Happy (Cnr Tory & Vivian), Wellington

02/02/2010 - 06/02/2010

Production Details

It’s 2010. It’s 2012. It’s 2020.

Linda and Bede work for minimum wage in telecommunications. Financial reality is closing in on Woman and her Playwright. And Madeline and Nick can’t stop saving for a future that never arrives.

Will they find a way out?

Green Shoots Productions presents three new works on the "money crisis" by Wellington playwrights Jo Holsted, Melody Nixon and Ruby Topo. The three are joined by renowned Wellington musician Jeff Henderson who will direct Nixon’s text.

The plays feature Anna Edgington, Lyndsey Garner, Dominic Da Souza, Walter McGinnis, Liz Kirkman and Jonny Potts.

There will be musical accompaniment by the lovely Hermione Johnson and Nell Thomas.
The whole evening promises to be a "sumptuous delight" for the eyes and ears.

February 2 – 6, 7pm, Happy
Bookings: or ph: 3850990
Tickets: $15 / $10   

Currency: 3 short plays by 3 Wellington writers

Stranger Things by Jo Holsted
Director & Designer:
Jo Holsted
Anna Edgington
Gordon Walter McGinnis
Bede Jonny Potts
Natalia Lyndsey Garner

In the Red
by Ruby Topo
Director & Designer Ruby Topo
Liz Kirkman
Playwright:  Jonny Potts
Superwoman:  Anna Edgington
Golden Boy:  Dominic Da Souza

First June
by Melody Nixon
Director & Designer: Jeff Henderson
Lyndsey Garner
Nick: Walter McGinnis
June:  Liz Kirkman
President’s Subject:  Dominic Da Souza

Ruby Topo, Melody Nixon
Publicist: Melody Nixon
Lighting: Isaac Smith
Music: Hermione Johnson, Nell Thomas

Mixed bag

Review by Uther Dean 15th Feb 2010

Currency is a collection of three short plays about the personal and interpersonal effects of the financial crisis. Played out in the gloriously scratchy and dim nook that is Happy. It is a night of deep inconsistencies but not a wholly unrewarding one.

The clear striving for a state of rough and ready pure creativity often melts down into a vagueness or even occasionally and most deadly amateurishness that does not become the clearly radical intentions of the works on display. Above all else, and before we discuss the shows individually, it should be noted that the proceedings seemed to just need more time, just another ten days in rehearsal. There was a rushed air to the evening that rode the line between charming and irritating very closely.

The trilogy begins with Stranger Things… written and directed by Jo Holstead. It tells the story of a new in-take of cold callers at a service that mails wine to people. They are Bede (Jonny Potts) so busy raging against the state that his encroaching poverty has forced him into phone slinging as part of that very same machine, Natalia (Lyndsey Garner), a Russian who sits around smoking and being slavic and, finally, the Protagonista (Anna Edgington) whose name is definitely not Linda. She seems to have a little bit of a scheme going on.

We also meet their supervisor and trainer Gordon (Walter McGinnis), a man so enthused by the world around him that one starts to suspect that he would high five a spilt bowl of porridge for being just the right viscosity to ruin his carpet.

It is NotLinda’s mysterious scheme that drives the plot towards a rather tediously flippant ending. Stranger Things… is, rather sadly, easily the weakest show of the evening. Most things about it scream slap dash. The script seems to be a first draft in rabid need of other eyes. The set and lights are bland and ugly. The transitions are non-existent. The performances are uncommitted. The characters are two dimensional and are hard to care about. It does sparkle occasionally with moments of real wit, they just tend to hidden under a slurry of bleh.

The second show is Ruby Topo’s In the Red, an abstracted meditation on the effects of money on relationships. Woman (Liz Kirkman) is working for the government and in a dying relationship with Playwright (Jonny Potts) who, having come from a desperate artist world of $500 budgets and community centres, has been commissioned to write a great patriotic play for mass performance. The Superwoman (Anna Edgington) is sent by the government to inspire the Playwright with either drugs or sex.

