TAPAC Theatre, Western Springs, Auckland

12/09/2013 - 29/09/2013

Production Details

Who is the most frustrating member of your family? 

Twist Productions proudly presents the New Zealand Premiere of Gwen in Purgatory at TAPAC from September 11-29.  The production stars the iconic Elizabeth McRae, beloved as Marj from Shortland Street, alongside Michele Hine, Bruce Phillips, Ryan Richards & Tawanda Manyimo.

We all have family members we love but struggle with. Maybe it’s their age and stubbornness. Maybe it’s their youth and idiotic life choices. Maybe it’s just their exasperating personalities.  Whatever the reason, there is a tipping point where the struggle starts to win and things have to change. 

What do you do with family when you just can’t take it anymore? 

Gwen in Purgatory is a bittersweet comedy exploring this dilemma with a rich tapestry of characters:  

  • A feisty 90 year-old losing her fight for independence. 
  • The bossy son who sold her house. 
  • Her stoic daughter they take for granted. 
  • Her orphaned grandson raised by his aunt. 
  • A lonely Nigerian priest isolated from his family. 

In one afternoon in the suburban wilderness these characters gather and face their tipping points with all the conflict, awkwardness and humour you’d expect from your own family.

Gwen in Purgatory is written by acclaimed Australian playwright Tommy Murphy. He is best known for Holding the Man, which was a smash hit for Silo Theatre in 2009. Director Katherine McRae (daughter of Elizabeth) has won multiple Chapman Tripp Awards for theatre and now directs Shortland Street, Nothing Trivial and Go Girls. Says Katherine:

I’ve wanted to direct my mother for years and finally found the right project. Gwen is such a funny and wily character for her to play. The beautiful script exposes the strength and vulnerability of family. This deeply resonated with us both and, we hope, with audiences too.”

The production received funding from Auckland Council, The James Wallace Arts Trust and .

September 12th – 29th, Preview 11th
Wed/Thur – 7pm, Fri/Sat – 8pm, Sun – 4pm
TAPAC, 100 Motions Rd, Western Springs, Auckland 
Tickets: 09 845 0295, 

Elizabeth McRae as Gwen
Michele Hine as Peg
Bruce Philips as Laurie
Ryan Richards as Daniel
Tawanda Manyimo as Father Ezekiel

Set – Rachael Walker
Lighting – Michael Craven
Sound – Andrew McMillan

Production & Publicity:
Producers – Mark Prebble and Marion Shortt
Graphic design – Carl Dixon

Gentle look at worries over ageing matriarch

Review by Janet McAllister 16th Sep 2013

This 2010 Australian comedy-drama continues the year’s mini-trend of realist, real-time shows, but it’s refreshing to see contemporary anxieties onstage rather than historic ones, and to see dilemmas for people over 29 taken seriously. 

Playwright Tommy Murphy’s questions are spot-on for an ageing society: what is the family fallout from a matriarch’s increasing frailty? Whose independence rises and falls with the matriarch’s – and whose power grows as hers (supposedly) shrinks? Who gets to decide which risks – a glossy floor, a game of tennis – the matriarch is allowed to take? And who gets the Holden if she isn’t allowed to drive? (Only a few of the Aussie references are obscure.) [More]


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Family dynamics deftly depicted

Review by Sharu Delilkan 13th Sep 2013

Rachael Walker’s seemingly simple set for Gwen in Purgatory belies the emerging complexity of interaction between a rich tapestry of family members doing their best [or worst] for their elderly mother or grandparent. 

The show shines the spotlight on the tough and awkward issues that many of us go through life avoiding. That’s the beauty of Gwen in Purgatory – as audience members we are forced to face all these terrible and trying issues head on. And the fact that there is no interval, during the 105-minute-production, creates an almost pressure-cooker-like ambience, making it all the more confronting and effective as these messages are driven home with great precision and excellent acting. [More]


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Thoroughly enjoyable

Review by Shirin Brown 13th Sep 2013

Gwen in Purgatory provides an excellent example of inspired characterisation from playwright Tommy Murphy and the actors, and strong directing by Katherine McRae.  

Elizabeth McRae’s Gwen is a familiar and endearing crotchety old parent, who can’t hear very well but doesn’t let that stop her laying down the law.  The drama unfolds as different family members and the priest vie for attention and some advantage while laying out the dirty laundry.

Michele Hine and Bruce Phillips embody the neurotic but likeable daughter, Peg, and the slightly repulsive son, Laurie, with a thoughtfulness that makes us feel we know the characters and feel a part of the family drama.  Ryan Richards brings charm to the role of Daniel, the slightly wayward grandson.  

As Father Ezekiel, Tawanda Manyimo brings a whiff of Africa and a lot of warmth to his role as a priest in white Australia, and his interactions with the elderly Gwen are hilarious.

I particularly enjoyed the theatre-in-the-round staging and the way both on-stage and off-stage are used to add dimension to the piece (set design by Rachael Walker with lighting by Michael Craven).

A thoroughly enjoyable play.


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