13/10/2007 - 10/11/2007
By Gary Henderson
directed by Jane Waddell
What happens when you need to parent your parents?
Gary Henderson’s play explores the complexity of this subject without providing any answers because there are none. The heartache of moving a parent out of the family home and into care is an experience that touches many. Gary tells this story with great tenderness and wit, a sharp eye for detail and an uncanny ear for voices we recognise so well.
Ken Taylor knows his Otago farmland intimately, every stream and gully, every smell, every mood. He’s farmed it for forty years, coaxed a living out of it and raised a family. Now widowed, Ken is ailing. His children think it’s time for a new kind of home. On an ice-bound weekend in July, they gather to move Ken off the land This is a story about home. Why we need it, why we have to leave it, why we always return. And why across the generations it endures.
Gary Henderson is one of New Zealand’s most prestigious playwrights. Home Land was commissioned by the Fortune Theatre in celebration of its 30th birthday and premiered in Dunedin in October 2004 to huge critical acclaim.
“….certain to make its way into the small pantheon of classic New Zealand dramas.” NBR
(In order of appearance)
Grant Tilly - Ken Taylor
Gavin Rutherford - Graeme Taylor
Michele Amas - Denise Mason
Peter Hambleton - Paul Mason
Jodie Hillock - Sophie Mason
Tina Regtien - Trish Taylor
Set Designer - John Hodgkins
Lighting Designer - Jennifer Lal
Costume Designer - Chris Pickard
Stage Manager - Sonia Hardie
Technical Operator - Marcus McShane
Set Finishing - Eileen McCann
Set construction and pack in - John Hodgkins, Iain Cooper, Alex Wright, Corin Gardiner, Ulli Briese
Publicity - Colleen McColl
Graphic Design Rose Miller - Tool Box
Photography - Stephen A'Court
House Manager - Suzanne Blackburn
Front of House - Linda Wilson
2 hrs 15 mins, incl. interval
“The best play I have ever seen”
Review by Simon Sweetman 06th Nov 2007
[This review was written for the Sunday Star Times but they couldn’t find room to publish it so suggested Simon send it to theatreview – ED]
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Home Land opens with the fall of the main character. Southland-based ex-farmer Ken dodders in to the lounge with his walking frame and topples over. He is in his house alone. There is silence punctuated by wheezing, spluttering and puffing as Ken tries to get back to his feet. It is hard to watch – an indication that things could get just a little overwrought.
From here we learn that Ken is going to a home – his family believes it is time for him to be cared for, rather than to live alone. This brings with it a range of emotions and the interplaying of different filial dynamics.
Ken’s son Graeme (Gavin Rutherford) and his wife Trish (Tina Regtien) look after the land and help Ken with cups of tea and meals. It has been quite a bind for them for quite some time. Graeme’s sister Denise (Michele Amas) flew the coop some time ago. She arrives back from Auckland to visit, to help with final arrangements. Her husband Paul (Peter Hambleton) and daughter Sophie (Jodie Hillock) round out the supporting characters.
It is a talented ensemble bringing to life the brilliant natural dialogue and real-life scenarios. But it is Grant Tilly as Ken who constantly steals the show, a grandfather that repeatedly says, "Eh?!" and, "Ooh, I spose …" with deft timing; each time he repeats himself he adds another layer to his character, the audience begins to feel the emotional pain of the situation.
Home Land is the best play I have ever seen – by which I mean it is the work of drama that has affected me most. The actors were spot on, the feel of the play, the look of the stage set (a very real two rooms of a New Zealand farm house with that fourth wall removed for the audience to spy in from) and the sound of the dialogue – this is a New Zealand story that is universal. And that is why it is so affecting and effective.
We have all been one of the characters in this story, or we will be. We have either been through this, or we will go through it – at the very least we have heard about how it happens to friends and extended family. Maybe someone in the audience watching was the granddaughter in the situation, maybe someone had been one of the bickering sisters-in-law; the son-in-law that feels too removed from the geographic location to offer the right level of empathy; the person that can feel themselves growing old enough to recognise that they could one day, sooner perhaps, rather than later, be faced with this decision for themselves; and that someone else might actually be making it.
