Flagons & Foxtrots

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

10/02/2007 - 17/03/2007

Production Details

Director and co-writer Alison Quigan
Co-writer Ross Gumbley

Saturday night. 1965.  Wellington, New Zealand. The place to be is down the hall.

This is Alison Quigan and Ross Gumbley’s sixth collaboration and their best. The story hits a personal note with everyone, the jokes will have you rolling in the aisles and you won’t be able to help but tap your feet to the beat of the Archie Moore Trio.

Sid Jenkins has been running the local Dance Hall for years – with a bit of help from Aunty Ina, who runs the local switchboard and provides the legendary curried eggs – but tonight will be unlike any other! Revelations and surprises unfold in an evening of fun, laughter and rampant hormones.

Archie Moore has big dreams of stardom and it looks like tonight may be his lucky break. He has two obstacles: his hormone-ravaged brother Pinkie and the fact that Sid won’t even let them play!

Throw in Jack and Jillian’s rocky romance, Rita’s pulse-racing twist lessons, a few sneaky pints out the back and sooner or later someone’s bound to step on someone else’s toes …

Director and Co-writer Alison Quigan has worked as an actor, writer and director nationwide and was Artistic Director of Centrepoint Theatre in Palmerston North for eight years. Her plays have been performed around the country and recently Mum’s Choir was performed at Downstage and in Christchurch and Auckland. Flagons and Foxtrots, a play that Alison co-wrote with Ross Gumbley in 1999, under the name of The Newbury Hall Dances, was last performed at the Court Theatre, Christchurch in 2006.

Alison has the distinguished honour of being New Zealand’s second most popular playwright after Roger Hall and Downstage is thrilled that she is able to take time out of her busy schedule to direct her own creation. Alison is a familiar face to most New Zealand households as she is currently playing the role of receptionist Yvonne Jeffries on Shortland Street.

So join us for a nostalgic celebration as we head down to the hall for a night of music, dance and hilarity.

Sid Jenkins - Peter Hambleton
Auntie Ina Jenkins - Geraldine Brophy
Jillian Jenkins - Laurel Devenie
Jack Taylor - Jamie McCaskill
Archie Moore - Kane Parsons
Pinkie Moore - Kip Chapman
Rita Vincent - Kali Kopae

Set & costume design - Lesley Burkes-Harding
Lighting design - Martyn Roberts

Music Director - Kane Parsons
Production Manager - Ross Joblin
Stage Manager - Sonia Hardie
Technical Operator - Thomas Press
Fight Choreography - Min Windle
Dance Choreography - Lyne Pringle
Publicity - Brianne Kerr Publicity

Theatre ,

2 hrs, incl. interval.

Predictable yet enchanting

Review by Eleanor Bishop 07th Mar 2007

Flagons and Foxtrots is the story of a night at the Taita dance hall in mid 60s New Zealand. The band, consisting of Pinkie (Kip Chapman), Archie (Kane Parsons) and Jack (Jamie McCaskill), dream of stardom, after getting highly commended at the Wainui Youth Talent Quest. The owner of the dance hall, Sid Jenkins (Peter Hambleton) won’t let them play at the hall tonight, despite the whining of daughter Jillian (Laurel Devenie), girlfriend of Jack. Rita’s (Kali Kopae) got a secret, and Auntie Ina’s (Geraldine Brophy) listening in. It’s a comic caper of misunderstandings, young (and old) love and growing up.

The real story is the one of the love triangle between Rita, Jack and Gillian. Jack’s got Rita pregnant but somehow he’s ended up engaged to long term girlfriend Gillian. Unsurprisingly all is revealed and a cat fight ensues. This is the heart of the play, and I find it odd that such sensitive subject matter – an unmarried girl getting pregnant in conservative New Zealand and the consequences – is material for a comic play, that appears to look back on 1960’s New Zealand with affection.

But of course, this is a Kiwi comedy, so happy endings are in order. And having said that, Flagons and Foxtrots, is on the whole, quite delightful. At times the shows borders on melodrama (Gillian’s hysteria at being “left on the shelf” gets old very quickly), but the script is well written, sprinkled with nostalgic jokes (“rattle your dags”) and plenty of excuses for doing the twist, and singing “She’s a mod”.

