Drinking Games

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

27/09/2008 - 25/10/2008

Production Details

Chock full of wit and insight into men in their thirties

What do men talk about in the absence of women?
—Cars, sport, sex, or do they simply talk about themselves?

How much do men really know about their drinking mates?
If alcohol is removed from the equation is there a friendship left?

In Drinking Games, Damien Wilkins wittily reproduces the behaviour of four men aged thirty-something who made friends when they were at high school.

These days, stretching the tenuous ties of the decade, Garry, Steve, Dave and Tim meet once a month to play tennis which serves as a foreplay to drinking.

Gary has applied for a promotion to Hong Kong that he doesn’t really want, Steve worries about his marriage and suffers ribbing about his flambé chicken, Dave can’t remember signing up to so many wine clubs and wishes he was a fraction trimmer and Tim, an ‘angry ball of tension’, fills the room coughing like a consumptive.

The things that brought the men together now seem less potent than what is driving them apart.

The play looks at male friendship—its rituals, pleasures, failures and intimacies.

SEASON: 27 September – 25 October
Circa 2
Performance times:
Tuesday – Saturday 7:30pm
Sunday 4.30pm
Tickets: $18 – $35
Fri   26 Sept $20 preview
Sun 28 Sept $20 special
Wednesdays and Fridays Special offer: Beef Bourguignon & Beer & Show: $50

Bookings: Circa 801 7992
or www.circa.co.nz
Pre-show dinner available at Circa Café and Bar – phone 801 7996

Nick Dunbar 
Robbie Hunt 
Gavin Rutherford
Simon Vincent

Designer: Murray Lynch
Costumes: Zoe Fox

Strong debut

Review by Lynn Freeman 08th Oct 2008

For many of us girls, Foreskin’s Lament was the first time we’d been inside a men’s locker room. Damien Wilkins takes us back inside another one at the start of Drinking Games.

Locker rooms are revealing places, it’s not just bodies that are exposed just how men relate to each other. And lads, I can assure you it’s very different to women’s locker room conversations.

Wilkins’ foursome comprises two successful and single lawyers, Dave (Gavin Rutherford) and Gary (Simon Vincent), while the other two are married with children – plumber Steve (Robbie Hunt) and bureaucrat Tim (Nick Dunbar).

These school friends meet once a month for a tennis match, followed by a few drinks. This has gone on for years but they know very little about each other’s present lives and problems. They live more in the past, the past which binds them despite their differences.

These get-togethers, filled with meaningless clowning around, are important to each one of these 30-somethings. What Wilkins does is force them all to grow up, through changes and tragedies, and to question whether the friendship can handle the strain of it all, real emotions rather than jokes about love lives (or lack thereof), bodily functions and body parts.

There’s a lot of meat in this 80-minute play, neatly integrated with the humour, a fine balance some playwrights struggle with.

Murray Lynch has done an excellent job casting the play, they play off the script and each other with humour, when it’s called for, and pathos, anger, pain, when they are called for.  Vincent had some uncharacteristic line lapses the night I was there but the ensemble work by the cast as a whole was impressive.

Wilkins is a wonderful novelist, but his scene changes (so easy on the page) could have been a killer. Lynch, as director and designer, came up with a great scheme of quickly transformable furniture modules. The paint scheme for the backdrop though is spectacularly and distractingly ugly.
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Truly formulaic

Review by Thomas LaHood 01st Oct 2008

This New Zealand premiere of celebrated Wellington author Damien Wilkins’ first foray into writing for the stage boasts excellent craftsmanship but no surprises.

It’s the classic structure of four guys ‘coming of age’ – in this case hitting 30, and recognising that their lives are now on diverging paths.  It’s pretty clear from the start that we will see one of them reveal a ‘dark side’, one find success and leave the others behind, one be hit with terminal illness.

Nonetheless, the form is executed with panache by Wilkins, who keeps the drama tight and the turn-arounds and reveals pacy throughout. The other strength of Wilkins’s script is in the honesty of his character portrayals.

