Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland
24/09/2014 - 27/09/2014
Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington
06/06/2016 - 11/06/2016
Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland LIVE, Auckland
20/05/2016 - 04/06/2016
Featuring Stephen Lovatt & Jonny Brugh
“Nobody conquers a mountain like Everest. You climb it and be thankful you come back alive”
EVEREST UNTOLD is a unique and heartfelt personal look at the forgotten men behind one of the greatest events in New Zealand history.
EVEREST UNTOLD re-examines the Everest expedition of 1953, bringing it to rich and vivid life through the eyes of the ‘other’ Kiwi climber, George Lowe, and the expedition leader John Hunt. The team that stepped onto that mountain put their lives on the line, facing unthinkable danger to chase the dream of standing on top of the world. Yet, history has forgotten the men that stood behind Hillary and Tenzing.
Rich with humor, pathos and adventure, EVEREST UNTOLD is a story of friendship, rivalry, sacrifice, brotherhood, what it means to be part of a team and what it means to be left behind.
EVEREST UNTOLD is the world premiere of a new play by acclaimed Auckland playwright Gareth Davies, whose work has previously been performed in festivals throughout the UK. EVEREST UNTOLD features the extraordinary talents of theatre and screen veterans Stephen Lovatt (Hope and Wire, Fantail, Angels in America) and Jonny Brugh (What We Do In The Shadows, How to Meet Girls From A Distance) and directed by award winning actor and writer Toby Leech (Wheelers Luck, Seige, Shortland Street).
“There is something about building up a comradeship — that I still believe is the greatest of all feats — and sharing in the dangers with your company of peers.” – Edmund Hilary
Q Theatre Loft
24th – 27th September
Everest Untold had a short season in 2015 at Q Theatre and received rave reviews.
“Everest Untold has all the components of success when it comes to (re)educating New Zealander’s on one of our greatest triumphs in a genuinely entertaining way; a story that resonates in the psyche of its audience” Matt Baker – Theatrescenes
“I’m left feeling proud to be a Kiwi, and happy to be fully enlightened about the 1953 team, especially the ‘other’ Kiwi in the band” Kate Ward-Smythe – Theatreview
Part climbing experience in the “death zone”, part exposure of human frailties and part revelation of what might have been, Everest Untold is an incredible story of friendship, rivalry, brotherhood, what it means to be a team, and what it means to be left behind.
George Lowe was from Hawkes Bay and was the one who suggested to Sir Edmund that they give the Himalayas “a go”. Lowe and Hilary climbed together until Sir Edmund teamed up with Tenzing Norgay. Everest Untold tells Lowe and Hunt’s story in great detail – their shared experiences, their collective dreams, their personal sacrifices and the vital part each played in the successful summiting.
This fascinating story, written by Aucklander Gareth Davies, stars Stephen Lovatt (Angels in America and The Book of Everything) and Edwin Wright (Manifesto 2083 and Slow West) and is directed by Toby Leach (Wheeler’s Luck).
Everest Untold will change your understanding of this great feat and you will meet two men who helped cut steps to the roof of the world. This is intimate and illuminating theatre for all New Zealanders.
EVEREST UNTOLD plays:
Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre
20 May – 4 June 2016
Tues & Wed 6.30pm, Thurs – Sat, 8pm, Sun 29 May, 2pm
Tickets from Ticketmaster: www.ticketmaster.co.nz or phone 0800 111 999
Circa Two, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
6 – 11 June
Mon – Sat, 7.30pm
$46 – $25
The play tours nationwide with Arts on Tour New Zealand in July and the show will have a season at Circa in Wellington in June.
