Letter to Blanchy: Stir Crazy

Court One, Christchurch

29/03/2008 - 17/05/2008

Baycourt - Addison Theatre, Tauranga

27/02/2009 - 27/02/2009

Production Details

"Houseguests are like fish – after three days they stink."
Ancient proverb

New Zealand’s favourite comedy duo, David McPhail and Jon Gadsby, reunite on The Court Theatre stage – then on tour – in their live version of the award- winning Letter To Blanchy.

In a fishing trip gone awry, Barry, Ray, Derek and Col, three friends and an acquaintance, find themselves trapped together in a one-roomed hut. The unhappy quartet strive to make the best of things – but as the rain continues to pour, tensions begin to rise. With Derek ‘s horse entered in an imminent race and Col’s wedding anniversary fast approaching, even trivial pursuits can lead to serious trouble.

McPhail and Gadsby are together again – and this time there’s no escape in this comedy from New Zealand’s top comic talent.

For more information or to book, phone the Box Office on 963-0870 or book online.

2 hrs 10 mins, incl. interval

Rooted in its origins

Review by Vanessa Byrnes 03rd Mar 2009

What a feat to fill a 500-seat theatre nowadays. I was pleasantly surprised to see that one-show-only attracted so many punters from the ever-expanding Tauranga and Bay of Plenty community. This is to be commended, and Ben McDonald deserves mention as the producer who picked up this show from the Court Theatre, and ran with touring it. This takes faith, risk, and an unswerving degree of belief in the product.

The premise is simple enough; four blokes go fishing and camp down in Starvation Hut. Rain falls, and doesn’t stop for 5 days. They’re trapped within the confines of four walls with limited conversation, and very different points of view and experience frustrate the encounter. The fantasy of being four Men Alone in the wilderness becomes a nightmare of four Men Alone trapped in a hut.

The set is simple and transportable. The sound of the wooden floor was a great touch. But the dialogue is predictable at times, relying on witticisms and character quirks to push the plot along. It risks skimming over the surface of real connection, and for the most part skirts around the possibility of true change in another.

By the end of the play our men are thoroughly sick of each other (fancy playing poker with weetbix for cards?) and we’re left to wonder what might change in their lives beyond this point of cabin fever-ness. Sam Shepard’s brilliant short play Action, although a slightly different genre, brings to mind the possibilities of what can really happen when four people stuck in a hut go stir crazy.

Absolutely stellar talent bring life to the characters and it’s great to see them spar with each other. Jon Gadsby’s Barry (a "rough diamond") brings a welcome, cutting cynicism to the play’s dynamic. David McPhail’s Derek captures the cultivated Christchurch accountant with a penchant for fine cuisine, supremely well. Both are true comics who take advantage of every opportunity to find the laugh with integrity, and for many who remember their excellent TV and satire work over the decades, it’s a treat to see them treading the boards together.

Tom Trevella’s Ray, the practical mechanic, is a delight to watch. His vocal work is particularly strong; so important in a large touring theatre without microphones. And Martin Howells brings a fumbling honesty to the hapless and pitied Col, struggling as this character does with incontinence of the mind, bladder, and occasionally of the mouth. We all know a Col somewhere.

Given its form and dynamic, the show is probably best suited to small, intimate venues, rather than large, main event theatres.  Ultimately however, I would argue that the play is really more suitable as a TV sitcom. It’s certainly rooted firmly in its original TV series form, and in many ways doesn’t offer much more than a situational comedy experience given life on stage.

It begs the question: why doesn’t this get picked up again as a TV series? Revisiting the characters 12+ years on would be hilarious, insightful, and would provide a great point of connection for who we are now. Where are the ageing comics on our NZ TV screens? Bring them back, give them the resources to play with, and let us learn from their perspectives on life.


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Audience well hooked in the end

Review by Lindsay Clark 30th Mar 2008

This premiere production from the acclaimed comedy team should have everything going for it: first rate writers, impeccable cast, clueful director, a creative team overflowing with talent and a genre New Zealand audiences snuggle up to time after time.

The inventive sitcom is peopled by characters, comfortably recognisable and coping more or less with life’s  little challenges. In this case, it involves four good blokes and true, out for a few days’ fishing, but stranded instead in Starvation Hut by the forces of nature. As the outside world turns soggy and thunder crashes, pathetic fallacy seeps into their relationships and we are set for a host of entertaining contretemps.

None of this explains why, for me, the fun was slow to work. Extravagant expectations founded on the television success of the Blanchy material? The unsettling effect of having the opening lines competing with introductory music and directed to only half the audience?

A laboured sense of predictability perhaps, in both situation and characters, which the assured performances did not overcome until the second half. By that stage the characters have become endearing in their idiosyncrasies and the ‘social meltdown’ more satisfying .Audience response to the frequent hotspots was enthusiastic.

All four characters are fleshed out into real live blokes, in spite of their dramatically contrived foibles. Each is given a variety of roles in the business, ranging from peacemaker to provocateur and from aggrieved victim to conciliatory buddy. They are presented with wry humanity, albeit overstated, inflated in the manner of the genre and of course, the small screen.

David McPhail’s well honed Derek, described by his mate as ‘a rhinestone cowboy’, is the sophisticate of the group. Jon Gadsby’s plausible Barry is described both by himself and by Derek, as ‘a rough diamond’, though their intended meaning is at odds. Tom Trevella’s blokey Ray, with his School Certificate pass in Peace Studies, is an entertaining addition to the mix and as obsessive racing man Col, suspected of suicidal tendencies, and under severe pressure to use ‘ the facility’, David Weatherley contributes many a merry moment.

Together, by the end of the evening, they stack up convincing evidence that a few wet days cooped up in a hut provides mental exercise more daunting and exhilarating than landing a week’s worth of the most feisty fish and they have the audience well hooked into the bargain. 


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