Joseph and Mahina

BATS Theatre, Wellington

19/02/2011 - 23/02/2011

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

25/02/2011 - 28/02/2011

NZ Fringe Festival 2011

Auckland Fringe 2011

Production Details

Mihi was once a thriving dairy factory town. Yet since the factory’s closure unemployment has soared, and the embittered populace has become directionless. 

Enter Joseph Nordhoy, an enthusiastic Christian Youth Group leader. Joseph is determined to put the pep and religious fervour back into the local teenagers. 

As his efforts continually fail he meets kindred spirit, Mahina, an angry teenager looking for an escape from her depressing hometown…   

Season: Saturday 19th February – Wednesday 23rd February 2011
Time: 6.30pm
Price: $16 Full / $14 Concession / $12 Fringe Addict
Length: 1hr
Book tickets! 

WHEN: February 25th – 28th  
TIME: 5:30pm
WHERE: The Basement, Lower Greys Ave

Thomas Sainsbury and Renee Lyons  



Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 25th Feb 2011

Shoosh! OMG! Thomas Sainsbury has written another play!  

While not exactly a reason to raise the roof (he’s very prolific), it is reason to celebrate because Joseph and Mahina is a very good play.

More than that, it is craftily (and economically) directed by debutante director Hera Dunleavy and the performances (Sainsbury himself, and Renee Lyons) are at times sublime. Actors, writer and director – along with some seemingly seamless technicals – make it look incredibly easy (it isn’t) and the result is a frequently touching and reliably funny look at ourselves. 

The text is wonderful but, like all good scripts, it is a minefield of potential disasters. The characters – Dunleavy tells us in her simple director’s note that there are eleven but who would bother to count – are lifted from the page with such love and good craftsmanship that they transcend all their cultural anchors and their innate theatricality and become the people next door who we love and love to hate but ultimately cannot live without.

In short, this fine theatrical team makes us care about these quirky souls and what happens to them and ache, as they do, for their eventual redemption, which, like all fine playwrights, Sainsbury denies us leaving merely a sliver of hope, a skerrick of anticipation. 

Sainsbury is a fine comic actor whose tragic vein is often closer to the surface than we might suspect. As Hillary, the gossipy neighbour, Sainsbury manages a John Key-like catwalk-and-handbag mince yet he, in a nanosecond, becomes the sleazebag supermarket supervisor urging Mahina to play with his pecker. Good though these characters are, Sainsbury’s finest work is reserved for Joseph, the badly flawed, sadly married Christian youth group co-ordinator who falls in love with young Mahina. No caricatures here, just plain heartfelt truth. 

Renee Lyons seemingly has it all. She has exquisite comic timing, a great physicality and an immediacy of emotional connection which is, at times, breathtaking. Whether through the medium of Mahina, the straight-talking, linear, working class, ‘quarter cast’ seventeen year old, the elderly, chain smoking reverend or the ticking biological clock that is Joseph’s young, middle class wife, Lyons collects every laugh and tears the heart out at the same time.

Throughout, Dunleavy’s directorial touch is subtle and oblique. She evades cliché and caricature, never intruding, and has a seemingly clear understanding that icons need hearts, that audiences have to want to go on the journey, and that her characters need to matter. Her directorial narrative is seemingly driven by a desire to create an emotional synergy between actor, text and audience through textual clarity, honesty and economy. It doesn’t get better than that. 

One small (and carping) reservation …

The two scenes that bring the play to its emotional peak are written like blunt force trauma yet there are still depths for the actors to plumb if they are to deliver maximum impact and allow for the delicious end of the piece to have its full impact.

In his writer’s note Sainsbury says: “I also wanted to work with the idea that actions are just actions. Essentially there is no ‘good’. There is no ‘bad’. Things just happen. And small indiscretions, or major indiscretions, are nothing more than blips on the heart monitor of life. They happen, there is a ripple effect, and then it all smoothes out again.” He achieves this, and that he does so at a time in our nation’s history when Christchurch is in ruins and we are all grieving for our fellow citizens, should give us hope and a courage to face a future filled with uncertainty and courage.  

Joseph and Mahina is a shortish play coming in at slightly under an hour but all that needs to be said is said and all that needs to be done is done. As Mahina observes, “time waits for no man, or meat products …”.

Thomas, Renee and Hera … coolio! 

