BATS Theatre, Wellington

19/08/2008 - 23/08/2008

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

15/09/2008 - 20/09/2008

Production Details

In 1907 she faked her death

In 1907 writer and director Sophie Dingemans’ Great Grandmother, Grace Oakeshott, did the unthinkable; she faked her own death and ran away to New Zealand with the man she loved. The Rebel Alliance, the company behind The Orderly, A Night of French Mayhem and The Bomb is delighted to bring you a story of extraordinary sacrifice and passion. What would you give up for love?

More than 20 years ago Sophie was first told Grace’s story and ever since then she has wanted to bring it to the stage. After more than 2 years in the making Grace will debut at BATS in Wellington before touring to Auckland’s Basement Theatre.

Only 3 years old, a mere toddler in theatrical sense, The Rebel Alliance has quickly grown to become a force to be reckoned with. With a fierce focus on producing new plays by and with up and coming actors, writers and directors, the company has already developed an impressive track record. The Rebel Alliance productions feature some of the most talented theatre makers you’ve probably have never heard of.

Nicci Reuben plays Grace. Imported from the UK Grace is her first lead on the New Zealand stage. She is supported by Jo Lees as Grace’s feisty sister Amber; Brian Moore as Grace’s tirelessly working husband Harold; Andrew Waterson as the breathtakingly charming Dr. Walter Reeve and the inimitable Michael Downey as H.G. Wells.

All of The Rebel Alliance productions have been produced by Anders Falstie-Jensen. A Danish man with squid-like qualities he wields his tentacles in a plethora of trades. He has directed the three previous Rebel Alliance productions, wrote two of them and publicised all of them. From 2005 to 2007 he worked as a producer with the Indian Ink Theatre Company and is currently the publicist for the 40th Auckland International Film Festival.

Wellington BATS Theatre
August 19 – 23 all performances at 8.30pm
Tickets: $18/$12 Call BATS on (04) 802 4175 or

Auckland The Basement (nee Silo)
September 15 – 20 Mon-Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm
Tickets: $25/$20 Call 0800BUYTICKETS or go to service fees apply

Grace is made with generous support from EAT (Emerging Arts Trust), Arts Alive and is part of THE EDGE’s® STAMP programme.

Nicci Reuben: Grace
Jo Lees: Amber, Grace' sister
Michael Downey: H.G. Wells
Brian Moore: Harold, Grace's husband
Andrew Waterson, Dr. Walter Reeve

Simon Coleman: Set Designer
Robert Larsen: Lighting Designer

Catherine Nola: Co-Producer
Alana Tisdall: Stage Manager
Anders Falstie-Jensen: Publicity

Rough around the edges but a charmer

Review by Shannon Huse 19th Sep 2008

It is probably safe to surmise that Sophie Dingemans is something of a control freak, having written, directed and designed the costumes and soundscape for Grace.

For the most part, I applaud her singular vision as Grace is an interesting night out. [More]


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Like a river love carves its own path

Review by Nik Smythe 16th Sep 2008

I thoroughly enjoyed Grace when I saw the work-in-progress production, originally reviewed in October 2007, and was keen to revisit it to see how it has developed.  This draft of writer/ director Sophie Dingeman’s classic seems somewhat slicker, with greater rhythm and clarity, perhaps in part due to being in a more intimate theatrical space* that comes with resources such as inbuilt lighting and sound systems.

Another appealing feature is the soulful contributions of two new cast members, complementing the excellent work of the three original players.  Brian Moore’s highly strung Harold is perfectly pitched between professorial brilliance and laughable clown, and Lees’ turn as Amber the lovable troublemaker, drawing a convincing loving bond with her sister Grace, the beautiful righteous suffragette politician played as played by Reuben, with grace indeed.

As Walter the affable doctor, Andrew Waterson plays more the dashing heartthrob compared to the earlier version, when he displayed more of a nerdish stiff upper-lip.  Michael Downey fills out the necessary assortment of extras, six in all, with versatile skill.  His most prominent role is that of famous author and alleged scoundrel H. G. Wells, who again seems to have been toned down from the more exaggerated original.

