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

02/08/2008 - 30/08/2008

Production Details

When MAMMALS opened at London’s Bush theatre in the Spring of 2005 it rapidly became one of the fastest selling shows in the theatre’s history. Now, Wellington audiences have the chance to see the New Zealand premiere of this funny, razor-sharp portrait of family life. 

MAMMALS  opens at CIRCA One on Saturday 2nd August, and runs until 30th August.

Winner of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, MAMMALS is an astonishingly assured first play by Amelia Bullmore (who as a successful actress has starred in cult comedy hits such as I’m Alan Partridge), that unpeels the layers of stories and fictions we tell each other and our kids.

In a chaotic family home, Jane and Kev Hammersby apparently don’t have secrets. They don’t have room for them. Their children take up all the space. Jane is a stressed mum at the end of her tether dealing with her young children Jess and Betty (played by  adult actors, Jane Waddell and Michele Amas).

When Kev comes home from a business trip with something to confess, she feels judged, compared, or – heaven forbid – possibly replaced. Their weekend guests, wisecracking Phil and glamorous Lorna, are blissfully free of family chaos by contrast.  But not being tied down isn’t necessarily all fun and games either.  As old friends get together, bottles are opened, laughter is shared, and the truth about ‘Home Sweet Home’ is hilariously and tragically revealed.

A warm, funny, big-hearted comedy full of sharp insight and rich humour, MAMMALS is a wonderfully recognizable examination of the breeding generation that mixes crackling, witty dialogue with the kind of home truths only children can bring up. It speaks volumes to anyone who’s in, has been in, or will ever be in a family.

"Packed with sharply funny dialogue… Great fun"  (Time Out)

"Clever, funny  and painful in all the right ways"  (Independent)

˜˜˜˜˜ "I cannot remember when I last saw a first play so vital, so engrossing, so fully achieved, so mature"  (Sunday Times UK)
˜˜˜˜˜ "A gem. The dialogue gurgles, sparkles, fizzes with compassion, recognition and wit. Glorious.     Not to be missed"  (What’s On)


Opens on SATURDAY 2nd August at 8pm and runs until 30th August.

$20 PREVIEW     –    Friday 1st August – 8pm

$20 SUNDAY  SPECIAL     –     Sunday 3rd August – 4pm

AFTER-SHOW FORUM – Tuesday 12th August

Performance times:
Tuesday & Wednesday 6.30pm
Thursday, Friday, Saturday 8pm
Sunday 4pm

Ticket Prices:
Adults – $38;   Concessions – $30;   Friends of Circa – $28
Under 25s – $20;   Groups 6+ s- $32

BOOKINGSCirca Theatre,  1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
Phone 801 7992

Jane Hammersby:  MEL DODGE
Betty (4):  MICHELE AMAS
Jess  (6):  JANE WADDELL
Phil Denholm:  JASON WHYTE

Set Designed by JOHN HODGKINS
Lighting Design by JENNIFER LAL
Costume design by GILLIE COXILL

Stage Manager:  Eric Gardiner
Operator:  Glenn Ashworth
Sound:  Ben Sinclair, Susan Wilson
Set Construction:  Iain Cooper, John Hodgkins 
Set Finishing:  Bianca Scarlett
Costume Making:  Zoe Fox
Publicity:  Claire Treloar
Graphic Design:  Rose Miller, Toolbox Creative
Photography:  Stephen A'Court
House Manager:  Suzanne Blackburn
Box Office:  Linda Wilson 

2 hrs 20 mins, incl. interval

Complexity of human relationships captures

Review by Helen Sims 30th Aug 2008

Mammals takes a glimpse at the most ordinary but also unusual social grouping of the human species – the middle class family. Jane and Kev Hammersby have a comfortable home on the outskirts of London and 2 daughters, Jess and Betty. He works while she stays at home to care for the girls. But their seemingly happy marriage is about to be rocked and Jane in particular will be forced to re-examine the choices that have led to her current life.

The play begins with Jane preparing Jess and Betty for school. Mel Dodge plays Jane with a frantic but desperately-trying-to-keep-her-cool edge that drew both laughs and sympathy. The extent of her dissatisfaction and frustration with her stay at home Mum role is hinted at from the beginning as she grapples with her two wilful daughters. Jane Waddell as six-year-old Jess and Michelle Amas as four-year-old Betty nearly steal the show with their evocation as boisterous and competitive siblings. Jane finally gets them bundled off to school when Kev arrives home with a revelation – he’s fallen in love with his colleague. Although he insists nothing has ‘happened’ yet and that he still loves his family, the news devastates Jane. Before she can digest it fully Phil Denholm (Jason Whyte), one of Kev’s oldest friends arrives from Scotland, with his glamorous girlfriend, Lorna (Jessica Robinson) in tow. The children get added to the mix and Jane and Kev try to discuss the future of their marriage whilst trying to stay out of earshot of the girls and their guests. Phil finds out and then the tries to determine the implications of Kev’s emotional infidelity with Jane. The plot gets further tangled when Jane makes some revelations of her own which threaten the strength of all the adult relationships in the play.