All through this the Woman is having second thoughts and an affair with the Golden Boy (Dominic Da Souza). In the Red is easily the highlight of the evening. Topo’s script is witty and thoughtful, if occasionally long-winded. Her direction is inspired in its evocation of the mundane surrealities of urban existence. It does however occasionally dip a bit too deeply into madness, risking its connection with the audience. The performances are delightfully mannered and executed with special mentions going to Liz Kirkman and Jonny Potts, their shared scenes are the real stand out moments of the evening.

The final work is First June by Melody Nixon, directed by Jeff Henderson. Set in a New Zealand totalitarianally obsessed with saving money. We see the particular effects of this onset of hysterical fiscal conservatives on one couple – Madeline (Lyndsey Garner), who will occasionally talk to an Albatross (Liz Kirkman), and Nick (Walter McGinnis). They are payed several visits by a Penguin (Dominic Da Souza) who works for the government. Then things get serious.

First June has moments of real inspiration as Nixon’s works perfectly mesh with Henderson’s delightfully idiosyncratic direction. The performances also add a real emotional weight with some moments, especially those shared with the audience, being truly touching. The main trouble is that it makes its point too early and then hangs around too long for comfort.

Also, the dialogue will often switch from a satisfying Lynchian dream into what seems to a television programme designed for children with autism. First June has lots of potential and would be well worth revisiting for all involved.

The lights for all three shows were done by Isaac Smith who did a passably fine job with some real moments of inspiration later on. The music was by Nell Thomas and Hermione Johnson and was a delight.

Currency was just too much of a mixed bag to outright recommend but there will be a worthwhile future in the further exploration of the works, especially the latter two.  
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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Dealing with the currency of life

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 04th Feb 2010

Three short plays by three young playwrights and all on the same subject is something of a novelty, particularly as the subject is one that, Roger Hall apart in The Share Club and After the Crash, our playwrights have barely touched on. The subject of the plays is money.

Jo Holsted’s Stranger Things, Ruby Topo’s In the Red, and Melody Nixon’s First June are all much the same length, written and performed in much the same style, and performed by six actors, each of whom appears in two of the plays.

The three plays are performed in the cramped Happy Bar, with the audience seated on an eclectic range of chairs and stools which are placed in front of and side-on to the tiny bare stage and also surrounding a small but effective group of musicians who provide an array of strange sound effects.

While watching the plays I kept feeling I was in some sort of time warp and then it struck me when in First June four characters marched on with polystyrene radios strapped to their heads and chanting “Save!”

It was similar to what used to be called experimental theatre or committed theatre or political theatre or alternative theatre in which the acting was broad, the production values simple, the effects (posters with slogans, masks, and songs) would be described as Brechtian and the themes would definitely be slanted with a left-wing message.

There are, however, in Currency no clear political messages though the publicity states the plays are “un-apologetically political” in their attempt to deal with the impact of the Global financial crisis on the lives of ordinary people including, in In the Red, a playwright who has been commissioned to write a play celebrating the Government’s debt reduction. Needless to say the playwright has writer’s block.

While Stranger Things is an amusing yarn about a latter-day female Robin Hood working in the telecommunications industry, and In the Red is a weird tale of a woman and her blocked playwright, First June introduces Theatre of the Absurd touches with an albatross and a penguin playing important roles in a play about saving.

While the plays are at times a little too conscious of trying to be different, they are at least about something that affects everyone all the time.
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. 


Lucien Johnson February 8th, 2010

comment now posted on John Smythe's review


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Committed performances save naïve works

Review by John Smythe 03rd Feb 2010

These three short plays collectively capture the angst of twenty-somethings whose individuality, creativity and idealism become subsumed by the ‘earn money’ imperative. It’s a syndrome that afflicts us all.

