West Otago Community Centre,

10/10/2013 - 10/10/2013

Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson

23/10/2013 - 23/10/2013

Memorial Hall, 36 Melmore Terrace, Cromwell

15/10/2013 - 15/10/2013

Memorial Hall, 1 Memorial Street, Queenstown

12/10/2013 - 12/10/2013

Baycourt - Addison Theatre, Tauranga

27/10/2013 - 27/10/2013

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

14/09/2013 - 05/10/2013

SIT Centrestage Theatre, Invercargill

08/10/2013 - 08/10/2013

Lake Wanaka Centre, Wanaka

14/10/2013 - 14/10/2013

Memorial Hall, 15 Skird Street, Alexandra

16/10/2013 - 16/10/2013

Oamaru Opera House, Oamaru

18/10/2013 - 18/10/2013

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

10/10/2015 - 31/10/2015

Rudolf Steiner School Theatre, Christchurch

22/08/2013 - 24/08/2013

Theatre Royal, TSB Showplace, New Plymouth

28/08/2013 - 29/08/2013

Tauranga Arts Festival 2013

Christchurch Arts Festival 2013

Taranaki International Arts Festival 2013

Nelson Arts Festival 2013

Production Details

Fortune Theatre is proud to produce the World Première of Gifted by Patrick Evans. Adapted from the acclaimed novel of the same name by award-winning writer Patrick Evans, Gifted is a beautifully funny, clever and moving literary love triangle.

It is 1955. New Zealand’s literary landscape is about to change forever. Janet Frame meets Frank Sargeson.

Says the show’s Director, Conrad Newport (Rita and Douglas, The Motor Camp, Le Sud), “As soon as I read this clever and funny script, I knew I wanted to direct it. Gifted is such a beautifully profound and touching account of the very moment our New Zealand cultural landscape changed forever, and honours both Frank and Janet in its own distinctive voice.” 

Behind his famous hedge, Frank has been having a difficult time with his writing, but his veggies are nearly ready and his old mate Harry is due any day soon.

Fortune Theatre’s Artistic Director, Lara Macgregor, adds “Patrick Evans’ story has been referred to as ‘a magnificent re-imagining of a signal moment in our cultural history.’ It is with great pride we are able to imagine this World Première of Patrick’s work, and not only offer it to the people of Dunedin, but tour to four major Arts Festivals around New Zealand and throughout Otago and Southland.”

The idyllic world of the literary ‘Father of the Nation’ is about to crack open when not only Janet comes to stay – with her riddling speech and baffling behaviour – but Harry appears.

Patrick Evans has taught New Zealand literature at the University of Canterbury since 1978. He has written plays which have been performed in New Zealandand Australia. He has written three award-winning short plays – The Meeting which won the Christchurch Star best new play award for 1985; Stuff: A Play on Words, first performed 1993, won the Theatre Foundation Award for best new playscript 1995; and Cold Turkey won the Aoraki Festival playwriting award, 1993. His most recent publication is Gifted (VUP 2010), a novel about Janet Frame and Frank Sargeson.
Read more: 

Central Otago actor Andrew Laing (Spartacus, Outrageous Fortune, Underbelly NZ) takes on the role of the iconic Frank Sargeson, with local Dunedin actor Simon O’Connor (Heavenly Creatures, Heroes, Play) playing his partner Harry Doyle, while Sophie Hambleton (Rage, Second Hand Wedding, Tribes) delights in discovering the magic that is Janet Frame.

A beautifully funny, clever and very moving literary love triangle.

Approx. 2 hours 10 minutes (including interval)

Christchurch Arts Festival:
Thu 22 – Sat 24 Aug, 6.30pm
Sun 25 Aug, 3.00pm
Rudolf Steiner School Hall
General Admission $30 
Student (With Id) $20
Service fee applies

Wed 28 – Thurs 29 Aug, 6,30pm
Theatre Royal, TSB Showplace  

Fortune Theatre
Mainstage, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin
14 September – 5 October, 2013
Tuesday, 6.00pm, Wednesday – Saturday, 7.30pm, Sunday, 4.00pm
(No show Monday) 
Gala (first 5 shows) $32, Adults $40, Senior Citizens $32, Members $30,
Tertiary Students $20, High School Students $15, Group discount (10 +) $32
Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin 
Box Office 03 477 8323 or visit 