It has a traditional two act structure, moving to a predictable yet enchanting climax. Kip Chapman steals the show (as he does with everything I see him in) with his witty and charming characterisation as the hapless Pinkie, just trying to be ‘one of the boys’ and ‘get a girl’. Geraldine Brophy is hilarious as Aunty Ina, the closet drinker, who manages to smooth everything over. Kali Kopae should be praised for playing Rita with heart, vulnerability and most importantly, a lot of balls.

Although my friend and I were almost the youngest people there, Flagons and Foxtrots, is definitely a feel-good experience, which is not what I pay money for in the theatre, but plenty of others do. Put on your dancing shoes and get ready to do the twist.


Make a comment

Sure-footed direction and dance

Review by Lynn Freeman 15th Feb 2007

This quintessential Kiwi tale set in the Saturday Night Dance era is a nostalgic, toe tapping, feel-good show that got the opening night audience to its feet – to dance and to applaud.  There’s a little bit of ‘deep and meaningful’ in there but mainly it’s about having a laugh, lots of innuendos, and a hark back to more innocent years.

Alison Quigon and Ross Gumbley originally set their play in Palmerston North for its Centrepoint debut, but its references are easily changed to suit the place, this time the hall is in Taita, and the (gentle) jokes are at the expense of the Hutt and Petone.

The old dances were the places where many romances, long and short term, began – and sometimes ended. This one is no exception.  Young Jack (Jamie McCaskill) is entangled with two women and must choose between his long time girlfriend Jillian (Laurel Devenie) and the enticing Rita (Kali Kopae).  Auntie Ina (Geraldine Brophy) is doing her best to seduce the set-in-his-ways Sid (Peter Hambleton).  Pinkie (Kip Chapman) just wants any girl, well, not the charity cases.  The scene is set for romance, disappointment, tears and a few punches.

It’s the small things that set the scene – the big square white loaves of bread, fish paste sandwiches, booze in the boot of the car because it’s banned from the dance hall, and those great old rock n’ roll songs.  The boys line up on one side of the hall and rush at break neck speed to the other to get the girl they’ve got their eye on. 

Alison Quigan’s direction is as surefooted as her dancing cast, keeping the action in top gear.  Her cast never lets her down.

"She gorgeous" was the comment from the audience member behind me during one of Brophy’s delightful appearances on stage, and pairing her with one of the city’s other best comedic actors was inspired casting. Hambleton’s Sid is huggable, especially as he slowly warms to Ina’s considerable charms.  

Devenie’s drunken scene as the jilted Jillian, the poor girl who just wants to be a good wife, is a scream, and she shares it with an irresistible Kip Chapman as Pinkie, the boy who would be a man (if he could just chat up the girls).

McCaskill has the toughest role, we have to be charmed by Jack, which we are (two women fight over him after all) but he’s also a man of his times which makes you want to kick him at the same time. 

Kopae is brimming with independent spirit as the much gossiped about Rita, and Kane Parsons gives a stellar performance as Archie Moore – a small town musician with big ideas. 


Make a comment

Nostalgic good time

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 14th Feb 2007

Oh, it’s great being out with the jokers/ When the jokers are sparkling and bright; / Yeah, it’s great giving cheek to the sheilas, /Down the hall on Saturday night.

Peter Cape’s famous song has a rural setting and is all about Saturday night entertainment in the 50s. Though Flagons and Foxtrots is set in the mid-60s in a public hall in Taita, it depicts with exactly the same sort of comic nostalgia the simple pleasures of communal life that Cape describes when people came together before television, 10 o’clock closing, the twist and other dance fads kept them apart.

Alison Quigan and Ross Gumbley’s jocular Kiwiana comedy takes place at the point when rock’n’roll is replacing the waltz and the foxtrot, and sheilas are about to stop preparing the supper and collecting linen for their glory boxes, which all leaves the jokers a little perplexed as they down their beers in the car park.

Highly commended at the Wainui Youth Club Talent Quest the Archie Moore Trio (brothers Archie and Pinkie and singer and guitarist Jack)  is hoping to play a gig at Sid Jenkins’s Taita dance hall as an audition for a visiting has-been rock’n’roll star.

To complicate things Jack (Jamie McCaskill) has two sheilas in tow. Jillian (Laurel Devenie), the dental nurse daughter of the hall’s curmudgeonly manager Sid (Peter Hambleton), who is saving herself and her glory box for her wedding night, while Rita (Kali Kopae), a singer, is not so conventional.

