BATS Theatre, Wellington

08/09/2015 - 19/09/2015

Production Details

Fringe Award-winning Wellington company Making Friends Collective (Proficiency Test, The Good News) invites you behind the curtain of a sport with no rackets, no balls and no physical activity, a sport where the only points being scored are ideological: university debating.

Knifed joins six debaters as they dive into a weekend of arguments, insults and endless drinking games. But they’ve all got their eyes on the Grand Final – and they’ll do whatever it takes to get there.

Written by Playmarket Playwrights b4 25 nominee Adam Goodall (Deadlines, Rageface), Knifed is a chaotic, caustic rollercoaster through an under-observed community that’s dramatic, ferocious and a breeding ground for New Zealand’s political class. 

Making Friends Collective formed in 2012 and have since produced eight shows, including Rageface (nominated for Best Newcomers at NZ Fringe 2013), Proficiency Test (nominated for Most Innovative and winner of the Golden Nugget at NZ Fringe 2013) and The Good News (“thoughtful and fun” – Jarrod Baker, Word on the Street).

We want to push the limits of our language, creating theatre that’s exciting, alive, honest and raw. We want to hold society up to the microscope, joining bold makers and bolder audiences to interrogate what thrills us, angers us, and makes us who we are. Find us online at

The Dome @ BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington
8-19 September, 7pm 
Tickets to Knifed can be booked
online at or
by calling (04) 802 4175

Andy Gartrell as MARK PYNE
Maria Williams as LARA DILLON
Comfrey Sanders as KAT CROUCH
William Duignan as NATHAN MCGOVERN
Adeline Shaddick as AMELIA WILLIAMS

WRITER / DIRECTOR - Adam Goodall
PRODUCER - Johnny Crawford
SOUND DESIGNER - Flinn Gendall
with additional music by - Kariiiba

Theatre ,

Yet to reveal its true self

Review by John Smythe 09th Sep 2015

The programme masquerades as one for The New Zealand National University Debating Championships, known to the initiated as Palmerston North Mini, or more colloquially ‘Palmy Mini’. (Don’t bother to Google it unless you want to buy a small British car or play mini golf in the Manawatu.)

As we enter the Dome at Bats two teams of three, sitting behind two long tables, are clearly discussing tactics. It’s very convincing. But expectations of an actual debate are subverted the instant a play proper starts. The tables are turned, literally: a clever and well-executed device for instant changes in location.

We’re back in Wellington – and other university towns? – at some point before the van trip to the nationals in Palmy. Brief scenes and rapid jargon-rich dialogue, often overlapping and sometimes battling with background music, give us a broad impression of the various university debating teams, broadly characterised except for the two Victoria teams.

Amid the hyper-directed and sometime hyper-acted swirl of action and interaction it becomes apparent the mutthafukkin skollers of anything alcoholic are the Otago team, the preening rich kids are from Auckland. There are also nose-holding libertarians and a witches’ coven of conspirators, presumably from Waikato and Canterbury but I am unable to discern which is what.

Knifed is a chaotic, caustic rollercoaster through an under-observed community that’s dramatic, ferocious and a breeding ground for New Zealand’s political class,” the Making Friends Collective’s publicity claims. “We want to push the limits of our language, creating theatre that’s exciting, alive, honest and raw. We want to hold society up to the microscope, joining bold makers and bolder audiences to interrogate what thrills us, angers us, and makes us who we are.” Splendid objectives: no argument there.

The six well-rehearsed actors are impressively on top of their roles as individuals and work fluidly together as an ensemble. Moment by often frenzied moment, punctuated by welcome oases of coherence, they clearly know all about everything that’s going on. But for much of the play their audience is relegated to the role of onlookers whose capacity to tune into the undoubted details, complexities and possibly even subtleties within this drama is severely restricted. We pay attention in good faith, trying to comprehend what’s happening; trying to tune into a wavelength that’s free of static interference.

This of course raises the question of who it is being performed for. On opening night one tight group is particularly responsive to in-jokes about the university debating scene. For the uninitiated it should be a compelling revelation, not least (as noted above) because these people – given to such choice utterances as “my brain’s going full 9/11” to describe how a hangover interferes with their ability to grapple with the task at hand – could be the politicians of tomorrow. But I, at least, find it hard to find a way in to an element that grabs, sustains and rewards my attention.

The multi-role-playing actors are allocated sustaining roles as members of the Victoria University of Wellington debating teams. Andy Gartrell, Maria Williams and Comfrey Sanders play Victoria One’s Mark Pyne, Lara Dillon and Kat Crouch respectively. William Duignan, Lewis McLeod and Adeline Shaddick embody Victoria Three’s Nathan McGovern, Zach ‘Hendo’ Henderson and Amelia Williams.

A big pash early on focuses our attention on one relationship, setting up one structural through-line. The alpha-male leader figure exercises his power in questionable fashion and pays the price. A naïve young woman suffers a number of indignities, some self-inflicted with alcohol, and comes through as a winner. Others attempt to navigate the turbulent environment of the tournament and social whirlpools in their own ways with varying results. That all are probably changed by the experience attests to the undoubted dramatic potential within Adam Goodall’s script.

The hypothetical question game ‘Fuck, Marry, Kill’, usually applied to celebrities (ranking three people as either desirable short term, desirable long term or expendable), becomes a recurring refrain-cum-weapon applied to their colleagues but it all becomes too repetitive and frantic for me to divine any actual significance to the choices being made by which about whom.  

Amidst all this, a progression of debates – each with its own theme and moot – are evoked in semi-coherent jumbles that offer flashes of insight into what these formidable young brains engage with when they are not politicking, partying or otherwise trying to survive in the hothouse of the Palmy Mini jungle. Then just as we get to the finals – the actors arrayed as in the beginning – it’s over. This was always going to be about the journey and not the destination. Fair enough.  

Designed by Lucas Neal, the rear of the Dome space features an impressionistic – or cubist, to be more precise – collage of stylised posters, notices and post-it notes all vying for space and attention. This pretty well sums up the play.

The question I’d like to poll audience members with is, “Why is this play called Knifed?” My ‘when in doubt consider the title’ strategy offers no answer for me this time. But I have no doubt it was chosen for a reason and that is probably the key to identifying the good play hidden within. Meanwhile I am undecided as to whether Goodall as the writer has subverted himself by throwing all possible ingredients into the pot; whether, as the director, he has panicked in fear that we will not be interested enough in the clearly delineated dynamics of human relationships within a quasi-political environment; whether he and the cast have become over-familiar with the play and have forgotten the audience is coming to it with no prior knowledge … Or is it simply that what should be a two-hour play with an interval has been crammed into 80 minutes and it just needs to be given the room to breathe?  

I have no doubt that Knifed (whatever the reason for its title) has the potential to develop into a satirically insightful expose of a socio-political microcosm that would give us all pause and plenty to ponder as we contemplate our collective future. As such it could be an important play and I truly hope it finds and reveals its true self.


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