Still strongly underscored with semiabstract dream-dance sequences and expressionist physical theatre, these elements are incorporated more seamlessly.  In harmony with the actors’ flair and, yes, grace, the designs of Simon Coleman (set) and Robert Larsen (lights) work in with Dingemans’ dynamic score to carry this extraordinary tale across time to before our very eyes and ears.  Special mention to the versatile desk come podium come bench come womb.

One slightly disappointing aspect of this refined work is the promotional tagline, which I decline to repeat since it gives away the twist of the story.  I realise it’s the essential crux – as engaging as the unfolding events and relationships are, it is the climax and twist that cements the tale’s status as a legend.  As such it’s probable in time the story will become renowned, again because of said climactic twist, so the spoiler issue will seem increasingly redundant. 

Nevertheless, what need is there to tell the end of the story on the poster?  It’s like the Planet of the Apes video cover with the image of the final shot, revealing one of the classic twists of cinema history before you’ve even decided whether to rent it.  I recall being shocked and impressed at the original production, having watched it with no background info; it really is a great story to watch unfold without knowing where it ends up ’til it’s over.

Having said all that, and thanks if you’re still reading, it is also thoroughly engaging to watch again when you do know where it’s heading, like any classic legend.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: It is really an honour and privilege to witness the development of such a timeless love story as it explodes forth from a child’s soul and the imagination of a woman still moved by it a hundred (and one) years after the fact.  Stories like Grace – and Ian Hughes’ Ship Songs – serve as a challenge and hopefully inspiration for more of us to look into our own family history for legends and parables to shape our identity and share with our neighbours.

*( – only a fraction too intimate during Grace’s public addresses; when the somewhat tall Nicci Reuben stands on the desk her head is close to level with the lighting grid.  Ah, Basement nee Silo etc, I love you, but flip your ceiling’s low).

[See Sophie’s note about her choices, added as a Comment to John Smythe’s review – ed]
For more production details, click on the title at the top of this review. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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The state of Grace

Review by Elspeth Sandys 05th Sep 2008

In the programme notes for Grace, Sophie Dingemans, its writer and director, mentions the "various development phases" the play went through before its premiere. This is in no way unusual. Many new plays go through just such a process before going into full production. The upside is the writer has the advantage of a great deal of feedback; the downside is that the original passion can be diluted, and the focus clouded.

While there is much to enjoy in Grace, it fails to come across as a fully realised dramatic whole. [More]


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It doesn't get more romantic

Review by Lynn Freeman 03rd Sep 2008

If you’d seen this play without knowing the background, you’d have thought it a great and inventive drama – knowing there was a real life Grace who did indeed fake her own death to join the love of her life in New Zealand, 100 years ago, gives it even more punch.

Faking death has been in the headlines recently, with the husband and wife who conspired to get his life insurance.

Grace, though, gave up a great deal for Walter, leaving behind her family and a remarkable political future. It doesn’t get more romantic than that.

This Grace, though, as played with consummate skill and understanding by Nicci Reuben, is not a soppy young romanticist. She’s staunch, mature, ambitious, intelligent, self-contained, and 13 years into a marriage to a man more campaign manager than loving husband.

When she meets Walter (performed by an admirably dashing Andrew Waterson), the handsome and equally intelligent and forward thinking doctor, their hearts and minds connect instantly.

Poor Harold, Grace’s earnest and naïve husband, could have been an also-ran part but Brian Moore shows us a good, focussed and earnest man if not an overtly loving one.

This is also Amber’s story, Grace’s feisty sister, pregnant (to that man about town H G Wells) and unmarried. Jo Lees makes her a match for Grace’s strong personality. Michael Downey has most fun in his variable roles as HG, a cruel genius.