Lunchtime Bites / Thursday 12 September, 2013 – meet at 12.15pm in the Dunedin Public Library, ground floor. The cast will perform an excerpt from Gifted with an opportunity to win tickets.
Reading will commence at 12.30pm followed by afternoon tea. This is a FREE event.
Opening Night / Saturday, 14 September, 2013 – 7.30pm, Fortune Theatre.
Members’ Briefing / Sunday, 15 September, 2013 – meet at the Fortune bar at 3.00pm and join Fortune Theatre Artistic Director, Lara Macgregor for a lively informal chat about Gifted. 
Forum / Tuesday, 17 September, 2013 join the cast and crew for an open question and answer session following the 6.00pm show. 
Fortune Sociable Club / Wednesday, 18 September, 2013 meet in the bar at 6.30pm, with like-minded individuals and get connected. 
Audio Describe Performance / Sunday 29 September, 2013 – an audio described performance offered in collaboration with Experience Access for visually impaired patrons and friends. Bookings essential.
Education Pack – a High School Education Pack will be available from Monday, 9 September 2013.

Tickets on sale from Monday, 2 September 2013

8 October Invercargill – SIT Centrestage Theatre
Bookings: Ticket Direct

10 October Tapanui – West Otago Community Centre
Bookings: Hammer Hardware
03 204 8642

12 October Queenstown – Memorial Centre
Bookings: Ticketek

14 October Wanaka – Lake Wanaka Centre
Bookings: Lake Wanaka i-Site
03 443 1538

15 October Cromwell – Memorial Hall
Bookings: Central Otago i-Site
03 445 0212

16 October Alexandra – Memorial Hall
Bookings: Central Otago i-Site
03 448 9515

18 October Oamaru – Oamaru Opera House
Bookings: Ticket Direct

*Bookings fees may apply 

Tauranga Arts Festival 2013

WHEN Sunday 27th October, 07:00pm

WHERE Baycourt

TICKETS Adult prices: $40 (TECT $32)
Student prices: $25 (TECT $20)
Booking fees apply

DURATION 100mins (plus interval)


Touring the Arts Festivals in 2013 to incredible reviews and widespread acclaim it’s now Wellington’s chance to experience this celebrated New Zealand production.

“Like an exquisite work of art, the play Gifted is honed to near perfection … go and see this gorgeous production.” – Taranaki

“Superb performances by all … it is thrilling … it makes for astonishingly joyful, mischievous theatre.” – Dunedin

“Sheer quality” – Christchurch

Circa One 
10 October − 31 October 2013 
Tues and Wed 6.30pm  
Thurs – Sat 8pm | Sun 4pm
$25 Preview Friday 9 October
$25 Matinee Sunday 11 October
Ticket prices:
Tickets: $46 full / $38 senior and students / $33 Friends (until 25 October)
/ $39 groups 6+ / $36 groups 20+ / $25 under 25s

Janet:  Sophie Hambleton / Circa Season: Harriet Prebble
Frank:  Andrew Laing 
Harry:  Simon O’Connor 

Producers:  Fortune Theatre
Writer:  Patrick Evans
Director/Sound Designer:  Conrad Newport  
Set Designer:  Matt Best (2013) | Daniel Williams (2015)

Set Build:  Peter King
Lighting Designer/Operator:  Jennifer Lal
Costume Designer:  Maryanne Wright-Smyth 
Production/Stage Manager:  Rebecca Tapp, Dan Williams 

Theatre ,

2hrs incl. interval

Evocative gesture to literary treasures

Review by Lena Fransham 11th Oct 2015

Gifted is adapted for the stage by Patrick Evans from his own novel of the same name, which tells a story based on the relationship between authors Janet Frame and Frank Sargeson when she lived in the army hut in his garden and wrote her first novel, Owls Do Cry.

We look into the interior of Frank’s pokey Takapuna house and garden, cosily walled by the high hedge with an arched gateway that reveals a letterbox. Pages are strewn across the hedge, radiating out from the archway like a kind of wild wallpaper. In the corner sits the famous hut. The set (Daniel Williams) suggests a secret world fecund with potential.

