HIS/HERSTORY An Outstanding Double Bill

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

22/04/2022 - 14/05/2022

Production Details


I’ll Tell You This for Nothing is about Phyllis Garvin, an Irish QA nurse on the WWII battlefields who lived most of her life in NZ, was honoured with France’s highest decoration, the Légion d’Honneur for extreme bravery. Sent to the front lines on D-Day, Phyllis’s hospital followed the battles through Europe and finally to the liberation of Belsen Concentration Camp. Amidst this drama she found the love of her life, a Catholic, thus igniting a new and personal war with her mother, a Protestant.

In a solo performance written and acted by her daughter Kate JasonSmith, I’ll Tell You This for Nothing presents the dramatic and often humorous tale of her mother’s life in an acclaimed show about war, courage, danger and romance.

“Superb, from the first minute to the last… a treat for theatre lovers.” Adelaide Advertiser

Milord Goffredo is Jan Bolwell’s dynamic re-creation of her father Geoffrey’s WWII exploits – a Dunedin butcher who became “a bloody legend” in a small northern Italian town. Geoffrey hid in a cave for two years after twice escaping from his German captors. During this time, he was looked after by a kind and courageous Italian family who nicknamed him Milord Goffredo.

Jan wrote this play to honour her father’s generation, men whose lives were shaped by their war experiences, and who turned to each other for support and comradeship in the post war years. Geoffrey Bolwell’s story is typical of thousands of soldiers who suffered terrible wartime experiences post war trauma and the difficult adjustment to civilian life.

“…a cracker of a New Zealand story beautifully evoked.” Mark Amery, Sunday Times

These two fascinating solo shows offer a terrific night of entertainment, reaffirming the storytelling power of theatre.

CIRCA TWO 1 Taranaki Street Wellington
22 Apr – 14 May 2022
Preview 21 Apr
Tues – Thurs 7.30pm,
Fri – Sat 7pm,
Sun 5pm
$25 – $54
Bookings 04 801 7992 | circa.co.nz

I’ll Tell You This for Nothing

Written and performed by Kate JasonSmith
Director: Jan Bolwell
Dramaturge: Deb Filler
Set Design: Lisa Maule
Lighting Design: Lisa Maule & Neal Barber
Soundscape: David Downes
Accent Coach: Hilary Norris

Milord Goffredo

Written and performed by Jan Bolwell
Director: Kerryn Palmer
Dramaturge: Ralph McAllister
Set Design: Kate JasonSmith
Lighting Design: Neal Barber
AV Design: Rebekah de Roo
Sound Consultant: Jan Bolton


Production Assistant/Technical Operator: Neal Barber
Publicity: Colleen McColl
Social Media: Francesca Brice
Graphic Design: Rose Miller, Kraftwork
Photography: Stephen A’Court
Publicity Video: Jack O’Donnell
Rigger: Simon Manns

I’ll Tell You This for Nothing 65 minutes | Interval 20mins | Milord Goffredo 60 minutes

Donations to the Red Cross Ukraine appeal can be made to www.redcross.org.nz/donate/ukraine-humanitarian-crisis-appeal/

Theatre , Solo ,

2 hrs 25 min incl. interval

Theatre double bill captures the human narrative of war

Review by Max Rashbrooke 25th Apr 2022

War can be a story of generals, strategies and tank movements, told from above, or a human narrative of personal wounds, triumphs and sorrows, told from below.  

The two plays in Circa’s new double bill – a pair of 60-minute, one-woman shows – are emphatically in the latter category. Kate JasonSmith’s Ill Tell You This for Nothing recounts the experiences of her mother Phyllis, an Irish nurse working on the Western front during WWII.

Jan Bolwell’s Milord Goffredo, meanwhile, takes its title from the name her father was given by the Italian family who sheltered him as an escaped POW following his service in a different WWII front, this time in North Africa.

In both shows, the writer/performers shift seamlessly between multiple characters … [More]


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Engaging, inventive, enriching

Review by John Smythe 23rd Apr 2022

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” wrote Spanish-born American philosopher George Santayana in Life of Reason (1905).* In 1948, in the wake of two ‘world wars’, Winston Churchill paraphrased it in the British House of Commons: “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” Now, as Putin’s Russia inflicts a devastating war on Ukraine, alerting us all to the threat of a third ‘world war’ in Europe, the veracity of that maxim is being put to the test.  

It is in this context, and on the eve of another ANZAC Day, that Kate JasonSmith’s I’ll Tell You This for Nothing, about her mother, and Jan Bolwell’s Milord Goffredo, about her father, have been revived as a double bill. Each solo play shares a daughter’s discovery of who their parent was and what they did in WWII before they married and became their respective mum and dad.

Kate’s play, directed by Jan Bolwell, premiered at BATS in 2018. Kate JasonSmith recreates the experiences of Belfast-trained QA§ nurse Phyllis Garvin by reliving them with her as she sees out her last days in a New Zealand hospital, having long outlived her Dublin-born architect and soldier husband, Jason Smith. A recurring dream and the fear a carved lintel will fall on her head book-end the play.

Awareness of her mother’s mettle begins with a childhood recollection of how she responded to a boy being hit by a Railcar in Pukerua Bay. The story flits about through time and place just as conversation do, conjuring up up imagined scenarios. Kate’s minimal narration and recollections of chats with Phyllis morph seamlessly into vivid present action recreations. We have no trouble following her gentle yet purposeful enquiry.