Sophie Dingemans has achieved the double, as the writer (Grace was her Great Grandmother but she doesn’t fall into the trap of making this a soppy tribute) and as an elegant and intuitive director.  Oh yes, she also designed the costumes and sound, both right on the mark.

The script could be tighter, should be tighter in places, but the story carries you along as do the actors.


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Love story leaves lingering queries

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 22nd Aug 2008

Love drives humans to behave in strange ways and while many have been said to die for love, not many have pretended to die for love. OK, Juliet did but you would certainly not expect a sensible, forthright New Woman of the Edwardian era, hoping to be elected to the London County Council, to fall so hopelessly in love that she would pretend to kill herself so as to be with the man she loves in far off New Zealand.

Apparently this is what Grace Oakeshott, the great-grandmother of the playwright Sophie Dingemans, did when she met Dr Walter Reeve. Her husband of thirteen years, Harold, is married to his earnest socialist beliefs, tedious pamphleteering, and endless meetings of the Fabian Society, women’s suffrage and political reform, all of which Grace ardently supports.

Her life is complicated by her sister, Amber, who moves into their home when she is pregnant to none other than the prolific author and virile womanizer H.G. Wells. Then she meets Walter Reeve. He wants to move to the social laboratory that New Zealand at the time appeared to be and to help make the utopian dream a reality. Neither wants to break up the marriage.

This story of love, renewal, and risk-taking is told with a theatrical simplicity that is at times striking and at other times (the birth of Amber’s baby) almost farcical. There is a mimed prologue that outlines the main event of the play and then we are thrust into the political meetings and the slow beginnings of the love affair and the complications created by the hypocritical Wells.

There are long sequences of how Grace finally deceived Harold and how she got the money for the fare to New Zealand and how she managed to meet Reeve while handing out leaflets in the streets of London. But by the end I wanted to know how she got away with it. How did she and Reeve live in New Zealand?  Did no one have any suspicions? I can imagine someone getting away with a fake death in 1840, but in 1907? Weren’t there passports? The whole story would make a great film or television drama – or a full-length play.

Nicci Reuben is a forceful Grace and Brian Moore nicely underplays the unromantic, work-obsessed Harold, while Jo Lees is very flexible for the pregnant Amber, and Andrew Waterson’s Walter is a handsome idealist who is almost too good to be true. Michael Downey plays six roles, including a smugly self-satisfied H.G. Wells, with distinction. Sophie Dingemans has also created an excellent sound design for her own intriguing if, in the end, not entirely satisfying play.


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When passion overcomes principles

Review by John Smythe 20th Aug 2008

With Grace, playwright and director Sophie Dingemans fulfils a childhood ambition: to explore what drove her Great Grandmother to fake her own death by drowning, in 1907, and flee in the name of love to a new life in New Zealand. It’s a classic heart-over-head story, and so is this dramatisation.

Having evolved through a number of development phases and premiered last year as part of Dingeman’s University of Auckland MA thesis in Drama Studies (with First Class Honours) – it was reviewed by Nik SmytheGrace comes to Wellington as a fully-fledged Rebel Alliance production, with three of its five original cast members. This too-brief 5-night season at BATS will be followed by a week-long season at The Basement in Auckland.

What could have played out as a Mills & Boon flight of romantic fantasy achieves artistic excellence through astute dramaturgy, an assured physicality and a non-naturalistic production style that merges realistic and expressionistic elements with (there’s no better word for it) grace.

Rather than develop complex characters with idiosyncratic strengths and flaws, Dingemans – who has also trained in dance and is a choreographer – distils archetypes and dramatic conflicts of the Edwardian age that continue to resonate for each new generation.

Grace (Nicci Reuben) has married Harold Oakeshott (Brian Moore), a fellow Fabian, and after a decade or more of Commitment To The Cause they are campaigning for her to win a seat on the London County Council. Except, to Harold’s intense irritation, Grace will keep linking the socialist cry for Equal Access For All (to business, pleasure and happiness) to the less popular A Woman’s Right To Vote question. Her response to his pragmatism – "If only it were possible to run for office and retain one’s integrity" – is one of many timeless lines. 

