DIRTY WORK - An Ode to Joy

Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland

16/06/2023 - 02/07/2023

Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson

21/07/2023 - 23/07/2023

Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

28/07/2023 - 29/07/2023

Te Papa: Soundings, Wellington

02/08/2023 - 11/08/2023

Baycourt - Addison Theatre, Tauranga

18/08/2023 - 20/08/2023

Clarence Street Theatre, Hamilton

16/05/2024 - 18/05/2024

TSB Showplace, New Plymouth

24/05/2024 - 25/05/2024

Production Details

Writers: Justin Lewis and Jacob Rajan
Director: Justin Lewis

Indian Ink Theatre Company

This comedy celebrates an unsung hero and tips the modern office on its head.

In a toe-tapping twist there’s a different choir on stage every night, but none have read the script!

Featuring contemporary hits from Aotearoa, India and a fresh take on classic tunes, this hilarious drama is elevated by the beauty and power of people harmonising in song.

The computers are down and the big boss in India wants the impossible. A hapless middle manager, his unhelpful assistant and their chorus of office workers are making a mess of things. Which isn’t good news for the cleaner.

Workplace hierarchies are shattered, class and culture clash and from the chaos emerges a different way to value one another.

Born out of a collaboration with choral master John Rosser and leading choir Viva Voce, and featuring over 20 people on stage, Indian Ink take things up an octave in their biggest show ever.

The company’s award-winning creative team continue to weave their magic. Jacob Rajan zooms in for a very special guest appearance, Justin Rogers returns following his brilliant performance in Mrs Krishnan’s Party and is joined by rising stars Tessa Rao and Catherine Yates, with music direction by Josh Clark.


Auckland – Q Theatre, 16/06/2023 – 02/07/2023
Nelson – Theatre Royal, 21/07/2023 – 23/07/2023
Christchurch – Isaac Theatre Royal, 28/07/2023 – 29/07/2023
Wellington – Soundings Theatre, 2/08/2023 – 11/08/2023
Tauranga – Baycourt Addison Theatre, 18/08/2023 – 20/08/2023
Booking and info: https://indianink.co.nz/our-plays/dirty-work/

Hamilton – Clarence Street Theatre
16 – 18 May 2024
Booking link

New Plymouth – TSB Showplace
24 – 25 May 2024
Booking link

In response to Theatreview’s query about how the choir component is managed, Indian Ink’s general manager replied as follows:

We have three different models that we’re using around the country.

The Wellington and Auckland model is the same in that we have a core choir who provide consistency, experience (and a little quality control if we need it!) then we invited anyone else who is 1. currently singing in a choir and 2. is confident singing in parts to join (usually SATB – but we do also have some Sweet Adeline singers in there who have women singing the tenor parts for example).

From this large pool I allocate a group of singers to each night’s show total – between 26 and 28 singers each night with a mix of something like 10 sops, 9 altos, 4 tenors, 4 basses.

Specifics for Wellington

  • Core choir in Wellington is Nota Bene.
  • There will be 6 to 8 of them in any show, leaving 20-22 other slots
  • Total sign ups for Wellington was 115 people(!)
  • We have lost a few on the way with illness, family issues, life issues (nerves!) and are sitting at around 90 singers in total now.
  • Structure is:
    • Music is sent out electronically in advance with a learning track
    • Singers must attend THREE plenary music calls (so yes 115 people at each call)
    • in Wellington’s case John Rosser conducted the first call because Josh was performing in Auckland at the time, and then Josh took the remaining two.
    • We try and spread the music calls out so that there is a two week gap between music 1 and music 2, then have music 3 a little closer (approx. a week after music 2) so we’re building energy
    • All music calls are off site in a separate space so that they get that “coming into the theatre for the first time” adrenalin rush on the nights that they perform
    • Nota Bene had calls prior to the plenary calls starting with their own music director, Maaike Christie-Beekman, to ensure that they could support at plenary music calls from within – but none of the other singers had a structured music call prior to our first group call together

