BATS Theatre, Wellington

22/10/2015 - 31/10/2015


Production Details

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past” – William Faulkner 

NZ and Australian youth collaborate on new ANZAC Play  

“How is ANZAC significant and relevant to young people in NZ and Australia 100 years on?”

This is the question explored in an exciting new trans-Tasman youth theatre collaboration Dead Men’s Wars, commissioned by BATS Theatre as the STAB production for 2015.

Wellington’s Long Cloud Youth Theatre and Canberra Youth Theatre are top theatre companies for young people in New Zealand and Australia. They are working together for the first time on a new script by award-winning playwright Ralph McCubbin Howell.

Dead Men’s Wars is a fast-paced contemporary perspective on the ANZAC tradition that boldly challenges how we remember the First World War. Brett Adam, Artistic Director of Long Cloud Youth Theatre and director of the work, has his own insights into the ANZAC relationship having moved to New Zealand from Australia in 2011.

“Young people of both countries lack personal connection to the events of WWI as the Gallipoli experience slowly retreats into memory,” says Mr Adam, “but they have the ability to question more and accept things at face value less. This is at the heart of Ralph’s play.” 

This is the 20th year of BATS Theatre’s annual STAB commission which has seen the birth of memorable productions like Live at Six and Apollo 13: Mission Control.

“This is the first time that a STAB production has been created internationally,” explains BATS Programme Manager Cherie Jacobson. “It’s been really exciting to see the creative process taking place on either side of the Tasman, and this year’s WW100 commemorations make this an incredibly relevant new work. It’s a real ANZAC cultural exchange.”

Development workshops have been held in both Wellington and Canberra over the past 12 months. Three Long Cloud actors and their director have been to Australia for final rehearsals and the Canberra premiere, before heading back to Wellington ahead of the NZ premiere alongside members of the Canberra Youth Theatre company.

Dead Men’s Wars opens at BATS Theatre on Friday 23 October at 7.30pm. Tickets can be booked online at

Dead Men’s Wars was originally commissioned by Canberra Youth Theatre, Australia with the support of Australia Council and artsACT and the ANZAC Centenary Arts and Culture Fund, and Long Cloud Youth Theatre, Wellington, New Zealand with the support of BATS Theatre through STAB 2015 and WW100 funded by Creative New Zealand. 

23-31 October, 7:30pm 
BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington 
TICKETS: $18/25  
BOOKINGS: | | 04 802 4175 

Canberra Youth Theatre season:  
14 – 17 OCTOBER 2015  

Bella Guarrera:  Lori
Lydia Buckley-Gorman:  Helen | Second Nurse
Liam Kelly:  Owen | Second Soldier
Andrew Eddey:  Darryn
Nathalie Morris:  Charlie | First Nurse
Richard Cotta:  Kip | First Soldier
Bella Austin, Alex Tunui, Keegan Bragg, Liam Whitney, Kirsten Jongsma:  NZ Ensemble

Ralph McCubbin Howell:  Playwright
Brett Adam:  Director | LCYT Artistic Director
Lily della Porta:  Assistant Director
Katie Cawthorne:  CYT Artistic Director | Assistant Director
Karla Conway:  Dramaturg
Show Pony:  Producer (New Zealand)
Johnboy Davidson:  Producer (Australia) | Production and Technical Manager
Todd Houston:  BATS Theatre Technical and Facilities Manager
Tony Black:  Lighting installation Assistant (New Zealand)
Alex Greig + Kiwa Conroy:   Set construction (New Zealand)
Christiane Nowak:  Costume and Set Designer
Niklas Pajanti:  Lighting Designer
Coleman Grehan:  Sound Designer
Michael Foley:  Lighting Operator
Samantha Pickering:  Graphic Design
Kate Llewellyn:  Graphic Design  

Youth , Theatre ,

Ensemble makes Wars a tale worth watching

Review by Ewen Coleman 27th Oct 2015

As the First World War commemorations march on, not all are concerned with acknowledging those who lost their lives fighting in the battlefields.  

There were many involved in the war who have often gone unnoticed, which is the central theme of the current STAB production at Bats – Dead Men’s Wars by Ralph McCubbin Howell.  And the irony of the title, as shown by the play, is that not all wars, either then or now, are about dead men.

A soldier helping his mate from the trenches at the opening and a pair of nurses attending to a wounded soldier at the close, bookend a youth’s perspective on the Gallipoli campaign. [More


Make a comment

Elusive theme undermines it

Review by John Smythe 24th Oct 2015

For as long as I can remember young people have used theatre to confront the heroic myths of war. Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop made a strong statement in 1963 with Oh, What a Lovely War and when Downstage did it in 1965 it was a huge hit, as was the Richard Attenborough-directed film (1969).

A decade earlier Australian playwright Alan Seymour had caused a stir with The One Day of the Year, in which a uni student critiqued the way returned servicemen celebrated Anzac Day. The Gallipoli campaign itself came under scrutiny in Sideshow by Leonard Radic, which I directed with Melbourne University students in 1971. A decade later the seminal film Gallipoli, written by David Williamson and directed by Peter Weir, premiered to great acclaim.

In New Zealand Maurice Shadbolt wrote Once on Chunuk Bair (1982) and that battle also featured in Capital E’s devised play An Awfully Big Adventure, directed by Leo Gene Peters (2014/15). A common theme in the Gallipoli stories was that British bungling put the ANZACs in an impossible position.

