Lullaby Jock

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

18/05/2010 - 29/05/2010

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, The Edge, Auckland

27/07/2009 - 01/08/2009

Production Details

“Never let the truth get in the way of a good yarn”
One man’s war story, a portrait of a generation

Actor Simon Ferry asked his Mum if she’d be happy for him to base a show on the life of his dad, Jock Ferry. She said that it would be ok with her, as long as he told the truth.

Lullaby Jock is Simon’s account of how his father adjusted to life after World War Two. This is a story written for all New Zealanders, offering a vivid perspective on how we deal with our memories of war, any war.

Writer/ actor Simon Ferry: “17 years later the show has changed a bit but it still tells the truth, about dad and also a whole generation of kiwi men who went off to serve their country in WWII. But more importantly it tells the truth about their return. What happened to them ‘over there’ had a profound effect but most chose not to share it. I am finding that the people of this generation want to hear those stories, about what it was really like for them and how their families coped, survived and thrived after such an experience.”

Simon continues: “So many people have said to me ‘My old man was just like that!’ or my Grandad, my uncle or my husband. I’m really glad that so many people connect with this story and hopefully it helps them to get to know these men in their lives better.”  

Lullaby Jock is directed by Tim Spite, winner of the 2009 Chapman Tripp Theatre Award of Best Director for Biography of My Skin. He joined the production in 2009 ahead of its Auckland Season.  

“The story is of Jock’s life, of laughter, alcoholism, love and war. I laughed and cried, then laughed again … then cried again … I mean it!”James Amos, Theatreview

Actor Simon Ferry relates an audience anecdote: "After one show a woman approached me and thanked me for the performance. She said ….’I am going to go and see my father…. I haven’t spoken to him for ten years. Now, I finally understand why he was the way he was."

Lullaby Jock: Silent Generations
Where: Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, THE EDGE®
When: Monday 27 July – Saturday 1 August, 8pm (2pm Matinee Saturday)
Tickets: Full $30, Concession $20 (Service fees apply)
Book on 0800 BUY TICKETS or


Lullaby Jock
Downstage Theatre
18-29 May
Times: Tue-Wed 6:30pm, Thur-Sat 8pm
Prices: $45-$25, see for detailed pricing
Matinee: Sat 29 May @ 4pm
Meet the Artists: Wed 19 May

A brave piece

Review by Lynn Freeman 27th May 2010

One of the great sadnesses in families is when children don’t get to know about their parents when they were young and full of ideals and promise. As kids we can be so judgemental, not understanding what events have shaped our parents. At the same time it’s a brave thing to do, to literally put yourself in your father’s shoes.

Simon Ferry uses his father’s story in a solo show, examining the effect of the war on Jock and the loss of one of his nine children. Jock was a great teacher, singer and mate, a family man and an alcoholic.

This is a cleverly structured piece of theatre, with clues dropped here and there of some of the big events before we are let in on them. At times Jock talks to Simon, his youngest son and the one most like him, and challenges him about revealing so much about his and the family’s personal details. Jock encourages his boy to stick to the funny stories, and there are plenty of them. Jock has a point.

In the programme director Tim Spite points out that some other people’s stories have been woven into the Ferry family tales as soon on stage, and that’s fair enough. You sense though that the bulk of this is true and Jock faithfully portrayed, weaknesses and all. He was a good man, one of so many left damaged by wartime experiences.

The central set motif, a plain coffin, is ingeniously used as a door, motorbike, trench, even a piano. The backdrop of stacked beer and gin bottles a testament to a man who liked and needed his liquor.  

The timeline is fractured and you have to keep your wits about you to keep up. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s one of the most satisfying things about solo theatre when it’s done well, as this is.

Ferry delivers a perfectly pitched and heart-felt (without being over sentimentalised) performance, revelling in the different characters and Tim Spite’s direction is wonderfully playful and surefooted.  
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


Make a comment

One man show (not that you’d notice) is a brilliant portrayal of a father by his son

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 23rd May 2010

Lullaby Jock is superb solo show. It is an unflinching, funny, sad, emotional yet loving portrait of Jock Ferry, the actor’s father. It has been given a marvelous production by Tim Spite who has directed it with his customary deftness and cunning theatrical imagination. 