Tickets*: Adult $35.00 Concession** $25.00 Group 6+ $25.00
*Service fees apply **Concession – Senior Citizens, Students, Members of Actors Equity
ARTS ON TOUR NEW ZEALAND
Dates for EVEREST UNTOLD
Friday 1 July 7.30pm
Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts
University of Waikato
Adults $25; 65+ and Unwaged $20; Students $10
Groups 4+ $18
Book: www.waikato.ac.nz/academywhats-on or 0800 3835200
Saturday 2 July 6.30 for 7pm start
Whitianga Town Hall
Adults $20; Student/child under 19 $15
Book: Whitianga Paper Plus
Wednesday 6 July
7.30pm The Lawson Field Theatre
Book: Stephen Jones Photography
Friday 8 and Saturday 9 July 7.30pm
Sunday 10 July 3pm matinee
4th Wall Theatre
Adults $35; Seniors/groups 6+ $30; Students $15
Wednesday 13 July 7.30pm
Thursday 14 July 2pm
Friday 15 July 7.30pm
Isaac Theatre Royal
Adults $42.50; concessions $37.50 (matinee only)
Book: www.ticketek.co.nz 0800 TICKETEK (service fees apply)
Saturday 16 July 7.30pm
Sunday 17 July 4pm
Book: 03 477 8323 www.fortunetheatre.co.nz
Tuesday 19 July 7.30pm
Church St Timaru
$25+$2 booking fee
Book: Newman’s Music Works www.nmw.co.nz
Up With People presents
Thursday 21 July 7pm for 7.30pm show
Aratoi Museum of Arts & History
$30 Book: www.eventfinda.co.nz
Friday 22 July 8pm
Expressions Whirinaki Arts Centre
$20 Book: www.expressions.org.nz 04 527 2168
Saturday 23 July 7pm
ASB Theatre Marlborough
$25+ service fees
Monday 25 July 7pm
$25 Book: www.eventfinda.co.nz or at the Laboratory
Wednesday 27 July 7.30pm
Ashburton Trust Event Centre
‘Open Hat Night’ No charge prior to the event
Thursday 28 July 7.30pm
Twizel Events Centre
Adults $20; Students $10 (cash only)
Book: Twizel Information Centre
Friday 29 July 7.30pm
$25 book: www.eventfinda.co.nz
Saturday 30 July 7.30pm
The Cellar Door
Adults $20;seniors $15; Child $10
Book: Alexandra i-Site or cash at door
Sunday 31 July 7.30pm
Old Lodge Theatre
$20 Book: Hokitika Regent Theatre
– See more at: http://aotnz.co.nz/index.php?page=touring-now#sthash.ZCP0W2N7.dpuf
A taste of the raw experience
Review by Patrick Davies 07th Jun 2016
Clever plays come from simple ideas and the premise of the story of Everest is presented in the form of a speaking engagement by Sir John Hunt, leader of the exhibition, to the Otago University Climbing Club.
Sir John Hunt (Stephen Lovatt) is seated on a leather chair next to the ubiquitous small table with glass, carafe and flowers. A table with a slide projector, screen and two flags (New Zealand and England) complete the simple set. Once the thank yous and British anthem are over we sit down to a fascinating talk about the Everest expedition.
Hunt is a great raconteur with an easy smile and grace, and he is joined by the late George Lowe (Edwin Wright), one of the two New Zealanders, as they impart a large and interesting tale of the ins and outs of what went on behind the scenes. There is, excuse the pun, a mountain of facts, figures and explanations that are given to use through the course of the next hour.
I have little background information apart from what one might be expected to know as a New Zealander. It is a great credit to the teamwork of Gareth Davies’ script, Toby Leach’s direction and the actors that every aspect is crystal clear and I feel I belong with the other attendees at the OUCC. One permit to attempt a climb each year; the monsoon; the booking of the 1954 and 55 attempts by other countries; the role of Nepal; the High Commissioners; the political topography – all these are laid out to create a textural background surrounding this extraordinary feat and are given even more depth by our ‘future knowledge’.
This production is entitled Everest Untold and that is what it is. Because of Lowe’s late entrance (the bus was late – wonderfully Kiwi) Hunt has time to create a very, but not stereotypical, British tone to the evening. This dash of Kiwi doesn’t unsettle Hunt but each provides a good foil for the other. Hunt focusing on his three pronged attack and its details, whilst Lowe fills in the background to the men of the expedition.
We are taken through this event with the How and the Who which creates a very subtle tension even though we know the outcome. We come to embrace these ‘amateurs’ (not cricket to involve professionals) and vicariously feel their sadness and eventual triumph.
Wright and Lovatt work wonderfully well off each other in the intimate Circa Two. There’s an underlying brotherly affection easily played by the actors, best seen when either character ribs the other. It speaks volumes to the connection created by such circumstances. Toby Leach’s direction keeps the action, what there is off it onstage during a presentation, moving, never letting it become static without meaning.
Jennifer Lal’s lighting is simple, effective and quite beautiful. She carefully creates a space that sits finely between lecture hall and theatre show, allowing the actors and director to find focal points and to sustain the dramatic unfolding of the story. Not a simple task at all.