Frank (Andrew Laing) faces us and begins to narrate his reminiscences of the time Janet arrived, beginning with the long absence of the love of his life, Harry Doyle (gorgeously portrayed by Simon O’Connor). When someone arrives at the hole in the hedge, he hopes it is Harry but it’s Janet (Harriet Prebble).

Laing is a charismatic Frank, irascible but vulnerable and sometimes given to pompous soliloquy. His narration is surprisingly chirpy and he confidently carries our attention. Frank’s relationship with the rascally old drifter Harry adds an endearing humanity to both characters. 

The character of Janet speaks to my own tendency to romanticise her as a writer, with a poetic, though simple, portrayal of her transcendent relationship with words. Prebble vividly inhabits the odd demands of the character, evincing shyness and stubborn individuality while retaining an ethereal quality.

In an establishing scene, Janet sees her first ever capsicum in Frank’s garden, and asks why he calls it a pepper if it’s supposed to be sweet. She is not content with his curt assertion that names come from history. She goes on to lament the gap between words and the things they describe. She wants to find the point of origin where the word is the progenitor of the world: “You speak a world. Yes, that’s what it is, language that uncreates. A language that rolls back the reel of time and reverses the Fall. So there’re no more gaps between us, people aren’t strangers anymore … A language that will heal us and make us whole.”

The idea of the word being so far from what it is describing is illustrated in the conflict induced by Frank’s reaction to hearing Janet was diagnosed as schizophrenic. She was not schizophrenic, but in Gifted, the wrongful diagnosis, and the ignorant stereotypes associated with it, functions like the application of a misleading name – ‘pepper’ for a sweet capsicum – that creates division and misinterpretation. This seems to acknowledge, too, the gap between the real Janet, the real Frank and the myths that have grown up around them; myths on which this play itself draws and to which it in turn contributes. 

Clearly, Frank and Janet are an unlikely pair, but the difficult relationship is creatively fertile, at least for Janet and for literary posterity. Frank proudly reminds us that he is the father of the nation’s fiction, because he pioneered a literature that attempted to reflect New Zealand life. He is credited with opening the way for a uniquely New Zealand literature.

The narrative depicts a relationship that fostered an expansion of his legacy: though a very different writer than Frank, Janet was enabled during her time as his protégé to innovate a writing that opened a door from the New Zealand cultural landscape into richly interior worlds. 

“I wanted an imagination that would inhabit a world of fact, descend like a shining light upon the ordinary life of Eden Street and not force me to exist in an ‘elsewhere’.” – Janet Frame, To the Is-land

Frank is non-plussed by her ideas about language and writing, and suffers from writer’s envy as she types incessantly whilst he is devoid of inspiration. He becomes preoccupied with the mystery around what she is writing and where she disappears to, and he’s alienated by her word riddles, which he at first condemns as ‘schizophrenic’ ravings even while racking his brain for what they mean.

This play, like the novel it’s based on, is fiction, inspired by and written loosely around Janet’s time with Frank and the production of Owls Do Cry, though it’s easy to forget that the characters, though they bear the names and some fabled characteristics of the real people, are not the same as the real people. Janet famously hated Evans’ 1977 biography of her, and the Janet Frame Literary Trust is scathing about anything he’s written on her, deeming it appropriative and prone to perpetuating erroneous views of her that promote his personal agenda. This being said, Evans’ admiration of Janet Frame is such that he has devoted decades to researching her life and work, so his knowledge is pretty vast even if his interpretation is arguable.* 

While the problem of mythologising is actually commented on in the course of Frank’s narrative, the play is itself an unashamedly romanticised mythologising. The character of Janet has all the qualities of the muse figure and she remains somewhat fey throughout her development, never quite becoming solid. She manifests from the point of view of Frank, the male author, so we don’t get a sense of her own subjectivity except as interpreted by Frank, in keeping with the modernist tradition he represents.

She’s mysterious – suddenly arriving at his place like a silent apparition in scarf and dark glasses, hiding in the hut, tapping away at a maddeningly secret manuscript, speaking in magical language as if suffering divine madness, disappearing inexplicably (Frank speculates that she has ‘fallen out of language,’ based on her stated theory about the world-generating power of words), and leaving him unintelligible riddles on slips of paper.

