Hatch - or The Plight of the Penguins

Hopetoun Alpha, Auckland

15/03/2007 - 20/03/2007

Hawea Flat Hall, Hawea

24/04/2007 - 28/04/2007

The Great Hall, The Arts Centre, Christchurch

04/08/2007 - 11/08/2007

Otago Pioneer Women's Hall, 362 Moray Place, Dunedin

09/10/2008 - 12/10/2008

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

03/03/2009 - 21/03/2009

Christchurch Arts Festival 2007

Production Details

WRITTEN BY Geoff Chapple

One man. Three millions penguins. And an obsession with the truth.

Hatch or The Plight of the Penguins uncovers a bizarre chapter from New Zealand’s rich history. Southland entrepreneur, Joseph Hatch, seized any business opportunity but his biggest venture was the Macquarie Island steaming works which placed him at the centre of an international outcry over cruelty to penguins; Hatch rendered down more than three million of them for their oil!

Geoff Chapple’s rollicking new play recreates the 1920s magic lantern lecture tours Hatch undertook throughout New Zealand and Tasmania to justify his actions and clear his name.

Starring Stuart Devenie (The Daylight Atheist, Disgrace) and making full use of dozens of historical photographs, Hatch or The Plight of the Penguins offers a rousing hour in the company of Hatch, a charismatic, wily man.

SEE the evidence yourself in the breathtaking images!
EXPERIENCE the perils of the Southern Ocean!
LEARN the horrors of penguin oil rendering!
HEAR the man argue his case!

Find out when Hatch or The Plight Of The Penguins plays in your town

Joseph Hatch - Stuart Devenie

Set & Lighting Design - Tony Rabbit
Costume Design Denise Hosty
AV Design Tony Rabbit & Geoff Chapple

Technical Manager - Bonnie Burrill
Sound System Design - James MacKenzie
A/V Operator - Deb McGuire
Lighting & Sound Operator - Rob Larson
Set Construction - 2CONSTRUCT
Costume Construction - The Costume Studio
Wellington Publicity - Brianne Kerr
Beard Construction - Wig FX
Properties Master - Bec Ehlers

(Wellington - Circa 2 season)
A/V Operator - Deb McGuire
Lighting & Sound Operator - Rob Larson
Wellington Publicity - Brianne Kerr

Theatre , Solo ,

1 hr, no interval

Divine Devenie

Review by Lynn Freeman 12th Mar 2009

I first saw this play, which is set in a community hall, actually performed in one in Wanaka, almost two years ago.

Joseph Hatch’s “illustrated lecture” was terrific then, and after performing it many more times since, Stuart Devenie has lost none of his freshness and commitment to the role of the curmudgeonly entrepreneur, wildly successful businessman and ex-Mayor of Invercargill, Joseph Hatch.

“Each penguin a pint” had been his proud motto and the product had not only greased his own palms but helped the war effort and the country’s coffers.

That he made Dunedin and Invercargill rich by exporting oil rendered from penguins made him both hero and villain.

Parents, he tells us, warn their children that if they don’t behave, Mr Hatch will boil them in a pot.

From the moment Devenie walks onto the stage, rumpled, looking a little dazed in the spotlight, defiant and moving not unlike the penguins that died in the name of wealth and progress, you are captivated.

Devenie gives just enough pathos to make sure we care for this man, but not too much so that he becomes saint like, because he most surely wasn’t that.

It’s a pleasure to see a New Zealand play which introduces us to a significant character in our history, and which has enjoyed a long life travelling the country.


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A brilliant insight into Victorian times

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 06th Mar 2009

With over 150 performances played all over the country we are able at last to see Stuart Devenie’s remarkable performance as Mr. Joseph Hatch, chemist, Mayor of Invercargill, Member of Parliament, entrepreneur and slaughterer of two million penguins for their oil on Macquarie Island.

His Southern Isles Exploitation Co. was finally brought to an end after international pressure – the first ever conservation of wild-life campaign – in 1920. From then until his death in 1928 he campaigned vigorously to restore his name by giving public lectures illustrated with lantern slides.

Hatch begins in a lecture hall with a slide on a screen calling on the audience to support the late lessee of Macquarie Island in his bid for ‘British fair play and GREATER PRODUCTION and that Ladies, Professors, Public Men, and Merchants are specially invited’.