The stage is bare except for a large wall lined with many dozens of beer and gin bottles and centre stage a coffin. Simon, the youngest member of the Ferry clan (nine children in all) is giving the eulogy at his father’s funeral because he’s the one who has been to Drama School and used to public speaking.

Such are his theatrical skills that he morphs effortlessly into his father, mother, a nun, his father’s mates, and an officer such as the lisping, outraged Lt. Colonel Roger Randerson, and a jealous man seeking revenge on his older brother Peter. The fight between the two men is brilliantly staged and performed so that one forgets that there is only one actor on the stage.

One also forgets that the coffin is a coffin because it is used, amongst other things, as a piano, an artillery gun, a door, a motor bike, a marital bed, and a memorial on which are projected portraits of the dead.  The shifting of the piano from the closed pub to someone’s home for a party is a wonderfully funny episode as is Jock and his mate’s confrontation with the Lt. Colonel as they try to sneak back into camp on a motor bike after a night on the town.

But for all of Jock’s joie de vivre, his amiability, his practical jokes, and his trademark “Never let the truth get in the way of a good yarn” it is his horrific experiences in North Africa and Italy during the war – as well as one terrible fire at home – that gave him nightmares and what he called “the squirrels” and caused him eventually to attend, reluctantly and for a very short time, a well-meaning but ineffectual AA meeting.

Jock Ferry’s story is the story of many ordinary, unimportant men who have gone off to war and returned to suffer terribly from the experience for the rest of their lives. They clasped at sanity by drinking, shows of bravura, practical jokes, suppressing their true feelings, and never letting the truth get in the way of a good yarn. The pain that Jock Ferry felt is delicately, movingly and lovingly portrayed by his son’s clear-eyed, unsentimental performance.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


Make a comment

Negotiating the “practical joke” of life in the face of death

Review by John Smythe 19th May 2010

At last Wellington gets to see Simon Ferry’s extraordinarily rich yet accessible evocation of his father’s life, in a performance so fluid and flexible in its transmutations you have to blink and think to realise how very accomplished it is.

Paradoxically it is ‘Nessun dorma’ (None shall sleep), from Puccini’s Turandot, that finally frees John Stafford Rewi Ferry – known to all as Jock – from the tormenting dreams that give him “the squirrels”. It’s sung at his funeral and it book-ends Simon Ferry’s Lullaby Jock.

Actually Jock fancied himself as a bit of a tenor himself and even had the temerity to sing opera to the Italians during the war. That’s just one of many true tales the play dramatises to reveal this wooer then husband of Kath, this father of nine (of which Simon is the youngest), this school teacher turned army private then teacher again in Pahiatua. And some of them may have become embellished in the retelling. “Never let the truth get in the way of a good yarn,” was his byword and it’s this production’s promo line.

Although the play also incorporates a number of WWII incidents that did not necessarily happen to Jock – starkly realistic and/or darkly humorous stories of survival and otherwise – they are all drawn from thorough research and capture abiding truths about war that Jock’s generation most often kept to themselves, as in Gaylene Preston’s recent film, Home By Christmas.  Indeed this play could be said to answer many of the questions that film raises.

Jock’s default setting is to stick to the funny bits and have a laugh, preferably over a drink – hence the rows and rows of beer and gin bottles that form the backdrop – so when Simon’s eulogy at his funeral threatens to get a bit serious, Jock rises from his coffin and pretty well takes over.

Mind you, his first recollection, involving a young Italian woman who happened across Jock and his mates in the trenches, is extremely sobering. But a ‘Danny Boy’ parody soon lightens the mood … Developed in close collaboration with director Tim Spite from the solo show he did at the NZ Drama School a couple of decades ago (to premiere at Centrepoint in 2008), the non-linear flow of Lullaby Jock is astutely crafted to balance civilian life with army life, action with stillness, comedy with tragedy.

A simple posture that signifies his standing at a lectern tells us when we are back with Simon, otherwise it’s Jock personified who revisits the salient moments of his eventful life, invariably utilising his coffin to manifest: the nook in which he woos Kath outside her catholic hostel; a stolen motor bike; a piano; an artillery gun; a bicycle; the door to his son Peter’s sleep-out; the problematical marital bed … The faces of key people are also projected onto the up-ended coffin from time to time.

