The Pumphouse Theatre, Takapuna, Auckland

06/08/2009 - 15/08/2009

Production Details

Devonport Theatre Company and The PumpHouse Theatre announces the New Zealand Premiere of Keeper by Steven Snell – Winner of the inaugural George Fairfax Memorial Award 2005

In Steven Snell’s award-winning drama Kevin and Neil are on the run from the police after being at a party where someone has been killed. They visit Kevin’s brother Russel at the factory where he is working and ask him for help, yet they claim they are innocent. Russel is fresh out of jail and keen to stay on the straight and narrow but his loyalty to his brother has him torn.

When Russ finds out that Kevin and Neil are somehow mixed up in an earlier crime, the disappearance of a girl, the three find their ties to each other disintegrating. This tense one-act play examines the dark and disturbing places of the male psyche in the context of an all too familiar scenario – the sort of ugly societal reality that’s regularly reported on prime time news – played live on stage you can’t just change the channel.

Snell is a young Australian playwright and although Keeper is set in Melbourne, it could just as easily be transposed into any urban environment.

He was inspired to write Keeper after being haunted for years by an incident that happened when he was a teenager at high school. A couple of mates he knew got involved in a brawl at a party, during which another kid was killed, and they went on the run from the law. For Snell writing the play was therapy.

The story unfolds in real-time on a single set which allows the tension and sense of desperation to build within each of the three characters, challenging the cast to maintain its atmospheric momentum.

The dialogue is rooted in the vernacular particular to young men of a section of society that regularly feature in crime statistics – middle to lower socio-economic status, macho and aggressive who, when fuelled by alcohol sometimes make impulsive life-wrecking decisions that don’t just affect themselves.

Anyone who has watched recent TV series Underbelly will find themselves in familiar territory and female audience members may get an uncomfortable fly-on-the-wall insight into the casual misogynist manner that some ‘blokes’ discuss women when there are no women around to object.

For some, the play’s disturbing theme, language and characters who exhibit little or no conscience may seem too much like events that recently played out in a Dunedin courtroom. But, like Once Were Warriors it’s art imitating life. To paraphrase Sam Neill’s famous quote "it is theatre of unease’.

Steven Snell claims Keeper is not an attempt at making a social comment however that doesn’t prevent the audience from making one after the curtain falls.

Playwright Steven Snell will be attending the opening night premiere at The PumpHouse Theatre on Thursday August 6th.

The PumpHouse Theatre, Takapuna
August 6 – 15
Preview Wednesday 5 August 6:30pm
Tuesday and Wednesday, 6:30pm
Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 7:30pm
Sunday, 4:00pm
Special Friday Sessions, 10:00pm

Adults, $25
Senior (65+), $20
Student, $15
Member, $18
Preview, $10
Group (10+), $18
Friday 10:00pm, $15
Buy Tickets Now

R16 – content may offend some people   

Russel - Rob Owens
Kevin - Pete Coates
Neil - Tom Easden

Artistic Team

Music:  Jed Town

Set Design/Construction:  Rob Owens, Andy Saker, Peter Coates, Tom Easden, David Martin, Peter Owens
Light/Sound:  David Martin
Light/Sound Assistants:  John Murphy, Chris Waterman 
Make-up:  Bianca Fallon
Stage Manager:  John Murphy, Chris Waterman
Front of House
Anne Saker, Sam Westley, Alex de Vries, Daniel Houzet

Mental and physical stamina required

Review by Venus Stephens 07th Aug 2009

Australian playwright Steven Snell writes: "When I was a teenager, still in High School, a couple of guys I knew got involved in a brawl at a party, during which another kid was killed, and they had to go on the run…this was the inspiration for the story – it wasn’t until about 15 years later that I actually started writing the play…it was haunting me all that time." 

Director Andy Saker writes: "This production of Keeper is the play’s premiere outside of Australia. Keeper is essentially a dialogue-driven kitchen-sink drama. The ‘pressure cooker’, the relationship between the characters in it’s stark setting, the fact that the play is all performed within one act, adds to the desperate, claustrophobic atmosphere that Steven Snell achieves with the economy of his writing. These are all elements of a play which I personally enjoy as an audience member. I hope you enjoy it too."

Keeper unfolds in a smoko room: walls roughly painted in a discount green patina. It gives the ambience of a prison waiting room and serves the setting of an industrial tea room well.

The lull of music playing, composed by Audiovisual artist Jed Town, is emotive and unsettling: the perfect soundtrack for this stark and battered room and the volatility about to brew.

Centre stage a hardy fold out table is flanked by greasy, work stained plastic chairs. Aside from the shock of red the Formica sink-top lends to the setting, the room is devoid of ‘happy colours’, bar a scantily clad beauty adorning the month of March on the calendar above the sink. Catering sized condiments dot the sink-top, a handleless fridge and past-its-use-by-date microwave share space alongside. Two primer-dulled doors break the measure of the room. Severe fluorescents flush the space with magnifying brightness. 

Enter Russel, Kevin and Neil in a swearing flecked argument. As the din of their yelling mellows, we are methodically introduced to them as they dissect events, past and present …  

Naive and panicked, Kevin (Peter Coates) and Neil (Tom Easden) are desperate to escape the consequences of a violent party brawl they have witnessed, in which a person was killed.

Unfortunately Coates and Easden’s accents waver between a hybrid of Australian and working class Pom. To their credit though, they do complement each other as an ‘odd couple’; Neil’s dominant ‘leader’ to Kevin’s submissive ‘follower’.

The pair seek help by way of Russel (Rob Owens). Street-smart and quick-thinking, he is Kevin’s trouble-prone older brother; an ex-con trying to live on the correct side of the law. The smoko room is in Russel’s workplace, a sheetmetal factory, and this is where the secrets unfold under a volley of self preserving threats, calculated questions and shredded loyalties.

The accent flaw visits Russel’s character frequently, diminishing the impact of his cutting one-liners. Nonetheless we, the audience are not immune to his caustic, street poet sense of ‘description’.

Angst makes this play its home. The brothers are dual ‘keepers’ of each other. Kevin recalls a childhood of dealing with the reverberating stigma of his brother’s actions; the weighty and resonating effect Russel’s lawbreaking has had on his family, the toll it has had on their Mother.

Russel, the reformed older brother, is now facing the mirrored example he set for his then 10yr old little brother, now sharply reflected in the adult Kevin’s choices.

The characters’ arguing is confronting and loud, but the volume has no startling bite to it. There is stressed intensity in Owens and Coates body language, yet none in their vocals. It will be a powerful performance once Owens, Coates and Easden unleash the emotive ‘scare’ that their male shouts can evoke.

Neil, their childhood friend and acquaintance, is a manipulative survivor. He does not hesitate to feign innocence in the role he has played in this night’s violent events. To avoid the impending promise of jail he lays Russel’s criminal past on the table and uses it to his advantage.

Easden speaks and yells effusively, but has yet to communicate the cornered, desperate vibe characteristic of a sneaky, egocentric manipulator. I assume his character will develop confidence as the season progresses.

The fearful Kevin and Neil’s panicked justifications for running heighten Russel’s suspicion. He systematically dissolves the veil of untruth around the night’s events, utilising his brotherly ‘tact and wisdom’ to reveal the darker truths that threaten their collective futures.

This is Devonport Theatre Company’s first production at The Pumphouse. The gritty energy required to simmer the story along can only, I surmise, require demanding mental and physical stamina. Commendations to the cast and artistic team. 
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