Five Women Wearing the Same Dress

Aurora Centre, Burnside, Christchurch

14/07/2011 - 23/07/2011

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

03/06/2011 - 25/06/2011

Production Details

Written by Alan Ball
Directed by Lara Macgregor


On Friday, 3 June the Fortune Theatre opens its latest play: a comedy about five bridesmaids hiding from the bride in FIVE WOMEN WEARING THE SAME DRESS.

Written by Alan Ball, the Academy Award-winning writer of American Beauty and creator of hit TV shows Six Feet Under and True Blood, FIVE WOMEN WEARING THE SAME DRESS is a comedy about five bridesmaids taking refuge in a bedroom during an extravagant wedding reception in Knoxville, Tennessee. As these five very different women share their stories and secrets, they discover they may have more in common with each other than they realise.

Director Lara Macgregor describes FIVE WOMEN WEARING THE SAME DRESS as “a play about friendship and dysfunctional families served with huge doses of fun”. Macgregor has worked closely with the five women (and one man) in the cast to capture the heart and humour of the play. “There couldn’t have been a better play to collaborate with The Court Theatre on, with the deep friendships seen on-stage mirroring those off.”

Macgregor has kept the play’s setting of the early 1990s and the soundtrack will “feature some great music from the late 80s”. Costume designer Deborah Ward has created five “gloriously retro” bright blue bridesmaids dresses and set designer Peter King has revelled the opportunity to “embrace bad taste” to create the bedroom where the five bridesmaids take refuge.

Macgregor is exceptionally happy with her cast – Kathleen Burns, Serena Cotton, Claire Dougan, Kate Prior and Lizzie Tollemache. “On the first day of rehearsal it was pretty clear that less would be more from me. The actors are perfectly cast, sliding gracefully into Alan Ball’s facile and acerbic word play.” Macgregor says.

Jonathan Martin jokingly calls himself the “token guy” in the play and is enjoying being part of such a great ensemble. “ It’s not often you get to be surrounded by a bunch a gorgeous women for six hours a day, rock up, sweep them off their feet and go home again.”

The Fortune’s production of FIVE WOMEN WEARING THE SAME DRESS has been an exciting collaboration with The Court Theatre, with several designers and technicians from the theatre working on the project with the Fortune team. Following the Dunedin season, the show will travel to Christchurch for a short season in July – the first production The Court theatre has produced since the February earthquake. “It’s with great pride we will now open the season in Dunedin and are able to present the show to the people of Christchurch,” says Macgregor.

3–25 June 2011
Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart St, Dunedin,
(03) 477 8323 or
14–23 July 2011
Aurora Centre, cnr Greers Rd and Memorial Ave, Burnside, Christchurch,
(03) 963 0870 or


Trisha                                   Serena Cotton

Georgeanne                        Kate Prior

Mindy                                     Claire Dougan

Frances                                Lizzie Tollemache

Meredith                               Kathleen Burns

Tripp                                     Jono Martin



Stage Manager                  Cally Castell

Set Design                          Peter King

Set Construction                Peter King, Nigel Kerr, Maurice Kidd, Richard van den Berg, Henri Kerr, Matt Best and Richard Daem

Lighting Design                Peter King

Lighting Operator              Siddharth Makkuni Puthiyavalappil

Costume Design              Deborah Ward

Costume                             Bronwyn Corbett, Emily Thomas and Maryanne Wright-Smith

Properties                          Helen Beswick

Sound Design                   Rebecca De Prospo

Poster Design                   Jeff Clarke

Production Photographer      Aliana McDaniel

Programme Graphic Design    Marti Rowe @ Speediprint

Theatre , Comedy ,

Hotshot entertainment in provocation to blandness

Review by Lindsay Clark 15th Jul 2011

Ian Ball’s funny and cynical dissection of “a world that’s increasingly inauthentic” has been enjoyed by many who feel the same way, perhaps most recently here in the television series Six Feet Under. The Court’s 758th production shares some of the characteristics that spike Ball’s humour so effectively, rampaging through the afternoon reception of a posh wedding in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Five bridesmaids, none of them supportive of the bride, find a bolt hole, each for her own reasons, in the bedroom of the bride’s sister which overlooks the outdoor bar. It is in this unlikely setting that the world of romantic love is cheerfully shredded.

A collaboration between The Court Theatre and Dunedin’s Fortune, the production was originally intended to play in Christchurch before transferring to Dunedin. As things evolved, the production had to be rescheduled to open in Dunedin season. That Fortune’s Artistic Director Lara Macgregor was about to direct the play for The Court when her appointment at Fortune was announced, led to a pooling of talent, so that both theatres are represented in the strong production team. Its return to Christchurch is another mark of the wider theatre community’s rallying around the city’s battered providers.