This powerful enigma and Frank’s efforts to understand it seem to be telling the story of a writer’s own personal response to Janet’s writing and the inspiration she has been for him. It’s a story of creative process, about which Frame herself wrote so much: bringing the angel to the table of the here and now.

I’m left thinking about genius and muses and world-making, and how if you are an artist who draws on real people for inspiration and material, you must also wrestle with the ethics of how you represent these figures in your own art.

If you separate the characters of Gifted from the real Frank and Janet, it is a seductive, funny and enchanting story, robustly directed by Conrad Newport, honouring the two authors in its own way. It gestures evocatively to the treasure they bequeathed to New Zealand literature, even if we could not necessarily expect the real Janet or Frank to recognise themselves in the characters.

*Listen to the podcast of Kim Hill’s interview with Patrick Evans, 10 Oct 2015.


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A rich and resonating theatrical experience

Review by Nyree Sherlock 28th Oct 2013

Fortune Theatre’s Gifted is Patrick Evans’ own adaptation of his acclaimed novel of the same name. Set in writer Frank Sargeson’s humble beach-side abode in mid 1950s Takapuna, it recreates 16 extraordinary months where the Father of the Nation’s literary oasis is fractured by the unexpected arrival of fledgling-writer Janet Frame.  Twenty years his junior, and with a puzzling world view, the initially timid Frame unwittingly weaves her words into his life. 

In the onset of the play Sargeson is suffering from writer’s block, coupled with a yearning for his old companion and love Harry Doyle, who is in the habit of coming and going as he pleases; it has been a record six months without contact. He is further defeated by the sound of prolific typing emanating from his old army-hut, where Frame has taken up residence.

[Possible spoiler alert] In an hilarious vignette, the play illuminates the moment where the older writer imagines his own creative powers are being usurped by the prolifically inspired Frame: Sargeson, affronted by the constant staccato of Frame’s Olivetti, rushes to and from his own silent typewriter to the army hut, suggesting that she take a break for her own good; this notion rejected, Sargeson races back to his own machine embarking upon a frenzied-tantrum of fake-typing; pretending in vain, that his mojo has returned! [ends]

Gifted’s successful adaption to stage is partly due to the brilliant script, which closely follows the dialogue and timeline in the original novel. However, in the play, Evan’s has fleshed-out his characters even more, using dramatic irony through the character of Sargeson, as he confides his inner thoughts to the audience in witty asides.

The three actors are superb. Andrew Laing’s wonderfully dignified, yet corporeal portrayal of Frank Sargeson is a joy to behold. Simon O’Connor’s interpretation of the laconic and lovable shyster Harry Doyle is magnificent: I felt that Harry had stepped right out of the novel. Sophie Hambleton’s inspired depiction of Janet Frame is understated perfection, right down to the gestures and the awkward little pauses between moments of sheer unadorned brilliance.

Gifted is a rich and resonating theatrical experience, offering truly satisfying insights into the meeting of two of our greatest literary minds. 


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Breathes life into a loved and respected duo

Review by Gail Tresidder 24th Oct 2013

Birds fly high and free and although Frank Sargeson and Janet Frame had their difficulties, overwhelming at times, like the birds that are a feature of this excellent play, they both soared above the ordinary and were brave and steadfast in their passion for writing.  

Intro music is an excerpt from the beautiful ‘The Lark Ascending’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams and sets the mood perfectly.  There is intermittent bird song throughout the play and a wry reference from Harry Doyle (Simon O’Connor), choking on the cigarettes that ultimately kill him, that he is “a box of birds – dead ones!”

Fittingly, this is a play of words, with plays on words and word play between the two main characters, Frank Sargeson (Andrew Laing) and Janet Frame (Sophie Hambleton). Being in the audience is rather like being a guest at a fearfully intellectual party where one is privileged to listen, yet not expected to be equally intelligent!  One can just sit back and enjoy it all and this audience certainly does that.

