BATS Theatre, Wellington

29/05/2007 - 02/06/2007

Production Details

Devised by the entire cast
Directed by Jessie Alsop

Picket Fence Productions

LandLies unpacks the Kiwi dream 

New Zealand has always aligned itself with a number of definitive cultural concepts including the quarter acre dream, our number 8 wire ingenuity, our 100% pure image and our progressive decision to let women vote first.

But how relevant are these inherited aspects of culture to today’s real estate-randy, designer Swandri-wearing, IPod toting contemporary Kiwi?

LandLies – a new play opening by Picket Fence Productions – explores this question by using aspects of popular culture including music videos, advertising and technology.

“Most of our parents own at least a quarter acre section, had a free education and have predominantly been in the same career since their late twenties.  Now the norm is to have a massive student loan, two degrees and the hope of me ever owning my own house is pretty slim at the rate things are going.”  says director Jessie Alsop.

The inspiration for the play, which was devised by the entire cast -Amanda Baker, Ana Brothers, Jade Daniels and Julie Noever – was the sale of numerous camping grounds around New Zealand.

“We all know that change is occurring really rapidly in New Zealand; economically, culturally and environmentally so we wondered why we were still being sold these mythical ideas about ourselves, particularly through the media.”  says Jessie.

“I think part of it is that we don’t want those Kiwi dreams to be lost, which makes you wonder why we can be so slow when it comes to taking action.  Although it sounds a bit grim, LandLies is also a celebration of contemporary culture and all its glory.”

Moving with broadband speed from the sweaty changing room of the local gym to a small camping ground on the east coast, to the boardroom of a multi-million dollar realty company, Landlies takes an energetic and entertaining romp through modern New Zealand resulting in a precocious new play that is as complex and poignant as the break up of Brad and Jen and more provocative than a Nelly Furtado video.

Season:  Tuesday 29 May – Saturday 2 June
Time: 7pm, plus 9pm Friday/Saturday
Cost: Full $16/Concession and groups of 10+ $12

Amanda Baker
Ana Brothers
Jade Daniels
Julie Noever

Theatre ,

Underlying themes undeveloped

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 10th Jun 2007

Landlies, currently playing at BATS is a new devised work by a group five actors under the title of Picket Fence Productions. 

Much can be said for the value of devised works, allowing those in the group to work collectively on all aspects of the production and many such works have performed to great critical acclaim.  Unfortunately however this can’t be said of Landlies, the group involved in this production appearing to focus far too much on the presentation rather than the content. 

Apart from the dialogue being far too colloquial, laid back and natural it lacks any real substance or moments of conflict leaving the actors, who do a stellar job with what’s given them, to flesh out characters from insubstantial lines. 

The premise on which the play appears to be based is a clash of principles between two sisters, Penny and Kelly, who grow up moving in diverging directions till they meet over the sale of a piece of coastal land in the Bay of Plenty. 

Both sisters grew up in the area where the sale is to take place, Penny joining the establishment becoming a high flying real estate agent, while Kelly goes in the opposite direction developing a leftist conscience, flitting from job to job believing that Penny has sold out to big business, especially overseas investors.  Kelly also equates the "hot" properties that Penny is selling with women whom she believes have been "hot" properties of men for far too long. 

Various characters move in and out of the numerous scenes, including the Queen – presumably a reference to our colonial past – and while the production flows slickly from scene to scene it doesn’t seem to know if it is to be taken seriously or as a send up and it’s frustrating to see the potential of the underlying themes relevant to present day NZ undeveloped. 

Hopefully through extensive workshopping the play will be given a good make over and turned into a substantial piece of theatre that it has the potential to be.


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Volatile and relevant issues probed but not fully explored

Review by Melody Nixon 06th Jun 2007

When I think of connections to the land in Aotearoa I think, first of all, of Mãori turangawaewae and spirituality. Pakehã connections I make more tenuously with the ¼ acre block and cultural icons like holidays at the beach and puriri fence posts. Which isn’t to say Pakehã land connections aren’t spiritual; just that they’re not often explored in a spiritual way. Landlies, by Picket Fence Productions, attempts to present the ‘all kiwi’ perspective on land sale in New Zealand, and in doing so raises important points about capitalist society and individualism. To its detriment it does not present a deeply spiritual or emotional perspective on the issue however, and could strengthen its examination of responsibility.