Set in the generous scale of the Aurora Centre, the sharp focus of Ball’s vision loses a little of its precision in spite of the intense performances Lara Macgregor’s direction draws from her cast. The Southern accents, faithfully rendered, sometimes blur the lines and folk in the back half of the theatre would surely have missed some detail of facial expression. For all that, and accepting a slow period in the first half, the audience was warmly appreciative and at 686 people, packed more than twice the applause which could have been expected from a full opening house in the old theatre. A further encouraging statistic is that the short season is already 73% booked.

The five bridesmaids are vividly written and played with relish in all their matching turquoise glory complete with wild headgear which gives them the appearance of lively, sharp-eyed bird- creatures, heads cocked and responses shrill, looking down from their ‘perch’ on the twittering, gathering below. Together, they cover a range of girly topics, with sex and relationships – especially conventional, frustrating ones – supplying the continuity, as comings and goings roll on.

The final sequence introduces the single male character (smooth authority from Jonathan Martin as Tripp) and a final clever twist to the plot, which has concentrated to that point on commentary rather than action.

Our first encounter is with what seems to be a conventional character. Lizzie Tollemache as Frances is a preening slip of a thing. How wrong we are. She is an immovable, though confused, Christian who fronts up to many a riposte but eventually settles for a trendy makeover with shadowy eyes. 

In quick succession come the shrewdly contrasted characters. There is fiery Meredith, owner of the room and an angry young woman (with reason as it turns out ), punchily presented by Kathleen Burns, followed by vastly experienced (with men ) Trisha, rounded out confidently by Serena Cotton.

Kate Prior contributes a hectic and unforgettable portrait of a volatile, frustrated and married Georgeanne, balanced by Claire Dougan’s straight talking Mindy, sister to the groom. Everybody has something or especially someone to bitch about, most of all men. Of course it is a male fabrication that we are witnessing and some would say it shows. 

Assured design components make for a stylish production. Deborah Ward’s costumes and Brendan Albrey’s lighting, together with sound by Rebecca De Prospo and properties from Helen Beswick give us an authentic feminine hothouse where all verbal hell can be let loose.

As a provocation for more honesty and openness in rituals and relationships the play will probably fall on deaf ears. The bland (to echo the play) will go on leading the bland. As hotshot entertainment, however, the production will find many approving punters.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.   


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And now a toast to the bridesmaids

Review by Barbara Frame 06th Jun 2011

It was a common enough formula in the 70s and 80s: take a bunch of disparate women, plonk them down in a room, give them a few drinks and watch what happens.

The bridesmaids at Tracy’s wedding are not best friends because Tracy doesn’t have friends, and they are hiding in her sister Meredith’s room. The silly hats and shoes come off but the silly dresses stay on, mostly, and the five sit around looking, as Meredith puts it, like lampshades. 

Frances (Lizzie Tollemache) is a blinkered yet weak-willed Christian, Meredith (Kathleen Burns) a heartbroken rebel, Trisha (Serena Cotton) a competent slut, Georgeanne (Kate Prior) an unhappy wife and Mindy (Claire Dougan) a lesbian. Luckily, the characters transcend their stereotypes, and the actresses playing them make sure the production is tremendously funny. 

Alan Ball’s 1993 comedy is set in Knoxville, Tennessee, and southern accents are faultlessly maintained throughout. Director Lara Macgregor shifts the play back a little in time, using hair, clothing and music to anchor it firmly in the 80s. This smart move rescues it from the possibility of seeming dated, and instead makes it historically interesting. 

We never get to see the bride but, after endless talk about men and their perfidies, an actual man appears. Tripp (Jono Martin) is another member of the wedding party and overturns expectations by turning out to be a perfectly amiable sort of fellow.

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress doesn’t have much of a plot and, in its explorations of families, friendship and love, says nothing new. But its subversive energy makes it a great night out, and not just for women.

Planned in collaboration with Christchurch’s Court Theatre before that theatre’s destruction in February, the production will run in Dunedin until 25 June and transfer to the Aurora Centre, Burnside for a short season in July. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


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A charming, highly polished collaboration

Review by Terry MacTavish 05th Jun 2011

Not that I have ever believed that ‘theatricals’ are a bunch of shallow, self-serving luvvies, but this joint Fortune/Court production truly celebrates the unselfish idealism that can lie behind the old ‘show must go on’ slogan. 

Originally the Court Theatre in Christchurch was to mount Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, which would then travel to Dunedin. February 22nd changed all that. But Creative NZ came to the rescue and funded the Fortune to take over the production, which will transfer to the Court’s new home for a shorter season.

Theatre workers from both cities have collaborated and it has clearly been a joyous experience as well as a respite for the visitors. The goodwill has spilled over into this happy play, which just could be the most perfect antidote for the earthquake jitters.