Andrew Laing is the lynch-pin; a brilliant actor, his timing impeccable.  His accent is good Kiwi, educated 50s – perfect, and his chatting to the audience is effortless and easy.  We are on his side, even when he is being a little envious of Frame’s success.  We care about him: a man – self-described as “the father of the nation’s fiction” – who fills the role of mother, caring and cooking for his vulnerable shed-guest.  We also empathise in his attachment to wild, funny, ‘bit of rough’ Harry.  He comes and goes and constant Frank is always there for him: the love of his life.

Sophie Hambleton looks and acts convincingly as the young Janet Frame.  Her red hair is tousled and a little wild, her dress neat, metaphorically buttoned up, as is Janet herself.  One believes in this character, especially as she comes out of her shell and becomes playful with word puns and the intermittent “I am mad today” notice on her sanctuary door.  If any criticism is warranted, perhaps the strange way she holds her hands, presumably to portray nervousness and caution, is a little overdone.

Simon O’Connor as Harry Doyle is funny and believable.  A wanderer and a bit of a bad lot who thinks Foxton is the best place on earth, O’Connor manages to be loveable even when he is palpably a total reprobate. 

Matt Best’s cool white set – hedge constructed of sheets of discarded manuscript – Jennifer Lal’s lighting and especially the sound designed by director Conrad Newport are all a delight and there is a clever bit of stage business at the start of the second act concerning the scarecrow in Frank’s veggie garden, draped in Harry’s suit. 

Following his book of the same title, Patrick Evans has given us a play to celebrate two of New Zealand’s most influential literary figures.  How accurate the portrayal is, no-one knows, but it is a work of imagination, based on known fact, which fleshes out and breathes life into this loved and respected duo.


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Narrative weighs on Sargeson play

Review by Barbara Frame 20th Sep 2013

Patrick Evans’ newest play is based a well-known episode in New Zealand’s literary history: the 16 months in 1955 and 1956 when Janet Frame lived and wrote in an army hut at Frank Sargeson’s Takapuna home. 

Sargeson is the major character here, and for much of the time he addresses the audience directly, giving the play something of the air of a monologue and a memory piece.

The first and probably more important of the other characters is Frame, beautifully played by Sophie Hambleton, who takes her from a tense and awkward newcomer to a writer of distinct personality, confidence and intellect. Much of her dialogue with Sargeson consists of literary allusions and discussions about words and their power – usually cerebral but sometimes (such as when Frame remarks that “There are more pressing matters” before taking up an iron) banal. Humour tends to be sparse and low-key, but a competitive typewriter-tapping duet is particularly funny. 

The third character is the lesser-known Harry Doyle, a retired jockey and Sargeson’s itinerant lover. He’s coarse, ignorant, a professional sponger and not particularly likeable. Simon O’Connor succeeds brilliantly in the task of making it possible for the audience to believe that the attraction between the two men is genuine. The instinctive antipathy between Frame and Doyle (who may not, in fact, ever have met) provides some opportunities for friction and conflict.

Conrad Newport’s direction is sensitive and intelligent. Overall, though, I didn’t find that the play works terribly well. It’s weighed down by the preponderance of narrative over action, and the dialogue often seems pointless or repetitive. Andrew Laing does a good job as Sargeson, but it’s hard to escape a sense that, without Frame or Doyle, Sargeson’s life has little meaning. The story itself (and the historical and psychological accuracy of the events depicted may be debatable) is a slight basis for a full-length play.


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Astonishingly joyful, mischievous theatre

Review by Terry MacTavish 16th Sep 2013

“An imaginative reimagining,” playwright and scholar Patrick Evans has called Gifted, his enthralling depiction of the blossoming friendship between two of our greatest writers.  The year is 1955 and Janet Frame has emerged from the nightmare of mental institutions, to spend sixteen fruitful months in the writer’s haven that is the simple army hut in Frank Sargeson’s Takapuna garden. He is well established as the father of New Zealand fiction; she will change it forever. 

To invent conversations between two literary giants takes self-confidence bordering on hubris, and there has been considerable controversy over this play, which Evans has adapted from his own novel, the portrait of Janet Frame in particular being described as demeaning.  Of course other plays have been written about the sparks that fly when brilliant 20th century minds collide – think Sassoon and Owen, Woolf and Sackville-West, and, closer to home, Baxter and Morrieson.  It is fertile territory – the mutual inspiration and vicious rivalry – clearly tempting the playwright’s plough.