The play oscillates between comedy, largely provided by the portrayal of children by adult actors and the efforts of parents to hide things from their children, and relationship drama. Although Bullmore wanted the play to swing sharply from the farcical to the tragic it sometimes feels a little contrived. As the bickering of the adults increases, they begin to look increasingly juvenile beside the children. An extreme event near the end of the play brings their problems back into perspective and provides a much needed jolt to the plot, which has begin to feel slightly stale and circular. It is a credit to the four actors playing the adults that they are able to elicit genuine sympathy from characters that are not particularly likeable. Their issues are not entirely resolved by the play’s conclusion, but it would have been forced to try to and reduced the complexity of the human relationships which the play captures.

Although detailed, the characters don’t go beyond caricature to any deeper resonance. In terms of themes they are reasonably overt – guilt, honesty, responsibility, the compulsion to tell are all present and are often given humourous reflection in the actions of the children. The actors are assisted by the realistic set, costume and lighting design. Despite the excellence of the performances I doubt whether this play would have given many in the audience much provocation to think about their own domestic relationship after they left the theatre.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.



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Children make the play

Review by Lynn Freeman 06th Aug 2008

Some of New Zealand’s most memorable and moving plays have concerned the domestic dramas of everyday Kiwis – Joyful and Triumphant, Homeland, Skin Tight.  There is immense power in the stories of people trying to do the best they can even when the odds are stacked against them.

In Mammals, British playwright Amelia Bullmore looks at two relationships in deep trouble, one a 12 year old marriage and the other a three year long ‘one night stand’.  The couples are friends, therein lies the rub.

Jane (Mel Dodge) is stuck at home with two precocious children while husband Kev (Gavin Rutherford) works largely away from home.  She’s cracking under the strain and loneliness, he’s struggling with his "irrational feelings" for a workmate. Phil (Jason Whyte) has never stuck with a woman for more than a few years but wants to hold onto his tempestuous Lorna (Jessica Robinson). 

And bringing much needed warmth and laughter to the warring factions are Jane and Kev’s kids, wee Jess (Jane Waddell) and Betty (Michele Amas), who are six and four respectively.  Jess is preoccupied with fannies and Betty with mortality, asking those big questions without regard to adult discomfort.

The children make the play, without them there would be no real heart to it and damned few laughs. Waddell and Amas couldn’t be more delightful as the girls, not overplaying the parts and clearly giving themselves over to their children within. 

The adults have a much harder time of it making us care as they fight and angst.  Bullmore sets up a series of extended one-on-one conversations which, especially in the first half, are protracted and clumsy in terms of structure.

The actors are terrific, Susan Wilson’s direction works well, the set and staging create a genuine home feel.  It’s the script which needs work here.  But even with its flaw there is much to delight in this production. 

Many heads around the audience nodded in understanding and sympathy, especially as Jane battled to control her frustration with the children, and as the kids themselves remind us how neat it was to be young and questioning of the world.


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Revealing comedy funny and sharp

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 06th Aug 2008

Jane Hammersby is married, with two young girls, 4 and 6, and living in "wheelie-bin land" of suburban London. Her husband Kev, a building safety inspector, is away a lot. One day, when Jane is at the end of her tether with the girls, Kev returns with the news that he has developed "irrational feelings" for his co-worker Fay.

On the same day Kev’s best friend, Phil, and his "three-year-old one-night stand" partner Lorna, who is a handbag designer and has a figure described as an "angle-poise lamp," arrive nine hours earlier than expected for the weekend.

Mammals, Amelia Bullmore’s sharp, funny, moving and revealing comedy about love, commitment, family life, the supposed mammalian freedoms and attractions of the bachelor life, epitomized in Phil’s philandering ways, covers territory writers have traversed so frequently over the centuries and in so many ways from tragedy to farce that one wonders if there is a new way to present the call of polygamy to those stuck fast in a monogamous relationship.

The play falters slightly towards its rather melodramatic ending but what makes Amelia Bullmore’s debut and prize-winning comedy different is that the children, Betty and Jess, are a continual presence, on stage and off, as they ask embarrassing questions about mortality, sex and hairy fannies, interrupting the adults at moments of crisis, and dominating the household with their egocentric demands.

They are played, of course, by adults. Jane Waddell is the older Jess and Michele Amas is Betty and they are both very funny and both avoid the clichés inherent in adults playing children. I shall long remember Betty announcing ‘I’m going to be shy’ as she buries her face in her mother’s lap when Phil and Lorna arrive, and Jess awkwardly prancing about in her own dream world or leaping exuberantly into her father’s arms.

