly endearing, allowing the audience to easily accept the absurdity of his performance. Duncan starts off with a slightly more measured approach, and ingratiates himself as the show progresses, especially with the role of the irreverently flambouyant Constantine. The two work cohesively together, though neither could be considered the straight man in this comedic duo. [More


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Masterful amateurism

Review by Nik Smythe 03rd Apr 2013

We are welcomed at the door with grapes (the alleged international symbol of the orgy) by a tall bearded fellow (Trygve Wakenshaw) sporting an ancient Roman tunic and a crappy blond wig.  Another chap in a blue tracksuit (Barnie Duncan) reads a newspaper – of some Oriental persuasion for some reason (or not) – as we cross the stage and take our seats.

The set is evidently constructed from everyday objects found around the house such as a comfy looking settee and a pepper grinder, and embellished by a gigantic wall-hanging reproduction of the iconic poster image of Duncan as the semi-titular emperor Constantine, aptly posed to resemble Jesus, Elvis and Che Guevara in equal measures. 

In his clumsily articulated and broadly parodic of amateur physical theatre-style, Wakenshaw invites us to follow him into the past to learn textured history of the last great city of the Roman Empire. Given that a large degree of us Westerners were initially introduced to said history by that classic swing number ‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’, arguably one of the world’s catchiest tunes, it’s appropriate that it be employed as it is as a sort of theme song. 

Whenever Duncan dons any of a varied selection of ingenious necktie props, he is in the role of documentary presenter linking each successive, increasingly absurd scene with historical narration.  The most basic points are quite authentic – the dates and geographic location, Constantine’s conversion to Christianity and so on.  In contrast, virtually every other detail is not so much dubious, as complete and literal nonsense.

Thus it is quickly apparent that anything is possible and nothing predictable as the anachronistic chronicle is told through the stories of various key historic figures of the time – Constantine himself, his prize racehorse, his favourite nightclub DJ and so on – and the whole anarchic exposition liberally infused with joyously crap miming and uncompromising dad jokes. 

I presume the ingloriously home-spun production design, from the pseudo-elaborate model city to the eclectic music and comical sound effects et al, are the work of the cast as there are no production credits for them, nor indeed any technical crew or director.

More than any company I’ve known, Theatre Beating’s productions evoke the unbridled passion of a bunch of holidaying children putting on plays for their aunties and granddads in the living room, using whatever comes to hand for costumes and props and allowing the direction of the action to ramble freely in whichever direction their train of thought might take them.  The uncompromising folly and masterful amateurism of Constantinople epitomises this approach.


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An Experience Not to be Missed (And If You Did, It’s Too Late, Shame on You)

Review by Rosabel Tan 15th May 2012

Crowded at the bottom of the stairs to the Wintergarden are a chorus of ladies (and a few men) in togas. As we descend, one of them kisses us on the cheek, another offers us grapes, and yet another points us towards our table, nestled in the centre of the cabaret-style seating.

Given the warm welcome, it’s unsurprising that the crowd are in lively spirits – it’s also late, and in true bacchanalian fashion the liquor is flowing and for a moment the atmosphere feels more party than pre-show, but then the lights dim and Barnie Duncan and Trygve Wakenshaw hit the stage. Kicking things off with a rendition of Istanbul (Not Constantinople), what follows is a loose history of this “city of syllables”, presented in a series of sketches that are charming and absurd in equal measure. [More]  


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An heroic rarity that puts the bizarre into Byzantine

Review by John Smythe 03rd May 2012

Theatre Beating’s Constantinople is truly a ‘you absolutely have to be there’ experience.  

If you read the script on paper – all action descriptions and dialogue included – you’d think it was silly, banal, meandering, contrived, absurd, and peppered with appalling puns. And it is.

But in the hands, or rather the entire bodies, of Barnie Duncan and Trygve Wakenshaw, it is sublimely silly, banal, meandering, contrived, absurd, and peppered with appalling puns.  

Constantinople began last year as a solo show, devised and performed by Duncan for the Auckland Fringe Festival, where it shared the STAMP award with The Sex Show. Then, as their website states, he ” took the show to London, where he and Wakenshaw re-worked and massaged it, creating an absurd and fresh two-hander that gained unanimous critical acclaim at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.” It played the Adelaide Fringe earlier this year too.

We get a grape reception on arrival from lanky, blonde-wigged Wakeshaw. Is the suited and bespectacled man (Duncan) sitting on a Roman chaise – awaiting an orgy perhaps? [Tip: hold on to you grape; you may need it later.]

Their early and later renditions of ‘Constantinople is Istanbul‘ (recorded by The Four Lads in 1953) set the tone with a melodious strength and confidence that compels us to trust what’s happening even when we have no idea what it means or where it fits. It’s arguably a dangerous talent to have but they use it with integrity (or have I been mesmerised into saying that?).

While they constantly remind us, and themselves, they are acting (a ye olde post-modern deconstruction device beloved of physical theatre exponents), the odd dramatised sequence does manage to achieve some coherence. Snippets of actual history slip through too, not least thanks to Duncan’s tie-wearing narrator. Indeed the ingenious manifestation of ties to denote this role is but one of many memorable examples of their skills.

Other times the trippy visit to Emperor Constantine’s idylls plays second fiddle to those theatrical presentation skills. Duncan’s evocation of a horse called Tremorbeard (sp?), then Kyle, then back again, is brilliant, and Wakenshaw’s DJ is superbly synchronised with the soundtrack (no programme so design and operator credits cannot be given; the media release does not even name the actor/devisors – I had to go to their website to check those details).

As for the peppering (beware the ‘sss…knees’ gag) … Let’s just say the spice trade-cum-drug trade is as old and honourable a tradition as slavery and raves (a.k.a. Bacchanalian orgies). Peter, Paul and Mary get a mention (it’s biblical), an apple and mushroom prove the bomb, and togas are ghostly reminders that nothing truly dies.

[Spoiler warning?]
Only in the ‘curtain call’ do we learn the secret that reveals the logic behind all that has gone before: Trygve Wakenshaw is Sir Edmund Hillary and Barnie Duncan is a jar of Marmite. I mention this because you may enjoy it even more if you know this upfront, although there is no guarantee the premise won’t change. [ends]

So there you have it: an heroic rarity that puts the bizarre into Byzantine. 


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Utterly beguiling head spinner

Review by Lillian Richards 05th Mar 2011

Constantinople is part history lesson, part vision of lunacy. Barnie Duncan’s pseudo one man show (there are a couple of extra actors in togas offering harmonizing back up vocals and the odd conversation) is an amusing and off-kilter look at one of the most famous cities in the history of man.

The way Duncan sweetly skids over the facts pertaining to Constantinople is delightful and his delivery is amusingly reverential when he dotes on Constantinople being a “city of people living in dwellings.” Switching from one character to another, all expressions of both the real and the imaginary, and the boarder where the two meet, the audience watches their seemingly unrelated (by normal means) stories unfold.

The overall effect is charming and utterly beguiling. What just happened? A fringe festival event is what – a moment in time so left-of-centre it questions all concepts of theatre from linear devices to plot to timing and pace. But you know what? That’s what’s so good about The Fringe Festival, it offers a space for the strange. It opens a door to a whole other universe, where theatre expands to do all the things it was told it couldn’t do. Sometimes the failures are bigger than the successes but the point is in the expansion.

Constantinople breaks rules, shares knowledge, has fun and spins your head a little. Things could be worse.

[Apologies that illness has caused this review to be delayed – ed.]

This review kindly supported by The James Wallace Arts Trust

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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