Deliver Us

BATS Theatre, Wellington

27/02/2007 - 03/02/2007

NZ Fringe Festival 2007

Production Details

by Paul Rothwell
directed by David Lawrence


If you had to choose one of them to live, who would it be?

The Bovine University co-operative, in association with Playmarket, are proud to present a terrifying new play from PAUL ROTHWELL, the controversial author of Golden Boys (BATS 2004, Circa 2006) and Hate Crimes (BATS 2005).

Cherie and Merrick are a successful suburban couple who’ve tried to give everything to their two ungrateful teenage children.  Cherie hopes her daughter’s unplanned pregnancy will finally create their own mummy-daughter bond.  But the moment the blue-tinged baby enters her home, Cherie’s life changes completely.  Thoughts of the baby consume her mind night and day, and enthusiasm for her premature granddaughter is soon overcome by morbid dread.  Despite her family’s fear she is losing her mind, Cherie knows maternal instinct never lies. Someone sinister grows in the nursery.

Combining the usual Rothwellian ingredients of malevolent horror, absurd comedy, incredible cruelty, and controversial insights into the heart of New Zealand society, Deliver Us guarantees to be the most terrifying play in the 2007 Fringe. 

Its final outcome will haunt you forever.

With a stellar, award-winning cast including Erin Banks, Alex Greig, Salesi Le’ota and Jodie Hillock, Deliver Us is directed by David Lawrence and produced by Zelda Edwards. 

Erin Banks
Alex Greig
Salesi Le'ota
Jodie Hillock

Theatre ,

1 hr 20 mins

Critiquing the middle class and/or sympathetic towards women?

Review by Eleanor Bishop 10th Mar 2007

At first, Deliver Us is superbly entertaining. The strained family environment feels utterly familiar – the suicidal teenage son Dominic (Alex Greig) delivering dark wisecracks to his patient, anxious mother Cherie (Erin Banks) as they wait for hapless yet buoyant Dad Merrick (Errol Shand) to bring teenage daughter Lauren (Jodie Hillock) home from the hospital with premature baby, Margo.

Cherie quits her job as powerful business woman to stay at home and care for Margo and Lauren doesn’t seem to mind as caring for a child is "just not where I am and that". And so, everything seems normal, well relatively. Rothwell’s ear for dialogue is in fine form in the first part of the play, causing laughter and recognition in much of the audience.

But then, Margo starts turning up in places Cherie didn’t leave her, her cradle starts rocking by itself, and Cherie has dreams where she imagines killing Margo.

And then just when I was expecting some kind of Exorcist, demon baby from hell kind of play with Margo and the cradle taking the star turn, Deliver Us takes a giant shift. A mysterious, strangely placid young man (Salesi Le’ota) turns up at the door, claims to be a friend of Dominic’s, rips up the family photos, ties up the family and claims "everything you have belongs to me". It becomes clear that he is the child that Cherie and Merrick aborted sixteen years ago. He then proceeds to wreak a destructive path, causing the deaths of both Merrick and Dominic, and after Lauren leaves with Margo, he makes peace with his mother, who is now utterly alone.

It’s a shift on par with Sarah Kane’s Blasted, in which a Leeds hotel room, becomes the scene of a genocide and civil war, when suddenly the hotel is literally blown apart in a bomb blast. It works because the form is utterly connected to the content. Kane blasts apart the traditional play structure to show us that the war is Bosnia (current at the time of writing in 1995) is not something distant to us, but something utterly connected to the citizens of Europe. By placing the first events of the play – a rape in a hotel room in Leeds, together with the events of war, she shows us how easily acts of violence can escalate.

So, does Rothwell’s form serve the content? Not as perfectly as Kane, but yes. Rothwell has shattered an everyday existence, to show us the devastating emotional consequences of our past actions. But does it deliver us an anti-abortionist message? If you can whittle it down to something that simple, it’s definitely critiquing the abortions practiced by the middle-class, too greedy to have another child, or too focused on their careers; rather than any other kind. Or it could be read as sympathetic towards women who have abortions – allowing us an insight into the sense of loss and continued maternal feelings.

To me, that’s often the measure of a great play – you can take it at face value but it also allows many differing meanings. I still don’t know in my mind if the young man  is a subconscious representation of guilt on the part of Cherie, brought on by the presence of her daughter’s child, or even if it’s wise to place such psychologically realistic constraints on the play. After all, the play works if you accept, for the duration of the play, that an aborted child could come back to speak to you. And I did.


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A fine presentation of the lives of girls and women

Review by Judith Dale 10th Mar 2007

[From a larger article entitled The Lives of Girls and Women, written by Judith Dale for the Women’s Studies Association of NZ newsletter, which begins with a summary of the work of Canadian writer Alice Munro, described by Michelle Roberts as "is one of the great story-tellers of our time, descended from a line going back to Chekhov and Katherine Mansfield."]