I haven’t captured them all yet, but to date we’ve noted singers in Wellington have come from the following groups (not in alpha sorry):

Cantoris, Orpheus, NZ Opera, Nota Bene, Gale Force Gospel Choir, Wellington Community Choir, Sing!, The Doubtful Sounds, Wellington Youth Choir, Faultline Chorus, Iridescent quartet, NZ Secondary Schools’ Choir, Kotaba Voice, Wowosi World Choi, Supertonic, Tudor Consort, Voix de femmes, Carterton Community Choir, Kapiti Chamber Choir, NZ Youth Choir, Wellington City Chorus, Voices NZ, Sweet Adelines, The Glamaphones, Wellington Bach Choir, Take Note singers, Porirua City Choir.

Model #2:           Nelson and Tauranga – John Rosser has connected with choirs and choral people in each city we travel to to understand who would be best to partner with and in this model, we simply partner with an existing choir who do all 2 or 3 shows because we don’t have enough performances to undertake the Auckland Wellington model.  Their own MD gets them musically prepared and then Josh gets one final music call with them as soon as he arrives in that centre.

Model #3:           In Christchurch we shoulder-tapped some key singers to make the core choir and then filled the remaining spaces through word for mouth from those singers.  They had 3 music calls with Josh with Josh flying in and out of Christchurch to lead them in gaps between other centre’s performances.

Cast: Justin Te Honihana Pokaihau Rogers, Catherine Yates, Tessa Rao

Music director: Josh Clark
Dramaturge: Murray Edmond
Set design: John Verryt
Costume design: Elizabeth Whiting
Lighting design: Jo Kilgour
Choral advisor: John Rosser
Production & Tour Manager/LX & SX Operator: Sam Mence
Choir Manager & ASM: Luke Baker

Theatre , Music ,

80 minutes

Randomness, uncertainty, absurdity, happiness, songs and Joy

Review by Cate Prestidge 17th May 2024

The latest show from award winning theatre company Indian Ink has an excellent hook: invite members of a community choir to be part of the on-stage action but only give them the songs to rehearse and some basic on-stage directions.

It’s clever and serves multiple purposes. On the one hand, it helps drive the narrative of Dirty Work, which explores relatable themes about the value of work and life on the office treadmill as well as well as deeper questions about class and privilege.

On the other, what a way to pack a theatre!

Some of the audience around us are obviously thrilled to see family members on stage, applauding wildly at the semi-improvised bits where people’s real names are used and whooping and cheering after the big numbers. It is a lot of fun being in the audience.

What unfolds is an hour and a half of performance that has a clear direction but also moments of randomness and uncertainty. There’s a fair smattering of overacting and breaking the fourth wall from keen choristers singing out to the audience, and a couple of moments of meandering that could be intentional, or possibly not?

But fear not, this is something the writers and performers are entirely comfortable with. In fact the ‘workers’ not quite knowing what they’re doing is pitched cleverly as being synonymous with much of everyday working life.

As always with Indian Ink there is huge depth in the research behind the show with references to the endless toil of Sisyphus and the absurdity of work, as well as the happiness contained within it.

There are three leads: Joy the cleaner (Catherine Yates), Neil the middle manager (Justin Rogers) and ambitious and competent Zara (Tessa Rao). The commanding and mellifluous voice of company owner VJ Kumari (Jacob Rajan) beams in via zoom, both a disrupting device and a thematic support.

The rest of the office is made up of members of Mosaic, an open access community choir based in Cambridge. Onstage they’re in their booths, keeping busy and of course singing the eight pieces they’ve been rehearsing, sans context, over the past few months. They’re cued in by Indian Ink Musical Director Josh Clark.

While the choir of workers doesn’t quite know what they’re doing, someone who does is Joy, our office cleaner. Direct, purposeful and pragmatic, she moves about the cubicles dealing with the daily mess, picking up after people and singing, hoping to bank just a little more minimum wage before rent day.

