LAST LEGS

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

28/01/2017 - 18/02/2017

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

10/09/2016 - 08/10/2016

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

29/04/2017 - 27/05/2017

Production Details


Written by Roger Hall
Directed by Ross Jolly


A World Premiere Comedy

GROWING OLD DISGRACEFULLY 

Last Legs is set in an upmarket retirement community, the Cambridge, with a cast of recognisably funny and fallible characters. Outside of happy hour, bridge and mah-jong, our well-to-do seniors indulge in greed, jealousy, love and lust… not to mention their share of gossip, backstabbing and scandal!

Last Legs takes aim at our misjudgements, quirks and misdemeanours and is a quintessentially Kiwi look at ourselves, as we are accurately and amusingly pilloried and parodied by Hall.

A must see for the audience who trust Hall to deliver a fun, amusing night of seniors behaving badly.

Circa One, 1 Taranaki St, Wellington
10 Sep – 8 Oct 2016
Preview 9 Sep
Tues – Wed 6.30pm
Thurs – Sat 8pm
Sun 4pm

Full: $46.00 | Seniors/ Students: $38.00
Friends of Circa: $33.00
Groups 6+: $39.00 | Groups 20 +: $36.00
Under 25s: $25.00 | Preview $25

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Visit www.circa.co.nz to read more about Last Legs.

Roger Hall returns to the Fortune with the smash hit comedy Last Legs! Celebrating 40 years of Roger Hall at the Fortune Theatre.
Fortune Theatre, Dunedin
29 April – 27 May 2017
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Roger Hall’s Last Legs Marks 40 Years at Circa

August marks the 40th anniversary of the opening of Circa Theatre’s first professional production of Glide Time, a satire on the New Zealand public service by Roger Hall, which saw extraordinary success. Viewed by over 60,000 people in the first 18 months, the play marked the beginning of an era of New Zealand made comedy that speaks directly to New Zealanders.

40 years later, we approach the world premiere of Roger Hall’s newest contribution to the canon of New Zealand plays with Last Legs, presented at Circa Theatre and directed by Ross Jolly (Glide Time, Gliding On, Market Forces) starring another Glide Time alumni Ray Henwood. The comedy is set in an upmarket retirement community, where residents fill their twilight years with greed, jealousy, love and lust.

“My specialty has always been showing people a reflection of themselves, as well as characters they can recognize, and laugh at”, says Hall of his newest addition. He acknowledges that New Zealanders seeing themselves on stage has become less of a novelty as the body of New Zealand work that speaks specifically to New Zealanders grows, and adds this is testament to an industry and an audience that supports New Zealand made work.

Roger Hall (CNZM) was last year awarded the Prime Minister’s award for literary achievement. Like many of his acclaimed plays, Last Legs draws on topical issues, taking aim at our fads and failings, allowing us to recognize and laugh at ourselves.

Guaranteed to deliver a fun night out, Last Legs is also a chance to reflect on how the New Zealand theatre scene has flourished over 40 years.

 


CAST
Ray Henwood:  Angus
Catherine Downes:  Helena (and Lexie)
Donna Akersten:  Trish (and Sheila) 
Vivien Bell:  Kitty (and Joyce)  
Jane Waddell:  Edna (and Eve)  
Stephen Gledhill: 
Garry 


DESIGN 
Set Design:  John Hodgkins 
Costume Design:  Sheila Horton 
Lighting Design:  Phil Blackburn 
Sound DesignRoss Jolly & John McKay


PRODUCTION TEAM 
Stage Manager – Eric Gardiner
Technical Operator – Deb McGuire
Set Construction – John Hodgkins
Set Finishing – Lauren Stewart
Pack-in Crew – Adam Walker, Will Frew, Oliver Mansell
Publicity – Debbie Fish & Nick Purdie, GoldFish Creative
Graphic Design – Rose Miller, Kraftwork
Photography – Stephen A’Court   
House Manager – Suzanne Blackburn
Box Office Manager – Linda Wilson 


