Cringeworthy - Swinging in the 60s!

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

01/04/2023 - 29/04/2023

Production Details

Devised by Andrea Sanders

The Beatgirls

Cringeworthy – Swinging in the ’60s!
By Andrea Sanders
Presented by BeatGirl Productions

A psychedelic blast from the past!

Cringeworthy is back, transporting you to the GROOVIEST era of all, the swinging ’60s!

Following on from Cringeworthy the ’70s and ’80s, this show is a FAR-OUT tribute to Kiwiana music and culture in the ’60s.

With just one TV channel, shows such as Let’s Go, C’Mon and Happen Inn were all the rage, with top acts such as Mr Lee Grant, Dinah Lee, The Chicks, Alison Durban and John Rowles performing a mix of local and international hits.

Presented by our very own ‘Mod Father’ Ray Columbus and the smoothest of smooth, Pete Sinclair, Kiwis had a BLAST as a smorgasboard of songs hit the screens! Along with homegrown hits, be prepared to hear your FAB favourites from iconic overseas acts such as The Beatles, Tom Jones, Petula Clark, The Seekers, Nancy Sinatra and more, as a musical journey takes us back to a time so vastly different to today.

If you’re SWITCHED ON then TUNE IN, break out your Beehives and Beatleboots and get ready to Go go. Do the TWIST, do the SWIM, do the DUCK, do the PONY, do whatever you like as long as you do it at Cringeworthy the ’60s.


“A swinging affair, equal parts fast paced and hilarious!”

“Fab choreography, psychedelic costumes and a sizzlingly snazzy vocal quartet”

“Memory lane has never looked this good, forget Dancing in the Street, you’ll be dancing in your seat”

1–29 April
Circa One
Tues – Thurs 6.30pm, Fri – Sat 8pm, Sun 4pm
$30 – $55

Starring: Jthan Morgan, Jared Pallesen, Rebecca Ansell, Andrea Sanders, Amadee Wilson, Annabella Milburn
Set designer: Scott Maxim
Lighting designers: Mitch Sigley, Gabriella Eaton
Technician: Neal Barber

Dance-theatre , Musical , Theatre ,

2 hours including 15 min intermission

Smooth, confident, quality pop – enthralling and memorable

Review by Dave Smith 02nd Apr 2023

Cringeworthy, after previously addressing the ’70s and ’80s is now back with a stunning dissection of the ’60s. I saw it last night but am still tingling. At one stage I felt the theatre was going to slip into the harbour and motor across to Eastbourne driven by waves of audience enthusiasm. This is the feel good show to beat them all.

Devised and directed by Beat Girls star and mastermind Andrea Sanders, Cringeworthy is yet another inspired scoop way down into our late-colonial social history via popular music. It tells, sings, dances across those 10 hinge years when New Zealand started to join the less inhibited world of “letting it all hang out” and having fun before wooden box time.

Personally, I had experienced the first three years of the 60s in nascent Swinging Britain where irreverent Beatlemania had dissolved the feet of clay of the hitherto snooty musical and social establishments. There were Merseybeat groups practically performing in telephone booths across the land. I played keyboards in a private songs-with-grog-and-bingo club. With a drummer I became used to backing 55 year olds with bald spots (and naff names like Brad Stephens) murdering All my Lovin’. They were just about putting Merseysound in the tea by then.

On my arrival in Godzone I detected a major step back. The country was still, emotionally, mired in the 50s. The prevailing zeitgeist had stuck with dour All Blacks rucking their pitiless way upfield in World War One fashion (“never mind the ball get on with the game”). That was the height of couth. Singers of bubble gum love songs were just Grade A “poofters”.  Grim-faced marching girls were drilling to whistled commands. Enter TV, stage left.

As this show rightly points out, infant television was the unlikely artistic catalyst. It made the impossible possible and on a national scale. (Oddly derided by the national rugby side that refused to have live TV tests and wrote to the NZBC moaning there was “too much soccer” on the box). Working out of cramped tiny studios with derisory budgets the local singers and dancers had an unassailable leg-in to our TV screens: the entire world was happlily drowning in Brit and revitalized US pop. (Like World War two, it was in all the papers.) Vulgar it may be but … there was no alternative.

At the middle of this uniquely NZ situation is where Ms Sanders has astutely positioned the First Act; one which abounds with visual cleverness and smart theatrical choices. The Scott Maxim TV studio set is unashamedly basic with a cheeky nod to the rather ill-shaped woodwork that was the hallmark of trailblazer C’mon. It had that No8 fencing wire ambience and, of course, was in harsh 625-line black and white. That stark pop art structure of 60 years ago reappears miraculously before our eyes along with the Tip Top Trumpet monochrome swirl marking out the dance floor. The costumes glaringly match this severe vision. It is like being on the spot in the studio as the team belts out the first salvoes of Kiwis having a go, at something other than rucks and lineouts.