It takes an effort to recollect details of the clever staging because I readily imagine much more realistic images of many events, mostly involving multiple characters. The sultry chain-smoking Kath is right there alongside keen young Jock. Private Des Rankin is happily talked into signing up so he can take his rifle home on weekend leave from training camp for a spot of pig hunting.

Lt Col “Woger Wanderson” is simultaneously a figure of fun and a rank to be reckoned with as he confronts “Pwivates Fewwy and Wankin” over the stolen motor bike. The moving of the piano for an all-hours sing-along is a visual treat.  

As for the slumped-shouldered man who needs to have it out with Peter (Jock’s son; Simon’s brother) in Simon’s recurring attempts to include this bit despite strong resistance from Jock, the fight that ensues is as vividly evoked as it is shocking. It was Peter who, as a young lad fishing with his Dad, preferred fiction to fact …

That and the house fire incident – the toll they take on Jock’s self-esteem – turn out to play key roles in escalating the dreams, the ‘squirrels’, the drinking and the questions his boss is obliged to ask. As with all good comedies, poignancy and pathos underpin the fun.

Jock was “nobody special, except to those who knew him,” Tim Spite notes in the programme, and within 70 minutes, we can count ourselves among them. Even more, we have got to know his family and the two communities he belonged to as – in the face of death, abroad and at home – he negotiated what he saw as the “practical joke” of life.

Simon Ferry’s Lullaby Jock is a very special piece of homegrown theatre that will linger long after you’ve seen it – and you must (its short season ends on 29 May).


Make a comment

Personal and universal; funny and tragic; brave and revealing; genuinely touching

Review by James Amos 28th Jul 2009

Lullaby Jock is a solo performance starring Simon Ferry.  It starts with the actor welcoming each of us into the theatre. As the lights come up, we realise that we are at the funeral of Jock Ferry – Simon’s Father – and it’s Simon’s turn to "say a few words".

The story is of Jock’s life, of laughter, alcoholism, love and war. I laughed and cried, then laughed again … then cried again … I mean it! 

Ferry’s performance is sublime and we are constantly being flipped between Jock’s cheeky antics and the shocking tragedy of war. This is beautifully done through Ferry’s rich story telling and is extended with images of the people he is talking about – many of whom are now deceased – which remind me in no uncertain terms that these are real stories about real people.

The content is so personal yet so universal that I’d love to see this show tour the world. As I enter the theatre I am aware already that the play is about war, the full title is Lullaby Jock: The Silent Generations. I am fascinated by this because it is something I’ve been considering: how a generation of men were raised by fathers who were emotionally shattered by World War II. For some time it’s been apparent to me that I don’t know many men my age who have had strong relationships with their fathers (the sons of soldiers) and I’d suspected this may be a knock on from that war. 

The set is simple: a massive shelf of beer and gin bottles, and a coffin. The bottles are regularly drunk from and Jock is regularly drunk. The coffin becomes a door, a motorcycle, a bed – whatever is required at the time – and its use suits the style perfectly without drawing attention by its strangeness nor for its novelty factor. All too often in this style of theatre the use of a prop in this way will enchant the audience distracting them from the story; not tonight, I am pleased to note. The lighting is simple yet very effective; the use of side lighting allows the actor and projections to be observed at once.

I have to find something to pick on, so I choose the fight scene. I am thinking the director ought to have taken a little more responsibility for this part as the choreography is not crisp enough to tell the story clearly and I am left wondering whether I am missing some of it. However, later this becomes clear, so I’d like to see it either more finely tuned to a realistic portrayal or a played as a more abstract, visually metaphorical, movement piece.

The performance is brave and revealing, both pretend and real at once without a hint of self indulgence or self consciousness and this is what makes it magic. It ends as it begins, at the funeral, in a genuinely touching farewell to a beloved father and to a fantastic character.
– – – – – – – – – – – – –
For reviews of the 2007 premiere season at Centrepoint, click here
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


Rodney July 31st, 2009

What incredible talent to be able to entertain an audience for an hour and a half with such simple props . As the review says, nothing detracted from the talents of Simon with a courageous and outstanding performance. We laughed and we cried, this is a must for young and old, and everyone in between. Should be part of the school curriculum.

Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council