Archie (Kane Parsons) is after any sheila around, while his younger virginal brother (Kip Chapman) nervously tests the water and then in panic sherry mixed with blackberry nip which is stored in the boot of the car.

And collecting any forbidden drink found on the premises is the curiously but attractively Scottish accented and bar-maidenly bosomed Auntie Ina (Geraldine Brophy in roguish form) who knows all the gossip as she is the local phone operator. Also she has her eye on Sid.

Peter Hambleton’s Sid was born middle-aged and he is very funny indeed when Sid turns crooner as is Kip Chapman learning the Gay Gordons. Jamie McCaskill is all leading man charm (with plenty of talent too), while Kane Parsons has Archie’s pop ambitions off to a T.

Alison Quigan’s production is kept at a fast and furious pace and is played in a mixture of clashing styles from farce to brittle comedy with plenty of recycled jokes but as the whole show with its nostalgic theme is so lightly handled it doesn’t really disturb. Kali Kopae’s almost realistic characterization of Rita (particularly when she passionately sings You Don’t Own Me) doesn’t seem out of place with Laurel Devenie’s over-the-top, piercingly loud, deceived Jillian, and neither are the dummies used as dance partners as are members of the audience when the show’s theme becomes explicit: enjoy yourself, have fun, dance with someone, have a bloody good time – like we did long ago.


Make a comment

Timeless rites of passage

Review by Michael Wray 13th Feb 2007

From the people that brought us Mum’s Choir comes the newly renamed Flagons and Foxtrots. Where Mum’s Choir offered us a situation in which the music was the lead, here we have a compelling storyline first, with great music in support. It’s a winning combination and a rocking night out.

Peter Hambleton and Geraldine Brophy give us Sid and Ina Jenkins, the custodians of the dance hall. They are brother and sister-in-law, though Sid is too busy playing the strict patriarch to notice that his brother’s widow could offer him a respite from the loneliness he hides from himself. In the meantime, Ina officiates over the disposal of the illicit alcohol supplies that often crop up and keeps a maternal eye on Sid’s daughter Jillian.

Jillian, competently played by Laurel Devenie on her professional debut, is growing up but still somewhat naive. She and Jack are about to get engaged, but Jack’s attention has been elsewhere with Rita. Rita (Kali Kopae) is a singer at the hall and is the confident woman that Jillian has yet to become. The nature and consequences of Jack and Rita’s relationship endangers the lives and ambitions of all who work at the hall.

The stage is a clever semi-circle that represents the hall itself and contains various features that are not obvious at first. The most noticeable thing is that the forefront of the stage is a lot lower than normal for Downstage. It is only towards the end of the play that the real reason for this becomes apparent. If you can dance a twist, waltz or the Gay Gordons, you might want to request a ticket in the front row…

There is a chemistry between Jamie McCaskill and Kane Parsons that really engages. It reminds one of younger times, when mates were still mates and weddings were merely a distant threat. You get the feeling that these two actors are able to banter so well between themselves onstage because that’s exactly what they would be doing if they were offstage. Interestingly, it’s a reunion of a musical pairing first seen at Bats in It’s a Whanau Thing. Their profiles in the programme reveal that they are co-members of the same band, Smokey Feel, so it is little wonder they are able to inhabit their roles so comfortably.

If watching McCaskill and Parsons creates a feeling of laddish nostalgia, then Chapman takes us back a little further to a slightly less confident age. Before that time of feeling streetwise and invincible, there were the moments when everything was new and nervous. His performance as an awkward youth is so physically convincing, it is painful to watch. It is difficult to believe that this is the same actor we last saw in Wellington playing the cocksure Huckleberry Finn of Big River.

It’s a timeless embarrassment. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Pinkie in 1965, struggling to summon up the courage to ask a girl to dance the waltz at the Taita Hall or an adolescent seeking the modern day equivalent at the school disco.

This is the real reason why the play works so well. The plot may be set in the mid-60s, but the rite of passage conflicts depicted apply to any age. That could be any one of us, male or female, old or young, and so the play strikes a chord of empathy with all. Some of us may even find ourselves mature enough to empathise with Ina or Sid, but I wouldn’t know myself (ahem).


Make a comment

True comedy rocks

Review by John Smythe 11th Feb 2007

1960s nostalgia rocks at Downstage, offering Wellingtonians and visitors a sure-fire popular mainstream theatre contrast to the lucky-dip mix of Fringe fare. Flagons & Foxtrots by Alison Quigan and Ross Gumbley is a revamp of their 1999 Centrepoint Theatre hit, The Newbury Hall Dances. (Given that was the 3rd of their 5 collaborations but F&F is billed as their 6th “and their best”, I’m assuming it has been revised.)