Deliver Us is by Paul Rothwell, a young New Zealand playwright with great talent and potential. This is his third play to be produced at Bats, this time as part of the Fringe, and I keenly await some mainstream theatre to take up his stuff. None of them may be up to it, since the play was preceded with warnings about being ‘dark’ and ‘bleak’ and Rothwell is still very young, and unknown outside the fringe theatre scene.

Moreover he hasn’t thus far (which I think is excellent) established a single recognisable voice, since Deliver Us is very different from his earlier multi-scened Hate Crimes and the multiple-charactered Golden Boys; still another Rothwell play called Kissing Bone will run at Bats from March 22-31 and promises to be quite different again.

David Lawrence, the director of Deliver Us, writes in a programme note that he admires Rothwell because "he is thinking outside the set-in-a-flat/on-a-beach/in-a-small-town with characters talking about their unfulfilled dreams/philosophical angst/desire-for-more-than-what-they-have style of playwriting." I mention this because the script is initially nonetheless rather like that, with a particular focus on the lives of women: motherhood (to be or not to be), disaffected daughter, teen pregnancy, and all that follows all these things. Yet with a difference, the difference of insight and talent utilised in the service of a surreal theatrical metamorphosis.

Like Harold Pinter (think of Old Times or The Homecoming) Paul Rothwell’s theatrical setting begins as familiar realism—in an ordinary living room where a family outwardly hides but covertly manifests their fairly ordinary angst, disappointments, guilts and grief. We begin to learn about, some of this when, like Pinter, the drama segues into a situation that remains theatrically realist but is soon also deeply and mysteriously disturbing.

In terms of dialogue, it’s as if people sometimes (by no means always) verbalise thoughts and feelings that would not be said aloud in ‘real life’, things horrific, peculiar, funny and unnerving by turns. It’s as if the ‘sub-text’, which actors burrow into their characters to find, has been allowed to surface into the spoken dialogue of the play. And the action follows suit, with violent eventualities that finally leave the realist activities of a suburban family far behind.

It isn’t magic realism and it isn’t—I think—New Zealand gothic of the sort film-makers are fond of. Partly, by the end, I was reminded of the Jacobean dramas of Webster and Tourneur, a genre called ‘revenge tragedy’ of which Hamlet is a particularly sophisticated example; you could call it melodrama. The portrayal of these 21st century lives remains within the parameters of family relationships, as those of the Jacobean dramatists—including Shakespeare—do, but here it’s a domesticity solidly located in present-day New Zealand realities. Deliver Us might equally suggest ‘deliver us from evil’, or ‘deliver our babies’.

In brief, Cherie (an interior designer) and Merrick her husband are found awaiting the return from hospital of daughter Lauren and her prematurely born (and apparently fatherless) baby girl: yes, three generations of women and girls again. Lauren is disaffected, punkish and uninterested in the baby to the point of antagonism. Cherie is besotted by little Margo when she arrives, caring for her exclusively even though the others think it’s unhealthy, and despite claiming from time to time that the baby is a monster and scratches her terribly.

There’s a son Dominic whose silence, isolation and bandaged wrists signify a wider social malaise disguised behind his i-pod; it seems they live together as a fairly regular New Zealand family. That evening, with no-one else at home, Cherie and Merrick are enjoying a wine-and-cheese snack Merrick has arranged (and maybe more to follow); the wine had been bought to celebrate the baby’s home-coming. There’s knock on the door and an unknown, strange, young man insists on his right to come in. Perhaps he’s the missing father of the child, or more likely he’s a friend, or even a lover, of Dominic’s.

There’s a struggle with the cheese knife, people are tied up, untied, dead, and alive again; by the end all three men have variously killed each other. The stranger is curiously attractive to Dominic, as well as claiming to be Merrick’s son. But Cherie has recognised him—just as we were alerted by her ambiguous attachment to the new baby—as connected to an abortion she’d undergone decades earlier. (What was the need that occasioned her termination of pregnancy? I’m not sure, and it doesn’t seem to matter.)

In the crudest of terms, an actor must play the ‘ghost’ of an aborted foetus appearing twenty-five years later. (I asked Paul Rothwell if he’s been reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved and he hasn’t, deliberately, but says he now will.) This is a brave play, not perfectly written as yet and not fully realised in this low-budget production; it’s a hard ask for any production company. Thematically it may seem to be an anti-abortion tract and, if so, it’s a dramatisation both marvellously theatrical and theatrically contentious.

But I don’t believe it’s an anti-abortion drama at all. Rather, the play is a fine presentation of the lives of girls and women, created by a contemporary male playwright and emerging, I can only imagine, from the cultural constructs of gendered awareness that we are beginning—sometimes—to see flickering into life in this country. Cherie’s confusion, guilt and pain, repressed and almost forgotten for so long, were nonetheless central to both her life-story and her family’s. By the end (as in Hamlet) several of them are dead.