That doesn’t make the play sound like a happy work; but it is – there are so many joyous moments and lovely touches of colloquial, quirky Kiwi humour. It is a play that needs to be seen. And one that I shall be going to see again.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
Review by Helen Sims 30th Oct 2007
Home Land begins with an actual, physical fall when ailing patriarch Ken loses his grip on his walking frame and it ends with a far more metaphorical ‘fall’ – the coming to awareness of his granddaughter Sophie of the inevitable effects of ageing and mortality. This is incredibly weighty subject matter, but it is dealt with in such a sensitive way that the play does not seem heavy handed. Quite the opposite, it is moving because of its incredible realism, under which lies rich symbolism and metaphor. The story is at once tragic and commonplace, charged with tension and yet entirely natural.
The play is billed as being about “home”. Whilst “home” and what it means is central to the play, it is also about family and the treatment of the elderly. Ken, an Otago farmer, has been “put out to pasture” by his family. He knows and loves the landscape intimately, but with the loss of his physical strength he has been deprived of interaction with it. He is rendered ineffectual in his own home, told to sit quietly and watch TV or read the paper whilst his life is organised around him. From his chair in the living room, which occupies centre stage, he falls back on manipulation of those around him, especially the guilt of his daughter Denise (Michelle Amas). Despite a paucity of lines, Grant Tilly as Ken captures deftly the old man’s red faced frustration and the subtle differences with which he interacts with each family member.
His strongest bond is with Sophie, played with brashness and humour by Jodie Hillock. She too is often sidelined from the family action, excluded from conversations on the basis of being too young. To her falls the task of keeping Grandpa company, as he is too old to take part. Ken is able to re-capture some of the past with her, but with the memories comes the awful realisation that his heyday has gone – his strength has ebbed, his wife is dead, his children regard him as a burden and he hardly knows them. While he desperately clings to “home” it becomes clear to both him and Sophie that “home” is changing forever.
Particularly difficult are the relationships between Ken and his daughter Denise and daughter in law Trish. Denise is now an Aucklander, married to a bleeding heart liberal (or so Ken sees him). It becomes clear that she left home around Sophie’s age after some unspecified falling out with her parents. Amas is excellent as Denise, showing the mix of emotions with which she regards her childhood home and her father. She skilfully charts the complex dynamics of her role, so she is entirely believable when she says “I love you” after she has called her father a “nasty, vindictive, manipulative, old man.”
Tina Regtien has a difficult role to play in Trish. It emerges that Trish is the primary instigator of Ken’s move into a rest home. However, it is also clear that she has born the brunt of care for Ken and kept him relatively content whilst she has grown increasingly discontented. A more likeable side of her is seen in her interactions with Sophie, and in the revelation that she wants her children to be free from the constraints of family duty to make their own choices about the future.
Gavin Rutherford and Peter Hambleton round out the excellent cast as the husbands of Trish and Denise respectively. Rutherford displays a range of complex emotions as Ken’s son and heir of the farm – it is clear that he finds the physical diminishment of his once strong childhood hero disturbing. As trendy liberal Paul, Hambleton captures a great deal of comedy as the patient outsider in the family.
The play is charged with emotion throughout. On opening night I was nearly in tears at half time, then exhausted emotionally at the end. Henderson does present any easy answers to the issues raised by the play, but this is appropriate – it would seem facile to resolve all that family tension in the space of a weekend. Seeing it again a week later it had lightened considerably in tone as the actors had found more humour, particularly in the arrival of the Auckland based family down south in the first half. I felt this was an improvement, as it made the end of the play far more poignant. However, both times I saw it I enjoyed it immensely, and found myself becoming thoroughly drawn into this story, which is told simply but well. Comparisons with the New Zealand classic Joyful and Triumphant are apt.
It is a credit to Waddell, her cast and all those associated with Home Land to have put together one of the most genuinely moving plays of the year. It shows that you do not need to take grand or politically current subject matter to produce an excellent play that will reverberate on some level with a wide range of people. In the end the message is simply articulated by Denise – home is the right place with the right people. This may change over time, and ultimately you will have to find it for yourself.