Theatre ,


Hall again puts spotlight on later years

Review by Barbara Frame 02nd May 2017

A pair of dodgy former real estate agents fleece their fellow retirees; an ex-teacher turned environmental activist campaigns for bottle recycling; an emeritus professor finds himself lecturing on American literature to a bunch of snoozing oldies while his wife turns to her iPad for intellectual stimulation; a one-time actress demonstrates that a saucy reputation can always be enhanced – these are some of the things that happen in Roger Hall’s new play about life in a modern retirement complex. [More

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New-minted jokes to make us smile and sometimes a real revelation

Review by Terry MacTavish 01st May 2017

Life is a terrifying business, made even more gut-wrenching by the sense of Time’s winged chariot hurrying near, but it is a curious fact that, for many of my Kiwi contemporaries, there is comfort in one constant: Roger Hall’s plays documenting each stage just before we reach it. Some works have been sensational, some more mundane, but always they have shown us people like ourselves and our neighbours, somehow muddling through, looking for humour, and finding joy in the little things. 

So now it is time to tackle the Retirement Village. The comedy, Hall’s latest, is called Last Legs, and the theatre hums with his devoted fans. The Fortune is celebrating Hall’s 40th year of providing it with sure-fire money-makers by importing Ross Jolly’s polished production from Wellington’s Circa Theatre.

I recall being impressed by Jolly’s slick stagecraft when I reviewed his sophisticated direction of Don Juan in Soho, and here he zaps his cast dynamically around the pleasantly functional set designed by Peter King, seizing joyfully on any opportunities for farce. Watch for some gorgeous sleeping positions!  

The actors, some of New Zealand’s finest, have each of them performed in so many hits by our foremost playwright, they probably dream in fluent Hall. Their loyalty to Last Legs is palpable, and they commit fully and professionally to roles that cannot have been too taxing. They represent various retired types, almost all of whom have me shuddering at the thought of being forced to join their Happy Hour. 

Most obnoxious are disgraced Real Estate sales team Garry and Trish, played with relentless energy by Stephen Gledhill and Donna Akersten. Their duplicitous dealings on the Residents’ Committee, which provide a good deal of the plot, alternate with some robust physical workouts for Trish, and small-table snooker for Garry, accompanied by neat sound effects.

Vivien Bell, doing justice to some beautiful red dresses (designed by Sheila Horton), is convincing as Kitty, the home’s glamour-puss, although her sexual shenanigans (in much less appealing costumes) strain credulity. I enjoy her quoting of Charles II’s deathbed words on his mistress, Nelly, but it can’t be right that in this century Kitty seems more like a courtesan of that era.

Elegant Ray Henwood brings a more faded type of glamour to his role of Angus, Professor Emeritus of English Literature, delivering a well-observed parody of the Guest Speaker, and endowing his character with enough charm to make us applaud his trouncing of Garry at snooker!

Cathy Downes, as his ex-student and now disillusioned wife, fleshes out her Helena wonderfully, really engaging me as she progresses from reading trashy gossip to a new-found excitement in the creativity of the art studio. I am sorry when, instead of being allowed to develop, this credible and invigorating passion (with surely more validity than Viagra-fuelled sex) is sacrificed for a joke. 

As avid environmentalist Edna, Jane Waddell’s acerbic delivery is a true delight. She can provoke laughter just by appearing in her doorway with a lugubrious expression, yet win sympathy by the subtlety with which she conveys Edna’s courage in adversity. I care enough to hope she escapes. 

Apart from Edna, the most attractive characters as far as I am concerned are the bunch of old ladies who meet regularly to play card or board games, their numbers gradually and sadly dwindling. Hall has provided them with some nice snappy lines, and Downes, Waddell, Akersten and Bell make the absolute most of the doubled roles, clearly revelling in this chance to show their versatility. These scenes are a highlight, both very funny and ultimately poignant. 

