Globe Theatre, 104 London St, Dunedin

14/11/2019 - 23/11/2019

Production Details

William Larnach had built an economic and political empire, and a showcase castle was its centre. Why did he end his own life so tragically? Was it his latest financial failure – or was it not despair at all, but revenge on his own family? A period potboiler an aging patriarch and his treacherous family living in “a castle of lies”.

The Globe Theatre, 104 London St, Dunedin
Thursday 14 to Saturday 23 November 2019
7.30pm (no show Monday)
Sunday 17 November: 2.00pm

William Larnach:  Craig Storey
Connie de Bath Brandon:  Mel McCosh
Donald Larnach:  Edward Matthews
Douglas Larnach:  Thomas Makinson
Katie Larnach:  Beth Lochhead
Alice Larnach:  Annalise-Jade Keable
Colleen Larnach:  Emily Atkinson
Hill:  Rob Stewart
Olive Bates   :  Jen Forman
Basil Sievwright:  Warren Chambers

Stage Manager:  Beth Lochhead
Set Design:  Emmett Hardie
Set Construction:  Ray Fleury
Sound and Lighting :  Brian Byas   
Wardrobe:  Quentin Francis 

Theatre ,

Wide appeal from the odd story of the Larnach family

Review by Barbara Frame 19th Nov 2019

Although Michelanne Forster’s script, written in the early 1990s, is plodding and cliché-laden, it tells a jolly good story, and for Dunedin audiences there is the additional attraction of local relevance. The plot has all the lurid elements of Victorian melodrama, focusing on intrigue, deception and loathing within the Larnach family and their immediate circle.

Patriarch William, a businessman turned politician and one of the colony of New Zealand’s richest men, is undone by business failure, political disappointment and his third wife Connie’s infidelity with his younger son, Douglas. Spiralling events and revelations lead to his mental derangement and eventual suicide.

This is the play’s second public production in Dunedin: the first was in 1994. It has also been presented as a radio drama by RNZ. The Globe’s production is directed by Emmett Hardie.

Performances are noticeably uneven and sometimes stilted at first, but improve by the second act. The best is by Thomas Makinson as Donald, the unscrupulous, dissolute elder son who schemes to cheat or betray just about everyone else. Other noteworthy performances come from Craig Storey as Larnach, William Chambers as dodgy lawyer Basil Sievwright, and Robert Stewart as Hill, the duplicitous manservant.

Perhaps wisely, no attempt has been made to reproduce the Larnachs’ interior furnishings, either at the castle or in their Wellington home. Instead, golden draperies hint at rather than portray their sumptuous surroundings. The many very detailed and highly convincing costumes by Quentin Francis convey a further sense of luxury.

While not always reaching the high standards of the Globe’s offerings earlier this year, the production is nevertheless a good effort and worthy of support. Its subject, one of the odder and most sensational episodes of New Zealand history, has wide appeal. About 25 people were in Friday night’s audience.


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A clever, nuanced commentary on life in the late 1800s

Review by Kate Timms-Dean 17th Nov 2019

If you’ve spent any time in Dunedin, you have probably heard of William Larnach. Having a castle named after the man in the area does help, but his legacy as a businessman and Member of Parliament have also brought him renown. Much less is known about his family, particularly the Larnach women, who are described by director Emmett Hardie as “little more than a footnote in history.” Playwright Michelanne Forster has attempted to rectify this by bringing the characters of Constance, Katie, Alice and Colleen Larnach into the light. She has taken fact and fiction to weave a story of intrigue, jealousy and betrayal. Bear in mind, this is historical fiction, not a verbatim account of their lives.

The story begins with the marriage of Larnach (Craig Storey) to his third wife, Constance De Bathe Brandon (Mel McCosh). The veneer of what at first appears to be a congenial setting is slowly peeled away as the pernicious vying of Larnach’s unhappy offspring is revealed. Of the five siblings, only the favourite Katie (Beth Lochhead) is genuinely happy for the new couple. However, events of that night cast a dark shadow over the marriage and the ghosts of the past will continue to haunt the characters throughout.

The character of William Larnach dips and dives on a trajectory to destruction. Starting on the high of his wedding day, Storey pitches the mood of Larnach perfectly, allowing us to see the steps along the path towards his demise. The role of Constance follows a similar path, from the joy of their wedding day, to the realisation of the beast she has married, to her ultimate betrayal, the loss of her fortune and her love. These two actors are brilliant together, with fantastic characterisation and story-telling.