Sargeson and Frame were their own gift to us; they are our legacy, one we love to explore and speculate about.  Yet this is a script that would have succeeded even if the characters were anonymous: such fascinating personalities, such recognisable relationships, so skipping a dialogue!  It makes for astonishingly joyful, mischievous theatre. 

The narrative convention is wisely chosen: we see the mysterious young Janet Frame through the eyes of the older and more accessible Frank Sargeson.  “Sometimes I think I made her up,” he says, as he shares with us his interpretation of her strange, elusive ways.  We do not have the same direct line to Janet’s mind, puzzling out her curious cryptic word games along with Frank. 

The attractive set by Matt Best and Peter King most ingeniously reflects this, with Frank’s room fully exposed to our gaze, while Janet’s army hut is tightly shut off, the door firmly closing on any attempt to see within.  A high hedge – craftily composed of pages of writing – encloses their two worlds, which are separated by Frank’s garden plot, guarded in the first act by a scarecrow dressed in Harry’s clothing. 

The women in the audience drool over the adorable 50s dresses by Maryanne Wright-Smyth, starting in dim pastels and warming to vibrant red as Janet gains confidence and courage, while Jennifer Lal’s beautiful lighting leads the eye smoothly from space to space. 

It’s impressive to realise this is all designed to be recreated in vastly different venues on tour.

Frank is awaiting the return of Harry Doyle, disgraced jockey and trickster, and the love of his life.  He is blocked, “blank paper poking out of the typewriter like an urchin’s cheeky tongue,” while Janet is burning with creative fire.  She produces, in just five months, Owls Do Cry. Nobody wrote like that before.  What an impact, what a complete departure from the blokey realism exemplified by Sargeson.  

I recall the awe in the voice of our elderly English teacher of the 60s, clever blue-haired Miss Letitia Lawson, as she showed us the frightening cover of Owls Do Cry and marvelled over the radical mix of honesty and poetry:
“the way their mother said when their uniform was creased
— The creases will come out in the air, kiddies.
Oh kind air, that never could fulfil any promise.”

She also recklessly read us Miss Gibson and The Lumber Room in which Janet Frame confesses to her own teacher (who had set such an absurd topic for an Oamaru schoolgirl), “Miss Gibson, I was an awful liar.”  Miss Lawson told us at the time that Janet’s old school wouldn’t teach the book as this story was thought to demean the real Miss Gibson. Hmm. Took a while to get my 12 year old head round that.  Honesty. Lies.  Honest liar.  It’s what a writer is, and an actor.

And these actors succeed in making us believe their truth, with superb performances by all three, under the skilled direction of Conrad Newport. 

Sophie Hambleton’s portrait of Frame is enchanting.  Certainly she is naive and quirky, popping on and off with disconcerting suddenness, nervously quivering hands, funny little trotting steps, and odd abrupt utterances.  “Words aren’t donkeys,” she blurts out, summoning the courage to correct Frank.

But with absolute conviction Hambleton takes us from her first painfully shy entry, with high squeaky voice and toes turned in as she awkwardly balances cup and scone, through her dawning confidence as both writer and human being, to a gorgeous sunburst smile as she and Frank begin to connect over the wordplay and riddles she delights in. This is the playful Janet Frame who executed a neat little tap dance when my friend Reg Graham was trying to photograph her. 

Garrulous Frank, spying on her with indignant jealousy, could seem the more absurd, but with impassioned energy and faultless timing, Andrew Laing shows us his kindness and generosity as well.  It is a huge role, a huge challenge, but Laing is its master: extraordinarily convincing as Sargeson, both comical in his frustrated fascination with Janet – “Why does she repeat everything I say?” – and touching in his deep (and at the time, criminal) love for rascal Harry Doyle: “The heart has its reasons that reason knows not of.” 

Simon O’Connor makes Harry both archetypal working class NZ and unforgettable individual; a charming unreliable rogue who is yet Frank’s muse, his ‘Sheherazade’.  O’Connor is a glorious actor who can play tough and vulnerable simultaneously, and break your heart like no other.  From his first brief entry strolling on to tell his cheeky story of the bombed brothel in wartime Cairo, he has us yearning for his return nearly as much as Frank does. 