Stranger Things, written and directed by Jo Holsted, finds three diverse characters working in the ‘Wine Suite’ call centre for $13.60 per hour. They are less than motivated by pep-talks from team leader Gordon (unconvincingly played by Walter McGinnis).

The disaffected philosophy graduate Bede, offended at having to work there, is nailed nicely by Jonny Potts. Lyndsey Garner’s go-getting Russian illegal immigrant Natalia is an interesting law unto herself.

The mystery is in the apparent pleasure the multi-named ‘Protagonista’ – brightly sketched by Anna Edgington – gains from the job, until Bede gleans her scam. Suffice to say there’s a modern-day ‘Robin Hood’ essence in the plot that aims to challenge your ethical values.

The premise of In the Red, written & directed by Ruby Tupo, is that a Playwright (Jonny Potts) has been commissioned to write a play about the government’s success in reducing debt, to be presented at the Prime Minister’s Ball (yeah right). Despite having “300 Facebook friends”, he unaccountably works on a manual typewriter, which allows him to add a little to the mainly percussive live music of Hermione Johnson and Nell Thomas.

The Playwright engages with a Woman in blue (Liz Kirkman), an ex-girlfriend who struggles with “the money crisis” but seems able to afford top-shelf booze all the same; and with a woman in red, credited as Superwoman (Anna Edgington), sent by the Ministry of Cultural Development, who is “red hot all the time” and in the habit of offering happy pills.

Golden Boy (Dominic Da Souza) is her protégée … and while the plot, as such, becomes very muddled, the actors rise valiantly to the challenge, impressing especially with stylised slapping and invisible ‘string-pulling’ of the drugged-out writer. 

Melody Nixon’s First June subverts itself early on with the assertion that on the first of June “half the year is over” (no, that would be 1st July).

Director Jeff Henderson brings a retro-1970s agit-prop sensibility (a-la-Red Mole?) to the work, opening with actors marching about wearing polystyrene box headgear representing radios and chanting “Save! Save! Save!” Apparently this mesmerising message is working, which is winning the approval of The President, in some sort of strange economy that doesn’t require the stimulus of people spending as well.

Madeline (Lyndsey Gardner) and Nick (Walter McGinnis) represent the beleaguered people. Liz Kirkman – in excellent physical and vocal form – is June the Albatross (I assume the ambiguity of this metaphor, as a cursed ‘millstone’ and a symbol of flight and freedom is intended). Dominic Da Souza brings his Le Coq-trained skills to the President’s Subject (the penguin) from ‘Savings and Investigations’, poking his beak into their accounts to expose evidence of spending.

Meanwhile slogans are back-painted on a butcher’s paper backdrop to effectively punctuate the action with flashed on back-light. And the musicians add to the theatrical impact of a play that actually has little to say beyond its unconvincing bleat.

Overall, opening night was undermined by a sloppiness in presenting the package as a whole. And given that the promise of “
three new works on the ‘money crisis’” had me anticipating penetrating political satire on a theme that touches us all, I am left somewhat dismayed at the poor grip all three playwrights have on their chosen subject. In short: naïve works somewhat saved by some splendidly committed performances.
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Lucien February 9th, 2010

mmm yes palate exactly.

So abstraction is ok but only if it meets certain tangible criteria with regards to content? I feel like you've just proved my point for me.

John Smythe February 8th, 2010

Absurdism is relative, Lucien. As with satire, it only works if we can locate ‘reality’ in the mix somewhere. In essence, absurdism requires a logical premise to be taken to an absurd conclusion or vice versa. An absurd – or non-credible – premise taken to an even more absurd conclusion offers no critique of our society although such a journey into the fantastical can have value in itself. I was simply unable to recognise what was being critiqued, lampooned or satirised in the second and third plays.

On your second point, I don’t think there is much evidence that critics on this site fear or dislike non-naturalistic theatre. Quite the reverse.  I mean nothing pejorative by “
retro-1970s agit-prop sensibility (a-la-Red Mole?)”  But when form obscures rather than illuminates content, or appears the be an end in itself rather than a means, I tend to feel frustrated, confused and/or and disappointed.  

