Joyful and Triumphant

Court One, Christchurch

24/03/2007 - 28/04/2007

Production Details

By Robert Lord
Directed by Eilish Moran

In this his most humane of comedies Robert Lord invites us to post-war, small town New Zealand to celebrate a Christmas Day to remember. The Bishop household, 8am Christmas Day 1949; laying the table, supermum Lyla finds what she thinks was once gravy on the family’s prized linen tablecloth – is the day over before it starts?

Through the grace of Sunlight Soap and the magic of live theatre the eventful day unfolds over four decades, delivering us late that same evening in 1989.

Join Lyla, her cantankerous husband George, their daughter Rose, son Ted, his wife Brenda and their boundaries-are-for-breaking daughter Raewyn to share the good times and the bad as The Bishop clan weather the years, navigating as best they can the dinner table politics which threaten to turn more than the dessert to custard.

Throw in busybody, know-it-all neighbour Alice Warner and you have a recipe for hilarity which has cemented Joyful & Triumphant as New Zealand’s greatest comedy.

Eilish Moran makes her main season directorial début with Joyful & Triumphant. Eilish appeared in the role of Raewyn in The Court’s original production of this play in 1993.

Joyful & Triumphant is essentially a play about our humanity and the Kiwi culture. It touches us on so many levels, as perhaps only a New Zealand work can. We identify with the characters, their trials and tribulations. The relationship dynamics are very natural and this makes the humour particularly successful”, says Eilish.

Featuring: Judie Douglass, Lynda Milligan, Stewart Ross, Sandra Rasmussen, Timothy Bartlett, Jane Donald and Amy Straker

Theatre ,

2 hrs 35 mins, incl. interval

Defining by confining to dining

Review by Lindsay Clark 26th Mar 2007

There is an enduring sense of solidity and assurance about this play, undeniable maturity in the wry humour of the playwright’s vision and confidence in his observation of the pakeha middle class world at the time of writing. Fourteen years after it first played at The Court, his chronicle of the Bishop family still has great audience appeal.

Undeniably, many of the ideas and issues raised carry less dramatic interest than they held a decade ago. Societal expectations of marriage, parenting, gender, race, politics – the list goes on. What has not changed, and apparently never will, is our clumsy inability to say what we mean when it needs to be said. Even more potent a theme is the conflict we invite by expecting others to live life on our terms. The family provides an ideal microcosm to probe all this, and in dialogue as effortless and familiar as we hear every day.

The comfortable perspective offered by social history is itself growing in popularity and for some the play’s trail across forty years will be an attraction. No fewer than eight Christmas days are visited, over times ranging from morning to night. Potential conflicts are sketched with subtlety before they develop into full blown barneys. Outside the action, the audience peers in at the same confining, defining dining room, seeing all sides of the long little wars as they come and go.

An unfortunate side effect of this chronological approach is that it takes time to recognise patterns of behaviour and response, so that the period before the interval feels as slow as those Christmas afternoons when we do not want to think or feel or pay attention. Events of the second half soon reinvigorate dramatic tensions however and the play ends strongly.

Eilish Moran’s common-sense approach as director of this production is a long leap from the sparkle of Guys and Dolls ,where we last saw her triumph as Miss Adelaide. Her cast are dinkum Kiwis, entirely recognisable as products of their various times. All seven roles are challenging and from memory, all have sizeable chunks of exposition to handle, in itself demanding in a play with more talk than significant action. There is a limit to what can be conveyed through setting and clearing a festive table. Their presence over the years renders them ‘faithful’, though ‘joyful’ and ‘triumphant’ would mostly have to be read as another example of  Lord’s prevailing sharp and darkish humour.

Stand-out performances come from those left to have a final say. Redoubtable neighbour Alice Warner (Judie Douglass) and George Bishop (Stewart Ross) have marked the opposite ends of the play’s political and social spectrum all their lives and each has established, from the beginning of the play, a wonderfully colourful and contentious character. As their circumstances change, they manage, in their eighties, to achieve a positive friendship.  

Their wisdom is not yet within the reach of George’s daughter, Rose, perceptively played by Sandra Rasmussen. George, she says in the last moments of the play, is still talking nonsense. With the serenity – or could it be resignation – of his ninety odd years, he is content to reply, "So it might seem." Triumph and joy are writ small.


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