Yates is excellent as Joy and as her day unexpectedly collides with the business of the office, her character unfolds and her blunt observations are a wonderful foil to the flustering around her. Joy is also the vehicle for a subtle character mask, a feature of Indian Ink – in this case some prominent teeth that, along with her cleaning unform, set her apart.

Justin Rogers plays Neil, a high energy middle manager, surprised by an unexpected event and then tasked with an urgent demand from the boss. The script is delicious, full of marvellous, meaningless corporate buzz words. Neil is 100% across the bandwidth and maximising synergy, looping in and circling back as he leaps about the office hyping up the team and trying to manage his feelings.

I love the physicality of Rogers and there are some marvellous commedia touches as he unbalances gently on one foot, lifting and lowering his leg, reaching across and pulling back. Actions which seem at a glance to be rather purposeful but which are also quite meaningless. Neil doesn’t know what he’s doing either – brilliant!

Tessa Rao is excellent as Zara. Sporting a bright corporate suit, she is highly competent, problem solving and reassuring, but with hints of being more fragile than she makes out. Rao is dynamic on stage and the interplay between Zara and Neil is fun as they vacillate between emotional states. These changes in attitude are not always consistent for the characters but are heightened for the purposes of plot and theme, and serve to drive home a wider point. 

The show was written as a tribute to cleaners everywhere, people doing the ‘dirty work’ that must be done. Highly recommended. 


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Indian Ink does it again…. Delightful on all levels

Review by Vivienne Quinn 19th Aug 2023

Over dinner before attending Dirty Work, the newest touring show by award-winning New Zealand theatre production company Indian Ink, my husband and I discussed the overuse of cliché adjectives in anticipation of my writing a review of this show. Having seen all of the previous Indian Ink productions and having loved every single one, I was pretty convinced it would be a delightful show, but hubby said, “Delightful is such an over-used word, find a more specific adjective.” Assuming, of course, that Dirty Work would live up to our excited expectations.

So, it is a total testament to the quality of this show that the first thing my hubby says at its conclusion is, “You know what, that was delightful”. Yes, it was. It is witty, and beautiful, and brave on a gentle level, but it s more than that.

Dirty Work is a fascinating mix. It is simple yet hints at the profound, it is forward-facing and inward-looking, it uses pathos and empathy to lightly examine class-distinction, dissatisfaction, fantasy and mundanity. All in the most ordinary of workplace settings, a cubicled office, with the most common of characters, a cleaner, a manager and an office worker. Yet nothing here is ordinary, from the the flouro-coloured cubicles (set designer John Verryt) to the absolutely brilliant addition of a cast of local choir members who sing beautifully rehearsed songs but are otherwise untested and somewhat perplexed as to what is going on in the play.

It all could go terribly wrong, yet they are in safe hands, because the three cast members are masters and hold the show together … I have to say it again … delightfully.

Of the three, the office manager,played by Justin Rogers, is a stand-out for me, but really that’s just because of the flowing gracefulness of his movements – and a classic vacuum-cleaner gag – but all of them, Catherine Yates, Tessa Rao and musical director Josh Clark, are fabulous in their roles and presence.

Indian Ink has done it again. Dirty Work is delightful on all levels. I could go on for much longer about this show, but I don’t need to. You just need to go and see it.


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Strong character archetypes, serious misunderstandings, linguistic hijinks, physical misadventures, a touch of pathos and a heart-warming denouement

Review by John Smythe 03rd Aug 2023

Given Hamlet’s claim that the purpose of playing is “to hold … the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure,” how might theatre makers meet the challenge of putting contemporary office work on stage? After all a large percentage of our adult population work in offices, where virtue, scorn and pressure are daily experiences.

Roger Hall (now Sir Roger) cracked it 47 years ago with the phenomenally successful Glide Time set in the small back office of a government department where, as the title suggests, work-related pressure was not a major element. These days, large open plan offices rule and job-related pressure is ever-present.