Weddings are an all-purpose cheer-up, full of hope and a sweet excuse for dressing up and getting tiddly. Our five women are of course the bridesmaids, forced into the traditional ghastly matching frocks the bride chooses to ensure she won’t be upstaged. The warm femininity of their robing room invites giggles and confidences.

At my last wedding the mature bride-to-be took a final look at herself in the mirror, then to our awed delight, tore off her bra, announcing, “The straps show – I’ll just do without.” The Fortune cast achieves this desirable and humorous intimacy with apparent ease, and the audience are welcomed in.

Mocking the 80s [it’s set in the early 1990s with ’80s music] is a fun sport and director Lara Macgregor wisely lays it on thick; opting for the Tennessee accents that seem inherently comic to New Zild ears, setting the mood with Cyndi Lauper belting out Girls Just Wanna have Fun, and really going for shameless excess in the vivid peacock blue dresses with monstrous sleeves and stand-alone petticoats. I was secretly hoping for a matching set of Princess Bea antler hats, but the bird-like fascinators designed by Deborah Ward sure succeed in their eye-popping intent.  

The set is the bride’s sister’s bedroom, designed by Peter King. A delicate symphony in beige and mushroom pink, it is delightfully girly, except for the startlingly large poster of Malcolm X, clearly young Meredith’s spurt of rebellion. Altogether the attention to detail is really impressive, a triumph for the suspension of disbelief, from the sounds of music and laughter from the distant reception, to the beautifully modulated light spilling through the bay window, to the tantalising glimpses of other rooms that had my snowy-haired companion longing to investigate.

Macgregor has a choreographer’s eye and makes excellent use of the space. At any given moment the actors, like confetti, are scattered around the stage in apparently random but satisfying patterns. 

The bridesmaids are hiding out in the bedroom of the bride’s younger sister because none of them are enjoying themselves at the reception, and none of them actually like the bride. As they bond with each other, it affords them considerable comfort to realise that ‘rich white Republican bitch’ Tracey, the perfect bride, in fact has no friends. All they themselves have in common is brief or long crushes on sexy scoundrel, Tommy Valentine. This is hardly a barrier to spilling their souls.

The bridesmaids are scripted as diverse stereotypes, which could be irritating except for the sparkling performances that bring credible individual touches to each character. With no discernable message, the play depends on the cast, and these actors deliver. Each deserves to be tossed a bridal bouquet. 

Serena Cotton tackles the role of glamorous Trisha with intelligence, giving her a sweet sincerity despite the cynicism born of her too-vast experience of men. A hundred of them, apparently, and not one a keeper. She is particularly appealing in her intimate scene with the token male (Jono Martin, who keeps up his end valiantly). 

Right from her explosive entry, Kate Prior is bold and sensational as the surprisingly gutsy frustrated wife, Georgeanne, in big ‘Deirdre’ specs and crinkle-waved hair. Just don’t mention garbage… 

Mindy, written as a ‘clumsy’ lesbian, is transformed by lovely Claire Dougan from butch cliché into the most elegant of lipstick lesbians, as she wows the audience with tricks learnt in Miss Amelia’s Charm School. It is Mindy who scores the most inadvertently topical speech of the play, speculating on marriage to a serial killer. 

As Frances, the prim fundamentalist (“Not Franny please – sounds like Fanny!”) Lizzie Tollemache is very convincing, reproving the others with one of my favourite lines, “That is secular humanism talking!” yet making plausible the predictable relaxing of her standards throughout the evening, culminating in her ‘makeover’ by Trisha. 

Kathleen Burns, playing stroppy younger sister Meredith, with black leather jacket crammed over her shiny frock, is sometimes so energised as to make that southern accent unintelligible, but she delivers her snappy one-liners with engaging venom. 

Written 20 years ago, this could be seen as juvenilia, created before writer Alan Ball had developed the style he brought to Six Feet Under and American Beauty. There are funny situations and witty dialogue, but I’m at a loss to determine the playwright’s intention. I can’t see it working set in NZ and updated to the present.

A curious play, it takes a weird swerve after what appears to be the climax, when the young sister shares a shocking secret that really should lead to dramatic catastrophe for the off-stage villain Tommy Valentine.  Instead we are bemused by the appearance of a viable man and a contrived happy ending for cynical Trisha. Rather like Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, which seems to have been intended as a tragedy for 4 acts, when it suddenly turns into a comedy with even the dedicated nun married off, as if someone had said, “Quick, Will, we need a comedy for the duke’s wedding this Saturday, can’t you tweak what you’re working on?”

But I digress. Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is a charming, highly polished collaboration that is sure to delight the audience it is most intended for. Our heartfelt best wishes go to the Christchurch theatre community. Clearly you can depend on the very professional support of your southern colleagues. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


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