Heartbreak Hotel

Toitoi - Hawke’s Bay Arts and Events Centre 101 Hastings Street South, Hastings

26/10/2023 - 26/10/2023

BATS Theatre, The Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

18/06/2024 - 23/06/2024

Hawkes Bay Arts Festival 2023

Production Details

Heartbreak Hotel is a new work from creative partnership Eleanor Bishop and Karin McCracken, winners of the 2022 Bruce Mason Award.

EBKM presents

This one’s for the young hearts, the old hearts and the broken hearts.

Story, science and a synth combine in an exhilarating performance that examines what happens in our bodies when we’re bereft. From acclaimed company EBKM (Yes Yes Yes; Gravity & Grace), Heartbreak Hotel tracks a woman’s broken heart in a wrenching and relatable journey that’s studded with classic break-up songs and razor-sharp observations on the physiology of love.

Heartbreak Hotel is a new work from creative partnership Eleanor Bishop and Karin McCracken, winners of the 2022 Bruce Mason Award. Enjoy a generous, funny and reflective work that explores the benefits of letting ourselves truly feel something: the good, the bad and the heartbreaking.

You’ll want to cry. You’ll want to laugh. Welcome to the Heartbreak Hotel.

“…this show is brilliant, and pitch perfect.” – Theatreview (on ‘Yes, Yes, Yes’)

Toitoi, Functions on Hastings.
Thursday 26th October, 2023
Tickets $25-$35

“Poignant, funny – and fantastic…at the heart of the show are the compelling performances of Leary and McCracken…hilarious, heart-warming and moving – often all at once.” – Theatreview NZ

BATS Theatre, the Stage
Tuesday 18 – Sunday 23 June, 2024
Tue-Sat, 7.30pm | Sun, 2pm
Livestream “Pay What You Can”: $5
Livestream “Pay What You Can”: $10
Waged” $30
Unwaged: $20
Extra Aroha Ticket: $40
Audio Described: $20

Live Streaming, Captioning, and Audio Description are thanks to the ANZ Staff Foundation.
Audio Described (Touch tour 1.15pm ) – 2pm, Sat 22nd June
Online Livestream/ captioned performance – 7:30pm, Tues 18th June

Created by EBKM
Writer - Karin McCracken
Director - Eleanor Bishop
Performed by Karin McCracken and Simon Leary
Production & Light Design - Filament Eleven 11
Sound Designer - Te Aihe Butler
Tech Operator - Peter Davison
Producer - Melanie Hamilton
Photo Credit - Rebecca McMillan Photography
Graphic Design - India Worsnop
With thanks to Natasha Thyne.
The development of Heartbreak Hotel was supported by Creative New Zealand, Hawkes Bay Arts Festival, Hannah Playhouse Trust, Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, and Playmarket.

Company bio: EBKM are an award winning partnership of theatre makers from Aotearoa-New Zealand who make socially minded, formally innovative, contemporary performance.

Eleanor Bishop and Karin McCracken have been working together since 2017 when they toured 'Jane Doe', a theatre show that examined rape culture in our communities, throughout New Zealand and internationally, including a successful run at Edinburgh Fringe 2017 and Sydney Fringe 2018.

'Jane Doe' was the recipient of the Auckland Fringe 2017 Social Impact Award, Sydney Fringe Critics Choice Award, Sydney Fringe Melbourne Tour-Ready Award, and Wellington Theatre Award for Most Original Production in 2018.

In 2017 Eleanor and Karin created 'Body Double' alongside Julia Croft for the STAB commission at BATS Theatre, a show that looked at desire and sex from a femme perspective. 'Body Double' was the recipient of Production of the Year at the Wellington Theatre Awards 2017, and was subsequently co-presented by Auckland Arts Festival and Silo Theatre in 2018.

In 2023 they premiered a new work 'Heartbreak Hotel' about the phenomenon of heartbreak; and in 2024, premiered 'Gravity & Grace', based on a work of autobiographical fiction by acclaimed feminist writer Chris Kraus, at Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts and Auckland Arts Festival.

Theatre , Musical ,


Heartbreak captivatingly explored with humanity, humour and songs

Review by John Smythe 19th Jun 2024

The deservedly award-winning creative partnership of Eleanor Bishop and Karin McCracken, EBKM, wowed us at this year’s Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts with their astonishing Gravity & Grace. As a depiction of a failed film production, it was a shift from their avowedly “socially minded, formally innovative, contemporary performance” works Jane Doe (2017-19) about rape culture, and Yes Yes Yes (2019-21) about consent and mutual pleasure.*

Now Heartbreak Hotel – created by EBKM, written by McCracken, directed by Bishop – presupposes a committed six-year relationship and leaps to the breakup phase of the spectrum. I say ‘phase’ because it’s not a clean break, at least not for the woman (McCracken) although despite being to one who initiates the split, the man (Simon Leary) also can’t let go of the ‘we’re still best friends’ idea.

The setting, unlit in BATS’ black box Stage space, intrigues. Are they solid walls embedded with horizontal strips of dotted rectangles? Are we destined for a high-end hotel? There’s no furniture apart from a chrome trolley holding some sort of sound console, and a couple of drinks trollies lurking behind those walls.

It turns out Production & Light Designers Filament Eleven 11 have hung multiple led light panels which will come alive with racing ticker titles for the phases of heartbreak and some other surprising effects, like blue sky and fluffy clouds. The deep pile carpet glows pink as the show begins …

Welcoming us with her trademark warmth and sincerity, Karin McCracken seeks connection with those whose heartbreak, grief or bereavement have consigned them to a state of limbo. Her powder-blue trouser suit sports long white tassels on the back of the jacket, referencing the country music blues genre that whole-heartedly embraces heartbreak.