Lochhead’s role as Katie is a small one, but important. The lightness of Katie’s character provides a contrast with the darkness and deceit that encloses the other characters. Her appearance as a ghost halfway through Act One is a little strange, but reminds the audience that, while her family are no longer mourning her, Katie could easily be mourning her family from beyond the grave. Lochhead is, as always, accomplished in the role.

The machinations of Larnach’s children are central to the story. Set as it is in the reign of Victoria, the happenstance of gender and seniority is worried away. Alongside this, the expectations and position of the eldest son are turned on their head, as Donald (Thomas Makinson) drinks and philanders his way across the stage, earning the disrespect of his father. Makinson’s delivery is a class act; he harnesses the passion and dry humour of Donald, making the character’s special brand of narcissism almost likeable.

The lesser status of Larnach’s daughters is brought to the fore, as Alice (Annalise-Jade Keebler) and Colleen (Emily Atkinson) are forced to beg their father for money or marry in order to attain some measure of independence. Atkinson and Keebler encapsulate the bitterness and frustration of their positions with aplomb. It is easy to imagine the feelings of being trapped by the restrictions of Victorian sensibilities. Keebler’s vivid characterisation brings Alice’s strength to life; you almost feel sorry for her as she prods the hornet’s nest of her father’s marriage. Atkinson has a harder job in many ways, with a subtler role to play. Nevertheless, her portrayal of Colleen is stunningly clear, eliciting sympathy as tries and fails to realise her independence.

Finally, we have Douglas (Edward Matthews), the second son, who through the happenstance of birth, holds less status than his ne’er-do-well older brother. Maybe this is why Douglas is so hard-working and faithful to his father. To all appearances, this is the son Larnach will always be able to rely on, evidenced by Larnach’s badgering of Donald with his younger brother’s superior character and abilities. Meanwhile, Douglas is presented as his father’s whipping boy, bearing the brunt of Larnach’s dark moods and melancholy. The only praise that is offered towards his son is given when Douglas is out of sight and out of earshot. Matthews handles the subtlety of Douglas’s role with precision, weaving the line between ‘loyal son’ and cuckolding his father with inspiring ease and clarity.

The three minor characters in attendance are, in fact, almost the highlight of the night. Olive Bates (Jen Forman), a wealthy widow with lustful intentions, is the type of character that brings a story to life. Her self-assurance and penchant for flirtation make her a natural for comedic moments that have the crowd in stitches. The role of Mrs Bates provides an important counterpart to the position of the Larnach daughters. As the widow of a wealthy businessman, she has the independence to live her life as she sees fit, not relying on a father or husband to provide for her. It is ironic that in that world, the death of your life partner might afford you such freedom, in stark comparison to the position of the Larnach daughters as single women.

The portrayal of Larnach’s lawyer Basil Sievwright (Warren Chambers) acts as a voice of reason throughout the story, bringing the decline of Larnach into sharper focus. Sievwright’s character is consistently stolid throughout, but, as the story progresses, Larnach’s reaction to him starts to morph and change, reflecting the breakdown of his mind as he sinks into depression. With such a subtle role to play, Chambers is to be applauded for his delivery of this thread of sanity as the story twists and turns around him. 

My favourite for the night is the dependable butler, Hill (Robert Stewart). Hill provides a dry commentary of the events taking place, giving us a layman’s view of them. His sarcastic evaluations of the upper classes resonate with the audience, testament to the brilliance of Stewart’s delivery. A highlight is seeing him peak around the scenery to spy on Douglas and Constance as they share their first kiss.

Larnach is not easy watching, but a clever, nuanced commentary on life in the late 1800s. By weaving together historical events with the mindset and culture of New Zealand in the clutches of colonialism, Forster has created a believable story contrasting light and dark, life and death. Hardie’s direction has breathed life into it. Early scenes appear to start as a tableau, like the characters are emerging from a photograph. This is not a mechanism that continues throughout the night, but it could have been an effective tool.  It speaks to the idea that the flat lives of people from the past viewed through a two-dimensional surface were, in reality, fully formed, three-dimensional beings with lives, loves and emotions just like us.

The season of Larnach at the Globe Theatre continues through to Saturday 23 November. 


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