Home Land

Court One, Christchurch

20/02/2010 - 20/03/2010

Production Details

Writer Gary Henderson
Directed by Stephanie McKellar-Smith


Universally acclaimed and emotionally powerful, HOME LAND cements Gary Henderson’s reputation as one of New Zealand’s leading playwrights. On February 20 The Court Theatre proudly presents Henderson’s compelling family drama to Christchurch audiences.

Stephanie McKellar-Smith directs a stellar cast of actors: John Bach plays Ken Taylor, an aging farmer who adamantly wishes to remain on the family land despite his increasing infirmity. Alistair Browning, Eilish Moran, Ross McKellar, Sandra Rasmussen and Amy Straker complete the cast as the children and grandchildren who return to the family farm to make the difficult decision as to Ken’s future.

McKellar-Smith acknowledges that “the themes of the play are deeply moving and very powerful – I don’t think there are any New Zealanders who haven’t been touched in some way or another by this situation. We set out to find the light in a dark situation – despite the troubles they face, they are a family and HOME LAND celebrates that strength as much as the heartbreak”.

Artistic Director of The Court Theatre Ross Gumbley also salutes the strength of Henderson’s script. “At the first read-through – just six actors in chairs reading the work aloud – there wasn’t a dry eye in the room: the play speaks that effectively.”

HOME LAND has received considerable acclaim throughout New Zealand: it was commissioned for the 30th anniversary season of The Fortune Theatre in Dunedin in 2004, and in 2007 was nominated for six Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards in Wellington, winning five (including “Best new New Zealand Play” and “Production of the Year”).

McKellar-Smith has worked with Henderson before, performing in The Court’s Production of Henderson’s play PENINSULA, which he also directed. She regards Henderson’s ability to capture the “voice” of New Zealanders as one of the playwright’s greatest strengths. “The relationship between New Zealanders and their parents and grandparents is something that everyone can recognize. This play is a testament to the power of family.”

Stephanie McKellar-Smith is Co-ordinator of Acting at the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art at Christchurch Polytechnic. In 2006 and 2007 Stephanie appeared in the world premiere of Gary Henderson’s play PENINSULA at The Court which toured to the Brisbane and Nelson Arts Festivals. She has directed John Bach in two plays at The Court: THE RAFT in 2007 and BLACKBIRD in The Forge in 2008.

John Bach has appeared in several Court productions in the past few years, including the world première seasons of THE RAFT and YEAR OF THE RAT.

Eilish Moran makes a welcome return to The Court after a two-year hiatus, last appearing in UNDER MILK WOOD in 2008.  

Court One, The Court Theatre, Christchurch
Production Dates: 20 February – 20 March 2010

6pm Monday / Thursday;
7:30pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
(no show Sundays)
2pm matinee Saturday 27 February
Adults $45, Senior Citizens $38, Tertiary Students $26, School Children $15,
Group discount (20+) $33, Matinee $29 (27 February only)
The Court Theatre, 20 Worcester Boulevard; 963 0870 or www.courttheatre.org.nz   

Ken Taylor – John Bach
Graeme Taylor – Ross McKellar >
Trish Taylor – Sandra Rasmussen
Denise Mason – Eilish Moran
Paul Mason – Alistair Browning
Sophie Mason – Amy Straker

Original Music by Phil Doublet

Stage Manager – Annabel Butler
Operator – Josh Major
Set Design – Tony Geddes
Lighting Design – Brendan Albrey
Sound Design – Andrew Todd
Costumes – Bronwyn Corbet
Props – Nicki Evans
Production Manager – Peter McInnes

Big questions re-pondered in non-sentimental approach

Review by Lindsay Clark 21st Feb 2010

Warmly received by the opening night audience, this piece confirms Gary Henderson’s ability to extract significant truths from the minutiae of familiar Kiwi experience. It attracted five prestigious Chapman Tripp Awards in 2007 for the Circa production, among them Production of the Year and Best NZ Play. With assured direction from Stephanie McKellar- Smith, fine acting and sympathetic production elements, the Christchurch season is set to earn similar popularity.

The play explores the responses of three generations to that saddest of times when the oldest must move away from home and into professional care. Widower Ken Taylor has farmed the land down south for fifty years but now he is reduced to relying on his son and daughter-in-law who live nearby, for daily support. They, in turn, can no longer guarantee his safety and the inevitable transfer to ‘care’ has been arranged.

From Auckland arrive his daughter, son in law and granddaughter, but in the nature of things their presence mostly makes things harder with the two couples struggling to find a compassionate solution. Ultimately it is the old one who finds some sort of resolution.

It is a simple and unremarkable scenario, finely worked for the tensions and confusions that come from too much caring and too few ways of explaining.Each tiny sequenceand the pauses when neither word nor action can be found build an intimacy which brings the characters very close to us.

The production team, (Tony Geddes for set, Bronwyn Corbet costume, Andrew Todd sound and Brendan Albrey lighting) position us neatly in the old farmhouse, right down to the gumboots and magpies.

The play is richly detailed then, and as such carries enough clout to operate confidently on two levels: the intensely domestic scene and the wider context of how we view and treat old age in this society. There are of course wider references still in the attitudes of the two couples: the pragmatic country folk contrasting with the urbane northerners; the way indeed that a sense of ‘home’ can lead as easily to prejudice as comfort.

The cycle of life vision from youth’s optimism to age’s crabbed stubbornness is there too, with the stark solitude of its final journey never far from view. If the characters are potentially stereotypical – down-to-earth country folk, grumpy old man, liberal and uptight city dwellers, youth all self-absorbed optimism – they are developed way beyond that baseline in this production.

The acting is uniformly excellent, at the level where absolute truthfulness reigns. As the country couple, Ross McKellar (as Graeme Taylor) and Sandra Rasmussen (Trish Taylor) establish the solid and practical world of the farm with ease but also the predicament of their situation.

The well-intentioned ‘outsiders’, Denise Mason (played by Eilish Moran) and her husband Paul (Alistair Browning) are fleshed out with perceptive subtlety, so that scenes between son and son-in-law, and again between daughter and daughter-in-law, are especially compelling, as is Denise’s desperate attempt to coax the old man into articulating what needs to be said and which she has found the urgency to say.

Amy Straker lightens the mood very often with her well-observed role of the townie teenager, Sophie Mason, though her poignant realisation of the precariousness of youth allows her some deeper emotions.

That leaves the remarkable work of John Bach as Ken Taylor. His reading of the role is at once fresh and entirely plausible. He is in turn stoic, vulnerable and irascible. Behind the “I’m not fussy” and the “I’m alright” is a physically diminished being, holding on to the last shred of assertion that he can manage: “I don’t want to go.” As his outbursts of seemingly petty irritation increase, he is building the courage to take his final exit with dignity and without the walking frame, so that we are left with something stronger than the pathos of the inevitable.

The unsentimental approach of this team leaves us with the lasting desire to re-ponder some big questions.


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