Hushabye Mountain

Maidment Theatre - Musgrove Studio, Auckland

16/05/2007 - 02/06/2007

NZ International Comedy Festival 2007-09, 2013

Production Details

By Jonathan Harvey
Directed & designed by John Humphries
Lighting design by Phillip Dexter


Danny’s dead and hanging around outside heaven…

In The Shape Of A Square presents Jonathan Harvey’s sparkling comedy Hushabye Mountain at Auckland’s Musgrove Studio as part of the New Zealand International Comedy Festival, opening 16 May 2007.

Hushabye Mountain – a play full of love, laughs, pain, friendship and family, centres around three friends and the absent mother dealing with the death of their closest friend and son to an AIDS-related illness.  A rough collage of snapshots, Hushabye Mountain interweaves fragmented images to portray life’s richness, unfolding somewhere between heaven and earth, past and present, fantasy and reality. 

Climb onboard for a magical journey of high theatrics, guest starring glittering pop icons Judy Garland, Mary Poppins, Cher and the legendary Virgin Mary herself!  This bittersweet play will make you cry, laugh until you cry, and rollercoaster through every emotion in between.

“You would have to have a heart hewn from granite not to respond warmly to Jonathan Harvey’s latest play.” GUARDIAN

In The Shape Of A Square was hailed by Theatreview last year as “names to watch out for if you’re interested in the development of innovative theatre in Auckland”.  Starring Gareth Reeves (Best Actor at the NZ Screen Awards last year for his role in Insider’s Guide To Love) Hushabye Mountain promises to be innovative and definitely one to watch out for this year.

Proceeds from a sneak-preview charity performance will go to the New Zealand AIDS Foundation.

In The Shape Of A Square presents Hushabye Mountain by Jonathan Harvey
Where  Musgrove Studio, Maidment Theatre 
             8 Alfred Street, Auckland Central
When   Wednesday 16 May – Saturday 02 June 2007 
             Tuesday – Saturday 8pm, Sundays 4pm, No Mondays
Cost      $35 Full Price, Concessions $25/$20, Groups (5+) $30
Wednesday 16 May Charity Performance $60 (includes complimentary glass of wine, canapés & live music with proceeds to NZ AID Foundation)
Maidment Theatre, 8 Alfred Street, Auckland Central (09) 308 2383
Monday to Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 1pm-6pm
Or online at

For more information about the production and In The Shape Of A Square go to

Linda Cartwright 
Serena Cotton
Kristian Lavercombe 
Gareth Reeves
Myles Tankle 
Matt Wilson

Theatre ,

2 hrs 15 mins, incl. interval

An assured and accomplished production

Review by Jim McLarty 20th May 2007

Last September when In The Shape Of A Square opened their first production The Four Sides to a Story, they caught a lot of theatergoers by surprise.  The show was original, inventive and absorbing, a beautifully constructed chamber piece for three voices — and free of many of the conventions of contemporary theatre.  The focus was on character-driven storytelling.  It made a lot of us wonder what was coming next.

The answer was The Honey Keeper, also written ‘in house’ and briefly trialled at the end of March. Billed as a work in progress, it draws on letters home and parallels the expectant wartime housewife (today’s husband in Iraq; a grandfather in WWII) with the queen bee in the hive: their soldiers and workers out tending to the worldly affairs. "Definitely warrants further development," wrote Nik Smythe.

Now In The Shape of a Square offers the first production in New Zealand of Hushabye Mountain, by award-winning Liverpool playwright Jonathan Harvey. If he’s known at all in this country, it is probably for his work in film and television.  Start with the ricocheting one-liners and heartfelt anguish of young love set against the backdrop of a London housing project in the film of his play, Beautiful Thing, then follow it with the raunchy sitcom Gimme Gimme Gimme, with Kathy Burke pushing the boundaries in a flaming red fright wig supported by a laugh track as garish as her hair". 

But before these international hits, he got his start at the Liverpool Playhouse, and soon had productions running at the Royal Court, on the West End and at the National Theatre.  Hushabye Mountain opened in 1999 at the Hampstead Theatre.

It’s Harvey’s belief that "the best comedy always comes from pain, and the comedies I love always have that element of darkness."  That point-of-view could almost sum up Hushabye Mountain.  The laughs are there, but the situation that produces them is a sombre one.

Starting with the opening strains of ‘Feed the Birds’ and ‘Supercalifragilistic…" from Mary Poppins, leading quickly into a lively opening dance number to ‘Step in Time’ from the same film score, it’s soon clear that Harvey’s fascination with iconic kitschy music (see Mama Cass in Beautiful Thing), explicit comedy and troubled relationships will take centre stage once more.

