BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

09/03/2018 - 11/03/2018

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

22/03/2016 - 26/03/2016

NZ Fringe Festival 2018 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details


Fresh from the success of award winning Fringe show I Wanna Be Na Nah Na Nah Nah, writer / performer Tessa Mitchell brings her tales of teenage-hood from the urban Auckland streets of the 1980s to the Basement.

Mitchell has a rich and diverse background as a writer and actor for stage and screen. Her film credits include The World’s Fastest Indian (Roger Donaldson), Perfect Creature (Glen Standring) and Rubbings from a Live Man (Florian Habicht).  After graduating from VCA in Melbourne Mitchell had early successes with solo performances on both sides of the Tasman. She won best solo street artist for her character Diva Doona in Melbourne’s Moomba festival and her shows Drowning Flounder and I am a Dark toured throughout New Zealand.

Girl You Want is a roller-coaster through Auckland’s 80s underground scene, as seen through the eyes of 17 year-old, Pakeha wild-child, Jess.  Mitchell plays herself and a cast of characters as she spins a series of interweaving yarns about the growing pains of becoming the woman she is now: from split parents, near misses and tricky sexual situations to hanging with gang boys, and trouble with the law. The story culminates in a crisis that could change the course of her life. 

Mitchell’s most recent theatre appearance was in I Wanna Be Na Nah Na Nah Nah, asell-out show at the Auckland Fringe 2015, which Tessa co-wrote with director Stephen Bain and writer Dave Fane. I Wanna Be… was written by Mitchell and Dave Fane (Naked Samoans, Bro Town), who both grew up in the drastically changing Ponsonby of the 1980s. This interactive masterpiece sold out within hours and picked up the overall Fringe Award for Innovation.

Girl You Want draws on Mitchell’s stories, adapting them for the intimate setting of the Basement Studio. Co-directors Chris Jannides and Prue Cunningham have worked together with Mitchell to create a mutli-media rumination on memory, teen experience, and female rites of passage into adulthood.

Breaking away from family and asserting your individuality as a newly formed adult is the stuff of Mitchell’s monologues. A mother of two now, Mitchell reflects on the contradictory combination of strength and vulnerability: “The resilience of human spirit I developed during those years of risk-taking is something I still carry with me today.  Now that I am a parent myself, reflecting on some of the dangerous situations I ended up in is much more complicated.”

Running the gamut, from frivolous and funny, to terrifying and sad from spunky bravado to child-like naivety, Girl You Want is a rare opportunity to dive back in to the raging hormones of that teenage feeling, gloriously underpinned by the thumping 80s Ponsonby music scene. 

Mitchell’s fringe performance last year sold out, so hurry to get tickets for this limited season!

Girl You Want plays
Basement Theatre
Dates:  22 – 26 March 2016 
Tickets: $15- $20
Bookings: or phone iTicket 09 361 1000 

NZ Fringe 2018

Girl You Want has played seasons at Auckland’s Basement theatre and Melbourne’s La Mama theatre to great houses and reviews. 

“Hopefully there’s a sequel, because on the strength of this, Mitchell has plenty of material to work with and the talents to craft it into something both exciting and poignant.” Tim George – Theatrescenes

BATS Theatre The Heyday Dome
9 – 11 March at 7pm
Full Price $20 | Concession Price $15
Fringe Addict Cardholder $14

*Access to The Heyday Dome is via stairs, so please contact the BATS Box Office at least 24 hours in advance if you have accessibility requirements so that appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS.

Theatre , Solo ,

55 mins

Leaves us wanting

Review by John Smythe 10th Mar 2018

As a Baby Boomer I’m always keen to gain insights into our children’s generation: Gen X. Presumably Millennials are also interested in how life was for their parents at the interface of adolescence and adulthood. And Gen Xers themselves, women especially, will doubtless find themselves somewhere on the spectrum from horror to nostalgia at being reminded of their rebellious years and rites of passage.

Named for American new wave band Devo’s, ‘Girl U Want’ (the first single release from their 1980 Freedom of Choice album) – “She’s just the girl, she’s just the girl / The girl you want” – Tessa Mitchell’s semi-autobiographical solo theatre piece Girl You Want has history. I know that’s a tautology; what I mean is it’s a series of monologues extracted from her contribution to I Wanna Be Na Nah Na Nah Nah, a multi-cast walking-tour-through-Ponsonby show which received The Auckland Fringe Award for Innovation in 2015. Mitchell’s extraction premiered at the Auckland Fringe in 2016 and has also played La Mama in Melbourne.

It surprises me, then, that Girl You Want – directed by Chris Jannides and Prue Cunningham with Jen McArthur as ‘Outside Eye’ and Stage Manager – feels so tentative, underdeveloped and lacking in purpose. On the other hand most of us  could describe our late teen selves as tentative, underdeveloped and lacking in purpose – although being rebellious does offer the option of more volatility than this show displays.

Presented face-on in BATS’ Heyday Dome space, the back wall on which still and moving images will be projected from time-to-time, is edged with old music gig posters. Tessa Mitchell boogies in to the strains of ‘Girl U Want’ and introduces herself as Tess (her preferred variation). Pleasant and friendly, she tells us she will be playing herself aged 17 in 1983 and as a 4 year-old, her mother, her big brother, her first boss Mrs Adams, drug dealer Jerry Beans, gang guy Gringo, Cousin Queenie and a skinhead.