The ingenious solution of the also phenomenally successful Indian Ink Theatre Company’s writers Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis (also the director) is to cast four core performers in their touring play and, in each town, fill John Verryt’s colourfully cluttered office set with a local choir. A different one every night, what’s more! The 27 singers have not seen the script but have rehearsed eight songs* so they’ll arrive at their work stations as a genuine group of colleagues.

We will discover they work in the New Zealand office of an Indian conglomerate called Sisyphus, which suggests the form of the enterprise. Rajan’s programme note references Albert Camus’ essay The Myth of Sisyphus and his proposition that “the absurd lies in the juxtaposition between the fundamental human need to attribute meaning to life and the ‘unreasonable silence’ of the universe in response.”  

Dirty Work – An Ode to Joy begins in silence as an office Cleaner goes about her work. Wearing Indian Ink’s trade-make overbite false teeth in lieu of a mask, she is the classic low-status commedia character. There is minimal audience connection as she reveals the rubbish cluttering one work station in particular and it is we who feel scorn as she clears it away, quietly singing, “I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh …” from Lorde’s ‘Royals’.  

When the Branch Manager, Neil Drummond, played with angular energy by Justin Rogers, arrives early to face the challenges of the “big day”, the pressure on him increases at the realisation that all the computers are missing. They’re being upgraded. His natural tendencies to fume, control and dominate are tempered by a fear of crossing the line with inappropriate behaviour. I’m guessing he’s had dealings with HR.

Team leader Zara, ebulliently played by Tessa Rao, is early too – as are all the Staff. Zara’s motivational spirit and judicious managing of Neil’s excesses could be seen as a virtue, even though she longs to be living the high life elsewhere, until – later in the play – she reveals a character flaw through an egregious case of class profiling.  

Meanwhile the CEO, V J Kumar, phones in his demands from a Hong Kong departure lounge, via live video to Neil’s laptop (which he always takes home to work overtime, so it hasn’t been taken by IT). We only hear Jacob Rajan’s unmistakable voice, traversing a range of moods from threatening insistence through friendly interest to philosophical introspection. I long to see his face as well, projected on the back curtains that represent the city office block windows.

We have to assume the Staff, whose desktops are hidden by dividers, are hard at work on the urgently needed material for the Board because Neil and Zara are contributing very little to achieving that outcome. Many office workers will see that as a valid dramaturgical choice.

I wonder, however, about the Cleaner being less than industrious in trying to complete her tasks despite the influx of early arrivals and despite her being invisible to them. Not only does she have to get to her next job but her partner, Gary, phones with an urgent problem that also requires urgent action – which gives us insight into who she is in the world beyond her cleaner role. Yet she too is obliged to ignore those compelling motivators in order to attend to the script’s other needs. Not that I’m arguing for naturalism, here – the commedia is powerfully driven by human wants, needs, fallibilities and vulnerabilities.

The play’s non-naturalistic conventions are underlined by the infusion of beautifully rendered choral singing at well-judged moments: Giacomo Puccini’s ‘Humming Chorus’, an excerpt from ‘Angels from the Realms of Glory’ (trad, arranged by David Willcocks), ‘Thileo’ (trad), ‘Mātangi’ (Rev. Wharetini Rangi, arr Romers Wiremu), ‘Something in the Water’ (Brooke Fraser, arr Penny Dodd), ‘Jai Ho!’ ( A R Rahman, arr Josh Clark – who is also the Musical Director and onstage pianist, clevery installed at a work station), ‘Ode to Joy’ (Ludwig van Beethoven, apapt. John Rosser – also Choral Adviser), ‘Royals’ (Lorde, ass Mark Rosser).  

Although not explicitly stated, I take this dimension to represent the way people offset the drudgery of their working tasks, as the Cleaner does in the opening sequence; as people do with bluetooth earbuds; as Justin Lewis attests in his programme note: “I love putting my headphones on and singing along when I’m cleaning the house.” The more the rhythm and mood of these interventions contrast with the intra-office dramas including a sense of actual work getting done, the better the onstage drama works.