Other reviews have noted undeniable flaws in this latest Hall oeuvre, like the reliance on direct address to the audience at the expense of character interaction, but the audience, which includes a party from a Rest Home, does not seem bothered. The theatre is filled with constant laughter, a sense of well-being, and genuine affection for the playwright, who has almost single-handedly rescued the Fortune in times of financial crisis. 

When you consider Hall’s vast body of work, including some memorable insights into the aging process in plays like Who Wants to be 100, You Can Always Hand Them Back and Book Ends, it is amazing he can still provide a new-minted joke to make us smile, and sometimes a real revelation. 

Certainly tonight Hall has led me to a horrifying conclusion regarding Retirement Villages: all the people you couldn’t stand but were powerless to avoid when you were young, and have since spent your life determinedly getting away from, you may well find yourself stuck with once again. Not to mention the plastic glasses and cardboard boxes of wine…

The answer is surely to get in with people who truly share your interests and values. Wasn’t the film Quartet about a home for retired musicians? I am totally motivated to investigate a marvellous new Dunedin High Street Co-housing initiative based on a German model. Sustainable, more caring living, with shared facilities around a green space – what a solution that would be for Edna! So thanks for the nudge, Roger, abstract and brief chronicler of my times. 

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Underdeveloped and yet to find its feet

Review by John Smythe 12th Sep 2016

Last Thursday Roger and Dianne Hall bounced into Wellington from Auckland on a lively southerly so that Roger and colleagues of old could front a healthy roomful of Wellington’s relatively senior theatre fans at the National Library. This was one of the Standing Ovation events to celebrate /commemorate the late Downstage Theatre and we too had braved the rare southerly buster to reminisce about – and get the inside story on – the celebrated 1979/80 Downstage production of Hall’s Prisoners of Mother England.

Directed by Anthony Taylor – as a rehearsal for a sketch show with popular songs of the day added, unbeknown to the playwright – PoME had opened at the Hannah Playhouse, playing (pre-OSH) to 107% capacity, transferred to the Opera House then returned in the new year to the Hannah (105%), setting a new record of 18,500 admissions. Just before the premiere, Hall had been to the UK to transpose his also hugely successful Middle Age Spread for a Brighton production (with Richard Biers and Paul Eddington) that would transfer to the West End and win the Society of West End Theatres’ Comedy of the Year award. Hall was on a roll.

As I’ve said before, I tend to prefer the Roger Hall plays that, like Middle Age Spread – and its sequel, Spreading Out – reveal their characters and the plot in present action, because there is more for us to ‘get’ between the lines as we willingly suspend our disbelief to engage with the unfolding story and empathise with the characters’ quests, concerns and dilemmas … You know: the sort of proven dramaturgy Hall doubtless taught his Theatre Studies students at Otago University last century. 

It has to be noted, however, that the series of sketches that comprised Prisoners of Mother England included characters addressing their audience directly with their stories, observations, secrets, concerns and dilemmas. And of course direct address has been a well-used convention since theatre was first invented.

Best-employed for essential narration, soliloquies that reveal private thoughts and feelings, and confidential – often witty – asides, direct address has a long and proud history compared to the relatively recent ‘fourth wall’ convention. But simply using it to introduce characters and fill us in on their backstories, for no reason more pressing than the convenience of the playwright, is not a great way to use it, especially when it deprives us of the need to know and leaves us with nothing to discover.  

Set in the upmarket Cambridge Retirement Village, Last Legs is the latest Circa Theatre premiere of a Roger Hall play to reflect the lives of super annuitants, following Who Wants to be 100?, A Shortcut to Happiness, and You Can Always Hand Them Back. (He promised last Thursday, and in his programme note, that his next play, which he has been working in for many months, “is NOT about people with Gold Cards”; it’s an adaptation of Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist about greed and fraud, set in contemporary Auckland.) 