Hatch’s wife has told him that he will never be a popular man and you can see why as he vehemently lays down the law, jeers at his enemies (H G Wells, Antarctic explorers, Baron Rothschild, scientists and sentimentalists), and puts forward the case for his defense: an entrepreneur creates jobs, industry, and wealth.

He is also a man who sees conspiracies and deceit if his plans are thwarted in any way. He is clearly obsessed to the point where he is blind to what he is doing. At the end, after revelations about the family tragedies he endured, he appeals for our applause and we give it willingly.

However, we are applauding Stuart Devenie’s brilliant performance – mutton chop beard, gold watch on a chain, the Dickensian melodramatic delivery, the obsessive pacing and the outrage in his eyes – that has taken us through Geoff Chapple’s play – often comic – back to another age, so different in many ways from ours, and made us see life as many Victorians must have seen it.

It is other times, other customs of not-so-long ago brought startlingly to life in an hour long play directed by Colin McColl with his designer Tony Rabbit displaying their usual panache and style. Add Stuart Devenie, and you have an unbeatable team.


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Ingeniously insidious

Review by John Smythe 04th Mar 2009

This play works on three levels: as an insight into our 19th century history; as a provocative challenge to contemporary environmental and economic values; as a portrait of an ageing entrepreneur fighting hypocrisy to regain his livelihood and grieving for his only son.

The sticking point is that Joseph Hatch wants to keep rendering Macquarie Island penguins down for oil, at the rate of about 200,000 a year. He claims it has already enriched the economy of Southland and the colony of New Zealand by creating jobs and a valuable export trade. Sound familiar? The market rules. The Business Round Table should name him their patron saint.

As written by Geoff Chapple, directed by Colin McColl and performed by Stuart Devenie the core facts emerge slowly, in direct reflection of the 30-odd years it took for opposition to build to Hatch’s enterprise. Meanwhile, as his ‘lantern slide’-illustrated lecture proceeds (AV design by Chapple and Tony Rabbit, who also designed the simple setting and lighting) we are tempted to align our sympathies to this passionate, inspirational, anti-humbug mover and shaker whose vision and can-do attitude has helped us build this nation.

His logic seems impeccable until the odd crack forms, at which point we need to engage our brains and reassess, exactly as we must right now in a world where the fundamentals we thought were the key to a prosperous and secure future are turning to dust.

Devenie inhabits his role with great conviction, drawing us into his world, commanding our respect and challenging our value systems. In short, an ingenious play delivered with insidious panache and passion – most especially insidious when Hatch compels the illusion of approbation by eliciting our deserved applause for Devenie, Chapple, McColl et al. Clever.  


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A fascinating fragment of NZ history

Review by Barbara Frame 10th Oct 2008

It’s the 1920s, and we are in a lecture hall. Mr Joseph Hatch is going to tell us how he’s been shamefully deprived of his licence to render down penguins for their oil, and ask for our support for its reinstatement. One of the last to arrive is Mr Hatch himself: elderly, tall, fussing with his papers and watch. With the aid of a magic-lantern show he describes his enterprise on Macquarie Island, involving the deaths of birds so numerous that we ought not to concern ourselves about their species’ survival.

Hatch musters fine words in his own defence: he has provided jobs and enriched cities, he encourages thrift and clean living, he supports the British Empire and brass bands. Those who oppose and hound him, "scientists and sentimentalists," turn out to be just about everyone from Baron Rothschild, Apsley Cherry-Garrard and H.G. Wells to the New Zealand Government, the newspapers, manufacturers of cuddly toy penguins, and anyone who supports workers’ rights.

Hatch is thought-provoking on many levels. As we compare current attitudes to penguins to those of 80 years ago, Hatch reminds us that "There’s a lot of murder about" and that he hasn’t actually brought the species to the brink of extinction. We also think hard about the work ethic, about politics and methods of persuasion, but more than anything else we think about psychology and this individual’s warped self-justification.

When it’s over we all clap madly – but who are we applauding? Hatch perhaps, but more likely Stuart Devenie, who in just over an hour has brought Hatch to life in all his complexity.

We are also applauding playwright Geoff Chapple, director Colin McColl, and the Otago Festival of the Arts, which has brought us this insight into a fascinating fragment of New Zealand’s history.

Tomorrow we’ll tell our friends how good it was, and urge them to book without delay because the season ends on Sunday.


