DUNGEONING & DRAGONING
Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington
26/07/2020 - 30/08/2020
HEROES AND GODS AND MONSTERS: DUNGEONING & DRAGONING AT CIRCA THEATRE
“[Dungeons and Dragons] harkens back to an incredibly primitive mode of storytelling. [The Dungeon Master is] the tribal storyteller who gathers everyone around the fire to tell stories about heroes and gods and monsters. It’s a live, communal event, where anything can happen in the moment.” – David Lindsay-Abaire, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of Rabbit Hole
Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: Dungeoning & Dragoning is a live show where a group of actors play a game of Dungeons and Dragons, a tabletop roleplaying game first released in 1974, while the audience watches. There is no script. There is little audience interaction and the audience is seated. There are few costume elements and the set is minimal. There are dice. There are pencils and paper. And there’s a 317-page rulebook that is meticulously followed to the letter.
The “Dungeon Master” creates the world of the story ahead of time, replete with plot hooks and dramatic tales and colourful characters, and hopes to shepherd the players through their carefully crafted fantasy narrative during the course of the show. The players, having concocted their characters with no knowledge of the Dungeon Master’s carefully laid plans, improvise their way through the show’s scenarios. The final ingredient is the 20-sided dice, which the players roll to determine the success of their intended action. The higher the number, the higher the likelihood of success.
The inclusion of the dice and its element of chance is perhaps what creates the delicious dose of schadenfreude that makes Dungeons and Dragons live shows so enduringly popular. There’s nothing more viciously entertaining than watching the gallant knight loudly state their intentions to cut off the goblin’s head and sail away with the damsel in distress, only to roll a 1 on the dice and fall flat on their face. Likewise, there’s a sort of wicked glee that comes from watching a player insist they’re going to attempt to seduce the evil Big Bad instead of fighting them, and watching the Dungeon Master’s face fall as their carefully laid plans of epic battles crumble into dust before their eyes as the player rolls a 20 – an instant seduction success.
But despite this comedic potential, at its core Dungeons and Dragons is fundamentally all about collaborative storytelling. The outcome is uncertain. The characters could perish. The townsfolk might not be saved. The players may not overcome their dark pasts. And no one, not even the Dungeon Master, knows how it’s going to unfold on the night. Which means every night is different, every show is unique, and every moment is palpably important.
In Dungeoning & Dragoning, you’ll see a wild magic sorcerer played by Circa regular Gavin Rutherford (The Pantomime ‘Dame’, Top of the Lake, A View from the Bridge) join forces with Harriet Prebble (Massive Crushes, The Father, Gifted) and her cheeky forest gnome trickster cleric, Allan Henry (A Boy Called Piano, Mean Mums, Ghost in the Shell) and his tattooed and burdened ancestral guardian barbarian, and Dani Meldrum (The Surprise Party) and her mysterious horned rogue as they are led by Dungeon Master Ryan McIntyre (Black Christmas, Black Hands) playing every single other character in the entire world that they decide to interact with. (Yes, the Dungeon Master has the hardest job.)
It’s improvised. It’s epic. It’s a little bit nerdy. It might go ‘wrong’, which is exactly the way that Dungeons and Dragons goes right.
Drop in for a single night or follow the crew through their six-part adventure. Frequently hilarious, sometimes moving and always unpredictable, this is spontaneous, unscripted theatre controlled entirely by chance.
CIRCA THEATRE, 1 Taranaki St, Wellington Waterfront
Six Sunday shows only
Sundays 26 July – 30 August [OPENING NIGHT SOLD OUT]
Ticket Prices: Adults $25, Concessions $20, Friends of Circa $18
Bookings at www.circa.co.nz | Phone 801 7992
“The adventures I’ve had in Dungeons and Dragons will always be more exciting than anything they could put on a screen because it was me and I lived it, and it was spontaneous.” – Deborah Ann Woll, True Blood actor
“[Dungeons and Dragons] gave me a really strong background in imagination, storytelling, [and] understanding how to create tone and a sense of balance.”- Jon Favreau, Iron Man director
“We welfare kids could travel, have adventures, succeed, be powerful, triumph, fail and be in ways that would have been impossible in the larger real world. D&D hit like an extra horizon.” Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
“The first things that taught me about how words were beautiful were hip-hop and Dungeons and Dragons.” Ta-Nehisi Coates, Black Panther author
“I always, always wanted to be the Dungeon Master because that’s where the creativity lies — in thinking up places, characters, and situations. If done well, a game can be a novel in itself.” Sharyn McCrumb, bestselling author of the Ballad novels
“The point is, if you come into D&D as a 48-year-old man or an 8-year-old kid, you’re gonna find an element of the game that’ll be for whoever you are at that part of your life.” Matthew Lillard, Scooby Doo actor
Lighting design/operator: Tony Black
Set design: Jared Lewis
Costume: Gabriela Rocha
Theatre , Improv ,
Cheerful, excellent and inventive
Review by Shaun McGuire 27th Jul 2020
For those, such as my parents, that don’t know what D&D is all about: essentially a group of players take the part of various of misfits called characters who band together to travel, battle, and struggle through a World organised by another person called the Dungeon Master. (Yes, I know, but this is ‘Dungeon Master’ in a nice way.)
The Dungeon Master sets the scenes and challenges the characters face, bringing to life all other people and creatures in the World. The results of actions are not pre-determined. Dice are used to represent the outcomes: low rolls represent failure; high rolls success.
Most action takes place within the theatre of the mind. A good game is spontaneous and builds on the creativity of all involved, and the success of the game is measured in the enjoyment derived.
Dungeoning & Dragoning completely embraces the game and delivers it up as entertainment.
The cast on stage clearly enjoy themselves as much as the enthusiastic audience enjoy watching them. The audience have no trouble joining the cast in the theatre of the mind and believing for example, that one cast member is portraying a tall, tailed and be-horned barbarian, while another is bringing to life a two-and-a-half-foot gnome. Each performer provides input, yields the spotlight appropriately and plays up their characters’ foibles as much as their strengths while cheerfully accepting the results of the dice rolls, good or ill.
So, full points to the cast: Ryan McIntyre, Gavin Rutherford, Harriet Prebble, Allan Henry and Gabriela Rocha. Based on their grasp of their characters and ability to improvise with the action, they deliver.
The set is simply arranged to support game play and to help the audience to identify the characters, possibly just in case the characters are not vigorously portrayed (they of course are). The Dungeon Master’s magnificent throne provides a focus to the set. Smoke, lighting and ominous mood music is nimbly delivered to support the Dungeon Master’s narration, which is all the more impressive given the technical aspects are by necessity improvised.
It is a cheerful game, and excellent and inventive entertainment. Which is lucky for me.
Before attending on the 26th of July, I had already agreed to go again with a group of friends to a later performance of this production. I am happy to say I leave the theatre very much looking forward to catching this show again.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Editor August 25th, 2020
With it being hard to accurately know how long Level Two will continue in New Zealand, delaying the production to later dates was no longer sustainable.
We’d like to thank the cast and crew for igniting this passion for fantasy and storytelling in our space and hope to see it return in the future. For a beautiful farewell from the team and the magic they created, please see Canvas Abyss's post:
Box Office will be in touch with all patrons affected. Thank you for your understanding and your invaluable support throughout this process.