Beyond that specifically feminist analysis, other characters in the play and its dramatic ‘message’ can be seen to concern the ghosts inhabiting any individual past life, and the lives of everyone intertwined with that, politically as well as personally—just as Beloved does. By the end, Lauren, once-daughter-now-mother, is realising her responsibility towards the foetus who is now her own daughter. In the meantime that baby—Margo—is a theatrical prop and not a real character; hence, Deliver Us.

It is evident, in this glimpse of the lives of girls and women, that just as women’s lives are changing, so theatres, literature and all the other cultural products that shape our thinking must change too, so as to continue to offer artful and thoughtful consideration of that.


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Packs a punch

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 03rd Mar 2007

With Deliver Us we are plunged helter skelter into a contemporary Grand Guignol stew of a play that David Lawrence has cleverly directed with plenty of Hitchcockian touches of tension such as a mysteriously rocking cradle, thumping heartbeats, rumbling thunder, howling wind, and eerie lighting effects.

Rosemary’s Baby comes to mind and then Stephen King with a dash of Edgar Allan Poe thrown in for good measure. It’s way, way over the top but the miracle is that the actors carry it all off with glorious aplomb and draw us into the story of Lauren (Jodie Hillock) returning home with her prematurely born baby from hospital to dump it with her doting mother (Erin Banks) and her over-indulgent father (Erroll Shand), while her disturbed brother (Alex Greig) is openly hostile to the brat.

Then one night there’s a knock on the door and enters – and it’s a marvelously theatrical entry – a sinister-looking young man (Salesi Le′ota) who could be the baby’s unacknowledged father or he could be …

But for all the truly excellent acting, the play’s dark, brooding intensity, and Lawrence’s deft direction Deliver Us goes on too long and the final scene when everything is wrapped up and some sort of significance is attempted the play suddenly drags and I wished it had ended 15 minutes earlier. However, the play still packs a punch that could disturb your dreams.


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Rothwell confirmed as world class playwright

Review by John Smythe 28th Feb 2007

‘Comedy of Menace’ meets ‘Gothic Horror’ meets ‘Jacobean Revenge Tragedy’ meets ‘Greek Tragedy’ in Paul Rothwell’s Deliver Us. Think Albee and Pinter, Stoker and Shelley, Tourneur and Webster, right back to Sophocles – but totally owned and fully formed to make it utterly contemporary and uniquely a Rothwell.

As with Golden Boys (2004/06) and Hate Crimes (2005) [scroll down the blog page], Rothwell brings the dark heart of middle class New Zealand to light. In this case the focus is on private, hidden and unresolved grief. (Forget the posters of actors in white face cringing in grave yards: they misrepresent the play, or at best they abstract just one aspect of what is a much more substantial work.)

The title, Deliver Us, is resonant. It refers to childbirth, ‘sin’, forgiveness … It is a plea for release from a nightmare born of guilt and/or grief, where the loss was chosen: self imposed. And the road to redemption is very rough.

In brief: son (Dominic) is lost in i-pod limbo while mum (Cherie) wraps bottles of wine in anticipation of what turns out to be the return from hospital of daughter (Laurel) and husband (Merrick) with Laurel’s baby (Margo), who was born blue and ‘died’ but now she’s ready to come home. But no-one is able to bond with the babe, except Cherie, who finds flows returning that she thought had dried up …

Dominic, whose wrists are bandaged, remains surly, alienated and given to dramatic actions – destructive or creative? – and poetically portentous pronouncements. Merrick, an architect – of his own misfortune? – is supremely self confident (except when handling babies) and seeks to solve everything by peeling notes off a cash roll. Laurel, who has no idea who Margo’s father is, returns to her old party girl ways and defends herself against moral judgement by pointing out Dominic has whored himself out to every man in town.

Meanwhile Cherie, an interior decorator who is very adept at papering over the cracks to keep up appearances, is drawn back to motherhood. Having been less than perfect the first time round, this could be a chance to redeem herself. Her somewhat hysterical reactions to various events, not least a nightmare that finds her with blood on her nightie, are put down to hormones and ‘the change’.

When Merrick insists on some ‘us’ time with Cherie, over wine and cheese with the kids out on the town and Margo asleep upstairs (he’ll slip her some Pamol if she wakes up), all seems set for a happy return to his idea of the status quo. Until there’s a knock at the door. The nameless Young Man, who looks like a ‘living dead’ extra from a vampire film, is assumed to be a friend of Dominic’s … Or maybe he’s Margo’s father … Or could he be … ?

What transpires is shocking, threatening, funny, violent, tender … and literally incredible, which makes it no less real for Cherie. And us.

