The White House, 371 Queen Street, Auckland

13/11/2014 - 29/11/2014

Production Details

Sex sells and Flora Mackenzie sold sex  

As part of her Second World War efforts, Flora Mackenzie, daughter of an eminent family, went from proprietor of a frock shop to that of a knock shop, and her boldness scandalised a conservative city. During November, her story will grace the stage of an unusual but highly appropriate venue, The White House, one of Auckland’s most well known adult entertainment venues, as pole dancers give way to actors.

Written by Elisabeth Easther, the winner of the 2014 Adam New Zealand Play Award for her play Seed, and directed by Ben Crowder, well known for his energetic and robust productions such as 360, Famous Flora portrays the life of one of the boldest identities in Auckland’s history, that of the madame supreme, Flora Mackenzie, who ruled the city’s underworld sex scene for thirty years.

The production contrasts two vivid periods in Auckland’s history: the glamorous and stylish 1940s, when women wore silk stockings (if they were lucky), World War Two raged and the Americans invaded our shores. This was the period in which Flora flourished; the party never stopped and Flora was the ultimate host. But by the 1970s, the flavour had taken a sour turn. No longer gay and jolly, Flora’s life was more like a tawdry cabaret, with police busts thrown in to further demoralise her. 

With a cast including Kate Elliott, Yvette Parsons, Kip Chapman and Fraser Brown, and a creative team made up of some of the city’s most experienced theatre practitioners, all wrapped up in the most intriguing venue of any show this year, Famous Flora will provide an insight into a colourful slice of Auckland history. 

Famous Flora plays at The White House, 371 Queen Street, Auckland
13-29 November at 6.30pm nightly (no shows on Sundays).
All Famous Flora audience members will also be given free entrance to the White House’s regular show that begins as Famous Flora finishes.

Young Flora: Kate Elliott 
Old Flora: Yvette Parsons 
Bernard: Fraser Brown 
Lawrence: Kip Chapman 
Stephen: Kevin Keys 
Alice: Jess Sayer 
Henry: Joseph Wycoff 

Writer: Elisabeth Easther
Director: Ben Crowder 
Costume designer: Elizabeth Whiting 
Lighting designer: Nik Janiurek 
Set design: Daniel Williams 
Sound design / music: John Gibson 

Madam’s colourful life laid bare

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 17th Nov 2014

Famous Flora brought alive in risque setting of the White House. 

An historical excursion into the salacious underbelly of Auckland’s nightlife finds a suitably lascivious venue in the central hall of the White House – an “adult entertainment centre” housed in a neo-classical temple built for the Theosophical Society in the 1920s.

The play pays tribute to legendary brothel owner Flora Mackenzie, who drifted into her profession during World War II when shiploads of American GIs were cruising Auckland’s streets looking for a good time. [More]


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Famous Flora Fascinates

Review by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth 15th Nov 2014

Choosing to stage Elisabeth Easther’s premiere about Flora Mackenzie, one of Auckland’s most notorious Mesdames, at the White House was a stroke of genius. The venue not only gave the show added dimension, being totally apt, but also acted as an eighth character in the 7-strong cast that entertained us at the opening of Famous Flora last night.

In keeping with Mackenzie’s bold historical persona in Auckland, that of a madame supreme who ruled the city’s underworld sex scene for thirty years, the choice of venue was reflected on the faces of the audience members as they arrived to see the show. Many of whom made a point of saying out loud at the top of their lungs: “This is the first time I have been here”. Which almost seemed to mirror Shakespeare’s famous quote “The lady doth protest too much, me thinks”. But I digress. [More]


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Cheers, laughter, tears

Review by Nomi Cohen 14th Nov 2014

It is easy to say that the audience on opening night had a roaring great time as the tale of the amazing Flora Mackenzie unraveled, flicking back and forth between a woman in her prime (Kate Elliott) and the delusional alcoholic (Yvette Parsons) who serves as a narrator to the story.

The White House – a strip club – makes a brilliant venue for a cabaret style show. As the audience enters, we immediately understand that the show is going to take place all around us. We are greeted and hustled along to our seats by various characters who are more than happy to stop for a chat before clearing any empties.  

The show opens with a few musical numbers as the characters continue to mill around the audience. Although these are very enjoyable – it is a wonderful introduction to the style of the piece and helps to transport us back to a time of booze and glamour amidst a war – I feel a bit confused as to what the ‘rules’ are as an audience member. Am I allowed to get up for a drink? How much am I supposed to sing along with? And just as I am getting used to the cast acknowledging and interacting with the audience, it seems to disappear, only to return at the very end.

After the initial figuring out of which poles have been covered up and with what, the novelty of being in a place that would normally be filled with half naked girls wears off and we are left with a beautiful historic building and an unconventional seating arrangement that makes for a delightful change to your standard theatre.

In saying this, as the venue is not designed for unamplified voices, I do find it difficult to hear at times. I particularly struggle to hear any moments where the actors have their backs turned to us only to be confronted by Kate Elliott who goes the opposite way and seems to shout most of the time.

Kip Chapman is a definite stand out for me. I find him always engaging and he seems to be one of the few who maintains the connection with the audience that has been set up at the top of the show. That said, the cast as a whole are very strong and they work well together to serve the story.

Although a play about New Zealand and its war efforts is not unheard of, it is interesting to get a slightly different side to exactly what our war efforts were. The politics and legality of brothels is something I feel few theatre go-ers will be familiar with, but brothels in a time of war are a whole separate commodity. I particularly enjoy the fact that the play does not try to force a point down my throat or change my mind on anything. It simply gives me a little slice of what it was like at the time and what some women had to do to provide for their children.

I cheer, I laugh and I am surprised to admit I may have been holding back a few tears towards the end.  I would recommend getting along to this while you can and, as the bloke behind me said after the show, “How nice to come to the theatre and not see some stuck up bloody bullshit.” 


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