While past Hall plays have usually been relocated to wherever they’re produced, to enhance the audience experience by mentioning suburbs and landmarks close to home, Last Legs is firmly set in Auckland, probably because some gags, like the one relating to Waiheke Island, would not work elsewhere. But retirement villages are a growth industry and the multi-level composite space set, designed by John Hodgkins and lit by Phil Blackburn, suggests a complex of single-storey, grey-walled, red-roofed apartments and gives us a glimpse of the multi-level new wing, soon to be opened by a yet-to-be-secured celebrity, after whom it will be named. The multiple entrances could suggest a farce is in the offing, but no.

We are greeted as prospective residents of The Cambridge’s independent or ‘assisted’ apartments, by Trish (Donna Akersten). She and her husband Garry (Stephen Gledhill) were Real Estate Agents and now they wheel and deal as would-be top dogs of the ‘ResCom’ (Residents’ Committee).

Just arrived and trying to settle in are retired academic Angus (Ray Henwood), late of Chicago University where his specialist area was the works of American novelist Upton Sinclair, and his younger wife Helena (Catherine Downes), an ex-Art Gallery guide and self-confessed art snob who finds solace in her i-Pad. It is she who has brought them here because she doesn’t want to deal alone with his increasing frailty.

Even younger is sometime actress Kitty (Vivien Bell) who was installed in her unit by a now-deceased illicit lover from Parnell. There is a poignant backstory to the sexual ‘freedom’, which seems to have been her main occupation and somewhat unexpectedly continues to be so. Angus, it turns out, was once her lecturer …

Edna (Jane Waddell), a cancer survivor brought up Catholic and now an active environmentalist, completes the residents we see on stage. She is the only one who has not become insular and has a sense of purpose beyond herself, although most of the time she only has us to talk to.

Unlike Who Wants to be 100?, there are no staff or visiting family members to create the sort of resistance that helps to generate dramatic energy. Nor are there quests that drive a plot as such (as in the Gerald Sibleyras /Tom Stoppard Heroes, for example). There are no mysteries or secrets to engender intrigue; nothing for us to ‘get’ that isn’t given out explicitly. The odd dramatised sequence comes as welcome relief from the numerous expositional monologues delivered by each of the characters, too often expounded for no pressing reason or purpose, nor as a setup for some dramatic or comical outcome.

There are sketch interludes involving Bridge, Scrabble and Mahjong played out by more doddery dressing-gowned characters – Lexie (Downes), Sheila (Joyce), Joyce (Bell) and Eve (Waddell) – which mine the less savoury aspects of aging for comedy.

Every now and then the main characters, who have told us so much about themselves and each other in monologue (sometimes overheard and reacted to by others, which robs the device of any ‘secret aside’ quality), get to reveal themselves more in ‘present action’. These opportunities are mostly afforded through ResCom meetings, Happy Hour, a Guest speaker and a couple of mimed games on the quarter-sized snooker table (sound effects well-timed by tech operator Deb McGuire).  

By interval I feel sure all the set-ups must now be established and the balance in Act Two will undoubtedly be in favour of purposeful, payoff-rich action in longer scenes that reveal a bit more depth. No such luck. Mini-monologues (they don’t have the status of soliloquies or witty asides) still predominate, and they and the action scenes, as such, seem shorter. This may be designed to build the tempo toward a climax but it leaves us with little to focus on.

I have no problem with flawed characters – they are essential to all genres of drama – but this play and production offer few opportunities to empathise (unlike, for another example, The ACB with Honora Lee). There is one brief scene between Edna and Kitty that lifts proceedings above the predictable but it’s too short-lived to sustain us.

We become aware of how some people spend their days when their ‘use by’ dates have expired, the desire of one to keep fit and trim becomes apparent, a satirical point is made about the fundraising strategies of US universities … but somehow the details don’t cohere around a binding theme that culminates in anything insightful.