Be warned, Deliver Us is extremely confronting. Some may loathe it, calling it manipulative emotional propaganda that plays up to the anti-abortion lobby. Others may embrace it for its ruthless recognition of the forgotten depths of humanity that have become subsumed by the materialism of modern life. And it will be very personal for some, who may need counselling (I’m serious), although it could also prove cathartic and cleansing.

The childbirth/abortion aspect may be seen as the catalyst in a play that is really about young people crossing over from self-obsessed adolescence, where parents are blamed for everything, to a level of maturity where they at last see their parents as real, fallible, vulnerable and forgivable. But that uplifting step is only hinted at in the dying moments (so to speak).

Those not directly connected to the content may see it as an allegory about the dangers of being in denial about past actions taken in a state of naiveté, exemplified here by abortion. Whichever way you look at it, Rothwell has crafted it extremely well, carefully setting up the elements in the early scenes that pay off later and propelling it with a strong sense of purpose.

Thus we remain engaged, compelled by the ‘truth’ of it all despite the ‘what the?’ moments we may not yet be ready to reconcile with dream logic. Which is not to say those who feel hit in the guts and head won’t feel a strong urge to escape.

I don’t see it as polemical; it’s bigger than that. Nor do I think it makes broad moral judgements on a whole generation. For me it is a play about one woman’s subconscious response to her delinquent daughter choosing to keep her unplanned child. Certainly this family represents a widely practiced way of life but Cherie’s experience in this scenario is very personal, and as self-created, if disowned in her conscious mind, as the original event from which her reaction stems.

In short, Deliver Us is a modern classic. Some tweaking may improve it yet but, by rooting his work so firmly in middle class Kiwi culture, Rothwell has created a universally applicable play that should grace our own main stages and professional stages around the world. (In fact the better funded theatre companies, whose core audience live in the world Rothwell writes about, would be negligent to ignore him any longer.)

For their faith in his work, where others have recoiled, director David Lawrence and his team must be loudly congratulated. As with Golden Boys and Hate Crimes [scroll down blog page], they have approached it with a passion and integrity that quickly excuses youthful casting in the older roles.

Erin Banks brings intelligent clarity and emotional truth to Cherie’s journey. Alex Greig inhabits the role of Dominic, passive aggressive while compelling us to second-guess where his seething brain is at. Likewise Jodie Hillock commands our empathy as she takes Lauren from delinquent ho to a new relationship with her mother, herself and life.

Errol Shand offers a ‘when in doubt shout’ performance as Merrick, the father, which I find at odds with the complacent self-confidence I feel sure the role requires. This may well settle in as the too-short season progresses. As the Young Man, Salesi Le’ota is a chameleon who is always convincing is his transformations, be they gradual or sudden, subtle or in our faces.

As the action unfolds I have credibility issues with some areas. Without wanting to reveal too much, the tying up is unconvincing (they could easily untie each other’s wrists); the much needed ‘sanitary product’ should surely be put to its use … And even though, in retrospect, dream logic can explain it, I’m not sure it helps to distract us with such issues on the way.

On the other hand the questions I have about sudden switches into poetic language, and why certain characters are dead at the end, are answered when I thinlk it through from Cherie’s subjective perspective. This is realism, not naturalism.  

I’m told the play ran slower on opening night than it had in rehearsals. While I had no sense of it dragging, given the strong forward movement through changing circumstances and the characters’ responses to them, and our need to keep up and deal with it all, I can see how faster pacing could work. In the early scenes it would emphasise the pace of their faux lives and their consequence non-communication. In the later scenes it would render inexorable the onslaught of released guilt and grief.

But nothing can detract from the fact that Wednesday 27 February 2007 marks the day that – thanks to David Lawrence et al, and BATS of course – an important new play was born, and an exciting young talent confirmed his place as a leading New Zealand playwright. Deliver Us must get a return season and take its place on stages elsewhere. The world is entitled to Rothwell’s work.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other reviews, recent comments and forum postings (under Audience Chatter), and news.


