Finding Murdoch

Maidment Theatre - Musgrove Studio, Auckland

26/06/2008 - 19/07/2008

Production Details

A play on the relationship between the media and celebrity hits the Auckland stage. 

Finding Murdoch is an engrossing, funny and moving account of how far a woman reporter goes to get a story. The play follows the story of the hunt for Keith Murdoch, the only man to be expelled from the All Blacks. He was kicked out of the team for punching a Welsh security guard in Britain in 1972.

He was labelled the mystery man of rugby when he disappeared on his way home from Britain and has lived in obscurity in outback Australia ever since. The incident is still seen as the greatest rugby tragedy in All Black history and Murdoch is now part of New Zealand’s folklore.

Through the reporter’s journey, the play traces the lead-up to the incident and the media storm that surrounded Murdoch.

Playwright Margot McRae, who tracked down Keith Murdoch for a television programme in 1990, has interwoven Murdoch’s true story with a fictionalised account of her search for him.

In ‘Finding Murdoch’ two opposing forces collide.  The television industry with its endless appetite for heroes comes up against staunch rugby tradition.

Set in 1990, the pioneering days of the independent television industry, the play examines the power of the media, the right of privacy and integrity.


The Dominion Post called it  "an engrossing and very theatrical piece of theatre" after its premiere at Downstage in Wellington last year.

The Capital Times said: "The real human interest story is gripping….it’s almost a romance. Definitely a winner."

Theatreview: "A memorable play of paradoxes."

Finding Murdoch is directed by Paul Gittens with Michael Lawrence as Murdoch and Sarah Somerville as Jane.

At the Maidment Theatre, Musgrove Studio from June 26th to July 19.
Bookings:  3082383

Sarah Sommerville:  Jane
Michael Lawrence:  Murdoch
Gary Stalker: Geoff
John Glass: Colling/Sports Writer/TV Exc/Welsh Commentator/Interviewer
Geoff Snell:  Kirky/Sports Writer/TV Exc/Kiwi Commentator/Cameraman
Kevin Wilson:  Pete/Ernie Todd

Designer:  Bronwyn Dent
Lighting Design:  Andrew Malmo
Operator:  Michael Craven

Cast finds disgraced player who ‘went bush’

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 30th Jun 2008

Keith Murdoch’s controversial dismissal from the 1972 All Black touring squad after an altercation with a Welsh security guard should have become an inconsequential footnote to the colourful history of New Zealand rugby.

But Murdoch refused to stick to the script – instead of expressing contrition and rehabilitating his rugby career, he slipped off the plane in Sydney and disappeared. Decades of peripatetic obscurity in the Australian outback fuelled the legend and the enigma was deepened by Murdoch’s refusal to speak of the matter. [More]


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Takes a while to warm up

Review by Nik Smythe 27th Jun 2008

In 1972 the All Blacks were touring the Welsh provinces when one night a famous but unclear violent incident occurred, resulting in the sending home of one Keith Murdoch, giant prop, beloved hero and apparent lynchpin to the team’s success.  Murdoch never arrived in New Zealand and had (has) been working in mines and earth moving plants around Australia ever since.

Here is a play about the making of a 1990 documentary about an elusive key figure in a 1972 scandal shrouded in mystery, speculation and errant gossip.  The narrative centres around the difficult search for the man who wanted to be left alone, just ’cause he did, no other bullshit reason, he just wants a quiet private life.

As Geoff (Gary Stalker), the entrepreneurial executive producer backing the project emphatically declares in typical melodramatic journo tones, this isn’t just about a rugby tour.  It’s about the tragedy of the fallen hero, the man alone in self imposed exile. 

That’s the documentary angle anyway; Finding Murdoch is about more than that.  It’s about the inevitability of people needing to know the gratuitous details of events that are simply none of their business.  Not a preachy denouncement, it’s an almost (but not quite) apologetic confession inside of a commercial dramatisation that is ultimately exactly what it’s talking about. 

The strength of Margot McRae’s text is sometimes affected by inconsistent delivery.  By and large though it seems a well written script, complete with opportunistic period jabs at the infancy in 1990 of inescapable present day institutions like cell phones and reality TV. 

The functional design by Bronwyn Bent evokes a range of locations, primarily the TV studio offices stage left and the pub table stage right. The FX highlight is the four upstage closed circuit monitors framing the subjects’ faces during their interviews, enhancing the scene without getting too intrusive or overused.

The theatrical style, as directed by Paul Gittins, is rather forced and demonstrative as opposed to naturalistic, and it takes a while to warm up.  Sarah Somerville plays ambitious and determined researcher Jane (name changed to protect Margot’s innocence?). The known facts about the tour and the controversial night in question are revealed during Jane’s quest to find the mystery man and thus win the job of making the story. 

Kevin Wilson as journo veteran Pete, rival to Jane for the coveted Murdoch story, lends some weight to Stalker and Somerville’s initially dry performances.  Later Wilson delivers a more compelling turn with the harassed and weary team manager Ernie Todd.  John Glass and Geoff Snell pitch in with a dozen incidental roles between them, one or two of which are more engaging than the others, such as Snell’s affable ex-captain Ian Kirkpatrick.

As Murdoch is the key to the story, Michael Lawrence’s solid performance is the key to this production.  Straight talking, short spoken, a formidable gentle giant who doesn’t take any shit.  A ‘throwback to when men were strong and silent’, his unexpressive blokishness can’t conceal the likeable warmth of his character.  And he somehow makes Jane more likeable too.

Is this what Keith Murdoch is really like?  Also, there is slightly more than a passing flirtation between Jane and Keith – is that what their encounter was really like?  Probably no;  accuracy is not the point here.  It’s not even a play about What Really Happened That Night At The Angel Hotel?, it’s a play about journalism. 

Would Keith like this play?  I doubt Lawrence’s Keith would.  He’d probably be pissed off to be the central focus of what he regards as a complete waste of time.


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