If V J’s shift from demanding CEO to existential introspection signals to everyone that the pressure is off and preparing for the impending Board meeting no longer matters, I miss it. Nevertheless the sudden recognition of the Cleaner, the discovery of her name (hiding in plain sight), the unexpected twist that follows and the satisfying resolution on her own terms, deliver a heartwarming denouement.

I have great admiration for the craft and management skills implicit in bringing Dirty Work – An Ode to Joy to the stage. All the key commedia elements are there: strong character archetypes, serious misunderstandings, linguistic hijinks, physical misadventures, a touch of pathos …

What I’m wresting with is the unexpected objectivity with which I find myself observing it all; my lack of empathetic engagement with the characters and story. And that may be down to the nature of the Soundings Theatre space which is strangely unconducive to a rich live theatre experience.
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*For details on how the choirs are managed, see Production Details.


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A meeting place of great creative choices: “beautiful, funny, sad and true”

Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 18th Jun 2023

The Cambridge Online Dictionary describes work as ‘an activity, such as a job, that a person uses physical or mental effort to do, usually for money’.

Maybe this explains why I’m up at 3.30am writing this – because it’s a job. It’s not just a job of course, not many people who are driven to engage in the performing arts in Aotearoa do it simply because it’s a job. Or for the money. Ask us why we are consumed by the need to ceaselessly produce work in, or on the periphery of, this brutal industry and you may get an articulate answer. You may not. Mostly you won’t, because what drives us is often the primitive and fundamental desire to make sense of our world and to enrich that understanding by putting it in front of others and asking what they think.

While important, this is not always a good, or self-sustaining, idea.

In a Spinoff article about Indian Ink, Sam Brooks – himself a sublimely talented maker of theatre work – describes the portfolio of outstanding reviews of Krishnan’s Dairy in these terms: “Those reviews don’t exaggerate. Krishnan’s Dairy is, hands down, the most successful independent show in New Zealand theatre history. It has toured nationally, and internationally, several times to sold-out audiences. It established Rajan’s company, Indian Ink, as a pillar of New Zealand theatre, and has brought thousands of patron’s joy, and more than a few tears.”

Tautoko that!

The company says of itself that “we aim to make theatre that is beautiful, funny, sad and true. We go to the theatre to be transported by a great story and to enjoy characters who live large in our imaginations. We want the experience to leave an indelible imprint on your hearts. That’s why we’re called Indian Ink!”

Tautoko that too!

My first experience of Indian Ink and its principals was in 2001 as Business Manager of the Maidment Theatre where season after season of Krishnan’s Dairy sold out. The audience demographic was impossible to track because it seemed everyone wanted a piece of this solo show about an Indian dairy owner. It was magic, and every show since has equally defied description. You think you know what you’re in for only to find that you were wrong and that being wrong was a very, very good thing. Dirty Work – subtitled An Ode to Joy – is no different and even the titles give a deceptive wink to what’s to come. Keep digging, it says, spade work is good for you.

The premise is rich in personal challenges. I can hear the conversation now: let’s do a piece about work and let’s set it in an office with the cleaner as the central character. Let’s call her Joy and the piece ‘An Ode to Joy’ – Schiller and Beethoven won’t mind – and let’s make it even more complex for ourselves by having a live choir onstage every night dropping a few anthems and let’s have them play office workers but not ever let them see the script. That should do it.’

And it does.

I can’t speak for anyone else but Beethoven’s ‘Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125’ lives in my collective memory as music I think I’ve always known. It’s a choral symphony and ‘The Ode to Joy’, which everyone will hum along to, is embedded as the 4th Movement. What we often don’t know is that Schiller’s poem – which provides the lyric for the symphony – is intensely political. Beethoven was a great admirer of Schiller and “The Ode’s themes of ‘humans as free and rational beings and the sanctity of the brotherhood of man and peace” (as noted in Ireland’s National Concert Hall notes) closely align with Beethoven’s beliefs.