Things are awkward the night of Lee and Lana’s wedding.  Best man Connor is overcome with grief as memories of his partner Danny’s recent death from AIDS resurface during the reception.

Initially, it’s hard to know whose story it is.  Is it about Danny, the cute young gay man struck down in his prime by the AIDS crisis?  Is it about his mother Beryl, who seems to have abandoned her son to keep peace with an unforgiving husband?  Or is it about Connor, stuck in grief and guilt, and unable to enter into a new relationship with young parks worker Ben? 

What eventually becomes clear is that there are four sides to this story also.  The stage belongs to a foursome made up of two brothers, one straight and one gay, and two best friends, similarly configured.  Brothers Lee and Connor hook up with best friends Lana and Danny, and from that moment their lives are intertwined.

The scenes relating this side of the story move forward and back in time from the night of the wedding.  But the play starts with that ‘Step in Time’ routine, in truth a sprightly introduction to heaven, where recent arrivals wait to collect their wings.  Meanwhile, Beryl waits in an institution where she has reclaimed control over her life by refusing to speak, her slowly eroding mental health documented in a series of letters secretly written to Danny.  

It all makes for a powerful, if sometimes convoluted, concoction.  The play at times struggles to maintain a coherent balance with its bouncing time-line, the fantasy scenes in heaven and those set in a bleaker future where Danny is no longer physically present.  There’s almost an unfinished feel to the script, as if Harvey was hovering backstage, ready to add last-minute cuts and revisions.  It doesn’t help that there’s a strong echo of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece Angels in AmericaHushabye Mountain can only suffer by the comparison.

The production is helped immeasurably by John Humphries’ design and Phillip Dexter’s lighting, which both serve the needs of the play with their simple clarity of vision.  With a single door stage left facing a set of double doors stage right, and plexiglass screens either side, a variety of locations are easily suggested, providing a smooth and fluid flow between scenes.

And all four actors playing the pivotal roles of friends and lovers have wonderful  moments, individually and collectively.  Perhaps the best scene for all of them though is the post-dinner discussion, that quickly escalates, with Lee hooked on coke and Danny withholding the results of his positive HIV test.  During the ensuing conversation, the guilt, recriminations, and secrets that they all hold flash and fly around the room, and none of them can be spared.  The interplay between the four actors is riveting.  It’s one of those moments in theatre where the actors and the audience are lost in time together, heaving a collective sigh when finally everything that can be said has been. 

Gareth Reeves brings a combination of vulnerability and utter conviction to Connor, who not only loses his companion, but lacks the strength of character to support him at key moments.  However, his vacillation and self-pity meant that eventually our empathy for him waned.  Although that was clearly on the page, would it have been useful to play against that quality of the writing?

His brother Lee is played by Matt Wilson with a complexity, volatility and down-to-earth decency that is extremely moving.  In the end, we care for him more than his brother.  Serena Cotton has an ease that is wonderful to watch.  Her bemused and calm nature combine with an appealing presence to bring Lana alive, suggesting that she may well be the shrewdest and most together of the bunch. 

Kristian Lavercombe’s Danny, attracted from Liverpool to London by his memories of Mary Poppins, wins us over the moment he begins belting out a hardcore version of ‘Feed the Birds’ in a bathtub with Lana.  The fact that the rooftops filled with chimney sweeps and the sidewalks covered in chalk drawings are not there make his story just that much more bittersweet.

Linda Cartwright returns to the stage to play Beryl and she is equally cut adrift from the other characters, hiding behind a Judy Garland complex and stepping alone into the light to read the letters that have become her only contact with her son.  The toll this takes is expressed eloquently in the writing of those letters, which move from the mundane into more paranoid territory.  Cartwright approaches the letters with clarity, warmth and a sense that something’s wrong beneath the veneer.

Humphries has staged an assured and accomplished production.  Where he sometimes falters is in helping his actors to find other levels.  Suddenly, late in the play, a scene where Danny and Connor discuss the music to be used at Danny’s funeral appears glib and unexplored, playing out like a spat on "Coro" (which Harvey has written for) and leaving us wondering what the scene was really about.  After the high quality of work from these actors, it’s clear that something is being glossed over.  And that is one of the traps of this script. The lure of TV acting lurks in the writing, and needs to be resisted.

In the Shape of a Square remain an exciting company to watch, and their focus on stories driven by the characters has continued with this production. 


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