The heroic soldier myth has been further explored and debunked in theatre and dance with Shona McCullagh’s Rotunda, Jess Holly Bates’ Real Fake White Dirt, Jan Bolwell’s Bill Massey’s Tourists and her Crows Feet Dance Collective’s The Armed Man which also gave voice to the women back home.

Last year and this year Geoff Allen’s Sister Anzac exhumed the relatively forgotten story of nurses at Gallipoli while ABC TV profiled the nurses of the Australian Army Nursing Service at Gallipoli, with token mentions of New Zealand nurses.  Dave Armstrong’s Anzac Eve, which premiered at this year’s Festival of Colour, brought a Millennials’ perspective to the ANZAC Cove experience.

Now Ralph McCubbin Howell’s Dead Men’s Wars adds to the Gallipoli centenary commemorations with an Australia/ New Zealand coproduction between Canberra Youth Theatre and Wellington’s Long Cloud Youth Theatre, directed by Brett Adam and presented at BATS as this year’s sole STAB production.

The set, designed by Christiane Nowark, features angular slabs of wood over scaffolding that allows for two levels. This and three wooden boxes are adorned with young people reading and writing studiously as we take our seats, and it will become apparent they are wearing muslin gags and represent senior high school students competing in the competition that has won a select few a corporate-sponsored trip to the war memorial in Canberra thence, with their Australian counterparts, to Gallipoli.

The opening scene, between a Kiwi sergeant from the Canterbury plains and an Aussie digger in the trenches at Gallipoli, quickly deteriorates into a jingoistic, flag-waving celebration of ANZAC mateship. It will become apparent their strength, endurance and mateship are immortalised in a stained glass window in the Australian war memorial, flanked by the two nations’ flags

Suddenly an insufferable Australian PR manager, Darryn, is berating a schoolgirl, Lori, over a speech she has just given – we don’t know where or when – that went ‘off script’. He fears it has embarrassed his sponsoring company and “damaged the brand”. The company’s HR manager and co-chaperone, Helen, is less aggressive but nevertheless discomforted that the official line has not been toed. In their quest to protect the company brand, their most feared enemy is social media.

It takes a while to work out that the soldier scene has not represented the controversial content of Lori’s speech. Indeed a perversely non-linear structure distracts us from the content of the play by making us focus on where we are in the story and whose role has what function, to no great benefit as far as I can work out. It makes me suspect a lack of faith in the potency of the core content.

Counterpointing Lori is an Australian boy student, Kip, who wants to hang on to the myth because his brother is serving in Afghanistan. A young woman, Charlie, is making an audio documentary about the trip – and it is her mention of Marconi’s belief that sounds – things that are spoken – never disappear but float in space awaiting reception, which informs the more interesting aspect of the play.

The stained glass Sergeant from the first scene, comes alive to Lori and keeps asking her why she is here … and that’s about it for that. It’s a set up that promises some classic McCubbin Howell magic realism but it goes nowhere, or at leave it is not woven into the objective reality as well as those who know his work might expect.

Owen, given to reading Marx, is clearly well known to Lori but quite where he fits in is obscure (even he is unsure). Eventually it is revealed that Lori’s major issue – along with reiterating the oft-stated point that the ‘brave’ boys were actually shit-scared – was and is that the role of women, and others who were not white and straight, have been ignored.

The most interesting outcome of this is that when Owen and Kip come close to a physical fight over this, Lori is pushed aside and shut out, thus proving her point. Not that they get any comeuppance for that. Eventually Darryn and Helen have the sense to see the irony in their attempts to muzzle Lori and she gets to make another speech provided she reads a disclaiming statement …

The Ensemble – Bella Austin, Alex Tunui, Keegan Bragg, Liam Whitney, Kirsten Jongsma – represent students, soldiers and sociopathic online trolls to excellent effect, abetted by movement director Lily della Porta. They contribute to many moments of richness – as do the sound (Coleman Grehan) and lighting (Niklas Pajanti) operated by Michael Foley.

Bella Guarrera holds the centre with a compelling credibility; it is clear Lori’s experience is the key to the play’s elusive core theme. Richard Cotta’s Kip is deeply felt, Nathalie Morris’s Charlie and Lydia Buckley-Gorman’s Helen ensure we read their unspoken feelings. By comparison Andrew Eddy’s Darryn is two-dimensional and therefore less convincing while Liam Kelly’s Sergeant and Owen need to find the pitch of BATS and be in the same space as those they interact with.

The question of how disagreements are dealt with in cyberspace is dynamically dramatised. Lori does explain how she came to change her perspective from the ‘boys who never came back’, whose names are memorialised in the small town centre where she grew up. And we see how she suffers for her conscientious objection. But just as we get to the guts of why she is in such trouble – for drawing attention to the invisibility of women et al in the histories and commemorations, which the title does not denote – the play finishes. 

In retrospect I conclude what the play is really about is the 21st century battle for truth and justice in the face of corporate dominance. The willingness of many to compromise the values wars are fought over in order to secure their jobs and professional reputations is also a crucial factor. This cannot be what’s meant by “dead men’s wars”. It seems the original idea has evolved to the extent that it needs another title and a whole new draft that more cogently compares and contrasts the way propaganda was managed then and now?  

This season follows a premiere season in Canberra, with the same core cast and design elements, and a fresh ensemble.


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council