Joseph Harper: The Boy and The Bicycle

The Wine Cellar, St Kevins Arcade (K Rd), Auckland

12/10/2011 - 13/10/2011

Fred’s, 46 Frederick Street, Wellington

20/10/2011 - 21/10/2011

Production Details


Joseph Harper wrote this play last year as his graduation piece while studying playwrighting at Unitec, under Gary Henderson. The play was the inaugral winner of Playmarket New Zealand’s Playwrights B4 25 competition.

“The show is about my mental illness,” says Harper. “A set of abstractions and parables trying to express what my depression is and why it is and what has been and is to be done. That sounds really narcissistic and self-indulgent, but I don’t think it’s that kind of show. I think a lot of people feel like this, even if they only feel it a little bit. And it’s a confusing thing and sometimes it goes away, but it was there and they know it. And knowing that this thing is, can make you feel pretty uneasy. And I think it’s good to talk about this stuff or to think about it because maybe it changes how you see this thing in yourself or in other people. And that doing that (looking at this bit of us) is hard sometimes.

“But it’s also helpful and can make you feel good, or like you’re a part of everything. or at least not alone, y’know. this show features: big black dogs, adolescent misanthropy, outsider cello soundscapes, Sir Edmund Hillary, post-spectacle ‘lighting’, and a talking bicycle. it’s a pretty subjective kind of thing, but intentionally so. expressionist or something. it’s a black comedy. or a philosophical tragi-comedy or something.”

Chris Stratton, Ruby Reihana-Wilson and Joseph Harper have made it into a show to be performed:
in Auckland
at the Wine Cellar, K’ Rd
on the 12th and 13th of October.
starting at 8:00pm.

then in Wellington
at Fred’s, 46 Frederick Street
on the 20th and 21st of October
starting at 8:30pm. 
Bikes I’ve Owned Versus Girls I’ve Fallen In Love With 
at Fred’s, same date, 7pm 

Intense yet lyrical, fretted with humour, absorbing and strangely life-affirming

Review by John Smythe 21st Oct 2011

The boy rides the bicycle; the ‘black dog’ of depression rides the boy … When Joseph Harper rides the 10-speed on stage – it’s rear wheel braced to allow him to pedal nowhere fast – he converses with it, variously as himself with the bike; as the dog with himself.  

The other abiding image is of the boy enmeshed in a spiderless web – created by rope encapsulating a ladder – unable to move and with no endgame in sight.

Written last year as his graduation piece while studying playwrighting at Unitec, under Gary Henderson, The Boy and The Bicycle was the inaugural winner of Playmarket New Zealand’s Playwrights B4 25 competition.  Right upfront, from his stuck position, he tells us he’s playing with subverted versions of three genres: Romantic Comedy, the Chase and something nameless that will be the most boring because nothing happens. What follows is anything but boring.

The background information Harper has provided reveals he suffers from depression and this play – like the altogether more upbeat Bikes I’ve Owned Versus Girls I’ve Fallen In Love With – is autobiographical. But what we see him experience by way of frustration, anger and despair, is common to all of us to some degree. This, plus our awareness that in writing and performing this piece he is confronting and overcoming it – owning it rather than letting it own him – makes the intense yet lyrical hour, fretted with humour, absorbing and strangely life-affirming.

Where heart-ache and heart-warming empathy is central to the passions shared in Bikes v Girls, it is alienation – from others, the world and himself – that engenders the altogether more negative and just as powerful emotions in this piece. Dreams and poetry feature in both, and The Boy and The Bicycle also has a song with live music plus sound effects (by Chris Stratton, Ruby Reihana-Wilson). 

Even more so than with Bikes v Girls, I find it hard to be more specific about the actual content because that is just the mechanism the play travels on. To go into more detail would be like trying to share the experience of an exhilarating if sometimes frightening bicycle ride by describing the mechanical working of the bike.

I imagine most people will, like me, vacillate from objective appreciation to subjective involvement as frequently as their gut-level tensions release into laughter. But whichever way you look at it, The Boy and The Bicycle is another generous offering from Joseph Harper.

So far he has mounted very short seasons (2 or 3 nights only) himself, in Auckland and Wellington. They are now very ready to be seen separately or in tandem by larger audiences around the country. I sincerely hope they are. 


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Raw, honest and enjoyable

Review by Candice Lewis 13th Oct 2011

Joseph Harper’s deeply personal, funny and touching one man show draws you in from the start. His conversational tone and quirks quickly endear him to the audience as he explains his predicament. He’s caught in a web, and just like a fly, the struggle only makes it worse.  Joseph wrote this piece for his playwriting graduation show at Unitec in 2010, and then Chris Stratton assisted in making it into a show.

Although he’s dealing with the ever-underlying currents of depression, the stories of his family history are what keep this creative confessional truly buoyant. He was born on a bicycle, and it’s worth going just to hear how that happened. 

Bicycles are in the family blood, so it’s understandable that when Joseph struggles against the negative weight of ‘The Black Dog’, he clambers onto a bike – and a bike makes up part of the set design. His relationship with the bike seems to be similar to one with a rather insecure young woman, ‘her’ concern only serving to feed his rage and loneliness.

He portrays the mild, sweet and funny aspect of himself and then switches into the darker, paranoid and negative states with nicely ramped up energy.  Exploding Mt Everest, cellos over violins, fear of suspension without the relief of death, and what seems to be an orgasmic encounter on two wheels all contribute to what sometimes feels like a poetry performance. 

My friend commented that it was ‘Kiwi’ without being pretentious or forced. So get on ya bike and go and see a young man who is putting himself out there to create something rather raw, honest and enjoyable. It may lack polish, but perhaps that’s just what we need a little less of sometimes. 


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