BATS Theatre, Wellington

23/06/2015 - 27/06/2015

Production Details


“What’s the difference between a story and just… something that happened?” 

Three siblings – a postgrad student obsessed with fairy tales, a spurious phone psychic, a teenage boy who loves flying machines – find themselves faced with the past they’ve long tried to outrun in this original New Zealand play.

It was the characters that inspired writer Cassandra Tse to start working on her fourth play, which she describes as “kind of a love letter to siblinghood, that’s also about grief and healing and storytelling… It’s not a long play, but there’s a lot in it.”

In contrast to the larger casts of her previous output – the smallest thus far has had eight actors – Tse was interested in writing something “more intimate, where we’d get the chance to really get to know the characters and all their secrets and flaws and complexities.”

The cast of three will feature Isobel Mackinnon, Jack Buchanan and Susie Berry, all of whom are well-known faces in the Wellington theatre scene. “It’s an incredibly talented group that I feel so fortunate to get the chance to work with,” Tse adds.

Director Lori Leigh read the first few drafts of the play while lecturing for Tse’s scriptwriting class, and was interested in its “important, universal themes… grief, mental illness, sibling relationships, and the search for identity” as well as the opportunity presented for a female‐led piece with several “dynamic and challenging roles.”

Long Ago, Long Ago has already been recognised for its script, having been shortlisted for the upcoming Playmarket Playwrights b4 25 award. Red Scare Collective’s first play, Right Dishonourable, was Highly Commended in the 2013 competition, but the plays are very different. “Long Ago is pretty far away from an all–‐singing political satire,” Tse admits.

Although the show is not written as a musical, a selection of original music by composer Michael Stebbings will be featured throughout the play, performed by live instrumentalists. 

The play will be Red Scare Collective’s first production at the iconic BATS Theatre. “As a theatre-loving Wellingtonian I’ve seen countless shows at BATS,” says Tse. “Getting to chance to mount Long Ago, Long Ago in the BATS Dome will be such a rewarding experience.”

Long Ago, Long Ago
BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce
23rd to 27th June, 7pm 
Tickets: book@bats.co.nz or www.bats.co.nz  
Tickets are $18/$14 concession.

Theatre ,

A true human experience of fantasy and reality made real through subtle artistry

Review by John Smythe 24th Jun 2015

With Long Ago, Long Ago – her fourth and most intricate play – Cassandra Tse has come of age as a playwright. And she’s only 22! The title translates the standard opening for Japanese folk tales, which usually close with words meaning “blissful, blissful”. In the 80-odd minutes between we are, among other things, alerted to the question, “What’s the difference between a story and just… something that happened?”

This reminds me of another observation about human behaviour: “Shit happens and then we make it mean something.” Or try to. Even our avoidance behaviour is dedicated to seeking equilibrium when something happens beyond our control. And this is where the play’s focus lies in the ‘present day’ sequences.

The event that has precipitated the present circumstances is only specified late in the play so I shan’t reveal it here. But you will be alerted by a notice on the staircase while ascending to the Bats Theatre Dome and if you pay attention before the show proper starts you will be provoked to wonder – and that question will pique your interest throughout.

Lucas Neal’s set design, lit by ‘DW Storyteller’, is also multi-levelled and includes a window and printed pages bestrewn and adrift in the space. Beneath and behind the scaffolding two musicians – Stephen Clothier (piano) and Natalie Hunt (clatinet & cello) – play atmospheric music composed by Michael Stebbings, who has designed the whole soundscape, in which Tui birdsong is prominent.

On a couch, a young woman – Audrey (Isobel MacKinnon) – is studying old books and working on a laptop. Upstairs, another – Ella, her sister (Susie Berry) – is at her laptop workstation. It turns out Ella masquerades as a medium called Madame Gloria Mysterium by night, receiving phone calls from those who wish to contact the dear departed. Does she believe it? Do we?

Audrey’s post-graduate field of study is folk tales which she is analysing according to the ATU Taxonomy (a classification system first invented about a century ago by Antti Aarne, translated, revised and enlarged by Stith Thompson then more recently updated and expanded by Hans-Jörg Uther). Audrey’s special preoccupation is The Seven Swans which she, her older sister and younger brother, Ben (Jack Buchanan) once tried to perform for their parents and Nan. Of course she knows such stories are fantasy but they do embody truth and help us make sense of the real world. Don’t they?

Seamless segues into the past reveal they grew up in the country where Ben liked to invent machines: mechanical devices; he is not attuned to the digital age. And now the sisters are flatting in town. There is trouble with a wall at Audrey’s flat so she is camping at Ella’s place and has rescued a wounded Tui (a beautifully crafted paper puppet designed by Kris Halliday and manipulated by Buchanan).

The intrusion of Audrey and her Tui on Ella’s somewhat clandestine lifestyle sets up a tension that helps drive the drama and, to be intentionally cryptic, as their lives collide, bypass and collide again, it is coming to terms with the Tui that brings about resolution. A subplot involving a grieving Man (Buchanan) who phones Madame Gloria is also a means of connecting, conversely, with reality.  

Directed by Lori Leigh, the story’s truths reveal themselves through compellingly convincing evocations of the past and present. My only quibble is with Ella’s too obvious ‘commenting’ on the bullshit factor in her work. I feel it will be much stronger, more interesting and serve the themes better if we believe she believes it – or is dedicated to making her clients believe – when she is on the job. Her cynicism and disillusionment can manifest in other ways.

That said, all three actors inhabit each age and stage of their roles with intrinsically entertaining clarity and authenticity. And the fact that the truth floats just beyond what we see and hear makes it all the more absorbing and rewarding.

As for a “blissful, blissful” ending … you’ll be surprised. If the true human experience of fantasy and reality made real through subtle artistry makes you happy, you won’t be disappointed.


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Lyrical, poetic, hard-hitting and emotional

Review by Ewen Coleman 24th Jun 2015

The common notion of a fairytale is that it has a happy ending. But this is not always the case, as one of the sisters in Cassandra Tse’s award-winning play Long Ago, Long Ago, discovers. Audrey (Isobel MacKinnon) has moved in with her sister Ella (Susie Berry) while trying to complete her postgraduate studies on analysing and categorising fairytales.

There is a history of tension between the two borne out when Audrey moves in with Ella. Their relationship is not helped by Ella’s supposed night job of running a call centre which it transpires is a phone psychic service called Madame Mysterium, helping people get in touch with those who have passed over. 

There is also a brother Ben (Jack Buchanan) who loves flying machines and through cleverly constructed flashbacks we see how the relationships of all three developed to where they are now. [More]


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