BATS Theatre (Out-Of-Site) Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington

07/02/2013 - 15/02/2013

Production Details

“I was abducted by aliens!”

Be ready to embrace the hilarious and innovative musical that will open 2013’s Fringe Festival in Wellington. From the theatre company who brought you the sell-out show, Society Slump Superstars, Fresh Dada presents Little Town Liars, written and directed by one of Wellington’s most talented up-and-coming creative’s, Joshua Hopton Stewart.

Little Town Liars will not only be the very first show of Wellington’s Fringe Festival but also the debut of BATS Theatre’s new venue location. The show will run from February 7th – 15th 2013 at BATS theatre, 8pm.

“It’s a huge honour that we’re opening the new BATS Theatre venue – we’re very excited to be a part of such a monumental time in the history of BATS,” says writer and director Joshua Hopton Stewart.

The show is set in Louisiana, 1956. It is the Halloween fair and the town is a buzz with excitement. The Austin kids – Belinda and Jake, along with their good friend Shirley, venture into the woods to take what they think are just innocent herbal pills. 3 days later, they wake up. What begins as a simple cover up, quickly snowballs into a case of mass hysteria within the town, where the excuse “I was abducted by aliens” becomes the popular excuse to cover up one’s wrongdoings.

Little Town Liars is a real tribute to Wellington’s creative arts industry with a cast of 12 enthusiastic and very talented kiwi performers, who have a knack for creating hysterical characters. “Our talented crew has been working hard to bring the beauty of 1950s America alive. The accents, the fashion, the architecture, the fads – it solicits such a specific atmosphere. Combining that with the hysteria of UFO culture, hallucinogenic drug-use, teenage pregnancy, adultery, embezzlement, and murder, Little Town Liars is set to be a chaotic mash of 1950s awesomeness,” Hopton Stewart says.

Tickets can be purchased from  door sales available.

Abigail Ennor as Narrator
Annabel Harris as Belinda Austin
Jared Pallesen as Jake Austin
Ellie Neal as Shirley Harris
Brandt Feeney as Billy Peterson
Ange Fitzharris as Ruth Sanders
Filmaz Whelan as Sheriff Tony Sanders
Ingrid Dyer as Mrs. Paula Austin
Luke Gumbley as Mayor Ed Austin
Jeff Bell as Dr. John Nickies
Rebecca Parker as Mrs. Marge Nickies
Janelle Pollock as Ms. Donna Gregson 

Fun-filled musical never misses a beat

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 11th Feb 2013

With all the fanfare of a Hollywood premiere, BATS Theatre has opened their new premises in Dixon Street with a light-hearted, fun-filled, homegrown, high-energy musical, Little Town Liars by Joshua Hopton-Stewart.

The year is 1956 and in a not-so-innocent small country town in the southern state of Louisiana, Jake (Jared Pallesen) and his sister Belinda (Annabel Harris) and their friend Shirley (Ellie Neal) disappear into the woods to share what they think are innocent herbal pills in order to celebrate Shirley’s birthday.  They don’t reappear back home until 3 days later.

Their excuse to their parents and towns folk for being away so long is that they were abducted by aliens.  The story spreads and they become celebrities. But then the aliens story becomes an excuse to cover all the misdemeanours of the so-called upright law abiding citizens. 

Embezzlement, adultery, drug taking is all the result of the aliens. 

Eventually truth finds out and everything goes back to the way it was but not before the little town of liars has washed all its dirty linen in public.

Witty, bouncy lyrics and catchy tunes, along with taut and crisp dialogue, coupled with excellent period costumes, makes this show an hour of high octane energy that never misses a beat. It is therefore to the credit of creator Joshua Hopton-Stewart that not only has he created a little gem of a musical but that he has directed it with flare and imagination.

There is nothing deep and meaningful about the show, that’s not its intention, but rather it is a wonderful send up of a particular period and style in American history that was seen so vividly on film and television during the 1950s.

And while the heightened, over-the-top style occasionally does become a little manic the large cast all, without exception, contribute much to the success of the show. They capture the essence of the era with their looks, gestures and pronounced southern accents that gives the whole production a wonderful sense of sickly wholesomeness.

Little Town Liars is a very entertaining show this is not only a great start to the Fringe Festival but also makes for a great opening show in the temporary new BATS Theatre. 


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High standards feature in comic romp

Review by Michael Gilchrist 08th Feb 2013

Little Town Liars is the second musical created in the last two years by young composer Joshua Hopton-Stuart, a recent graduate of the New Zealand Music School. His first, Society Slump Superstars, had a depression era ‘they only shoot horses’ theme of young people struggling to survive in a ruthless talent quest. This time around he focuses on McCarthy era southern United States, with alien abduction – together with the dreaded probe – providing a convenient cover for the antics of a group of little town liars. 

These are both strictly light, comic pieces. The first had some satirical bite in the context of the ‘recession’ in New Zealand and elsewhere, and shows like NZ Idol. Little Town Liars takes place in a context far removed from our own and the nearest frame of reference we have is through other shows – most notably the Little Shop of Horrors, to which this work is partly an homage.

It is a more coherent piece than his first, however, and the production and performances are more polished. There are also more moments that provide evidence of the potential of this composer, whose competence in all respects is now established. Those factors combined suggest to me that while it is obviously a great thing to develop one’s skills and confidence on lighter work, this composer is now ready, in his next musical, to try something more ambitious in terms of subject matter and treatment.

Fresh Dada, the team of performers and production crew are ready for it, that is certain. Working with a lyricist could be a way of advancing. Josh Hopton-Stuart is quite capable of doing both music and lyrics but like Sondheim, whose echoes we hear often in this work, maybe it would help to do one at a time for a little while. In any case, the ground is laid for him to step deeper into musical theatre and I hope he gains the support he deserves for such a venture.

There are moments in this romp where spoken dialogue moves effortlessly into strong, colloquial song – and there is lots of fun with rhymes and rhythm, together with deftness in the dialogue, economy in the exposition and rousing choruses. The large cast bring plenty of brio and energy to the opening number and never flag thereafter – and there is a commendable tightness in the overall story.

Performances are consistently good, with Angela Fitzharris, Rebecca Parker and Janelle Pollock bringing something extra to their respective roles as a “sexually active” (“and that’s so attractive”) teenager, a vengeful spouse and a small town siren. Great ensemble work by Annabel Harris, Jared Pallesen and Ellie Neal as three wayward teenage children is also a feature.  

This high standard of performance is reflected in every aspect of the production, including the set, lighting and costume design. These are seamless – with the costumes bringing a pleasing, larger-than-life feel to the piece.

BATS new and apparently temporary premises are splendid, providing more room to mingle and move without losing the nocturnal, imaginative, surreal atmosphere that BATS has made so much its own. Indeed the shift seems to have been an occasion for the theatre to reaffirm its identity, which feels stronger than ever.

While I would like to see Fresh Dada get both their composing and performing teeth into something a little more substantial, anyone venturing up the stairs to the former Big Kumara to this show can be sure of an enjoyable night out.


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