Four Flat Whites in Italy

Court One, Christchurch

29/08/2009 - 10/10/2009

Production Details

Written by Roger Hall
Directed by Ross Gumbley


Roger Hall is New Zealand’s most popular playwright. His combination of brilliant one-liners and satiric insight has seen over forty of his scripts produced throughout the country and overseas. In his latest play, FOUR FLAT WHITES IN ITALY, set to open at The Court Theatre August 29, Hall takes four recognisable kiwi characters and chronicles their misadventures on their “big O.E. when they’re pasta their prime”.

Recently retired, tightly-wound librarians Adrian and Alison (Geoffrey Heath and Yvonne Martin) are about to depart on a long-awaited Italian holiday when their travelling partners unexpectedly fall through. Instead, the couple are joined by their new neighbours; irascible retired plumber Harry (Ken Blackburn) and his “trophy wife” Alison (Lynda Milligan). As tensions over dining, driving and destinations rise, their holiday may end up more Dante than al dente.  

“Although I have written a play about travel (TAKING OFF), the topic of travelling with other people hadn’t come up,” says Hall. “It’s hard enough to travel with one’s nearest and dearest, but add other people into the equation and inevitably there are (to put it mildly) compromises that have to be made.” 

In addition to escalating internal conflicts, the quartet encounter a variety of Italian residents that add to the aggravation, irritation and temptation on their travels – all of whom are portrayed by Jonathan Martin and Sandra Rasmussen. Things come to a head when the quarter-finals of the 2007 Rugby World Cup are played while the group are “relaxing” at a Tuscan villa.

Director Ross Gumbley views FOUR FLAT WHITES IN ITALY as a “universally New Zealand premise: everyone has their own ‘Big O.E.’ horror story. Roger has mixed cultural anxiety with the discomfort of being trapped with people you may not know – or like – that well and served it all up with his trademark wit and pathos”. Gumbley has worked with designer Harold Moot to create a rapidly-changing set that is “like a ride at Disneyland: almost more Italian than Italian.”

Gumbley is looking forward to audiences joining Hall’s characters on their quest for la dolce vita – even if their trip ends up going down la toletta. FOUR FLAT WHITES IN ITALY opens at The Court Theatre on August 29 and runs until October 10.

Additional information:

WHO WANTS TO BE 100? (ANYONE WHO’S 99) set a record as the fastest-selling New Zealand play of all time. Over 14,000 tickets were sold at The Court Theatre’s 2007 season.

A recent North Island tour of FOUR FLAT WHITES IN ITALY sold over 26,000 tickets.

Venue:  Court One, The Court Theatre, Christchurch
Production Dates:  29 August – 10 October 2009
Performances:  6pm Monday / Thursday; 7:30pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (no show Sundays).
2pm matinee Saturday 5 September
Tickets:  Adults $42, Senior Citizens $35, Tertiary Students $25, School Children $15, Group discount (20+) $33, Matinee $29 (5 Sept only)
Bookings:  The Court Theatre, 20 Worcester Boulevard; 963 0870 or

Cast:  Geoffrey Heath, Yvonne Martin, Ken Blackburn, Lynda Milligan, Jonathan Martin and Sandra Rasmussen

Theatre of reassurance

Review by Lindsay Clark 30th Aug 2009

Well, he’s done it again. Roger Hall’s unerring ability to combine affectionate social comment, characters we recognise as Us and circumstances where sharp one-liners pop up as naturally as breathing – all this finds fresh expression in his latest sure fire contribution to theatre coffers.

A captivated opening night audience echoed the applause already greeting this play in Wellington [and before that in Aucklnad], no doubt heralding ongoing rounds of enthusiastic approval. It is theatre of reassurance regarding who we hope we are.

Experiencing a couple of hours in the company of the new Hall characters is like meeting people one has already heard a lot about. They are instantly familiar yet full of idiosyncratic touches which  keep us engaged as two Kiwi couples, adrift under the liberating spell of an Italian holiday deal initially with the rigours of travel but then even more frantically with each other.

Director Ross Gumbley is adept at manipulating comedic tensions in this thoroughly well crafted production. 

Alison and Adrian are retired librarians, given to literary and artistic preoccupations, cautious pre-planning, scrimping, and voting Labour. Harry and Judy have quite different leanings. They are last minute replacements for the friends originally intended to make up a foursome. This explains the utter incompatibility of views and values between the travel mates.

Budgets, food, sex, entertainment, life itself are explored for humorous and sometimes poignant comparisons. The answers to just about everything seem to lie in wine and music and being kind.

The play is mostly narrated by Adrian, a wryly reflective somewhat bookish fellow, but it is not limited to his perceptions. Different pairings of the four ensure a more rounded idea of relationships, allowing satisfying back stories to come to light. As encounters with la dolce vita move from stints in Venice and Rome to an extended stay in a Tuscan villa, underlying explanations for the way people behave are carefully unravelled and all the lightening up reaches a dizzy and sentimental conclusion.

On the way, incidents are predictably very funny. The meals, the driving, the tourist traps and eventually the unexpected/ expected cameraderie and resolution of differences keep the play bubbling along like a good spumante.

Geoffrey Heath pitches the bumbling narrator intelligently so that he is not just an excuse to laugh, but a real man faced with a grey future and a burden of unassuaged guilt. He is well matched by his stage partner Aison, played by Yvonne Martin. She presents us with a self righteous and wounded woman as well as the ridiculous, disapproving frump who lives by the book rather than her senses.

The work of the contrasting couple is similarly well layered. Ken Blackburn is a wonderfully down to earth retired plumber Harry, grunting out laconic responses or frank observations with complete authority. As his second wife and ex-secretary Judy, Lynda Milligan brings genuine  warmth to a hedonistic airhead role.

Then there are the Italians! Playing a whole caboodle of roles, including very sexy scene changers, Sandra Rasmussen and Jonathan Martin cut loose. They carry the ‘lighten up’ initiative with entertaining verve.

Since Tuscany is virtually a life-affirming character in the play, it is fitting that Harold Moot’s set is invitingly mellow and inventive. The gondola, the car, the beds, the stars … and the wide shallow space of Court One all work very well, complemented by lighting design (Josh Major) schmaltzy sound (Geoff Nunn)and, in particular, cleverly suggestive costume (Beryl Hampson).

The entertaining world we visit may be a warmed up version of reality but it carries nevertheless a significant truthfulness. It represents the way we like to see ourselves. How else to account for  an extraordinary statistic for this production, where on opening night 82% of available seats for the season have been booked. It may not ruffle our complacent lives for longer than an evening of laughter but it certainly works.
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