Originally published in The Lumière Reader.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
Richly rewarding exposé of the way it is
Review by John Smythe 15th Oct 2007
Normally it is great breakthrough moments, when mere mortals transcend their all-too-human limitations, that bring tears to my eyes. Tragedy and sadness are more likely to engage the analytical side of my brain …
Yet Gary Henderson’s deeply poignant Home Land – as directed by Jane Waddell and performed by an ideal cast at Circa – leaves me awash with emotion. It is small ‘t’ tragic, more domestic than epic in its sweep and the only hint at a breakthrough is that a granddaughter, relatively complacent if impatient about life, grows in her understanding of what it is to be inescapably mortal.
It takes great skill to make hopelessness so profoundly entertaining. The play’s great strength is that there are no goodies and baddies. With minimal exposition and no articulate speech-making around the central and insoluble issue of aging, everybody’s position becomes clear and valid. But no-one is right, no-one is wrong and no-one has the answer. It’s just the way it is.
Simply in the process of gathering to remove geriatric farmer Ken Taylor from the only part of the word he understands – his home and the land he has farmed all his working life – and see him installed, for his own good and safety, in that other kind of ‘home’, family members reach points of extremity where truths briefly breach their otherwise stanch, pragmatic, semi-articulate or hitherto innocent stop-banks.
By the special alchemy of less-is-more playwrighting, sudden insights briefly gleam from the murky flow of familial responsibility. This everyday, almost prosaic example of ‘progress’ homes in on a landscape that applies just as well to New Zealand and ‘civilisation’ itself, as to this particular family and its fading Dad.
Ken Taylor is no great, heroic patriarch. His utter ordinariness is made unwilling and all-but-immovable flesh by Grant Tilly in a subtly poetic performance that almost imperceptibly traverses a full range of emotions. He is the still centre around which the younger generations churn.
Also returning to the stage (and Circa) after a long sabbatical (as a writer), Michele Amas distils the curdled essence of a successful corporate daughter, Denise, still yearning for her father’s approval, magically winning our empathy through her often maddening behaviour. (This father-daughter pairing, incidentally, echoes that played by Tilly and Amas in Rober Lord’s domestic epic Joyful and Triumphant a couple of decades ago.)
As her TV sports director husband Paul, Peter Hambleton is patience and understanding personified, until his own buttons are pushed, over Iraq and US foreign policy. The play’s 2003 Otago setting remains (it was written on commission back then for Dunedin’s Fortune Theatre, when Henderson was a resident at the Robert Lord Cottage) and no updating is needed to capture the misfit between the urban intellect and the rural rump we cannot do without.
It is sobering to realise how weirdly exotic one’s own strongly-held views can suddenly sound in this sort of context. But it is what this throws up about respect for others versus personal integrity, and the way one’s rights change depending on whose home we are in, that is the point here. Not to mention what exactly it is we call "home".
Ken’s farmer son Graeme, who just gets on and does what has to be done, yet feels as deeply as anyone about what they’re having to do, is fully realised by Gavin Rutherford. Likewise Tina Regtien as his wife, Trish, does her duty without complaint, focussing all her resentment on the sister-in-law she regards as way out of touch with this reality. Both Trsih and Graeme also have revealing moments that are all-the-more powerful for their brevity.
It is Trish’s warm and easy relationship with her niece Sophie – daughter of Denise and Paul – that shows who she is in less stressed times. And as the newcomer in a cast whose combined years as professional actors must total well over a century, Jodie Hillock is pitch-perfect as the character who is probably changed most by this experience. Her desire to leave home and go flatting – even though she is still at school – is a neatly crafted counterpoint to Ken’s desire to stay put.
The tip-of-the-iceberg economy of the writing is reflected in all the performances, not least in the way Ken’s late wife is only referred to via a frock discovered and coveted by Sophie, which in turn provokes a moving, non-verbal response from Ken as he dances with her … It is also typical of the dramaturgy and Waddell’s directing that this sudden surfacing of emotion is quickly shut down by the further progress of action, leaving us to absorb and retain our connection with what we now know is flowing beneath the surface.