She (there are no character names so I have to make do with pronouns) has been using various strategies to cope and they will inform the scenes to come. Accompanying herself with mournful chords on the synth, her soulful rendition of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ (the Elvis Presley classic released in 1956) is exquisite. If you haven’t personally experienced heartbreak – and come on, who hasn’t; it’s a rite of passage – you’ll certainly get the feeling from this.

The ticker announces ‘Dating while heartbroken’. In the ambience on a bar (soundscape by Te Aihe Butler) a drinks-bearing Leary joins her as a guy who works at Treasury. He is one year out of a relationship that lasted a couple of years – as opposed to her being six months out of a six-year relationship. He does most of the talking to start with, even opining on whether she should be dating yet, but when she gets into the groove, about doing her taxes, she talks a lot.

The authenticity McCracken and Leary bring to their roles makes their interactions totally captivating. Leary also embodies her gay friend, who talks her into accompanying him on a trip to Berlin, and her ex in a recap of the two days over which the breakup happened. There is a touch of the truism ‘truth + pain = comedy’. While I don’t sense EBKM are out to get laughs, there is plenty of humour within the humanity. Principally Heartbreak Hotel shares true human experience in a way that invites our empathy, whether it triggers memories or foreshadows something that may be yet to come.

In both cases we inevitably assess and judge what she and he do. The scene where the irreconcilable differences emerge is the most provocative in this regard. In this honest account of a particular relationship (I have no idea whether it’s autobiographical, entirely fictitious or based on observation and experience) McCracken as playwright doesn’t take sides. Whether we do, and how often we shift our allegiance, is entirely our own responsibility.

Interleaved with the recreations of her breakup story, she shares ‘The Science’ of Takosubo Cardiomyopathy Syndrome – i.e. heartbreak – according to her research, from ‘Protest’ to ‘Resignation’ through to the revelation that ‘Awe’ can be positive or negative. Yet although these sections contribute to her investigation of the physiology of heartbreak – like actual changes in the heart muscle – there is no mention at all in the play of the sexual dimension of relationships, be they casual or committed. There is no hint that sex played a part in the breakup, no sense that its absence is a plus or a minus, and no inquisitiveness as to whether either ex-partner has been sexually active since.

But then there are no details about whether they were actually living together (I assume they were) and if so, who moved out and how they divided their belongings – although that aspect is crystallised in an issue concerning the purchase of a coffee plunger. Instead, there is plenty of space for us to fill with whatever assumptions or wonderings our own experiences or circumstances may generate.  

Also complementing the central narrative are evocative songs like ‘It’s All Coming Back To me Now’ (Celine Dion), ‘I Can’t Make You Love me’ (Bonnie Raitt) and ‘Dreams’ (The Cranberries). The technical operator (Peter Davison) also contributes greatly to the dynamics of the production.

Heartbreak Hotel premiered at the Hawkes Bay Arts Festival last October and is heading for the Edinburgh Festival in August. Meanwhile you only have this week to catch it at BATS. As an eminent writer and director has just said on social media, “Heartbreak never felt so good.”


*Also worth remembering as thematically related are:
The BATS/STAB 2017 show Body Double created by Julia Croft, Karin McCracken and Eleanor Bishop who also directed it, which explored the complexities and multiplicities of female desire.
Standard Acts (2021), devised by Karin McCracken and Meg Rollandi, directed by Julia Croft and performed by Karin McCracken and Arlo Gibson, which explored how power manifests in male-female relationships by juxtaposing actual physical wrestling with retellings of ancient Greek myths.


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Nuanced and powerful; hilarious, heartwarming and moving. You won’t leave heartbroken 

Review by Jo Morris 27th Oct 2023

Heartbreak Hotel, by the creative partnership of Eleanor Bishop and Karin McCracken (winners of the 2022 Bruce Mason Award), is poignant, funny – and fantastic.

Karin McCracken plays a woman working her way through heartbreak, and Simon Leary plays various roles, including exes, dates and other people she interacts with. The show combines memoir, songs and science in vignettes that add up to significantly more than its parts. There’s a playfulness in the shifts between these modes which is engaging from the first direct appeal to the audience. We’re happy, almost immediately, to be on this journey. 

The script is excellent, full of acutely observed moments and pitch perfect dialogue, from deliciously awkward first dates – real, horrible and funny – to intense conversations between couples. At all points, it’s gripping. Even the ‘science’ parts are enlivened (for this emphatically non-scientific reviewer) by vivid personification of the various bits of the body involved in heartbreak.

There’s an assured glide between times and places during the performance, assisted by a well-designed and effective use of sound and lighting: subtle beats and sound effects to create ambience, for example, or a redirection of the audience’s attention through a shift in light-scape. As well, the costumes are simple but brilliant: Leary wearing a t-shirt and jeans that enables him to be the ‘everyman’ figure; McCracken in a lavender suit with a kind of ‘power suit meets cowgirl’ vibe, the clean lines suggesting strength, while the waving fringes signal uncertainty.

At the heart of the show, however, are the compelling performances of Leary and McCracken. With a light touch, Leary sketches out various characters who are more or less distant from McCracken’s character, but then shifts seamlessly into a nuanced and powerful performance as the long-term lover.

Karin McCracken is, quite simply, brilliant. She’s hilarious, heartwarming and moving – often all at once. Right from her low-key opening, she connects with the audience, who respond to the honesty and empathy of her portrayal of a heartbroken woman. Her shifts between mood, and between scene, song and science, seem effortless, and her understated charisma is completely compelling. She owns the stage.

The resolution of this story about navigating the breakdown of a relationship is satisfying, and like the rest of the play feels authentic. You might be left reflecting on your own relationships and the choices that shaped your life, but the play is funny enough that you won’t leave heartbroken.  


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