When Grace’s unmarried sister Amber Cash (Jo Lees) creates a scandal by revealing she is pregnant to the famous sci-fi novelist H.G. Wells (Michael Downey), it turns out any publicity is good publicity. Harold and H.G. later debate the virtues of honesty about human failings versus ‘proper’ behaviour that is hypocritical and devious.

Meanwhile Amber has questioned Grace about where love lies in her marriage of minds with Harold. And suddenly the self-assured Dr Walter Reeve emerges at a meeting to quietly turn the ideal of Dutiful Self-Sacrifice for the Greater Good on its head by declaring he is of most use to others when he works to take care of, and improve, himself.

These well-articulated social, political and moral concepts are artfully reinforced and counterpointed with non-verbal communication: a particular strength of this production.

An unspoken prologue presages the end, which will emerge as a new beginning. A china tea set is ingeniously used throughout to express states of mind and emotion that transcend verbal exposition. And the burgeoning love between Grace and Walter carves its own unspoken path through the build-up to the election until it becomes predominant and undeniable.

A table and chairs are utilised with ease to locate homes, meeting rooms, rally venues, streets, a fairground, a dream, a birth, a beach … A pile of papers and pamphlets represents a decade of earnest political idealism and becomes a chaotic maelstrom in Grace’s quest for liberation.

The actors’ bare feet declare physical movement is integral, their costumes (designed by Dingemans) express the era without being too restrictive and the whole effect is greatly enhanced by a rich soundscape (also designed by Dingemans) that features the music of American post-rock group Rachel’s. 

Nicci Reuben fully inhabits the role of Grace, whose emotional journey commands the primary focus. "Dazzling orator" though she is, it’s what she is feeling through every beat that carries the story to its extraordinary climax. And somehow, probably because we assume it is a true story, the finer details of exactly how her drowning was faked and her escape with Walter was achieved don’t need to be part of this telling. As passion overcomes principle, the more important question we’re left to ponder is, has she betrayed all she has campaigned so ardently and successfully for (she won!), or has she taken the ideal of self-determination to a higher level?

Andrew Waterson likewise embodies the good Dr Walter Reeve to near perfection, commanding our empathy with every move, thus making it easy to ignore the fact he’s a highly idealised character who comes conveniently unencumbered with flaws, a past or anyone else who may or may not be affected by his actions.

As Amber, Jo Lees expresses her socially dramatic situation with fluid conviction. Brian Moore, as Harold the fusty Fabian, also marks his moments well. And Michael Downey tops five relatively functional characters – bombastic hecklers and obstructionists, mostly – with a memorable turn as the unapologetic H.G. Wells.

It strikes me Dingeman’s background in dance has strongly informed the style and content of Grace, and the dramatic experience she and her cast have created in the process fully validates the outcome.

A quick web search reveals that:

  • in December 1900, a Grace Oakeshott authored a piece in The Economic Journal entitled ‘Women in the Cigar Trade in London’ drawing attention to gender inequities in income;
  • in 1918 a Dr Walter Reeve purchased a property in Havelock North that’s now on a Heritage Trail and remains occupied by his descendants;
  • in 1909 feminist writer and scholar Amber Reeves, daughter of NZ politician and social reformer William Pember Reeves and Fabian feminist Maud Pember Reeves, gave birth to a daughter fathered by H. G. Wells.
    Coincidence? Or has Sophie Dingemans been more inventive than she lets on?


John Smythe September 17th, 2008

Sophie Dingemans has confirmed Amber's story is indeed that of Amber Pember Reeves, which she came across in her research. She wove her own interpretation of it in to 'Grace'.

John Smythe August 20th, 2008

I should also have mentioned Rob Larsen's excellent lighting design, sensistively congruent with the emotional core.

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