A very British nurse called Jane Kirty is Phyllis’s friend and colleague throughout the war, and just one of the countless characters Kate effortlessly manifests, slipping into a variety of accents with impressive skill. Phyllis has to deal with a ship’s captain who regards women on board as bad luck, tending the badly wounded and dying on the ground in Normandy as battle ranges a few miles away, what to do with evacuees’ false teeth, how to dispose of her sanitary pads, unwelcome creatures in her knickers …

Accommodation improves with a chateau in Lisle and a monastery in Ghent but air raids, dogfights above and a wounded-in-action Catholic Captain from Dublin are all persistent. Captain Jason Smith is just one of many to propose to Phyllis but of course it’s out of the question, what with him being Catholic and her Protestant.

In Kiev – a place that resonates now – the nurses attend to liberated but emaciated prisoners of war from severely bombed neighbouring towns. The Captain turns up again and he and Phyllis agree to write to each other.

Churchill’s announcement that the war in Europe is over does not mean it’s over for Phyllis and Jane. They are deployed to Bergen-Belsen – a place name that has resonated through generations. The means by which they get there is a lively tale that precedes the horrors that await them, blended in the play with Kate’s account of her own adult pilgrimage to Belsen and a flashback memory of her first encounter, at the age of three, with her mother’s abiding grief.

A salutary reminder that religious discrimination comes in many forms is embedded in the story of Phyllis and Jason’s wedding and their emigration to New Zealand. As for 93 year-old Phyllis’s recurring dream, its import is also timeless and universal.  

Enriching this already engrossing production is Lisa Maule’s set design, featuring a painted backcloth that evokes a muddy, bloody field; her lighting design with Neal Barber, who is also the technical operator; and David Downes’ soundscape which offsets the impacts of warfare with a piano rendition of ‘The Mountains of Mourne’.

Jan Bolwell first wrote Milord Goffredo as a book (Steele Roberts, 2002) which was launched at BATS Theatre when she premiered Standing on my Hands, her solo play that repurposed material from the book. Now it returns somewhat revised, directed by Kerryn Palmer on a set of stretched canvas screens and boxes designed by Kate JasonSmith, with lighting by Neal Barber, AV design by Rebekah de Roo and a musical soundtrack curated by Jan Bolton.

We come to an understanding of the war as experienced by Geoffrey Bolwell, through Jan’s dramatisation of how she became aware of it herself. As a dancer she predicates and punctuates her story with non-verbal evocations that touch our brain cells in different ways. Her storytelling style is robust and compelling.

Initially the beer-fuelled post-war myth-building gatherings of mates, hosted at their Dunedin home and Alexandra crib by her butcher father, “the housewife’s friend”, are observed by Jan and her sisters, and tolerated by their phys-ed teacher mother – until the thoroughly punished dart board gets punished in turn by her.  

US Navy sailors, in Dunedin to stock up with supplies for the US base in Antarctica, give the sisters a taste of the romantic side of wartime away from the front. When Jan is 24, after she’s been teaching and saving for a few years, she and girlfriend Terry sail off on their OE on the Galileo Galilei. A photo of their can-can line-up captures the fun and frolics of shipboard life.

Because they’ll be disembarking in Naples, Geoffrey has suggested Jan could maybe have a go at contacting the Zantedeschi family, in Negrar and Cerna, who looked after him during the war. Despite their attempts to learn Italian at sea from suave officers Mario and Tony, along with illicit visits to the bridge, it’s a mission for Jan to be understood by a waiter in Negrar. But her father’s note, translated into Italian by Mario, does the trick.

The story deepens as the Zantedeschi family realise who Jan’s father is. To them he is Milord Goffredo. Jan writes to tell him he must return to Italy. And so begins her recreation of Private Bolwell’s war.

After training in Egypt his battalion is to Belhamed with the relief of Tobruk their goal. But a humiliating defeat sees the survivors of that battle taken prisoner. On Christmas Day 1941, Geoffrey’s older brother in Dunedin receives a “reported missing” telegram and for four years the family have no idea whether he is alive or dead. Filling in that gap becomes the focal point of Jan’s play.

As POWs held on a train overnight in Verona, en route to Austria, Geoffrey and his mates conspire to escape. Finally just four jump, separately, as the train heads off just before dawn. Geoffrey has the luck to be taken in by a family who take him to their Zantedeschi relatives. They ensure he can pass as an Italian civilian before taking him up to the mountain village of Cerna where he finds Arthur, another of the men who had jumped.

Aware their presence is putting the villagers in danger, Geoffrey and Arthur move on and when Arthur is arrested, Geoffrey turns himself in as well. They are taken to Sondrio, interrogated, stripped of their identification and locked in a railway goods wagon, headed once more for Austria. Again they jump from the moving train. Being the last of four to go is almost fatal for Geoffrey, yet it leads to his not being found by German guards.

His progress through illness, danger and fortunate encounters, in what has become Mussolini’s Italy, sees him reunited with the Zantedeschi family. They take him back up to Cerna where a Catholic priest finds a cave for him to hide out in, and contrive to get an evening meal to him daily despite the inherent dangers.  

‘Goffredo’ becomes ‘Il Cappo’ to a group of Italian boys who reach him Italian as they tend sheep in the hills. And as the Allies fly over to signal this part of the war is over, they herd the remaining Germans into the local school room. But danger still lurks when the Americans come to take charge …  

Geoffrey’s return to Cerna brings Milord Goffredo to an end, with a coda about his battalion’s final reunion and his death.

While I’ll Tell You This for Nothing and Milord Goffredo tell very different stories, both plays, performed by extremely engaging performers, enrich our perceptions of history by inventively blending the extraordinary experiences of two who served with the relatable experiences of their questing daughters.
 – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
*Santayana also wrote “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” (Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies, number 25, 1922).
§Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service.


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