The play opens up a lot of information that is delightfully interesting: an insider view that is well captured. However I have some niggles as to dramatic licence and history. Not knowing much of the history behind these events, I ask some knowing punters later and find out all is not as it seems. There is value in creating this fictional event as it allows us to ‘get into the heads’, even if only in a fictional way. And indeed it gives us a fictional view of what might make the man. I do come away with the sense that Hillary may have manipulated his way to the top, and that may be Davies’ interpretation of Lowe’s/Hunt’s opinions or that of his research. I’m also never averse to dramatisations, but I become hesitant when it is about such a NZ icon. Here I wonder if it may be a dramaturgical device to ask me to interrogate what I know, believe, or can research myself. Being titled “Untold” lends, perhaps, more credence. It’s great to find out that Ed’s reputation is intact, and that Hunt’s information is from a certain viewpoint.
Being a dramatisation, it also opens up the chance for revelation and effect with Hunt and Lowe. As the presentation progresses, moments of new and untold information effects them just as much. These are adroitly used more and more in the writing, allowing the characters to see each other anew, culminating in the final section when the two men speak plainly and reveal the most to each other.
A subtle lighting shift easily changes the locale to perhaps an offstage moment, but Leach’s handling of this device doesn’t quite match and our shift from a presentation to an intimate moment is a little jarring. This is reflected in the dichotomy of their renewed relationship. Each is so warmly pleased to see the other and greets the other as if they have been apart for years, yet the delivery of the dialogue is so clean and careful of each other that they feel like a well-oiled team who have been doing this talk for years.
Still, this is well worth seeing if not for the incredible and revealing slides, but also for the insight into one of our most iconic achievements. We may be more technically advanced but that makes little difference when you are taking on one of nature’s most Herculean feats. Very much Man vs Nature (appropriate, playing beside King Lear in Circa One), this production gives us a taste of the raw experience and allows us to connect back in time to one, no, at least two of our heroes.
I thoroughly recommend your seeing this, especially on tour where community halls with give it an even better ambience.
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Review by Tim George 25th May 2016
An engrossing look at two of the men behind Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s successful ascent, Everest Untold is a multimedia production in which Sir John Hunt (Stephen Lovatt), the leader of the 1953 expedition, and George Lowe (Edwin Wright), the ‘other Kiwi’, tell the story of the team effort that went into the climb.
Written by Gareth Davies and directed by Toby Leach, Everest Untold is pretty entertaining for what is basically a slideshow. The action is played as a presentation by Hunt and Lowe to a New Zealand climbing club, with Hunt providing context and Lowe colour commentary on certain details his more restrained colleague would rather overlook (mostly bodily function stuff). [More]
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Details but little drama
Review by Janet McAllister 23rd May 2016
This is more of an illustrated lecture than a play; our presenters are purportedly two members of the first successful Everest expedition, but we don’t really get to know them properly. Instead – after we’re invited to sing God Save the Queen, indicating that we’ve travelled back in time to the late 1950s or thereabouts – we’re given a slide show and an awfully large number of facts.
They’re very interesting facts – about politics getting in the way of earlier ascents (“you just couldn’t get at the bally place”) and a character called “Bruiser” Bruce being the first to use oxygen back when it “simply wasn’t cricket”. Such details are backed up by wonderful historic photographs and diagrams … [More]
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An eye-opening hour
Review by Leigh Sykes 22nd May 2016
The format of the show is a simple, but engaging one: We are attending a talk given by members of the 1953 Everest expedition. Although we are very familiar with two members of that expedition – Sir Edmund Hillary (just plain Ed at this point) and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay – the programme reminds us that “like all great adventures, there is more than one story to be told.” This story focuses on the other men who were critical parts of the expedition that was ultimately successful in taking two people to the summit of the highest mountain on earth for the first time.
As we stand for the national anthem before Sir John Hunt (Stephen Lovatt), leader of the 1953 Everest expedition, begins his talk, I reflect on how much the venue suits the topic of this show. The steeply raked seats in the Herald Theatre allow the audience to be close to the actors, while reminding us subtly of the mountain under discussion.
We learn much about the history of the mountain, the area it is in and the race to stand on the summit. Gareth Davies’ script offers rich and engaging detail about the history of expeditions on Everest, touching briefly on a wide variety of key players including the Dalai Lama and members and leaders of other expeditions such as George Mallory, Sandy Irvine and Eric Shipton. The script is witty as well as informative, including a wonderful quip about how the first person to “set two feet on the summit of Everest” adds to the official height.