In 1958 NZ’s own Johnny Devlin recorded ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ and took it to number one, selling 100,000 copies without it ever being played on the radio (unlike the earlier Elvis version). In 1964 Ray Columbus and the Invaders, who had briefly made their mark in Sydney with ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, had a hard job competing with the Beatles tour of NZ when they launched their original, ‘She’s a Mod’ (flipside: ‘Poison Ivy’). Only when they returned to Sydney and took it to No. 1 in their charts did it gain traction back in NZ.

This is the context within which Sid Jenkins – abandoned (by his wife), protective solo parent of Jillian with the help of local telephone operator Aunty Ina (his brother’s widow) – runs his umpteenth Saturday Night dance at the Taita Hall in 1965. With 6-o’clock closing still in place, such dances are core social activity, not least for the young and restless. Not that Sid would countenance underage drinking in any way shape or form. Thank goodness Ina is always at hand to confiscate all illicit bottles!

How, then, can local band lads The Archie Moore Trio – who scored a Highly Commended at the Wainui Youth Club Talent Quest – hope to get a break, in little old Taita let alone into the big time? Will this be the night that Jillian and guitarist Jack Taylor actually do it (announce their engagement, that is)? And what complication threatens in the soon-to-change shape of Rita Vincent, known to Sid as a pretty good singer?

These questions, embodied in a strong cast under the clear direction of Alison Quigan, are the dramatic drivers for two hours of larger-than-life but true-to-the-heart entertainment. In a surreal touch, set designer Lesley Burkes-Harding wraps the small band stage and dance floor in a painted backcloth that depicts the rural landscape beyond the hall, within which doors, hatches and a car boot materialise. Martyn Roberts’ lighting lets us know when we’re inside or outside and the classic mirror ball adds a magic sparkle at the right moments.

The acting styles are a little mixed (or they were on opening night, anyway). While all play their roles with heartfelt conviction, Peter Hambleton and Laurel Devenie tend to play father and daughter, Sid and Jillian, broad and loud, rather forcing their characters on us as if fearing we won’t get them. Sure they make their points clearly and hit their emotional marks, but less commentary and more ‘being’ would elicit more empathy from us.

Geraldine Brophy’s Aunty Ina is also writ large but she engages our empathy often, especially when, with impeccable timing and stillness, she invites us in to share her inner thoughts and feelings. Quite why she has a broad Scottish accent I don’t know, when it seems she grew up in Taita or at least was school age when she came. It does work a treat for the character but of course I would prefer to see the Kiwi version of this bursting-with-love middle-aged woman celebrated on our stage.

The three band boys come over as much less stereotyped, which may well begin with the way they are written. Jamie McCaskill’s Jack is truly anguished by the dilemma he finds himself in. Kane Parsons brings great veracity to Archie Moore’s show-biz ambitions and laddish confidence, while hitting the button exactly with his cringing embarrassment at his little brother’s ineptitude.

As that brother, Pinky Moore, klutzy drummer and rampant virgin, Kip Chapman proves how achingly funny true human anguish can be; the more so because it never once looks as if he is trying to be funny. He too commands our empathy.

Rita Vincent, the outsider who is largely isolated with her problem, is as eloquent in her silences as she is when defending herself out loud, not least in a screaming cat-fight with Jillian (which my companion noted was less than convincing because her condition was never considered). Rita’s rendering of ‘You Don’t Own Me’ is a highlight and when Jack joins her in duet, the chemistry is all it has to be for the outcome.

Ingeniously, a full dance floor is fabricated early on with life-sized dummies partnering the cast. Then later, Pinkie’s earnest attempts to learn the Gay Gordons turn out to tutor the audience too, preparing them to accept the invitation to join in for the last dance. And yes, those old-style dances rock!

As usual with a Quigan/Gumbly play the potential for maximising the entertainment value by probing deep and distilling a piquant essence of mid-1960s social transition is not fully realised. This is beer and spirits theatre rather than potent cocktails and vintage wine fare. And as such it delivers a bloody good night out that only the most committed misanthrope would refuse to enjoy.

As my colleague reviewing last year’s Court Theatre production said, this is a popular community theatre show that should tour the country, the small towns especially.


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council