All of the other actors find the exact way to mix the comedy and the drama. Mel Dodge and Gavin Rutherford as Jane and Kev can still the audience in their scenes when the stresses of their marriage are laid bare. Jessica Robinson’s Lorna is all brittleness and amusing bitchiness, while Jason Whyte’s Scottish Phil is an appealingly funny underachiever and the fight with Kev is staged with just the right amount of animal-like aggression: two unlikely stags locking horns but not doing any real damage.

A thoroughly enjoyable night at the theatre.
For more production details, click on the title at the top of this review. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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A rich mix of human frailty, strength, vulnerability and determination

Review by John Smythe 03rd Aug 2008

Once more Circa plays ‘cover band’ to a British theatre company that has made it its business to produce a new playwright’s first play, to award-winning acclaim.* In this case London’s Bush Theatre gave life to the original work (in April 2005): Mammals, by actress-turned-playwright Amelia Bullmore.

When it comes to marriage and parenthood, honesty, integrity and fairness are vital. Ideally. But in reality … Take fidelity. Physical fidelity is fundamental, no question. Likewise emotional fidelity, where it interferes with the primary relationship. And mental fidelity? The odd private fantasy? Where do we draw the line? What are we obliged to confess to our partner? And when is a good time?

"We’re mammals with hormones and urges," a character says, which points to the title. The pair-bonding instinct of the hunter-gatherer couple remains at the core of sexual relationships, especially when they have children, the wife is at home and the husband travels quite often for work. For the relatively casual couple, however, having fun but yet to fully commit … Are the ‘rules’ different for them?

These are questions that fester throughout a day and night in the outer-London home of Jane and Kev Hammersby and their daughters Betty (4) and Jess (6), when Kev’s best mate Phil and his current lover Lorna visit from Scotland. The issues are profound and not to be trifled with, which makes for an interesting challenge when it comes to playing the kids who, with their mum, open the play with the standard hassles and traumas of having breakfast and getting ready for school.

As specified by the playwright, the daughters are played by older women, almost old enough to be the mothers of the actors playing the parents. But playing it up for laughs – quite valid in Pip and Roger Hall’s Who Needs Sleep Anyway? for example – would soon pall and render the substantive play incongruous, or vice-versa.

Thankfully director Susan Wilson and her cast avoid this pitfall, ensuring the humour arises from the accurately observed behaviours Bullmore has dramatised. And it’s the children who concern themselves with the big issues – Jess (Jane Waddell) fixates on private parts and sex while Betty (Michele Amas) is preoccupied with death – leaving the fighting-for-equilibrium Jane (Mel Dodge) to handle the mind-numbing yet stress-inducing concerns of parenting and home-making.

Husband/Dad Phil (Gavin Rutherford), a building safety inspector at sea with his emotions, comes home unexpectedly from a business trip to Plymouth and lights the fuse that fizzles throughout the remainder of the day and night towards destructive explosion or a more constructive resolution (which will it be?). The progress of this central plotline is disrupted, diverted and also exacerbated by the also unexpectedly early arrival of mural-painter Phil (Jason Whyte), a thirty-something teenager, and handbag maker Lorna (Jessica Robinson) whose own emotional secrets bring into strong focus what should be said out loud or not.  

With ‘truth’ being a paramount theme, the compulsively honest in-the-moment responses of the daughters stand as a constant comparison to the adults’ more complex and devious behaviours. The exploration of the human mammal comes to a head in a superbly staged face-off between the two men.

All the actors align to an ideal performance pitch that demands we empathise with their issues while allowing us to step back and observe how bizarre the ‘ordinary’ behaviour of the human male can be.

To offer further details about each character’s idiosyncrasies and how they respond to various provocations may dilute the experience for those who go. Suffice to say it’s a rich mix of human frailty, strength, vulnerability and determination – all deliciously realised in this production.

Script-wise the entrances and exits are rather obviously contrived to suit the playwright’s wants and needs but the painfully comic substance of each successive scene quickly makes that forgivable. Except for once. I won’t reveal the details here [spoiler warning, even so:] except to ask, doesn’t everyone know that if a mammal falls 15 feet on to stone and loses consciousness, you don’t move them until a you are certain there is no spinal injury? [warning ends]

John Hodgkins’ chaotic family room set with its large picture window opening onto a back yard where surreptitious smokes are sucked is subtly lit by Jennifer Lal to trace the progress of the day. Gillie Coxill’s costume designs speak volumes without being over-stated.

It’s hard to imagine Mammals at Circa failing to connect with anyone who is – or at any time has been, or at sometime hopes to be – married with children or in a serially monogamous relationship that may or may not be ‘the one’. I could say, "Trust me," but being a fallible mammal myself I’ll resist the temptation.
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*When and where, I wonder, will British theatres pick up the award-winning plays of our playwrights – eg: Gary Henderson, Albert Beltz, Dave Armstrong, Armstrong & Oscar Kightley, Dean Parker, Ken Duncum, William Walker, Toa Fraser …to name but a few? Just asking …


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