I might be overthinking this, but these themes also align with those of Dirty Work and history would suggests this music wasn’t a random choice but was chosen because of this alignment. Dirty Work: An Ode to Joy has all the hallmarks of Indian Ink’s best work, and tart and pertinent social commentary is always present in spades.

Lewis and Rajan are in great company, choosing ‘The Ode to Joy’ as a rasping, poignant, if oblique, social theme as it has been a protest anthem for decades. “Protestors in Chile sang it during a demonstration against the Pinochet dictatorship and Chinese students broadcast it from Tiananmen Square. Leonard Bernstein performed it on the Christmas Day after the fall of the Berlin Wall at a special concert in the German capital” where he changed to name from ‘Ode to Joy’ to ‘Ode to Freedom’. Indian Ink use it in 2023 to celebrate the life and work of an office cleaner. Most appropriate, and also good fun.

Yes, we have all this and a choir as well.

Dirty Work will tour a number of centres and in each a different choir will be added to the production. In Tamaki Makaurau we are privileged to have John Rosser’s Viva Voce and they are in fine vocal fettle enriching the story line with a range of celebratory anthems bouncing from Puccini’s ‘Humming Chorus’ to ‘Matangi’ to Lorde’s ‘Royals’ with its appropriately classy class-driven lyrics. The finale is especially moving, providing me with a two-day earworm well worthy of the work.

The text is fantastic: so many puns, double entendre, intentional miss-hearings, set ups for visual gags and lines that cut to the quick. On opening night, the first 15 minutes take time to warm up but once the cast hits their straps there is no stopping them and it is a race to the end that leaves us both sore from laughing and pained by the anguished way the plot evolves.

Joy, a nobody throughout, carries a storyline of poverty and struggle but equally she is the unashamed heroine of the piece, a worker who finds her voice and uses it. How often do we forget that our commercial cleaners know us sublimely well through the rubbish we generate even if we seldom ever meet them. Organisations – and sadly individuals – treat their cleaning staff like trash and it’s an appalling social ugliness that we seldom stand up against or even acknowledge. At my last workplace, the cleaners were banned from using the staff lunchroom because ‘they might pinch stuff, you know what those darkies are like’. They were reduced to bringing thermos flasks of tea and sitting on the stairs to eat their evening meal.

Dirty Work is what it says it is – “it turns the office on its head” – but it also isn’t always what it seems. There’s an overtone of Brecht in the use of music to underwrite the plot and to make statements otherwise beyond the reach of the actors and it’s uncompromising in its celebration of work for work’s sake. The programme names the actors – Catherine Yates, Justin Rogers, Tessa Rao, and Jacob Rajan – but not the characters they play which speaks volumes as well.

It’s a straightforward plot. An office full of largely anonymous workers support a larger offshore company by providing business-related (mostly financial) services. There’s a middle manager who we all recognise. He’s out of his depth, socially inept, and promoted well above his capacity to perform. He’s harmless enough, easy to ignore and most of the staff do, and he’s building an ulcer for himself while he struggles desperately to please everyone around him, in particular a youngish woman who seems to be 2IC in the office.

She’s glamourous and forthright and full of the learning she’s experienced during her solitary month in an ashram. She carries much of the ugliness the plot needs, she’s judgemental, needy, opinionated, and not in a good way. For all that, we quite like her because she still manages to be thoughtful towards Joy at key moments thanks to masterful scripting and an empathic performance.

There’s also the hint of an office romance.

Then there’s the office staff – who double as a choir or is it the other way around – who are mostly cyphers but with burgeoning personalities we grow to like.

And there’s the boss who makes contact via the manager’s laptop at the most inconvenient times and who throws curveballs of the most delightful sort at all the key characters and thus manipulates the plot in the most outrageous ways. On the way home I asked my son, who is an athlete and not an actor, who his favourite character was and he said it was the boss in the computer. He liked everyone else, but the boss was hard to beat, he said.