This review kindly supported by The James Wallace Arts Trust


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Delicately subtle

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 21st Feb 2011

In contrast to Love in the Time of Vampires, the acting in Joseph and Mahina is restrained, subtle and varied. It is a simple love story, told simply and movingly in Hera Dunleavy’s straightforward production in which Renee Lyons and Thomas Sainsbury play the title roles and a number of characters in the small town in which Joseph, an ineffectual but eager Christian Youth Group leader, and the lonely 17 year-old Mahina are seemingly imprisoned.

The decent, likeable but bumbling Joseph is a 28 year-old married man, who “has always done the right thing.” Suddenly he finds himself for the first time doing the wrong thing. A gossipy neighbour, Mahina’s boss at the meat counter in the supermarket, Joseph’s wife, an unconventional minister, Mahina’s family, and one or two others all play their part in clearly defining the claustrophobic small town atmosphere, which the playwright creates concisely, and with the occasional caricature but never making anyone a villain, not even the sleazy supermarket boss.

The playwright’s empathetic view of human behaviour is reflected on stage in a dominating crucifix and in the play’s final, but least effective, moments. Still, the play is touched with a delicacy in its writing and characterisation that is rare in local plays.
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Another Sainsbury gem

Review by John Smythe 20th Feb 2011

 For as long as Theatreview has been ‘live’ (i.e. since 2006), Thomas Sainsbury has been writing multi-character plays and no shortage of Auckland actors has lined up to be in them, for very short seasons with no prospect of reasonably remuneration for the time, energy and talent expended. Playmarket, which describes them as having “expandable casts”, has 17 titles listed and is not up-to-date (e.g. last year’s Sunday Roast is missing).

As with Sunday Roast, Joseph and Mahina uses two actors to play a range of roles and someone other than Sainsbury is directing. The difference here is that Sainsbury is one of the actors, commissioned to write a play for himself to be in and herself to direct by long-time-actor first-time-director Hera Dunleavy (after seeing him in Idiots: Back 2 School).

Sainsbury and Renee Lyons people a small town based on Sainsbury’s imagination-fired memories of growing up in Matamata. The slice of life we see finds sadly solitary individuals seeking love and meaning in an emotionally desolate landscape. Don’t let that description put you off; they are penned, played and directed with loving insight and understanding, even the slimy guy (Shane) from the supermarket meat counter.

In the simplest of settings, with handy shelves holding the odd prop and clothing item to help distinguish characters, Dunleavy, Lyons and Sainsbury allow the characters to be and behave as they are and do, leaving us to recognise, empathise and judge.

The titular characters are 28 year-old Joseph (Sainsbury), the new Christian Youth Co-ordinator, and 17 year-old Mahina (Lyons), starting her new job at the meat counter under the sleazy control of the afore-mentioned Shane, recently made redundant from the local meat works. Mahina’s Mum, Dad and sisters are all on the dole, there’s a little brother scooting round too, and she is ready to break free.

Lyons also plays, with deep-seated truth and a subtle wit, the nicotine-addicted Rev Eunice who hires Joseph, Joseph’s garden-loving, goodness-glowing and wife and would-be mother Judith, Shane’s flirty wife and the barman who gives Shane the heads-up on that over a quiet one.

Sainsbury also gives us poignant insights into Shane, gossip-monger Hilary and Mahina’s little brother. And as you may guess from the title, Joseph and Mahina find something in each other that is lacking elsewhere in their lives …

In his programme note Sainsbury says he “wanted to work with the idea that actions are just actions. Essentially there is no ‘good’. There is no ‘bad’. Things just happen. And small indiscretions, or major indiscretions, are nothing more than blips on the heart monitor of life. They happen, there is a ripple effect, and then in all smoothes out again.”

Given no-one dies or suffers deep trauma as the tale unfolds, his aims are achieved. Just telling it like it is – or was – makes for a compelling hour as we are drawn inexorably into these lives. The ending ensures we confront what we would do in the same circumstances.  

The day-to-day action is contrasted with an upbeat sound, light and movement sequence depicting a trip to an amusement park, which allows lighting designer-operator Charlie Bleakley to let rip. Otherwise scene transitions are strangely intersected with a glaring blast of white light at the audience. I took this to be unintentional and hope it is, and is remedied. If it’s part of the design it’s obtrusive and distracting. We don’t need to be told, over and over, we’re part of this story too – our internalised empathy does that for us much more effectively.

Part of me would like to see more actors used so that three or four-handed scenes could explore some elements more. Is the requirement of homegrown work to have tiny casts in order to get produced cost-effectively, and for actors to therefore be adept at multi-character performances with instant transformations, strangling our creativity or enhancing it?

As it stands, however, Joseph and Mahina is another gem from the Sainsbury trove and will undoubtedly prove a highlight of the Fringe.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


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