Handy Man

BATS Theatre, Wellington

13/05/2008 - 24/05/2008

Production Details

A Psychological Thriller about isolation, love…and a leaky toilet


We join Richard and Claire at their remote ‘super-bach’ as they divide up their possessions in preparation for their divorce. Things are already fraught …and then the toilet breaks, they need a plumber.

Enter Dom and in no time he has it fixed. With his purpose served this urban couple can’t wait to see the back of this unusual tradesman but Dom has other ideas… he’s been waiting for tonight for a long time…a leaky toilet, a remote bach and a captive audience.

For just one night Dom wants to be heard, to close the gap between rich and poor, but Richard and Claire hide a dark secret, that will change Dom’s life forever.  

"Scary people have to come from somewhere- why not the Yellow Pages?"

Handy Man is Gavin McGibbon’s fourth play. A graduate of Ken Duncum’s

scriptwriting course Gavin has been called The genuine article’ (Theatreview) and his Play ‘Stand up love’ has been described as ‘Striking…Classy Kiwi Theatre’.

‘Handy Man’ is directed by Simon Vincent. In a year of firsts for him, Vincent follows up the sellout success of ‘A Renaissance Man’ his writing debut, with Handy Man his directing debut. ‘I’ve been wanting to direct for a while and as soon as I read Handy Man I knew it was the perfect piece a tight script from one of New Zealand’s most important new talents’. – Simon Vincent.

This new New Zealand work will be performed by three of Wellington’s finest actors. Kate Prior (The Winslow Boy, Armslength) Jade Daniels (A Streeetcar Named Desire, Fool For Love) and Jason Ward Kennedy (Urinetown, Troy.) Kennedy has been charged with the task of creating Dom, easily one of the most charming and disarmingly honest villains to appear on a New Zealand stage for a long time.

"I loved the part as soon as I read it, Gavin has set me such an exciting challenge to create a fully rounded human being whose actions, while extreme, make perfect sense as a response to the dislocation and dehumanization that the new millennium has created." – Jason Ward Kennedy.

Bookings at BATS 04 802 4175 or online book@bats.co.nz  
Season: Tuesday 13 – Saturday 24 May
Time: 6.30pm
Tickets: $16 full / $13 concession

book now!  book@bats.co.nz  


Lighting Design by GLENN ASHWORTH
Sound Design by GAVIN McGIBBON
Fight choreography by ALLAN HENRY
Technical Operator:  Glenn Ashworth
Graphic Design:  Erin Banks & Karin Rheinholt
Photographer:  Karin Rheinholt  
Producer:  Simon Vincent 

1hr, no interval

A powder keg

Review by Lynn Freeman 22nd May 2008

Taut is the word for Gavin McGibbon’s latest play – they really don’t get much tauter than this, 60 minutes of unsettling theatre where you’re trapped along with Richard (Jade Daniels) and Claire (Kate Prior) by their handyman turned home invader (Jason Ward Kennedy). 

McGibbon packs a staggering amount into his pared down scripts, but director Simon Vincent, who does a terrific job, is wise enough to make way for pauses, when needed, for full effect.  The cast make the most of both the crisp dialogue and these quiet moments to draw in the audience to the respective hells they are going through.

They all have their own hells – well-to-do Claire and Richard are selling up their dream lifestyle home as their marriage collapses around them, Dom is one of life’s losers, whose lot in life is to shove his arms up other people’s toilets.  The couple are brittle and resentful of each other, Dom is a head case and resentful of them for their wealth, success and the way they treat him.  He’s a powder keg, they’re sparking, the situation is genuinely explosive.

The real drama here is between Claire, who’s angry and feisty, and Dom who’s angry and, he believes, righteous. Prior and Ward Kennedy are on fire on stage, their scenes are riveting.  Daniels, who too often gabbles his lines in a rush to get them out, struggles with Richard – though in fairness he’s the least interesting and original character.  

The scenario of Handy Man isn’t especially new, but it’s so well executed that it feels exciting, and that’s what counts.   


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A truly unwelcome tradesman

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 20th May 2008

Handy Man, Gavin McGibbon’s latest short play is a tense psychological thriller set in a bach by a lonely beach where an about-to-be divorced couple has come to sort out their possessions. The tensions between Richard and Claire crackle from the moment they enter, and then Richard discovers the toilet is leaking. 

A plumber is called to the remote bach. Dom, on the surface, is a cheery Kiwi bloke, always having people on, cracking jokes, and is good at his job. He’s amazed that the yuppyish Richard and Claire own not only the bach but an apartment in the city and that Richard works for Vodophone and Claire is a housewife.

Gavin McGibbon slowly and very carefully builds the tension as he reveals that Dom’s amazement at the couple’s wealth and apparent success in the world is rooted in his own inadequacy, the unfairness of life and his sense of alienation.

He stays for dinner and then overstays his welcome by tying the couple up and threatening them with a knife. Now the problems bedeviling Richard and Claire’s marriage are exposed as Dom taunts them until the expected as well as the unexpected happen in a final scene that had the opening night Bats’ audience silent and caught up in the outcome.