Michael Wray March 6th, 2007

I'm glad we cut our holiday short by one day to allow us to get back to Wellington for Saturday evening. If nothing else, it means we can keep up with the most prolific thread on the site! I wasn't sure I would get involved in the thread, but figured an audience (as opposed to practitioner) perspective may be a useful reference - At no point in the play did I think of this as propaganda. I never left the play thinking that an anti-abortion message was presented. For me this is a ghost story. Within the context of the play, you can wonder why this family, why this child? But ultimately, it is merely the trigger for the story. I like John's stance on unresolved grief. Of all the "meanings" on offer, that would come closest to one I would buy. Having said that, Helen's subjective reality stance is also aesthetically pleasing and I wish I could claim of thinking it, but it never occurred to me. (Often plays that I've enjoyed the most seem to me to leave meaning up to the audience and I'm sure layers are seen that never even occur to the playwright.) As I recall, we do not learn why Cherie chose to abort. I'm a bit confused about Merrick's role though. He made some remarks (that I did not fully follow) about the aborted child, surely indicating awareness? Something about a slimy, black thing? It confused both my partner and me. Does the clue to his death lie in here somewhere? Can anyone explain what we missed. Dominic bore signs of previous death attempts - how else do we interpret the bandadged wrists? He is haunted by his predecessor, so we are told, but which came first. Is he predisposed to the haunting because of his suicidal state or is the haunting the cause of the state? I would suggest the former*. Either way, he is the natural sacrifice to Ashley. *As I understood it, Laurel is older than Dominic. So any haunting or hint that someone usurped and therefore owes their life to Ashley would more logically fall to Laurel. I'm a little surprised at the controversy the play appears to have attracted. Then again, once of my first thoughts as I left Bats on Saturday was, "I wonder how this play would be received if played in America."

John Smythe March 6th, 2007

"Complicit" - that's good. Is there a hint in the play that Merrick put pressure on Cherie to have the abortion (eg, because he was still a student)? For me it remains a play about unresolved grief with a dimension of guilt but it's definitely not a pro/con play. If you haven't already, go to the Forum and read Paul Rothwell's contribution.

Helen Sims March 6th, 2007

Oh and for John - the death of Dominic interested me also! It seemed to signify that Dominic wouldn't have been born if not for the abortion and thus owed his existence. What makes Cherie choose to abort one baby but to have another? This complicated question was resolved (rather neatly) by the fact that he didn't really want to live and thus was willing to give up his life for his brother. Or maybe he was always on borrowed time owed to the brother? It was intriguing because he didn't say much - there was no complete explanation offered. I thought Alex was great - one of the best performances I've seen him give. As for the death of Merrick, I don't know why he had to die as we were told that he was unaware of the abortion. Perhaps he is still viewed as complicit?

Helen Sims March 6th, 2007

Oh dear, I've been following along at home with no intention to join the discussion, but it looks inevitable! David - again, great job I thought! I hope my review reflected this. I have been surprised that so many people are surprised with my interpretation of the show as being rooted in Cherie's subjective reality (verging on nightmare etc). The main reaction that interpretation seems to have provoked is "Really?..." But I thought it was obvious, and as I said in my review makes the play far more interesting than a black and white debate about abortion. I hate to self reference, but again, in my review I said that I don't agree with Paul's stance on this issue at all, but I didn't feel like this mattered as he doesn't offer the play as a forum for debate about abortion (simply because the other side of the issue is not offered.) Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe someone will be brave enough to write a theatrical response to Paul and write a play that is sympathetic to a character that has had an abortion? Who knows. In the end the play was more than its politics for me, but I am aware that some people are struggling to get past it. Maybe it is just this specific issue - I'm sure they have all seen art works that they have not agreed with before - wouldn't it be boring to be unchallenged in your opinions all the time? I also would like to know why Willem thought the play was unsafe and dangerous. I did leave feeling unsure and unsettled, but not unsafe. There's no danger in being confronted I think. Perhaps you resent that the play is presented in absolute terms that don't offer you an opportunity to debate? I would like you to elaborate on why you consider this work "dangerous" - that seems like a comment designed to shut down the work. Erin was great in the role, for many reasons. She did look a little uncomfortable at some moments, and I know she would have wanted a little longer to really get inside Cherie's head, but from what I understand practicalites would not allow for this. Not to mention the challenging nature of the subject matter she was dealing with. John, I was a little sceptical about your claim that this play is a modern classic, but I'm starting to think from the amount of controversy that you may be right! It's been a while since a play generated this much debate!

John Smythe March 6th, 2007

The WHOLE play is Cherie's subjective reality? I'd thought that began with the wine and cheese and the earlier parts, including her nightmare, were objectively real. If so, relatively naturalistic credibility could be an advantage in the early part. But here's another question: what does it signify that Merrick and Dominic are dead at the end? I have some thoughts on that but would like to hear from others first. Willem, since you asked for the Forum, I’d love it if you used it to expand on what you mean by “the show was dangerous and unsafe”.

David Lawrence March 6th, 2007

Yes, Moya, exactly the point I'm making, I hope. Had Downstage been doing the play in that same year (1964), though, he probably wouldn't have been cast in the role. I'm trying to say that non-realistic genres and the very nature of BATS as a theatre space absolves us of having to worry about such issues of casting. Had some of the roles in Deliver Us been cast to age and the others not, I'd understand why this might be an issue - but the ensemble are all the same age. In her review, Helen Sims makes the (I'd have thought obvious) point too that since the whole play is Cherie's subjective reality, of course she's still going to see herself & Merrick as young and beautiful.