The subject matter is never dry as Lovatt clearly shows us the pride Sir John has in the work that led up to the 1953 expedition, as well as the rivalry between Britain and the other nations vying to reach the summit. We are reminded of historic national rivalries as Hunt shows his utter disgust at the idea that the French might stage a successful expedition before the British, and the scene is set for 1953 being Britain’s last chance to be first to summit ‘our’ mountain.
Sir John is a planner and uses his military experience to ensure that the three prongs of the 1953 expedition give the very best opportunity for success. We are treated to detailed accounts of the amount of ‘stuff’ needing to be taken from Britain via sea and land to the treacherous slopes of the mountain, as well as Hunt’s responses to the people and locations he encounters.
Lovatt’s performance is beautifully nuanced, showing us many facets of the Everest expedition leader: the detailed planner; the proud leader; the military man and the friend. Lovatt effectively captures the ‘stiff upper lip’ British-ness of the character while also showing us the twinkle in his eye as he enjoys sharing his story.
When George Lowe (Edwin Wright) joins the talk, the interaction between the two characters is delightful. Wright emphasises the ‘down to earth’ Kiwi-ness of Lowe, gently poking fun at his very British friend and colleague. Sometimes the two characters talk over each other, so keen are they to share their point of view, but the sense of respect and camaraderie is evident from the beginning.
There are some points of dissension and, on occasion, the tension between the two men and their different approaches to the mountain is palpable. Lovatt and Wright allow these moments time to develop and this draws the audience further into the story. Both talk in moving detail of the sheer effort of will necessary to climb (not conquer) the mountain, and the teamwork that was so crucial in allowing two of the team to stand where no-one had stood before. There is a very real sense of reverence for the mountain and its people that both Lovatt and Wright transmit through their performances.
Lowe’s contributions to the story focus on the people on the expedition and Wright’s performance is moving as he remembers his own sense of failure, or describes the other members of the expedition. He shows irritation with some of the constraints of the expedition (especially the activities necessary to record the physiological effects of altitude) and Wright also gives us the sense that Lowe is holding something back; that his memories run deeper than he is able to share. He is able to suggest disagreements with a look, or show us his memories unfolding with a faraway look in his eye.
It is at the end of the formal talk that we reach the human drama of the story, as Hunt and Lowe discuss some of the decisions made on the mountain. Wright’s response to Sir John’s assessment of Lowe’s capabilities as a mountaineer is heart-breaking in its simplicity, and we feel that we are sharing feelings and events that had far-reaching repercussions for these characters. It is a satisfying conclusion to the story and the epilogue, given via the slide projector, emphasises the connections between the two characters.
The set (no design credit) is very simple but precise, giving us an accurate sketch of the time period, in the same way as the costumes (designed by Katrina Hodge) do. A handsome desk sits centre stage in front of a projection screen, on which we are shown photographs and drawings to illustrate the talk. A leather chair and a lamp are to one side. All of these items evoke a different time period, where the events being described were created. The slide projector that sits on the desk sounds satisfyingly mechanical as it clicks on from slide to slide, helping us to feel drawn into that different time and place.
The pictures that are projected are wonderfully atmospheric (as well as amusing) helping to connect us very strongly to the story that Sir John and George tell us. Lovatt is able to respond to the audience’s reactions to some of the photos, making us feel a real part of the story, and showing Sir John’s sense of humour clearly.
Toby Leach’s direction allows the story to build naturally and we come to appreciate and care for the characters because of this. The programme promises that the show will change our understanding of this great feat, and I am happy to say that for me, after spending an eye-opening hour with these characters, this is true.
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Scaling different heights
Review by Matt Baker 25th Sep 2014
It’s easy to forget that the 1953 British Mount Everest expedition consisted of 13 men other than Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. With an equally warranted respect amongst the expedition members, and without the chance of generating jingoistic reprisal, playwright Gareth Davies offers us the narrative voices of expedition leader Sir John Hunt and schoolmaster George Lowe in the untold story all New Zealander’s should know.
Davies clearly has master knowledge on the play’s subject matter, with minute detail weaved into the overall plot. This is articulated further with Stephen Lovatt’s performance as Hunt, with a slight British smarm and reverence that ingratiates him with his audience, as he brings the events to life with an honest and infectious enthusiasm. While there may not be the same level of interest in the content for each member of the audience, this enthusiasm, under the direction of Toby Leech, successfully avoids any monotony in its rhythm. [More]
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Insightful homage enlightens
Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 25th Sep 2014
By simply adopting the format of a formal guest lecture (to the Otago University Mountaineering Club), writer Gareth Davies treats his audience to an hour of insight, as the relatively little known tales of the men who supported legends Ed Hillary and Tenzing to the top of Everest, get some richly deserved limelight of their own.