Despite this, the play’s thread of personal drive and competition, and how it obscures compassion and personal values, is strong and engaging. The driven and isolated Real Estate maestra Sheree (Julie Noever) keeps her emotions and personal history ever elusive. Her ruthlessly individualist beliefs are shown to contribute to the atomisation of society when it is discovered her neighbour has been dead next door for days or weeks. Sheree, though initially shocked, is more worried about who will get rid of the dead neighbour’s cat.

Picket Fence Productions’ knack for comedy is best brought forth in the scenes between Sheree and Penny Hunt (Amanda Baker), the former Coro-girl turned high-heel wearing Realty woman. As Sheree and Penny rush through ‘battle’ scenes, vying each other with sweetness and rhetoric, they clearly communicate the falseness and competition of many office environments. Physical movement and constant ‘busyness’ heighten the theatricality of these interchanges.

Set design creatively enhances this physicality, allowing fast and imaginative changes between scenes. The covered scaffolding works effectively as a balcony, jetty and verandah, but perhaps could have been placed slightly further apart from the table where the main scenes took place, to draw the audience further into the centre stage. The angle of the projector used at beginning and end could be altered slightly to avoid shining directly into audience members’ eyes.

Consumerist themes are humorously hinted at throughout the play, particularly in the cosmetic-erotic scene between Penny and her boyfriend Frank (played with excellent timing by Jade Daniels). Indeed, Penny is being controlled by her self-interested desires of personal gain, wealth and competition – and the society which encourages them – and ultimately it is these desires which lead to the sale of the land. No amount of pleading from her true blue kiwi sister Kelly (Ana Brothers) will convince her to live life otherwise. “This isn’t about you or me,” claims Penny, “it’s bigger than us,” showing that personal choices around work and money in contemporary society are complex and conflicting. Showing too, intentionally or not, that personal responsibility for these choices is all too easily negated.

In the role of Kelly posing as Queen “Lizzie” to deliver a Realty prize to Sheree, Ana Brothers is most effective. Her obvious wit and poise shine through here more than in her other supporting roles, which sometimes rely on stereotyping. Occasionally too Brothers’ main character of Kelly slips into unlikely cliché, for example describing office life as “this grey abyss of normality”.

When Kelly posing as Queen Lizzie becomes ‘the real’ Queen in a dream sequence with Sheree, her presence becomes problematic however. It aims to show the lessening influence of Britain on Aotearoa, (as when Sheree asks the Queen: “The question is, is this still the place for you?”), which ties in with the growing influence of the USA. The use of American pop music highlights this thread of cultural domination, as do Sheree’s many calls to land bidders in the States.

Yet placing the Queen in the discussion of land in NZ confuses issues of sovereignty and Mãoridom. The figure of the Queen is tied so closely to the Treaty of Waitangi and the taking of Mãori land for white settlers, that presenting her merely as a fading colonial interest oversimplifies the history of the issue in Aotearoa. The “Crown”, once the Queen and now essentially the New Zealand government, has much sway over foreign investment in NZ. The idea of the Queen/Crown buying back land from white New Zealanders, while humorous, does not address this issue of responsibility.

This aspect is what is perhaps most lacking in Landlies. While the play admirably seeks to discuss the changing nature of New Zealand society it neither leaves us with a potent sense of disempowerment nor a sense of implication in what is, in effect, a second round of land theft. The show’s probing of these volatile and relevant issues is noble; and in many parts it is conveyed entertainingly and convincingly. Perhaps with further exploration of these themes the show could be successfully revised, or toured throughout New Zealand, to create further discourse on the subject.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


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Timely topic lacks meat on bones

Review by Lynn Freeman 06th Jun 2007

The lie of the land with this play, devised, written and performed by the cast and director, is encroaching foreign ownership of New Zealand’s remaining purchasable pieces of paradise. Two sisters were brought up in one such patch of land, which years later is up for sale to the highest – inevitably overseas – bidder. One of the sisters is a career driven real estate agent pushing hard for the sale, the other is an itinerant worker who’s still very much in touch with the land.

It’s an excellent idea and the topic couldn’t be more timely.  Jessie Alsop’s direction is sure-handed with some nifty surrealist touches, and the opening scene of a home made video of a summer holiday, set to a Dave Dobbyn track, is immediately evocative. The actresses playing the two sisters and the real estate Head Honcho are great and they all make clever use of the multi-tiered set.  Using dolls as cellphones, as per the TV ad, is a scream.

Here’s the but.