Willem Wassenaar March 6th, 2007

Misunderstanding here, my point of miscasting does not only concern age! And yes, as a director you have the main responsibility in the casting, so this is nothing against Erin (although I think she is more than capable of dealing with criticism as such). I agree with you David that foremost it comes down if actors have a passion to tell the story, however qualities of actors (in relationship to each other) are as important. I casted Renee Sheridan as Amanda in The Glass Menagerie. The character is in her 50s, Renee is 32. And I think I never made a better decision in my life! I am all for throwing away the age barrier, but the staging of the play needs to support that. I would have liked to see that Erin's young age was used in an explicit way to make the character's struggle to come alive. Then it has a strong purpose. When you make the point of naturalism, you nail it on the head for me. In the design, in the staging, in the acting (apart from the obvious intruder role, but again could be stronger staged in terms of surrealism and taking it away from the naturalism) everything was hinting towards naturalism. I have no intention to diminish your production at all in terms of that it was in workshop stage. I heard it had a limited amount of rehearsals before it was put on, and that it will have another season, so I questioned that. Now, the discussion (casting, safety) becomes bigger than this series of comments on the web can hold. Words on a page cannot capture the context, I am all for a face to face discussion about it.

Moya Bannerman March 6th, 2007

Actually Ian Mune would have been about 22 when he played Willy Loman at Wellington Teachers College, directed by George Webby. He was stretched and we were captivated.

David Lawrence March 6th, 2007

Given that only a week ago I posted advising (in response to negative comments about John’s reviews of other Fringe shows) that you can’t please everyone and should just accept/ignore/get over criticism, it would be hypocritical of me in the case of Deliver Us to defend my crap direction or my shit production, no matter how much it amazes me that people could dismiss Paul’s writing or my intentions as being merely juvenile or gratuitously out-to-shock. And at the end of the day I should just be pleased that we’ve provoked so much controversy, whatever reasons it’s for – I’d far rather fail at pulling off something difficult and different than successfully rehash the same old work or do safe, boring shows that don’t challenge me (or even worse, cower behind a pseudonym when I trash other people’s work). But I do feel I need to respond to this rubbish about casting people of ‘the right age’ as it’s a further slur on actors who’ve had enough slung at them over the last week. For me the right actor for a role is someone who absolutely believes in the play and the project, not someone who’s necessarily the same age/class/race as the character they’re playing. It’s called ACTING. Yes, as Willem says, Erin Banks is a superb actor, and for me it’s because she’s so utterly truthful in everything she does that she transcends age/class/race/appearance and can convince me in any role. And surely actors would far rather be challenged than continually and boringly cast according to age/type? Shakespeare’s company at the turn of the 16th/17th century were a bunch of white guys in their thirties who were required to play any age, class, race and gender. In no contemporary comment on their work does anyone complain that Burbage was 40 years too young to play King Lear, or that Desdemona was really a boy. Nor do we ever harangue graduation productions at Toi Whakaari in which many actors are completely the wrong age for the roles they’ve been cast in – we just accept it as a convention or necessity of each individual project. I accept that in a piece of naturalism such casting might prevent the suspension of disbelief – we’d never tolerate a 22-year old playing Willy Loman at Circa, for example – but whatever else it may or may not be, Deliver Us is NOT naturalism, so it shouldn’t be bound by those rules or constraints. It’s worth pointing out too that it’s unrealistic to expect an unfunded co-op doing a five-night Fringe show to be able to afford actors of the ‘right age’ – it’s hard enough finding actors that ‘get’ Paul’s plays as it is, never mind finding 50-somethings prepared to do shows for free at BATS. But this is by no means an excuse – I’d have cast the same actors regardless of financial resources because, like me, they believe that Paul is an exceptional playwright whose work needs to be treated with respect and commitment. So people felt the show didn’t work for them or disliked the play or thought it ‘dangerous and unsafe’ or want to insultingly dismiss the production as a ‘workshop’ – that’s all fine, but the accountability should be mine, not the actors’.