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Can bourgeoise theatre deal with a political subject?

Review by Paul Maunder 11th Aug 2007

I caught the Auckland Theatre Company’s production, Hatch, at the Christchurch Arts Festival. Written by Geoff Chapple while on a Michael King Fellowship, directed by Colin McColl, designed by Tony Rabbit and performed by Stuart Devenie, this was New Zealand’s Theatrical A Team in action, and everything was up to standard.

Why then, was it so excruciatingly boring? As one of the Greymouth drama students I took along said, ‘Like watching paint dry.’

The answer lies in the inability of bourgeois theatre, or Aristotelian Theatre – call it what you will – to deal with a political subject. Instead, its agenda is to mystify, and being mystified is, on the whole, an uninvigorating experience unless well practised.

The only resonance this unhappy tale provides is obviously thematic: the battle between the developer and the conservationist. We had a particularly vibrant debate on this theme when the Happy Valley Protestors met the Miners Union last Blackball Mayday. Given that theme, Hatch’s penchant for turning penguins into oil in order to make a buck, and the aversion to this by a variety of opposing figures, could be fascinating. The theatrical forms able to be called on are varied: a Brechtian approach might have focused on the economic forces operating on one of the workers; a theatre of cruelty approach would undoubtedly have seen something slaughtered on stage; a true theatre of realism might have examined in depth the psyche of a Hatch; Boal would have forumed the event and demanded the SpectActor. [Click here for a summary of ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ and an interview with Brazilian theatre director Augusto Boal.]

Instead, we had a funereal, word heavy portrait, relying on charm, the characteristic ‘slow reveal’ (not the family skeleton this time, but the penguin skeleton), and a denouement which would be one of the finer examples of theatrical mystification. At the end, Hatch produces a motion in favour of his operation for the audience to approve- by acclamation. At the same time, we sense it is the end of the show, usually the signal for applause. So instead of an uncomfortable moment of political judgment, the usual eruption of a satisfied bourgeoisie took place. They would have applauded a Goebel’s lecture justifying death camps, if the actor had of been charming enough, and had created a little pity through recounting a recent family bereavement.

Now, we could, if really searching for meaning, see this as a moment, something akin to the difficult choice of playing in the string quartet at those same camps, or going to the incinerator – but I think this is really stretching the agenda a bit far. And if this was in the producers’ heads, why the game playing? Are we living in some sort of South American dictatorship?

It was, in the end, about as dumb as the political intervention of the Brethren. Was I supposed to try and convince these kids that this is theatre and that somehow they should lobotomise themselves into sufficient dullness so as to be able to enjoy watching this particular coat of paint dry?

Fortunately we had seen Aurelia’s Oratorio the night before, which had fascinated, and attended a drum concert which came as close as you could get to a community fiesta in Christchurch. So there were comparisons to be made, before we returned to the mountainous haunts of SKY TV. 


Paul Maunder August 13th, 2007

Dear Mary, There were two school groups at the performance. I assure you my small group of 15 were not hitting each other about the head. The point I was making is that these were the few young ones amidst a grey haired audience. They have been brought up on environmental issues- if there's anything going to engage them it is this topic. Yet they were not engaged because the theatre form chosen was so dull.

mary August 13th, 2007

It really is a shame you did not teach your drama students theatre etiquette before they came to the performance. The night you reviewed your drama students who claim 'the show was like watching paint dry' where not even listening to the performance. They were on their cell phones texting and wacking each other about the head. I don't think you should be so judgmental when you condone this kind of behviour during a performance which is quite frankly rude. Were you even listening is my question? Clearly you missed the entire point of this wonderful performance and essential part of New Zealand's history.

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A vivid encounter with history

Review by Lindsay Clark 10th Aug 2007

Assuredly not for the first time in its long history, the stage of the Great Hall is decked with the red white and blue of the Empire. There, set between potted aspidistras is the frame set up for our edification and  with luck, our delectation. For we are at a new take on the magic lantern show, cast as an audience for Mr Joseph Hatch in his vigorous crusade to reinstate his licence to manufacture penguin oil on Macquarie Island. As the title suggests, there is a decision to be made here, but the man is more than a match for the cute fluffy ones.