[PS:  assume you mean palate, not pallet …]

Lucien February 8th, 2010

A couple of questions for you John:  why is a naive approach to this subject matter such a disagreeable thing for your pallet? Isn't one of the points that most of us do feel terribly naive in the face of what the governments and economists tell us when they throw billions of dollars at saving the banks? Personally I felt the third play in particular celebrated naivity, as an absurdist reaction to the rationalism and logic being dished out by the governments which those of us without a PHD in economics have little ability to understand.

Secondly why is it that whenever there is a local work which has elements of stylisation, as in the second play, or even absurdism, as in the third, then reviewers seem to have these nervous twitching reactions?  Naivety, self-indulgence, pretentiousness, 70's avant-garde, all the cliches come out of the closet at some point.  Would you really prefer that all our theatre is just Circa-esque realism?  Can form itself not contain a message, convey an emotion?  Or should theatre just be about the text and the actor?

Michael Wray February 8th, 2010

The third play, First June, represented savings as something you weren't ever allowed to have access to. That's not savings but taxation. That could explain why the depicted economy required no stimulus. It seemed to present a Command Economy entirely funded out of 100% taxation, complete with inspectors and penalties for evasion and depicting a government using propaganda to disguise complete taxation as "savings". Perhaps the play was a plea for market economics with the competing demands of spending/saving left to individual choice. On the other hand, perhaps it's a generation thing and our younger generations, as represented here, simply see saving as a tax?

I quite enjoyed the first play. The "Robin Hood" plot depicted has been used in real life, most amusingly to meet a challenge Jeremy Clarkson once set in a newspaper column,

helen varley jamieson February 6th, 2010

plays don't have to revolve around how characters feel & why they do what they do in order to "work". these were plays about ideas, more than characters - ideas about art, romance, community - & money.

rather than having a "poor grip" on the subject of money, these three unashamedly young & un-jaded playwrights have excelled in reflecting back to us the absurdity of our economic "reality" and the ways that it distorts our lives. unfortunately, we live in a schizophrenic world that exhorts us to save on the one hand, while enticing us to spend beyond our means on the other; where our worth as productive human beings is measured with bits of paper and computer-generated numbers that vanish much more easily than they are accumulated; and where art, romance, and community are barely valued at all.

i really enjoyed these plays. not once did i think "i know where this is going" and then watch the plot unfold in a predictable way - unlike so many nights at the theatre. i didn't have time to think about where the stories were going, because they were already going there, with surprises thrown in along the way. & there was very little twenty-something angst. despite the potential for doom, gloom and hand-wringing despair, these writers opted for humour, passion and absurdity. it was refreshing to see; perhaps it takes a youthful eye to get beyond the need for penetrating political satire and say something honest about our realities.

John Smythe February 4th, 2010

“Passionately upset”? I think you may be projecting there, Melody. Where the non-naturalistic physicality worked for me, I mentioned it. Much of the time I found it meaningless, intrusive and rather pretentious. Such “movement, style and choreography” does little to illuminate why the characters do as they do and how they feel about it, which is somewhat key to making plays work.

Melody Nixon February 4th, 2010

Thanks for your, er, passionately upset review John.  I do hope you managed to recover and get a good sleep that night. ;)

As insurmountable a challenge as it may seem, I think you do need to give credit where it's due, in terms of the directors -- Jo Holsted, Ruby Topo, Jeff Henderson -- whose committed direction has brought out the tremendous physicality and strength of the actors' performances.  While the wonderful cast members are accomplished and naturally talented to boot, the movement, style and choreography was devised by the directors and their input into the final effect shouldn't be dismissed.

While it may not save the plays in your eyes, it's the heightened performance and visceral feel of the shows that we're going for (particularly in the latter two pieces) and I think this works rather well. 


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