Willem Wassenaar March 5th, 2007

I saw Deliver Us on Friday. It is Monday and I still feel the need to write something, which is for me a good sign. Theatre that provokes, challenges, makes you remember, lingers in your heart and mind, more of that!! I have seen a dying gold fish thrown in front of my eyes while sitting in the theatre, men and women acting as pure animals, theatre that searches for the boundaries of human nature. I think that we need to stimulate our audiences to think about their knowledge, attitudes and behaviour and as an artist I see it as my task to do so. Enough of walking around the issue. I simply missed the context in which this playwright, this director and these actors, the whole team, could allow themselves to provoke their audiences in such a way. To be honest, I felt that I was being treated as a 5 year old that needed to finish his food before going of the table. I could sense where the play was going to from the start, a contract was made, but the repetition, the tiring repetition of the same message, made me feel numb. For me as a director, it is a sign when actors are struggling with a text that something is wrong, I saw these actors battling it rather then celebrating it (again a subjective opinion). I have seen some of the actors doing great work in other performances, but Erin Banks (a stunning actress) could simply not carry that weight as a mother, definately when Jodie Hillock (same age) plays her daughter. Miscasting. You deal in this play with a very dominating thought of the playwright, but I could not feel any point of view of the actors towards the matter. Again this touches on context. No interpretation becomes for me propaganda, and that is mainly what I saw. Now, if that is the purpose, that is fine, but it does not do anything for me. I want complexity, I do not only want to see right or wrong, I want to feel, to engage on an emotional and intellectual level, and I want to feel helpless. I want to care about the characters so this helplessness makes me want to act, to do something. All of these things did not happen for me, despite the undoubtable strong goals that the team has set for this piece of work. I am very keen to hear what the plans of the company are considering this piece of work (it is in workshop stage??) and where it is going to. At this moment and the way that I saw it, I think (is personal opinion) it is treating the subject matter not with the respect that it deserves and does not create a context in which the team can allow themselves to provoke and question the audience. I felt the show was dangerous and unsafe. Having done a community theatre project on the refugee issue myself, I reckon that the artist has foremost a responsibility there. John: I would be interested in a forum around this issue. If we want to achieve more daring, challenging and provoking performances, how do we deal with safety for our audiences? Where lies the responsibility of an artist? Willem Wassenaar

Lou March 5th, 2007

Unfortunately, being on the other side of the world, I was unable to see Deliver Us. But having read an earlier draft and being intimately acquainted with Paul's other works I am quite shocked that anyone could suggest that Paul can't write. I can understand people not personally liking his plays due to differences of taste. And I can understand being put off by the messages expressed in his writing. But to suggest he can't write...? Rarely does a writer manage to incite such lively debate and passionate interest in their work - particularly not at such a young age (though yes, he is very definitely an adult man, thank you very much). I'd take Paul's risky and edgy writing over the usual safe, smooth and totally standard works any day - even if I did totally disagree with what he was saying. I guess time will tell. And I have no doubt that he will indeed go down in the books as a very important NZ writer.

Ross Young March 4th, 2007

Its interesting coming back to NZ after 8 years away and checking out how theatre is going. Its great to see some contraversy whipped up over new work with many other theatres in town with execessively safe programmes. After seeing this particular play my initial sense was that it is v. promising but would be better with some rewriting in the last 30 minutes, especially. It seemed to me, at least that at times it was simplistically declaimed, with the 'message' in mind - rather than feed and allowed to grow into the right shape. For example, slightly more rounded characters (apart from the obvious one) and greater naturalism at the start might work better for the change that comes. What an fantastic entrance by the way by the aborted 'ghost'. Great movement, possibly a little too much at times but generally good choices. However, if you are going to use powerful gestures (which I think generally do work), it might help to match the voice - projection was lacking, and at times this undercut the power of the action. Might also want to cast an older looking mother. Other suggestions: - some actors were antcipating their responses at times - some actors would also benefit from clearer and more developed intentions and objectives - didn't quite believe that such an energetic father could be cowed quite so easily (otherwise v. well acted). Positives for me were: - how refreshing it is to see a play where the writer is not afraid to deploy heightened language - good connection between characters - enterance of aborted ghost Apologies for dribbling on so long, but I think this play has the potential to be great and (slightly selfishly) I would love to see it again after a rewrite or two and a couple more weeks rehersal. Many thanks, R

John Smythe March 2nd, 2007

Super Dooper, if you write it well I will certainly consider putting it up as a feature article with a link to this forum for further interaction – but I will want it under your real name. Charlotte, your own play - The Story of Nohome Neville and Unwholesome Clare who Worked in the Kitchens and Smelt like a Dish – is another stand out of this Fringe for me. You too are definitely on my list of writers to watch, because you too shake us up, push our buttons and challenge us to see the world a different way.

Super Dooper March 2nd, 2007

Knock Knock Who's there? Out-and-out brilliant play Out-and-out brilliant play who? Out-and-out brilliant play called "Deliver Us" -- John, I want to write an essay called 'The Case for Paul Rothwell' Would Theatreview be interested? Or will it end up on the 67th page of comments under your prescient review?

Charlotte Simmonds March 2nd, 2007

I have seen 15 Fringe shows so far and none have affected me as deeply as this one, or even come close to the calibre and quality which Deliver Us attained. Paul Rothwell is an author our children's children will be studying at high school and university. This year's Fringe has been packed full of 'superficial juvenile works' but this was not one of them. I have nothing but admiration for this theatre company and feel proud to have witnessed one of the first performances of a work I am certain will become one of utmost importance in New Zealand theatre history. No matter how scorned and derided he currently is, Paul Rothwell is the playwright I have always wanted to be.

