Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

02/04/2016 - 07/05/2016

Production Details

Out-standing award-winning New Zealand play returns to Circa Theatre

‘…a masterpiece …destined to become a classic’ New Zealand Herald

“What do you have if you don’t have family?”

“Peace of mind?”

How to survive the train wreck that can be Christmas with the family is brilliantly chronicled by playwright Robert Lord in JOYFUL & TRIUMPHANT. It combines the unity of a single day’s activity with the sweep of forty years in the lives of the small town Bishop family’s – and New Zealand’s – history.

Set in the dining room on Christmas days from 1949 to 1989 it traces the joys and sorrows, successes and failures of the family. Distinguished by razor-sharp dialogue and compassionate insight into the characters, JOYFUL & TRIUMPHANT is warm-hearted, witty, tender, often hilarious and ultimately very moving.

JOYFUL & TRIUMPHANT scooped the Chapman Tripp Awards with Susan Wilson’s original production at Circa in 1992: ‘Playwright of the year’, ‘Production of the Year’, ‘Director of the year’, and later received rave reviews for seasons in Adelaide, Sydney and London as well as touring throughout New Zealand. She is delighted to direct again one of her most favourite plays.

Three of the original actors, Jane Waddell, Catherine Downes and Michele Amas, return to play different roles and they are joined by Peter Hambleton, Katherine McRae and Lyndee-Jane Rutherford who complete the top-notch cast.

Playwright Robert Lord died in January 1992 at the age of 46 sadly before the production of JOYFUL & TRIUMPHANT premiered. It was already in rehearsal in readiness for the 4th Wellington Arts Festival (now the New Zealand Festival) where in the audience’s opinion it was to be the outstanding theatrical event.

A must-see production to celebrate this very special forty-year occasion.

‘Both a joy and a triumph…outstanding’ Dominion Sunday Times

The action of the play spans 40 years, 1949 to 1989, and is set in the Bishops’ dining room in a small country town on Christmas Day in each of the following years:
Scene 1: 1949, 8am.
Scene 2: 1957, 10am.
Scene 3: 1961, 11am.
Scene 4: 1968, 1pm.

An interval of fifteen minutes

Scene 5: 1972, 3pm.
Scene 6: 1978, 5pm.
Scene 7: 1981, 7pm.
Scene 8: 1989, 10pm.  

2 April – 7 May
Performance Times:
Tues & Wed 6.30pm, Thurs to Sat 8pm, Sunday 4pm
Tickets: $25 – $46
$25 SPECIALS – Fri 1st April 8pm, Sun 3rd April 4pm
After show Q & A Tues 5th May
Bookings: (04) 801 7992

Pre-show dinner available at Encore – phone 801 7996 

In order of appearance:
Lyla Bishop:  Jane Waddell
Rose Bishop:  Michele Amas
Alice Warner:  Catherine Downes
George Bishop:  Peter Hambleton
Brenda Bishop:  Katherine McRae
Ted Bishop:  Gavin Rutherford
Raewyn Bishop:  Lyndee-Jane Rutherford 

Set Design:  John Hodgkins
Lighting Design:  Marcus McShane
Costume Design:  Shelia Horton

Stage Manager:  Deb McGuire
Technical Operator:  Tony Black
Choreography:  Sacha Copeland
Hairstylist:  Vicky Kothroulas
Additional Sound:  Oliver Devlin
Photography:  Stephen A’Court
House Manager:  Suzanne Blackburn  
Box Office:  Linda Wilson
Publicity:  Colleen McColl
Graphic Design:  Rose Miller – Kraftwork
Pre-production Photos:  Gavin Rutherford  

Theatre ,

2 rs 35 mins incl. interval

Comedy from stresses and strains

Review by Laurie Atkinson 06th Apr 2016

Robert Lord’s best, funniest and most moving play is subtitled “An Incidental Epic”. It explores the stresses and strains of family relationships as time passes quickly by and events far away in other parts of the country and the world change the way things have always been in cosy rural middle-class Pakeha New Zealand.

And what better time to explore the Bishop family than during the ritual of the Christmas Day dinner, which is spread epic-like over eight Christmas Days from 1949 to 1989 with the preparation of the meal on a scorching summer’s day to the clearing of the table at the end of the day. [More]

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Rich in insight, humour and pathos

Review by John Smythe 03rd Apr 2016

By interval I’m thinking how extraordinary it is that such ordinary lives can be so engaging. By the end I am astonished that so much of New Zealand’s social history has, incidentally, seeped into this journey through 40 years of one family’s domestic history, distilled into eight phases of Christmas Day circa 1949, ’57, ’61, ’68, ’72, ’78, ’81, ’89. ‘An incidental epic’ is the ideal descriptor for Robert Lord’s Joyful and Triumphant

When the play premiered to great acclaim in 1992 – winning Playwright, Production and Director of the Year, and touring throughout New Zealand as well as to Adelaide, Sydney and London – its value in encapsulating four decades of social change in post-war New Zealand was clear. No-one knew back then that it also brought us to the brink of the Internet Age, thus defining a discrete historical era.