Davies chooses two vastly different characters for the historical narrative: Expedition leader and British Army Colonel Sir John Hunt (played with aplomb by the always engaging Stephen Lovatt), with his military background, formal manner and impeccable planning on paper; and a familiar type to most of us: a New Zealander with a can-do attitude, experienced climber, schoolmaster and ‘the other Kiwi’, George Lowe (played with great open honesty and frankness, by Jonny Brugh).
Through this partnership, Davies reveals stories of sheer grit, dogged determination and ambition; overcoming seemingly impossible odds in a barren, dangerous, inhospitable environment.
For Hunt, it’s all about instructing and educating us on the grand plan and how it came to be. For Lowe, it’s all about the men.
I’m not a mountaineer, yet I find it fascinating to hear about the many personalities who made up the British expedition: a physicist, geologist, doctor, cameraman, various mountaineers including our two Kiwis, and of course, the Nepalese Sherpas. It is equally fascinating to hear about the intricacies of oxygen flow, the failure of two British climbers in the team who were given the first opportunity to summit Everest, and how Hunt came to his history-changing decisions.
Davies explores not only cultural differences and divides, but also the common-denominator passion to climb that focussed the team. The nuanced performances and direction make what could simply be a dry historic lesson, into a far more subtle and personal story, as well as an eye-opener.
As the men’s memories fuse, Davies quietly reveals the sense that the lecture provides just as much insight and closure for each of the guest speakers, as it does for the attendees.
Much of the dialogue is factual, yet it is far from dry as we learn that it was the Dalai Lama and the political climate, culminating in an international chase to rival the space-race, just as much as it was the uncompromising weather patterns and monsoon season, that dictated the route and the rush to the ‘top of the world’.
The narrative is also littered with historical gems from the British that, if considered out of context, would be hard to comprehend. No more so than the 1920s attitude towards oxygen-aided climbs being dismissed as simply ‘not cricket’, or the wacky javelin throw of the 1930s.
In terms of the tone of the ‘lecture’, what starts out as formal Brit stiff-upper-lip gently softens to reveal the men’s deep respect for ‘their mountain’ (which they ‘climbed’ rather than ‘conquered’), as well as the true nature of their relationship: one of mutual admiration and pride.
Stephen Lovatt and Jonny Brugh take Davies’ insightful homage to a group of trailblazers, and deliver the narrative with respect, dignity and tangible passion.
As Brugh recall the agonising failure of the first pair of climbers from South Col, who mapped out the route for Ed and Tenzing to eventually tread to the top, I can absolutely see two men, one rope and the unforgiving 300 feet that stood between them and the summit.
Under the direction of Toby Leach, the ebb and flow of conversation between Lovatt and Brugh is a perfectly pitched rhythm. They chat and babble over each other at times, then allow the ‘elephants in the room’ to breathe in knowing silence, maintaining absolute outward credibility in situ while allowing us to see their inner processing.
The set (no designer credit so I assume it is a team effort) is a cosy academic setting and the authentic slide show is the ideal vehicle to focus us towards the historic journey taken more than 60 years ago. The proper sing-along to open the lecture, as per the protocol of the time, is ideal.
While the static realistic environment gives little scope for design, Jennifer Lal’s change from room lighting to ice cold blue during the South Cole section could have been a very slow fade into the big chill, rather than the abrupt cue, which is slightly distracting.
Regrettably my 10 year old daughter, who I thought would be eager to hear more about the team who climbed with the man on our $5 note, that she’s known about for years, quickly disengaged with the presentation. While I am intrigued beyond expectation, she complains that it’s all just talking.
The lack of theatrical devices or dramatic suspense might have been an issue for me, if it weren’t for the pure simple fact that this climb was a momentous occasion. This play honours the team effort that under pinned its success and is told brilliantly by two superb craftsmen. For that alone, it deserves an appreciative audience.
At the end of the hour, as Roxy Music’s ‘Let’s Stick Together’ blares us back into the here and now, I’m left feeling proud to be a Kiwi, and happy to be fully enlightened about the 1953 team, especially the ‘other’ Kiwi in the band – George Lowe. The fact that the vast majority of the surviving Hillary whanau are in the room with us for Everest Untold’s global debut, makes the night even more special.
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