Ross Jolly’s directing seems focused on maintaining dynamic pacing, albeit with staging that is more sedentary than it needs to be, presumably because he has not found anchor points for securing our empathy. All the actors work hard with what they’ve got to lift their characters out of their stereotype moulds and they embrace any chance they get to interact with others.

There are some one-liners worth repeating (I won’t) but for some reason they don’t get the laughs they should on the night. A couple of surprising moments shock us into sudden laughter but most of the time we sit in silence as if waiting for the real play to begin.

Something very odd happens near the end with news of deaths that turn out to be premature. It feels like a good black comedy idea that just hasn’t been made to work, possibly because we don’t have enough invested in the characters and also because we get stuck in trying to work out the logistics of how the misinformation came into being.  

There is a dramatic climax involving the celebrity choice for the opening of the new wing and it does draw in Edna’s spirited activism. But apart from the credibility question of the Residents’ Committee being in charge of the event (as opposed to the CEO and Board of Directors), it feels contrived and more suited to a weekly political satire show than a play one might have hoped would be timeless and universal enough to endure in the repertoire. And because the focus is offstage, the execution is clumsy.

Nothing would have pleased me more than to say this is vintage Hall and a welcome addition to his considerable portfolio of winning works. But Last Legs has yet to develop as a fully formed play let alone find its feet in production. At least we can hope the premise and promise of Hall’s next play will prove the playwright is not on his own last legs. 

Comments

roger hall October 14th, 2016

I find this a puzzling item for several reasons Is it meant to be a satirical spoof of what I write ? (In which case it should have been harder and funnier). The conincidence (?) is that last night I saw Michele Amas' fine piece, The Pink Hammer, at The Pumphouse. This is about a group of women who meet weekly for carpentry lessons and one of them wants to make a coffin. And a damn good play it is, too. Very funny. Presumably "Zia Loops" hasn't heard of The Pink Hammer. (Or else there is someone very clever within Tadpole productions who has  sent this in in order to get a response.) My response is, if you can get to Takapuna, go and see it.

Roger Hall

Zia Loops October 13th, 2016

I see a new play by Roger Hall is being developed by Circa Theatre and will shortly be given one of Circa's popular public readings.

It's a Box Until There's Someone In It tells the story of a group of retirees in Auckland's Takapuna who embrace a new pastime: coffin construction. 

Cheery central character Meryl Merriman initially launches her Kiwi Coffin Club in her garage, with no tools, no volunteers and no idea how to construct a coffin.

But what looms alarmingly as a one-woman play wonderfully transforms itself as a host of local handy men come on board -- she calls them "her darlings" --and the club takes off, moving to a larger facility to cater to its swelling numbers.

Circa quotes Hall: "There is a lot of loneliness among the elderly, but at my coffin club people feel useful, and it is very social. There is always morning tea and lunch and sanding and painting.

"There's an audience for a play like this," he adds. "It's the audience that loyally attends all our major theatres. But," he quips, "they should get in quick. Who knows what the morrow brings?"

John Smythe September 14th, 2016

I have realised I forgot to mention the Shelia Horton-designed costumes. They align eloquently with each character and, without being obtrusive, enhance our sense of who they are.

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A rare stumble

Review by Ewen Coleman 12th Sep 2016

It was 40 years ago when Roger Hall’s first play Glide Time came to prominence on the Circa stage and was an instant hit.  

It was based on a simple premise of bringing together a group disparate people in the same place, showing up all their failings and foibles, which it did with great effect and lots of humour. 

And so after many other plays, his latest, Last Legs, using the same idea, is now also appearing on Circa’s stage; a group of retirees forced to live together under the same roof, the upmarket Cambridge Residential Retirement Village. 

However, in this latest offering, the writing has mellowed considerably, is less sharp and much of it, while canvassing many issues facing older people today, has the characters talking directly to the audience for most of the time with their life-stories, with little or no interactions between the individual characters. [More

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