It is not, however, until the second half that he reappears, to plunge us into even more absorbing tangles as Frank attempts to make Harry and Janet understand each other.

O’Connor has been quoted as saying that actors don’t play characters, so much as relationships, and this is part of what makes Gifted so successful: the determined playing of the relationships.  When the three are together, it is thrilling.

“Writers invent things,” Patrick Evans told Lynn Freeman (queen of Arts on Sunday), and I for one am damn glad of that, having enjoyed every minute of this engrossing exploration of a most intriguing chapter in our country’s literary history.  I am proud the Fortune is touring a production of such worth. 

Oh, and thank you, Miss Lawson, for teaching me that sometimes it’s ok to be a liar. (And a rogue and a vagabond…)


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A literary ode to love and language

Review by Holly Shanahan 29th Aug 2013

Adapted from his own novel by Patrick Evans, Gifted is a loving imagining of a famed meeting of minds.

We are invited to take a glimpse into the world and relationship of two of NZ’s literary legends, Frank Sargeson and Janet Frame, through a fictionalised account of the 16 months a young Frame spent in the small army hut of Sargeson’s Takapuna backyard.   

Set in the 1950s, Frame arrives on Sargeson’s doorstep, freshly discharged from a long period of hospitalisation and still in the early stages of finding her literary (and indeed personal) voice. Sargeson is mourning the absence of his long-time lover Harry, and languishing in a mid-career writer’s block. What ensues is the blossoming of a deep love and mutual respect between the two, in which each challenge the other in games of power and mystery. 

This is a love story on many levels. It explores the deeply personal love of two men, and the triangle created by Frank’s fatherly love towards the young visitor. It is an ode to the potential and beauty of language, and plays almost as a love letter from Evans himself to two writers he clearly respects and cares about deeply. 

From the power play of their initial meeting, in which Sargeson attempts to size-up the delicate and elusive Frame, to his obsession, fascination and frustration with her challenging and obscure artistic temperament, the relationship that unfolds is unconventional and enigmatic. 

The surprise here is that this is not a play ‘about’ Frame. This is Sargeson’s recollection and personal story, and it is through his experience, insecurities, paranoia, longing, fear and inspiration that we are led through the events of these sixteen months.  The play paints a rich portrait of a historical character I know little about, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

Andrew Laing is magnetic to watch as Frank Sargeson. From fits of paranoid rage and frustration, to camp delight, whimsical humour, fascination and confusion, Laing is disarmingly charismatic. This is a role that could err on the ‘OTT’, but it is executed with subtlety and flamboyance, honesty and passion. He carries the play with an openness and lightness which seems to belie the huge job of such a role.   

As Janet Frame, Sophie Hambleton embodies the spirit of the troubled artist / genius with beautiful detail and presence. Right from her entrance, shrouded in the typical headscarf and glasses, she is a sea of contradiction and curiosity. In the play, we are allowed only small fragments of insight into this young mind, the ‘cartoon figure being drawn as you watch’, almost as if a reflection of the fragmented world of the woman herself. We meet her mind through the word games she leaves for Frank, and her ‘insights’ into the relationship of words, art and life.

In the end, we are constantly left with Frank, thinking that perhaps we understand… or that we should… or that maybe we do… but we don’t. She always eludes us. I feel that Sargeson’s attempts in the play to unravel the mysterious Janet are somewhat Evans’ owns attempts to understand her. 

Hambleton flips beautifully between a woman who is with us, passionately inspired, and as quickly is neurotic, uncomfortable and unpredictable, at times off on her own plane, as if understanding or seeing something we do not. 

Another thrilling surprise in the show is Dunedin based actor Simon O’Connor as the cheeky, endearing Harry. From his first appearance in a memory sequence I am shocked I had never seen this actor before. O’Connor has a likeability, weight and vulnerability that at times can be electric to watch. The jealous exchanges between Harry and Frank, and the tender moments as he lies ill, are touching and beautifully nuanced. He encapsulates the eye-twinkling travelling dandy so completely. 