Simon Vincent has kept the hour-long play tight and sharp eliciting from Jade Daniels and Kate Prior true, prickly performances of a couple on the edge of emotional breakdown. The setting by Glenn Ashworth and Erin Banks of walls of metal mesh keeping nature at bay captures well the arid emotional lives of the three characters.

Jason Ward Kennedy in a dominating performance makes palpable the plumber’s sense of alienation and inadequacy, somehow overcoming the playwright’s creation of Dom being so articulate and so self-aware that one wonders why he doesn’t realize why he can’t mean something to someone or why he won’t be remembered when he’s dead. Nevertheless, it’s a play that grips.

[Dominion Post online]


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Excellent chemistry

Review by John Smythe 13th May 2008

Once more, on the smell of a rag that can no longer afford to be oily, a team of committed professionals has come together to do the most important work in New Zealand theatre: produce the world premiere of a new work by a very promising local playwright. Admirably.

Because people of this calibre are doing the work (they share a range of Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards between them, although some are taking on new roles here), playwright Gavin McGibbon can only get even better. There is no scope for rationalising – as can so often happen with no-to-very-low budget co-ops – that lack of adequate talent has compromised its potential. So I remain bewildered that in this ‘cultural capital’ of our ‘creative nation’ this essential foundation-building still has to be done for almost nothing. Would anyone build their home that way?

Handy Man is a taut little thriller that pits two apparent ‘haves’ against a ‘have not’, except it’s not as simple as that. Richard (Jade Daniels) and Claire (Kate Prior), who arrive at their beach house in a state of tension, are about to separate. And it turns out they don’t have it all; most importantly they have lost the thing that was most precious to them.

What they do have is a blocked toilet. But they find a plumber willing to make the two-hour drive to fix it. Dom (Jason Ward-Kennedy) is quite a joker, genial but quick to turn. A coiled spring. Is life what you make it or what you’re given? That’s his question. And he stays to find the answer. Or because he’s lonely. Or vengeful. Or all the above.

Their very human circumstances are not unusual; they’ve been well traversed in stories told through every medium. It’s how they are revealed, what they do to the characters and what they make them do to each other, that generates the drama that exhumes parts of ourselves we’d rather not reveal, and asks us what we’d do in their positions.

In his first foray into directing (in a year that has also seen his play writing debut), Simon Vincent, having cast the play superbly, orchestrates the action, the changing moods, the building tensions and the sudden changes of status with a deft touch – abetted briefly by fight choreographer Allan Henry.

The set, by Glenn Ashworth and Erin Banks, brilliantly uses wire mesh – the sort usually embedded in concrete slabs – to simultaneously evoke trendy architecture and a cage (each character being in one, either of their own making or that life has thrust them into). They stand as walls beyond which coastal grasses and flaxes grow, all subtly lit by Ashworth. And the simple dimming of lights to convey the passing of time works a treat.

The script has been pared right back, I sense, as the actors mine rich levels of non-verbal eloquence: Richard’s silences punctuated with savage put-downs; Claire’s emotional withdrawal from the relationship, counterpointed with intrigue at Dom’s difference and unpredictability; Dom’s contained volatility and unresolved issues … Merged with the slow reveals of past events, it all makes for excellent chemistry.

But the script had taken one cut too many on opening night, and I wasn’t the only one sidetracked by a major credibility issue: how come Richard and Claire have to resort to Dom’s cellphone to make a crucial call when a) Richard is a marketing manager for Vodafone, and b) he must have had one earlier, to phone Dom? Quick post-show research revealed key lines had been cut and I trust they’ll be reinstated, because without them the elements we should be focused on get hijacked.

The ending is rather abrupt. Although it’s intriguing to be left to contemplate where they might go from here, I’m sure more could be done with what’s been set up. But then it wouldn’t fit so well into the standard BATS schedule, and what would it take to get a spot at Circa Two or Downstage? But I’ve had my rant.

It’s a good play. Go.


Charlotte Larsen May 17th, 2008

And I totally agree with you Welly Watch. EAT tries to do the best we can with what we've got. Thats the trouble with being a small privately funded organisation. We wish we could help more.

Welly Watch May 17th, 2008

I note that EAT WEllington has an upper limit of $2000 on funding any one production and it is for 'emerging artists' only, so great that some unavoidable overheads got covered but I'm still guessing the cut of the co-op that the HANDY MAN actors etc get will not be anywhere near a professional fee. I stand by my original comment.

Charlotte Larsen May 17th, 2008

Thanks Simon, we're proud of your work. Although I cannot see Handyman myself as I am busy trying to get my movie made in Cannes, I hear it was fabulous - well done all! Charlotte, EAT founder.

Simon Vincent May 15th, 2008

Just a quick note, we were funded by the E.A.T trust, without whose help the production wouldn't have happened. We didn't apply for C.N.Z. funding so that is why we didn't receive any, this was mainly a timing issue, just thought I'd better clarify that. But believe me, after this we will be. Thanks Simon.

Welly Watch May 14th, 2008

Well exactly. And after such commitment has been shown ‘yet again’ as you say, by these stalwarts – where do they go next? Where do the Gavin McGibbons of this world go next? In fact where should they have been able to go in the first place? It is screamingly obvious to me that this is THE role that Downstage has to take on. I gather the wheels of bureaucracy are grinding on towards something … Let it be this!

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