He enters along with the last of the public, noting with interest the size of his audience and listing a little like a man whose mind is too energetic for a stiffening body to keep up with. He dumps a Gladstone bag by the lectern and makes his way distractedly off stage again, to reappear and check his timepiece against a clock somewhere. Almost-latecomers find themselves sternly regarded. The audience titters and Stuart Devenie has us raptly attentive before he has spoken a word.

What happened to the man and the penguins in that out of the way place and time is a far cry from the discourse of most contemporary New Zealand theatre. The play was first performed at AK07, an impressive first work for stage by Geoff Chapple and written, fittingly, while he was writer-in-residence at the Michael King Writers’ Centre. In the hands of a formidable creative team, including Stuart Devenie, it has been refined into a thoroughly worthwhile study of the man and the times.

Hatch was an energetic and canny entrepreneur who seized the opportunity to provide a cheap but very acceptable product to oil-hungry industry around the world in the early twentienth century. Supporting the explanation of his public career and the fierce opposition stirred up by writers like H.G.Wells to the killing (‘murder’) of multitudes of penguins, a series of cleverly sequenced slides fills out the experience nicely.

Thus visually and structurally the piece is engagingly packaged, but it is the actor himself who bonds these elements and creates a wonderfully detailed character from flesh and blood to captivate an audience, which could not reasonably be expected to have much understanding of the matter for consideration. From lofty pronouncement to personal niggle and the numbness of remembered grief, Stuart Devenie lives and breathes the man for us.

Sometimes we laugh at his irritation; at other times we are touched by his spirited stand, even as our conservation-conscious selves remind us that this industry typified the rash behaviour of the times. For what the performance achieves is nothing less than a vivid encounter with history and by the time Mr Joseph Hatch puts the motion seeking support for his cause, we are almost ready to vote against the penguins and the lessons time has taught us, in favour of an irresistible character.  


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A cracking good yarn, brilliantly told

Review by Lynn Freeman 01st May 2007

It couldn’t be more perfect – a small old rural hall [in Hawea, for Wanaka’s Festival of Colour], an audience sitting expectantly atop higgledy-piggledy mismatched chairs; a hushed silence as Joseph Hatch walks on stage – then walks off again.

Hatch isn’t someone we know about these days but in his time he was notorious.  He was an entrepreneur, fearless, determined, some say immoral or at least unethical but this play gives him the chance to justify his actions, 100+ years after he fell out of favour with the people, out of step with the times. 

You see, Joseph Hatch turned penguins by the thousand into oil, ‘each penguin a pint’, which was in turn exported around the world. He was mayor of Invercargill, was briefly an MP, and in 1887 set up his rendering factory on Macquarie Island – against the odds he made it pay until environmentalists and explorers condemned him.  His licence was revoked and Hatch travelled the country trying to persuade the public that he’d been unfairly treated and his reputation wrongly besmirched.

And it’s one of these propaganda meetings that Geoff Chapple has recreated in this play.  Chapple uses Hatch’s reputation for being silver-tongued and charismatic to the full, and even with our abhorrence of the idea of the mass slaughter of penguins today, there are times when you come close to feeling he really has been hard done by.

Actor Stuart Devenie is in love with the role, down to the final hair on his impressive moustache.  He loves every word of the script, every photograph in the lantern slide show.  He relishes hearing the audience react to his justifications.  As Hatch, he’s persuasive and endearing, maddening and wily.

Colin McColl’s sure and steady directorial hand gives Devenie plenty of opportunity to use the stage and to interact with the audience.  The slides  are fascinating too, though disturbing.  This country was built with the help of bold entrepreneurs like Hatch, even if he was so hated at the time that he was used to scare children of the time: ‘If you don’t behave yourself Mr Hatch will boil you in a pot!’

It’s a cracking good yarn, brilliantly told.

Link to: Joseph Hatch Esq. Bespoke Blogger 


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Rant and rave a treat to watch

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 18th Mar 2007

Geoff Chapple’s first stage play, Hatch, is a short yet fascinating discovery for kiwis like me, who had no idea that in the 1920’s, Joseph Hatch, who had previously been Mayor of Invercargill then a Member of Parliament, killed more than 3 million penguins living on Macquarie Island, for their oil.

Hatch centres on the moral vs. economic issues surrounding the slaughter of these creatures for profit. While he was initially celebrated for bringing much wealth to New Zealand through his entrepreneurial flare, the world eventually labelled him a cruel and greedy plunderer of penguins, forcing the Tasmanian Government, under mounting public pressure, to revoke his licence.