While this is helpful, it leaves us little to discover, especially when the characters remain briefly glimpsed cyphers. Even her relationship with mother remains unexplored; she’s simplistically portrayed as a compulsive dope-smoker who, despite being a social worker, fails to perceive her daughter’s wants and needs. And there is no effective ‘get it’ moment that allows that irony to land. We do learn early on that her parents split up, because “open relationships didn’t work for them” but we are only left to guess at the emotional impact this had on Tess.

Of course we can surmise that ‘broken home syndrome’ led to her petty theft, getting into bad company and putting herself at risk, but too much is just told rather than dramatised in a way that offers insight and commands our empathy. Smearing pink paint on leggings to evoke the thrill of stolen stockings may look creative but it sits oddly as an isolated device. Likewise it’s hard to find meaning or value in her voice being pre-recorded at times.

There is one dramatic moment, quite well-staged, involving an unwanted intruder that does make us care. But we are left to wonder what the actual outcome was. An encounter with the police turns out to be about something else completely, and is mostly a vehicle for revealing that her father cared more about her brother than her.

A happy experience involving a guy with a Jaguar changes the mood until it produces an unexpected result that demands Tess takes more responsibility than she has hitherto. But again there is a remote, arm’s length feel to the way she relates, and relates to, this ‘rite of passage’.

The only sense of resolution comes with projected epilogue text, spelling out how her life has turned out since: a singularly undramatic device for paying off what has been set up and allowing us to get how she has changed. Yes, she was jolted into becoming a feminist – something her mother had tried to instil in her own way. Couldn’t we at least have shared some consequent turning point in Tess’s relationship with her mother?  

Throughout the 40-odd minutes of this show Mitchell has told her stories, and intersected them with bits of dance to 80s music, in a casual and relaxed manner, almost floating like molecules in search of a nucleus. I have a sense the writer/ performer and (too many?) directors have had deep and meaningful conversations about the significance of bit of imagery and staging elements but they have yet to coalesce the content into a form that communicates effectively to a live theatre audience.

I can’t help but compare Girl You Want with My Best Dead Friend, another ‘rites of passage’ nostalgia piece – albeit from a Gen Y woman – which opened in the same space earlier this week. Of that I wrote: “Anya in the story, then, may be seen as a discreet and discrete critique of her naïve younger self and/or as a low-key outing of Tate-Manning’s personal clown.” That sense of a ‘conversation’ between her naive and more aware selves could be the key to why it works while Girl You Want leaves us wanting. 


Kate JasonSmith March 10th, 2018

John, another insightful and very astute review.

I did watch this show without any desire to leave, but indeed it lacked the depth and fire of "My Best Dead Friend". I felt it was a work in progress, and I encourage Tessa to be braver.

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Open-hearted, frank, captivating and highly entertaining

Review by Nik Smythe 23rd Mar 2016

Tessa Mitchell is a born and bred Grey Lynner, now raising her own family mere blocks from the streets she grew up on.  Her adult life as an artist and performer is noteworthy, and in Girl You Want she takes herself – and us along with her, to a certain degree – back to her formative years as a teenager in the mid-eighties.

Meditating centre stage as the audience enters, Tessa’s retrospective journey begins with an intriguing series of sign-language-esque interpretive hand movements, first projected on the large upstage screen, then repeated live in unison.  Whilst I don’t grasp their meaning or significance of these gestures, they are a befitting introduction to the fluid sensuality of her physical expression. 

Next we are methodically introduced to the cast of characters that populate the ensuing fragmented tale, including Little Tessa, Teenage Tessa and Tessa Now, as well as her Mother and Brother, and various friends, acquaintances and reprobates from around the neighbourhood back in the day.  Name-checking a bunch of local landmarks such as Ponsonby Road’s long defunct Open Late Café and Gluepot along the way, it’s a charming nostalgia trip for us gen-xers who trod the same streets in the eighties.

Tessa’s very personal, unapologetic sequence of anecdotes is given drive and shape under the directorial eyes of Chris Jannindes and Prue Cunningham.  Interweaving a relaxed sort of ‘interview’ style exposition with an even more casual sort of party banter, the snapshots of narrative are highlighted by selected shots from her personal photo collection and a greatly varied soundtrack ‘contributed’ by Ben Holmes, including punk rock, techno, Sam Cooke, Grace Jones, Herbs and more.  

The familial roles are cast in simplistic but authentic lights and shades, with a particularly amusing account of her wayward, bombastic brother. When later discussing the portrayal of her liberal but self-absorbed mother with my companion, who found it a scathing indictment whereas I found her apparent neurosis more understandable in her struggle to relate with her only daughter, it’s clear to me the broad strokes the characters are drawn in provide ample room for personal interpretation. 

While the focus tends to be on the darker, often substance-fuelled areas of memory, to me the ‘roller coaster ride’ promised on the flyer implies a more intensely moving experience than what we are ultimately given.  The eclectic styles and at-times beguiling abstraction preclude a significantly deep emotional connection; the follow-up sentence seems more accurate: “a multi-media rumination on memory, teenage rebellion and female rites of passage”. 

The ‘rites’ referred to there include some of the seedier, less desirable forms of initiation that give food for thought, though as I said fall short – perhaps mercifully – of the visceral impact that such grim reminiscences could provide.  In any case, Tessa’s open-hearted warmth and relaxed, frank expression is effortlessly captivating and highly entertaining. 

The open-ended theatrical collage concludes abruptly and, like the more abstruse elements of the performance, the fact that she can’t exit after her greatly appreciative curtain call because the backstage entrances are blocked off feels like it must mean something, though I couldn’t quite say what.


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