25/02/2010 - 27/02/2010
20/02/2012 - 21/02/2012
One thread in the story of a nation
Something as simple as a blanket has not previously been thought of as an important object in our nation’s history. Humble and commonplace, blankets have played a central role in our daily lives since the first contact between Maori and Pakeha.
‘Home’ is an original performance of song and spoken word, weaving the story of Scottish immigrants into the story of a nation. It will be performed as part of this year’s NZ Fringe Festival at the Tararua Tramping Club clubrooms in Mt Victoria from 25 February to 6 March.
“Blankets kept our ancestors warm for many centuries, whether on their beds or wrapped around as a cloak or “plaid” in the Scottish tradition. The sheep farms that produced the wool played a major part in the forces of colonisation, both into the Highlands of Scotland and New Zealand” explains director, Jacqui Coats.
In ‘Home’, blankets provide the backdrop to the story of Maggie, a recent immigrant from Scotland, and Johnnie, a first generation New Zealander, who meet in Wellington just before the outbreak of WWI and continue a long distance relationship when Johnnie goes away to the front.
The performance uses diary entries and letters in a gentle style to illustrate life both in New Zealand and at war. It is based around traditional Scottish folk songs in arrangements taken from a book bought in Invercargill in the 1890s.
Performers Stuart Coats, Rowena Simpson and Douglas Mews are all classically trained musicians. “These old arrangements are such a curious mixture of high art and folk music. They always make me smile,” says Rowena.
‘Home’ is produced by the Single Malt Cooperative.
Dates and Times: 25-27 February and 4-6 March at 6.30pm, and 28 February at 1pm
Venue: Tararua Tramping Club Clubrooms on Moncrieff St, Mt Victoria (some will know this venue as the Kidzstuff Theatre)
Tickets: $20 full, $15 concession, $10 Fringe Addict Card holders
Bookings: through Downstage ph: 04 8016946, email: email@example.com
Scottish show to play in an English garden
An intimate story of two Scottish immigrants to New Zealand during the time of the First World War will play at the Hamilton Garden Arts Festival on 20-22 February. Due to the lack of a Scottish garden, it will be performed in the English Flower Garden.
Performers Stuart Coats and Rowena Simpson, with Douglas Mews on piano, use diary entries, letters and songs to shed light on how Scottish immigrants brought their own hopes and values to New Zealand. “Adapting the show to an English setting will be easy, compared to what our ancestors coped with in making new lives half way across the world.”
Rowena is an ex-Hamiltonian, well known to audiences of baroque music here. It was her grandmother’s book of “Auld Scotch Sangs”, bought in Invercargill in the 1890s, which was the inspiration for the show. Writer and director Jacqueline Coats has created a heartwarming story, following Maggie and Johnnie as they meet just before WWI and the difficulties they endure when Johnnie goes away to the Front.
‘Home’ premiered at the Wellington Fringe Festival in 2010 and has successfully toured twice since then. Audiences throughout New Zealand have responded with laughter, tears and a strong connection to the history in the show. For many audience members the story also evokes powerful memories of parents and grandparents who lived through the great wars.
Some feedback about the show:
“A heart-warming production with a beautiful, elegant simplicity. Easily recommended.” – Michael Wray, theatreview.org.nz
“I have just had a good friend ring me to absolutely rave about “Home” – she came away with tears streaming.” – personal feedback
“…anyone who appreciates good theatre would enjoy the simple yet effective touches setting the scene, like the threadbare blankets on the clotheslines, the authentic costumes, the understated but well pitched moments of emotion, and the excellent singing.” – Fringe Festival website review.
- Dates and Times: 6pm on Monday 20 Feb, Tuesday 21 Feb and Wednesday 22 Feb
- Venue: The English Flower Garden, HamiltonGardens
- Tickets: $25 full, $20 concession
- Bookings: Ticketek and through door sales
Touching lines of communication
Review by Gaye Poole 21st Feb 2012
Personal letters, diary entries … the years between original writing and re-reading give these artefacts both ‘another country’ and utterly immediate status, and this is what makes a show like Home work.
Well, that, and a sequence of Scottish songs, including ‘Annie Laurie’ and ‘Skye Boat Song’; only resolutely impervious hearts could resist.