Lopezz March 2nd, 2007

Perhaps we shouldn't be affected by reviews but I've yet to meet anyone who isn't. We seem to be built in a way that makes it hard for us not to believe public judgement, of ourselves or others; criticism or accolade. That's why it's so great to have a site like this where we can take reviewers to task and bring some sanity back into the debate.

Gavin McGibbon March 2nd, 2007

I think that anyone who could be so swayed by another peer's reviews is lost already no? Shouldn't they be writing fundamentally for their own need to express and share thoughts? Rather than any perceived glory of it? And I can’t quite understand why you are calling a grown man, a boy.

Lopezz March 2nd, 2007

The real big pity is that when superficial juvenile work like this is praised, genuinely good theater people, including potential new writers, are discouraged. Who knows who we lose. If this poor boy perseveres he may improve, but not if he believes this reviewers comments ('depth of craft' - ew).

John Smythe March 1st, 2007

Of course I welcome contrary views – and I stand by my review. Having seen almost all Paul’s plays, I doubt he was out to gratuitously shock. I see an increasing depth of craft in his work and remain excited that he is responding to his experience of the world in such a creative and challenging way – not least challenging himself. And by the way, Wellington is not at all renowned for liking to be shocked – witness the poor houses they offered for Albee’s The Goat at Downstage last year (which I loved) and Shopping and F**king a few International Festivals ago.

Lin March 1st, 2007

Thank you, thank you, thank you god for Int. Maven and Scarlett. I can now delay heaving myself off a cliff ... And perhaps John S should consider that a 'classic', modern or otherwise, is not usually decided by one reviewer on the night, but over a certain period of time by the whole community ...?

Scarlett Baxter March 1st, 2007

I have to say I agree with international maven and was baffled by John's review. I found the play difficult to sit through. I was bored and I thought both the dialogue and the acting were cringe worthy. There were a few genuine moments but mostly I just wanted to get out of the theatre.

International Maven March 1st, 2007

I see more than a hundred performances a year, in lots of different cities, and I find that Wellington has some of the best theatre around. However, I find that sometimes, perhaps because NZers are so polite in life, that a play that has a lot of shocking content gets more kudos than it deserves. Sort of a version of the Australian 'cultural cringe.' I think it's important to support plays that that have something new and interesting to say, or a new approach to a long standing set of circumstances. However, this play, Deliver Us, really missed the plot. It shocks, gratuitously, like a Grade B Hollywood flick. My comment that the family didn't seem like a family has nothing to do with a saccharine view of family life, but with the fact that the emotions expressed seemed out of proportion with how they treated each other, completely lacking versimilitude. As for cliches and caricatures, when they are well done, they can serve a workmanlike play, but in this case they were not well done, and got in the way of what was a very good idea. I think it was a tolerable workshop, but certainly does not deserve the accolades of the reviewer. As for you not liking Life's a drag, perhaps you failed to see the humanity in the naivete. I think you may suffer from a strong dose of kiwi cultural cringe, which would not be surprising here in Wellington.

Moya Bannerman March 1st, 2007

Dear ‘International Maven’ (maven = an expert or connoisseur – now who’s being pompous?), I think you are making the classic mistake of attributing character characteristics to the playwright. Your assertion that “Any time something ‘profound’ was uttered, it was cliché” alongside your complaint that “The actors never managed to convince me they were a family, just a collection of caricatures” must be challenged. Do you mean they failed to look like your cliché idea of a family? A cliché by definition articulates an abiding truth, a good caricature, like the best cartoons, also gets to the essence with just a few strokes – and that is exactly what Rothwell has done with this play. He treads a fine line at times for sure but then he is playing a dangerous game which never bored me for a moment. I was alternately absorbed, repelled, bemused, amused, intellectually distanced, emotionally captivated… but never bored. And as the review points out, “dream logic” does explain, and justify, a lot in retrospect. Finally, that you can write Deliver Us and this premiere production off, yet see merit and promise in the woefully under-explored and amateurishly performed Life’s A Drag, compels me to say (and I know we are not supposed to get personal here) that I sincerely hope your role as a self-styled ‘expert or connoisseur’ has no part to play in the professional development of our homegrown theatre works.

InternationalMaven March 1st, 2007

I've seen many plays over the years at Fringe, and this is the mostly highly overrated one I've seen. While the premise of the play is novel, and disturbing, the dialog sounds like it was written by a pompous adolescent boy. Any time something "profound" was uttered, it was cliche. The actors never managed to convince me they were a family, just a collection of caricatures. I'm not sure if the responsibility lies with the actors or the director, but I was thoroughly bored about 20 mins into the play. As I said earlier, the idea has merit, and the subject matter is good to explore, but this play needs to be thoroughly rewritten for it to be taken seriously.

Super Dooper February 28th, 2007

Holy living Christ. I am SO there.

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