He spent the rest of his life trying to clear his name, through a series of public lectures. Chapple neatly structures Hatch so as to throw the audience straight into one of these illuminating hours with this persuasive man. 

As we hear the cantankerous Hatch set out his version of the facts, he leaves us in no doubt that he is a model entrepreneur, unfazed by harsh elements, hard work and new frontiers. It is possible to sympathise with him as he highlights the irony and contraction of his critics, given the global slaughter of livestock and other creatures of the sea, for human gratification. He found the bleating of the press and luminaries of the time, hypocritical. As Chapple puts it: "There’s a lot of murder about".

And yes, at the same time Hatch was rendering penguins, other far more environmentally catastrophic activities were being carried out with no governmental regulation, such as whaling, and the felling of Kauri forests. In that regard, Hatch had a right to feel hard done by, given the abundance of penguins, by comparison, at the time.

The programme notes call the outcry caused by Hatch’s activities the first truly international conservation campaign. It could have easily have been fur or whales to stir a global reaction, but unluckily for Hatch, saving the penguin became the vogue cause of the day.

It is easy to see why. Penguins are beautiful, serene looking creatures, and as Chapple remarked in person after the play: they are two legged, not four legged animals. Penguins are also cute and cuddly, a fact that compounded opposition to Hatch, as a contemporary entrepreneur with an eye for soft toy manufacturing, turned penguins into the 1920’s version of "Pingu" or that adorable foursome from "Madagascar".

So, perhaps predictably, and just as his oil empire is reaching its zenith, after considerable financial and personal investment, the tide turned on Hatch.

At this point Hatch becomes unrelenting in his mission to clear his name. By the end he had lost his business, wealth, political and social standing, and finally, the only thing of true value in life, the love and safety of his family.

While Chapple paints Hatch as a man of relentless courage, in that he fought for what he thought was right until his death, sadly, in the end, that was all that was left to him. After moving to Tasmania and continuing to hound their Government to no avail, Hatch died and was buried in an unmarked grave. In the end, nobody cared.

But this driven man will be remembered, thanks in part to this enlightening play.

Hatch was, after all, a man of his time: a time when whales and seals had been brought to near extinction due to the desire for profit. But beyond penguin oil, Chapple gives us a window into Hatch’s remarkable character.

For example, he raged at lighthouses being funded by the government, when in his view, each ship should pay to use the service of light as they passed (Chapple sums it up as "user pays").

He lived and was motivated by the principle that production was the source of wealth in the empire and the community. He saw his oil as an integral part of industrial complexity that was the glorious Victorian Age of Empire.

Armed with this rich content and character, Stuart Devenie brings Hatch to life with a performance that is totally engrossing. His excellent craft, humour and timing confirms that he is one of the our finest established actors.

Accompanied only by a series of well-timed and well chosen slides of historical photographs (AV design by Chapple and Rabbit), Devenie is a treat to watch and listen to in this extraordinary role, as he fills the venue with rant and rave.

From his well-crafted entrance through to his summing up, director Colin McColl guides Devenie’s performance with just the right mix of pace, pause and emotional restraint.

Lighting design by Tony Rabbit is appropriately minimal and the transition from speaker arriving in a town hall in full auditorium light, to actor performing in the spotlight, is affective. Rabbit uses a few well-chosen moments, where Hatch slows to silently consider the personal cost to him and his family, caused by his relentless fight for the right to continue his trade, to drop the hall into ice-cold light.

Set-wise, Hopetown Alpha is the perfect venue for a 1920’s public lecture, and aside from some patriotic pomp and ceremony by way of flags and ribbons, the venue does the rest.

Costume designer Denise Hosty layers Hatch – a hardy man, who lived his life in a cold, no fuss climate – in shades of grey and brown, but adds a touch of the eccentric, with a bow-tie and long, wild side-burns.

Hatch is an insightful hour of theatre that audiences all over New Zealand will have the opportunity to experience, as it will be on the road to the South Island as soon as the Auckland season closes.

For my companion and me this play is timely in that internationally, there is mounting pressure from some powerful and moneyed Nations, to allow the slaughter of whales on a commercial scale, to continue. There is the opportunity to resist, as Hatch was resisted.


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