John Hodgkins’ farmhouse kitchen and lounge setting is wonderfully plain, with the gravel pathway outside adding sonic texture, although it’s a shame the limitations of space and/or budget allow us to glimpse no part of the all-important land beyond the windows. Chris Pickard’s costumes and Jennifer Lal’s lighting add to the authenticity without drawing attention to themselves.
The whole first half sets up the foundations for pay-offs in the second half in a way that makes the minutiae of shopping unpacking, meal preparation, eating and washing up strangely compelling in itself. And because of this I cannot help but notice such details as the failure of different characters to check the water level in the electric jug before they switch it on (three times in the first half and once in the second, first thing in the morning, before it gets checked and refilled).
There’s also an event in the second half involving having to get Ken warm where a glowing log burner and Peggy-square rugs in the living room are illogically ignored in favour of a small fan heater in the kitchen and some hastily filled hot water bottles. But it does speak volumes for the investment we have made in the ‘make believe’ that we want to should out, "Grab one of those blankets! Get him to the fire!"
And nothing can detract from the play’s true heart and the emotional impact of this production. Home Land is a prime example of how taking the time to explore and expose the realities of everyday life – in a way television would never dare risk these days, trusting its audience to bring their own humanity and understanding to the shared experience, without snappy editing and spoon-feeding sound tracks – can make for richly rewarding theatre.
Not to be missed.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
A golden evening of theatre
Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 15th Oct 2007
Home Land is a beautiful play and in Jane Waddell’s loving and scrupulously detailed production it is a profoundly moving one. She has assembled a true ensemble cast that is so integrated with the characters that it matches the cast of Circa’s Joyful and Triumphant in creating an indelible portrait of Pakeha New Zealand life and the dramatic realization of the meaning of the two words in the title: home and land.
Home Land is in the tradition of the realistic farmhouse dramas of the 1930s and 40s. While the earlier plays were usually one act, Gary Henderson’s play is full length, and – my only gripe – is too long by about ten minutes in the first act. It is set in the kitchen and lounge of Ken Taylor’s house on his South Otago farm. Using the full width of Circa’s stage John Hodgkins has created the two rooms with unerring accuracy which gives an immediacy and a reality essential to the play.
The plot is straightforward: widower Ken, who has been farming for forty years, has come to the point where he can no longer look after himself let alone the farm. His son Graeme (Gavin Rutherford) and daughter-in-law Trish (Tine Regtien) who live near by have helped out but they realize he will have to go to a home. Denise (Michele Amas), Ken’s daughter, and her husband Paul (Peter Hambleton) and their teenage daughter Sophie (Jodie Hillock) have flown from Auckland for a weekend to help with the move to St Clair Lodge in Dunedin. Ken, reticent and resentful, does not want to go.
While the family reveals (often comically in Henderson’s expert hands) the minor irritations and long burning resentments each one feels during the weekend, we are always conscious of the statement made in the play: home is the right place with the right people. Clearly these aren’t the right people, yet they are inescapably family.
A child’s chipped bunny bowl, which exposes confused and sentimental family memories, the marked heights on a door frame of the family growing up, an old dress, and photographs all add up to a home and a family. For Ken, however, it is the land he has farmed for so long that he cannot leave as he faces what Beckett called a lingering dissolution.
The entire cast is outstanding. In a year of plays about old men (Lear, Heroes, I’m not Rappaport) Grant Tilly works miracles in one of his very best performances to put along side Tupper, Roy Cohen and the Fool in Lear by slowly and achingly showing behind Ken’s amiable old codger front the grit and toughness of his emotional attachment to life and the land. It could so easily be sentimental but there’s stoicism in the performance and the character that is rock hard and emotionally wrenching.
When Sophie speaks at the end what she feels and not what she ought to say we realize we have witnessed not one journey finishing but another just starting. A golden evening of theatre.
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