An unexplained fifteen minute delay to the start time and a stubborn English Flower Garden gate that jams, preventing entrances to the performance space, has the potential to put the audience off-side. Any minor annoyance is soon sung away by ‘Maggie’ (Rowena Simpson) and ‘Johnnie’ (Stuart Coats ) supported unobtrusively by Douglas Mews on piano.
Beginning with diary entries and letters from 1873 and ending with telegrams from 1915, the three performers and writer/director Jacqueline Coats keep things unfussy in the English Flower Garden.
Serendipitously, birds land on a backdrop tree perfectly on cue during ‘Flora Macdonald’s Lament’ (about the escape of Bonnie Prince Charles after the Battle of Culloden in 1745).
A loose narrative tracks Maggie and Johnnie’s meeting, romance, clannish Cunningham and Montgomery differences, and separation when Johnnie becomes an infantryman.
Early on Rowena Simpson is at times a little coy and Stuart Coats sometimes mugs; but I quibble… This show connects in another zone. Raindrops smudge words on the letters progressively pegged to the framing clotheslines as tears smudge mascara.
A few overly sentimental moments when the couple are in parallel worlds – Maggie in New Zealand and Johnnie in Egypt, an ANZAC in the desert –could be clipped. The performers can trust the material; you have us at ‘Are you Sleepin’ Maggie?’ (the programme helpfully tells us that in old Scottish custom, a couple could sleep together for a year before marriage).
A potent image in one of Johnnie’s letters, of the boys singing together on the ship going to war ‘with nothing but the seagulls to witness it’, endorses theatrical simplicity. Maggie’s quietly determined pragmatism, sewing silk underwear to deter lice, aligned with the singer’s plangent version of ‘The Flowers O’ the Forest’ reminds us, as many of the songs do, of both Scottish victories and loss of life on battlefields from 1314 to WW1.
One does not have to be a Scottish ex-pat to respond to this show. For me, Home’s inclusion of Robert Burns ‘A Man’s A Man for a’ That’ brings vividly to mind my grandfather, John Fleming, and ‘Now is the Hour’, and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ take me again to childhood days at Laguna guest house in Noosa Heads where these internationally popular songs were typical guest farewells.
Sung offstage by Johnnie and onstage by Maggie to inscribe distance, ‘Po Atarau’ (the Maori version of ‘Now is the Hour’) – the song used to farewell Maori soldiers fighting in WWI – made this a touching and irrefutably New Zealand edition to the Scottish expat narrative.
I am left with the precious lifeline letters fluttering on the rope clotheslines… How easily broken a line that is.
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Review by Michael Wray 27th Feb 2010
Although Home sits in the music category of the Fringe, it could easily be classified as theatre. Whether you view it as a series of story chapters with musical interludes, or a musical performance separated by spoken pieces will depend on your personal preference. For me it was a winning example of the former.
Rowena Simpson and Stuart Coats portray the romance of Maggie and Johnnie during the 1910s. Both have immigrated to Wellington from Scotland, from the rival Montgomery and Cunningham clans.
Their story, from first meeting at the Opera House, is told via a combination of exposition, letters read aloud and direct interaction. We see them make plans to attend the Masterton A&P show, disagree over politics when Massey is elected as Prime Minister and become engaged. The advent of World War One accelerates their marriage plans, when Johnnie signs up to join the troops – “better to be a war widow than a fiancé with nothing to show for it.”
Johnnie’s experiences in Egypt and Turkey and Maggie’s back in New Zealand, allow the story dramatic tension and it is genuinely moving at times.
That Rowena Simpson and Stuart Coats can sing is of no surprise for a show in the music category. Both are excellent with, I believe, operatic experience. This is not the end of their talents; they can act too. Their style is confident and natural. Director Jacqueline Coats has coached them perfectly and they use the space well, with a minimal set consisting of clothes lines and relevant stage props.
Pianist Douglas Mews provides musical accompaniment and also provides a character figure for one scene.
The music consists of traditional Scottish songs. I have to admit that for many, this was the first time I’d heard them but there are familiar numbers such as Po Atarau (Now is the Hour) and Auld Lang Syne.
Overall, this is a heart-warming production with a beautiful, elegant simplicity. Easily recommended.
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