Overall the two act piece features around 25 songs (only three of which are in a medley). Entire songs are very properly, the general rule. Of the ones in the first Act about half were recorded by local artists (Dinah Lee, Ray Columbus, Allison Durban, Mr Lee Grant, Maria Dallas and The Chicks) but that was the way it was; the rest feature The Beatles, Seekers, Hollies and their exalted likes. All but a tiny handful of these are rendered, in my view, more powerfully than by the original artists.

I particularly appreciate that no list of songs features in the show programme. With consummate shrewdness Ms Sanders decided that they appear in a flyer for pick-up after the show; thus avoiding the pitfall of making the show a retrospective visual ‘album’. Serendipity reigns throughout. (I will maintain her sharp insight as best I can in this review).

The tunes are underscored by two pulsating go-go dancers (Amedee Wilson and Annnabella Milburn) and interspersed with elucidating chat emphasising that so many of our budding mini-stars of the 60 were whizzed over to Oz where they were in serious demand. There is impressive research dropped into all this but it never feels preachingly academic or mere padding. Who knew, for instance, that Ray Columbus might actually have joined US group The Monkees had the moon spun slightly differently? Either way, we eventually lost promising performers Grant, Durban, Dallas and Lee to ‘overseas’. C’est la vie – as well as a back-handed compliment.

This first Act and its bold television format is a staging challenge. While its studio look is engagingly authentic it poses questions in maintaining interest, absent multiple camera viewpoints and dynamics. Dance as frenetically as you may, and they do, but you could risk the stage wide vista seeming static. But it doesn’t. That is because the well-conceived lighting plot and the skilled use of the stage lays a robust platform for thunderously delivered songs; numbers that simply blow the audience away.

I have never experienced a version of one particular Helen Shapiro number as strongly toe-tapping and uplifting as this one. It is a revelation. The opening Lulu number at the start has been delivered with full-on pace while the Four Seasons piece provokes squeals of delight and chills down the spine as it ricochets between accurate falsetto and hard booming bass.

Act Two takes me completely by surprise. The calculatedly stark black-and-white Act One set becomes suffused with kaleidoscopic warm colours. The whole feel changes. Gone are the Quant-style black and white mini clothing. In come second wave sophisticated hippy clobber: Momma Cass wig and gown, orange leather cap and the white Humperdinck suit so becoming of pop royalty.

It creates a more reflective base. Thought replaces vigour but with no appreciable loss of energy. Now, instead of the authors weaponising it with an overwhelming wall-of-sound number we get two sets of sweetly nostalgic harmonies and pop philosophising. It is to be all offshore artists now. The polished but angst-ridden world of Simon & Garfunkel, the caramel flowing rich baritones of Humperdinck/Rowles.

The beat veers up then rockets down. The almost constant backing track works wonders. It invites the crowd to join in the fun whereupon the whole theatre becomes the show – an indoor Woodstock. The rock classics lift the roof and the multi generation punters join in. The Ray Charles encore piece is utterly breath-taking.

This is impressive teamwork, great stage design, seasoned plotting of moves and visual nous on a grand scale. Along with ‘auteur’ Andrea Sanders (who lives and breathes the bizzo) we have a dedicated and hard-working cast. They never miss a beat and treat each number as an opportunity to impart another attitude ‘of certain time and place’ that makes two hours in theatre reveal ten years of our now disappearing lives.

Jthan Morgan is by turns facilitator, subtle and sly commentator but most of all a toppermost of the poppermost singer. Jared Pallesen and Rebecca Ansell fit in beautifully to all sound and movement ensuring that all six cylinders never stop firing (the former bravely rendering Mr Lee Grant’s star song under a bombardment of women’s underwear).  

So much of the atmosphere and the social viewpoints depend on the tech element. Mitch Sigley and Gabrielle Eaton deserve special praise for the lighting design. The huge investment in this and the other staging aspects ofCringeworthy Swinging in the 60s are reflected in the fact that the crews involved total more than cast onstage. No mean commitment of effort, that.

Andrea Sanders herself figures in no less than four vital production aspects ranging from costumes to choreography (also a proud team effort).  Georgia Davenport’s stage management is impeccable. This show feels like a smooth confident last night of a long run not a first.

Every empty seat between now and 29 April is a missed opportunity to savour an important facet of our national and inner life. One that was partly scrapped over in seedy back rooms in a fledgling television service and came out the other side in mature good heart. On the world vista, the affection that quality pop has engendered across so many years is quietly evident is this enthralling and memorable slice of theatre.  Just watch the singers’ rapt faces as they sing it.


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