I heartily recommend it, therefore, to people in their twenties as well as those who recall some or all of the times depicted. Lord’s generation (and mine) was that of the youngest character depicted on stage and her (offstage) brother. He was exploring our parents’ and grandparents’ lives, and putting ours in context.

The creative and technical challenges set by Joyful and Triumphant require professional skills with the ego-free maturity to serve the work with empathy, compassion and subtlety. This Circa team, with original director Susan Wilson at the helm, delivers that in abundance.

In a thrust space, subtly lit by Marcus McShane, set designer John Hodgkins places the Bishops’ unchanging (apart from the new-fangled radiogram they get in 1961) dining room furniture beneath an oblong frame from which the red and green crepe-paper chain streamers are hung. Offstage noises evoke the kitchen; imagined windows give views of the garden and their world becomes as real as the many other characters we never see, be they family, friends or otherwise.

Sheila Horton’s costume designs, augmented by very realistic wigs for the women styled by Vicky Krothroulas, are superbly eloquent in depicting the changing times and fortunes of the characters without falling into the trap of being a fashion parade. They accurately reflect the Christmas Day clothing choices of a working class Kiwi couple, their stuck-at-home daughter, their eventually upwardly-mobile son and his frustrated wife, their counter-culture granddaughter and the middle-class National Party-voting next-door neighbour. 

It seems to be a style choice that each character is initially presented in a broad, almost cartoon sketch form that is gradually filled-in to become a compellingly realistic portrait. This reflects the way Lord’s archetypal characters grow into relatively complex individuals as life brings them into clearer focus and we come to know them better.

It all evolves so naturally that it takes a moment of objective thought to appreciate how skilfully their stories and relationships develop within the cleverly-structured narrative, with not a syllable out-of-pace in the deftly-crafted dialogue. All seven actors come to inhabit their roles and wear their aging with such conviction it would be all too easy to take them for granted.

As Lyla Bishop, Jane Waddell epitomises the dedicated housewife and mother whose world is her husband and family; for whom a gravy stain on the table cloth is a disaster. Intriguingly it takes a change in her circumstances (I won’t reveal what) to reveal her true thoughts and feelings, albeit in a relatively abstract form.

Michele Amas’s unmarried Librarian daughter, Rose, whose fiancé didn’t return from the war, becomes more and more poignant as the years roll by and her entrenchment in the thankless role of caregiver deepens. The changing attitudes to her highly successful Percy Piwaka children’s stories offer an especially insightful – and therefore amusing – commentary on our cultural perceptions, values and neuroses.    

The dyed-in-the-wool Tory neighbour Alice Warner, compulsively given to one-upmanship, is impeccably irritating yet heart-warming in the persona of Catherine Downes. As with all of them she lives the character and leaves us to pass judgement or otherwise, as we please.

The proud working man (an adult lifetime with the Railways), staunch Labour voter, almost abusively judgmental father, of his son especially, and (eventually) perversely doting great-grandfather, George Bishop, is a role relished by Peter Hambleton. He speaks for many as his beloved working people’s party betrays its founding principles – but who does he end up dancing with?

George and Lyla’s son Ted takes a while to find his feet career-wise, and even when he does he disappoints his father. Gavin Rutherford ensures we see past the brash façade to the lost soul Ted becomes despite his material success.

As Ted’s wife Brenda, Katherine McRae navigates her progression from disappointed wife through highly critical mother to reinvented professional woman with total conviction. This is a very welcome return to the stage for McRae, after many years away.

Lyndee-Jane Rutherford takes Ted and Brenda’s daughter Raewyn through choices and experiences that epitomise the Cultural Revolution, compelling our empathy in spite – or maybe because of – her compulsion to learn things the hard way. 

I concur with a number of people who say, afterwards, they felt more moved by the play this time round than they were back in ’92. Rich in insight, humour and pathos, this consummate production of Joyful and Triumphant proves its status as a Kiwi Classic.

Robert Lord – who tragically died before the play’s premiere season – played with a number of genres in his too-short but prolific career. While ‘living the dream’ in New York, his wicked eye for observational character comedy was proved in The Travelling Squirrel, directed by Susan Wilson for Circa last year. But his best work, in my opinion, is in such poignant Kiwi domestic comedies as Bert and Maisy (1986, also directed by Wilson) and Joyful and Triumphant.

Footnote: In the original production Jane Waddell played Rose, Catherine Downes played Brenda and Michele Amas played Raewyn. All were memorable then and it is a mark of their talents that they claim these new roles with equal conviction.


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