Conrad Newport has assembled the perfect cast, and disseminated the essence of Evans’ adaptation of his novel with sensitivity and care. With a play that relies so heavily on the narrator – Frank moves between audience address and action throughout – it could easily become a little tried. Instead, this device gives power to the word and almost plays as a homage to its literary subject matter and origin. 

Matt Best’s ‘hedge’ is another star of the show. Re-imagined into a rolling wire frame littered with letters and paper, its form looms over the whole show and is a piece of art in itself. The motif of fragmentation and alternative ways of seeing are evident in the angles of the set, as is the clever choice to have the shed in which Janet writes closed to us completely, but for the light we can see inside. This is another device that leaves us wondering about the mind diligently tapping away inside, creating, as we know, the first novel that Frame historically penned here: ‘Owls Don’t Cry’

Jennifer Lal’s distinctive lighting plays in the predominantly white set with evocative colour.

If I could say one thing, it would be that I would have liked to see some real garden, some dirt and grass on stage, a literal representation of what Sargeson is attempting to bring Frame back to.

I can see the potential for this production to annoy cultish fans of Frame. I can only say, this is the theatre! If you go in expecting a perfect depiction of historical truth then of course you will be disappointed, as there is not one truth. This is an exploration and a personal meditation on the impressions of these two figures, not a documentary. It leaves me inspired to know more, to read more of both of them, and to think on my own relationships with words, writing and art; to how and who we love.  

Frank remarks, “We look for love and find strange bedfellows.” Gifted is an exploration of love and the people we find who impact on us in significant and subtle ways. I wholeheartedly agree with Evan’s note in the program: “Gifted is a love letter to two writers, two great New Zealanders who other New Zealanders ought to know more about.” And we should.

Go and see this gorgeous production.


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The stuff of dreams

Review by Alan Scott 23rd Aug 2013

There could not have been a more fitting opening to the Christchurch Arts Festival than this play by Patrick Evans, a play which covers the period in which Janet Frame resided at Frank Sargeson’s home in 1955. 

It is the stuff of dreams: the meeting of minds of two of the great figures of New Zealand literature with the promise of insight into the nature of art and writing. 

I expected to be enthralled, but instead I was taken completely by surprise. For what stuck with me at the end was not Sargeson’s or Frame’s work, or any view of it at all. Rather it was the sheer quality of Evan’s script itself that I carried away with me into the night. [More]


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Love of language frames love triangle

Review by Elizabeth O’Connor 23rd Aug 2013

This delicious and engaging play is set in the 1950s, when Frank Sargeson, the “father of New Zealand fiction”, finds his house, garden and shed semi-invaded by a Janet Frame who is only just beginning to find articulation as a person, never mind a writer.  Frank is struggling to write anything himself at this time, and also misses desperately his mate and love, Harry Doyle. 

The play is an adaptation of Evans’ novel of the same name.  The novel carries the voices of all three characters clearly, but the play hinges on Frank’s frequent direct address to the audience, a device which can bore and tire. But in this play and this production, directed by Conrad Newport, it engages the audience painlessly, with humour and poignancy, thanks in large part to the outstandingly well-judged performance of Andrew Laing.  Just the right touches of camp and irony. 

Sophie Hambleton is magnetic, brusque, fragile and touchingly human as Janet Frame.  (A glorious array of costumes – but all summer??) Simon O’Connor as Harry carries well the shambolic but endearing character whose vulnerability later brings out Frank’s strengths and Janet’s fears. 

Love of language and its power to create image, idea and reality unites Sargeson and Frame, and is oddly echoed in the linguistic protests and insults in which Harry indulges, when he perceives his relationship with Sargeson to be threatened by Frank’s with Janet.

Patrick Evans has given us a play which celebrates speaking and writing, practical action and love, in pretty well equal parts. 

Matt Best’s set design’s most successful feature is the hedge composed of writings /letters attached to wire.  Jennifer Lal’s lighting design is attractive but the operation (probably just opening night glitches) had a couple of bumps.  Music opening and closing each act is appropriate and atmospheric, but the blackbird is a bit too regular. 

Minor niggles in what was overall a superb piece of theatre, most enthusiastically received by a large audience.


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