These four ex drinking-buddies are warts-and-all, and fairly unpleasant to each other.  It’s a pretty tenuous connection that keeps them playing tennis together, it would be a stretch to describe them as friends, or friendly.  But by the end of the play they have some sympathy towards one another, and so do we in the audience.

This is helped by some excellent performances from the cast who have mined Wilkins’ dialogue to its full potential of subtlety and humour.  Nick Dunbar is pitch-perfect as phlegmatic public servant Tim, and Gavin Rutherford works the nuance of repressed, charismatic Dave with flair, getting an impressive depth of characterisation with a fine attention to detail.

Simon Vincent’s Gary is played cranked one level up from the naturalism of the other cast members and somehow resonates all the more strongly for it.  Vincent plays Gary’s eager, slightly brash young lawyer for laughs and though it initially seems caricature, a powerful degree of emotional truth emerges in his performance as the play progresses.

Robbie Hunt’s amiably dim but desperate Steve is instantly recognisable, but the performance seems a little forced.  At times one can hear the text behind the delivery and Hunt’s facial expressions are not totally convincing – although the slightly vacant quality that this produces works for the character in its own way.

The cast works well in ensemble, as four men who do not actually know each other well but keep up a pretence of friendship they are very convincing.  However, at times their delivery is slightly bungled as they try to keep up a naturally speedy pace.

The set design by director Murray Lynch somewhat lets the production down, with its unimaginative assortment of white boxes that for all their neutrality still seem to need a lot of between-scenes manipulation to create what are after all only a few different scenarios.  Quicker turnaround would work a lot better with the pace of the performance and would spare us overexposure to the banal instrumental track that plays through the transitions.

As for the paua-ashtray hatching backdrop, I’m not sure what the design intention was but the net effect for me was to give the overall dramatic themes a slightly dated quality, a slightly 80’s feel, highlighting the script’s sole weakness – its familiarity.

There’s a lot here for audiences – fun dialogue, quality acting, some clever variations on the formula of a bunch of guys reaching maturity.  True, the story covers infidelity, repressed sexuality and even The Big ‘C’, but these themes are so familiar to us now both in drama and in real life that they don’t hold any special impact.  Ultimately it remains a formula and there are no new angles or surprises to lift the story beyond something that is, in the end, pedestrian.


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Wins and losses in game of life

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 01st Oct 2008

The approach of middle-age has been described as occurring when you are too young for golf and too old to rush up to the net. The four men in Damien Wilkins’s wistful comedy of transition Drinking Games do not mention golf but they do play fiercely contested games of tennis.

The quartet’s ritual of tennis matches followed by drinking games is coming to an end. The play starts at a tennis club when the first signs of rushing to the net are appearing to cause problems for two of them, particularly the about-to-be portly Dave and the ominously coughing Tim.

Their friendship since school is also starting to fray at the edges: Gary has been offered a position in Hong Kong and marriage and children are occupying Tim and Steve’s time while the two bachelor lawyers, Dave and Gary, can never remember the names of their friends’ wives and children.

As a group all they have to cling onto are their monthly games, their reminiscing about their escapades at school, their drinking games, their macho rivalry, and their constant ribbing of each other, all of which seemed enough to cement a seemingly indestructible bond of friendship.

While some of the events in the play are entirely predictable from the start Murray Lynch’s fast, funny and forceful production is carefully orchestrated so that we come to care for the characters whose inner lives we glimpse every now and then when they – usually unwittingly – reveal themselves to each other.

All four actors are in terrific form playing the comedy with élan and the personal revelations with an emotional restraint that is moving. Simon Vincent’s Gary, the one who stands slightly aloof from the others, conveys subtly that Gary has already outgrown the group, while Gavin Rutherford as Dave, the leader of the pack, the fast-talking, smart lawyer, the one with charisma the others look up to, is in terrific form, finding all the comedy in his lines and creating more in his timing, gestures and facial reactions.

Robbie Hunt’s distraught plumber Steve, whose marriage is falling apart, and Nick Dunbar as the prickly Tim play their final scene with tenderness and restraint that is in marked contrast to the final drinking game all four play when the underlying tensions amongst the quartet are released in a climactic scene that powerfully mixes comedy with tragedy.


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