Fifteen minutes in things start to go awry and it becomes obvious that the story doesn’t have enough meat on its bones to sustain an hour.  It needs to give us a much stronger sense of the land under threat and what it means to the two women.  The ‘romance’ element is weak to the point of being embarrassing, in fact the male role has little purpose at all in the story, and holds little interest compared to the female characters.

It’s missing something but there is a lot of promise here – it’s a good, strong team of people.  Devised work has pitfalls and they simply haven’t sidestepped them all this time around.  


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The medium is the superficial massage

Review by John Smythe 30th May 2007

Great title. It promises deception and intrigue; an expose of what creeps/crawls/slithers beneath the flash ‘100% Pure’ imagery of promotional brochures and/or the hype of real estate deals.

The publicity material for this "devised and written" work – much anticipated since the devising process itself became the volatile focus of the Who owns devised work? forum (attracting 129 posts) -tells us "LandLies puts modern day New Zealand under the microscope; exploring what it is to be a Kiwi in the real estate-randy, designer Swandri-wearing, I-Pod toting country we call home … LandLies looks at our relationship to the land, our peers and our ‘assets’."

"The inspiration for the play," we are told, "was the sale of numerous camping grounds around New Zealand." And in her programme note, Jessie Alsop adds, in part, "Our aim has been to explore the complex and often overwhelming choices that we face with humour, joy and a hint of irony."

Okay, in retrospect that should tell us to cancel any expectations of hard-hitting political theatre. But we’re still looking at potent clashes of values, surely, that have divided families, tribes and communities for generations. "He wahine he whenua, ngaro ai te tangata," as the old proverb goes: "Women and land, that’s why people die." It’s a juicy topic which ever way you look at it.

Idyllic home movie footage of someone water skiing in a pristine bay is accompanied by Dave Dobbyn’s ‘Language’: "… When I needed you more … When I needed you most …" And the thought I always have when I hear him recurs: we claim him as ours but his voice is Americanised; he too has been colonised. Perhaps that’s part of the point here …

The play proper starts with sisters fishing off a wharf and joshing each other about impending exam results. Then, in the first of many wonderfully theatrical transitions, Penny Hunt (Amanda Baker) metamorphoses into an ambitious member of a Reilly’s Realty team. Penny is junior to, and in competition with, Sheree (Julie Noever) – who lives alone in an apartment, keeping the neighbouring cat at bay – and she (Penny) shares her life with an investment adviser and sometime auctioneer, Frank (Jade Daniels).  

Meanwhile Kelly Hunt (Ana Brothers), flits from low-paid job to job – product promotions in the mall; Easter Bunny hostess on the Trans Metro train; Queen Elizabeth II impersonator, delivering congratulations to Saleswoman of the Year Sheree … But it is as a Pirate of the Caribbean (promoting the film) that Kelly confronts Penny about the fact that she’s selling a tract of farm land back home on the East Coast – Breaking Head, I think it’s called -to developers.

At last, the substantive drama, I think – and cleverly dramatised too. Except no true passion transcends the visual trick. "How could you?" is answered with, "It’s my job .. If I didn’t someone else would," and that’s about it for dramatic conflict. Oh, Kelly also asks, "Does Mum know about this?" but Mum is a non-entity in the story. So is the vendor, referred to only as "an old farmer", who stands to make millions.

If there is any community upset, we don’t hear about it (except for an early mention of TVNZ affording the land agents some welcome free publicity). The camping ground idea appears to have been dropped. So as presented, Kelly’s objections seem trite, naïve and selfish. I mean what’s all that about hearing the sea? The sea’s not being sold. There will just be more people there to enjoy it, and revitalise the local economy into the bargain. Nothing is offered to counter such thoughts (which are also absent from the play, but they tend to drift into one’s mind when the thinness of the work on display allows space for them).

The auction delivers a rhythmical climax but there is no cathartic collision of previously set up elements; no pay-off; no real sense of outcome let alone resolution.

The true purpose of the production, then, appears to have been to display a range of clever theatrical devices which are often, I have to say, delightful in and of themselves. Individually and as an ensemble the actors are a joy to watch. Much is conveyed non-verbally – e.g. the sensuous body lotion ‘palm de deux’; the pop-video style dance routines; the silent ‘laptops at sunset’ duel … The use of small dolls as video phones is funny. The segues into private fantasies are revealing, as is the reality check regarding the neighbour and owner of the troublesome cat …

But despite all that, so much potential withers on the proverbial vine for lack of the dramaturgical skill and wit to use the given ingredients well. The medium is the superficial massage. And sadly those who have railed against devised work per se will find support for their  case in LandLies.


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