And there’s Joy, the ever-present Joy. She cleans and intersects with the plot driving it where necessary, and taking over when she needs to. She’s white trash North Shore Lorde in ‘Royals’ – “We count our dollars on the train to the party, and everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this, we didn’t come from money, we’ll never be royals, let me live that fantasy”. Like the song, Joy sticks in your head, reminding you to be kind to everyone you meet – especially the cleaners because, through your trash, they know exactly who you are. It’s a super’ self-deprecating performance and we love her breakout moment. The denouement is magnificent as is Joy and both must be experienced to be fully appreciated.

Is Dirty Work: An Ode to Joy entertainment? Yes, it is. Is it what it says it is, a comedy? Yes, it is. It’s driven by a delicate balance of plot, character, form and style in true Indian Ink fashion. It’s thoughtful, heart-warming, cringe-making and culturally challenging. It’s a night out that takes its own revenge.

Is it innovative and new? Yes. Is it difficult? No, but it’s like a river: you can boat on it or you can dive into it. The deeper the dive the greater the satisfaction. Is it internally challenging? Sure is, it’s like J and J have said how can we make this piece our most challenging yet? They’ve done that, and we are the beneficiaries. 

So, what’s with the music? Is it a musical? Yes, it is, but not in the traditional way, not West Side Story but with a wee touch of Brecht; Brecht but without the Pirate Jenny overlay. Soft Brecht, but with incisors at the ready.

Is it political? You bet it is. Every second Joy is on the stage is political … and she’s only ever off stage for a nanosecond.

Is the acting Brechtian too? Not really. These are fully fleshed out characters, real people. Splendidly preformed too by Catherine Yates, Justin Rogers, Tessa Rao, and Jacob Rajan.

I’ve said many times before if you want to do good work, work with the best people. How’s this for a list: Murray Edmond (Dramaturge), John Verryt (Set design), Jo Kilgour (Lighting design), Elizabeth Whiting (Costume design), Josh Clark (Music director), John Rosser (Choral advisor).

The best of the best.

Dirty Work: An Ode to Joy is also much more than the sum of its parts. It’s Indian Ink so it’s “beautiful, funny, sad and true. We are transported by a great story and enjoy characters who live large in our imaginations. We have an experience that leaves an indelible imprint on our hearts.” It’s more than the sum of its parts, yet it is also what it says it is. It’s a meeting place of great choices, and one of those choices is the genius of linking Dirty Work with the virtuosity of Lorde at her angry, working-class best. 

That’s very smart indeed.

In the row in front of me is the wonderful Sir Roger Hall. His work, at its best, has the same impact on me as this does: deeply political below a surface of fun; another deep river. I wonder, in the moment, what he was thinking. Like the whole theatre experience, ephemeral, and I’ll never know. And that’s OK too.

At the end of the show, I stumble into the foyer on the arm of my son, and there’s Justin Lewis on the microphone thanking everyone for coming, for supporting Indian Ink, working the room, the job still not done. I hope he gets time to enjoy his success. Once again, he’s earned it. Thoroughly earned it. In a theatre – Q Theatre – that he was instrumental in making happen. I remember that too.

Will Dirty Work: An Ode to Joy change the world? Probably not. But if it makes each and every audience member think a tad more deeply about class, about race, about work, about kindness, about empathy, about picking up after ourselves, about love thy neighbour, then it’s done its job. The messages are there, loud and clear. All we have to do is hear them and act on them. 

As we slip out into a cold, wet Auckland night I take a moment to appreciate the staff of Q Theatre. They understand what hospitality is and how to ensure every guest has the very best experience possible. Nothing is ever a bother. So very, very good. Quality service, like good theatre, doesn’t just happen. It takes time to evolve. Sometimes we just have to let things soak for a bit.

Seems appropriate, then, given the content, to give the penultimate word to Albert Camus since I started with him and his absurdist philosophies: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” – good advice for every actor. And the final word to the late Glenda Jackson: “The best theatre is trying to tell the truth, and the best politics is trying to tell the truth.”

Tautoko that! 


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