Lower NZI, Level 1, Aotea Centre, Auckland

15/04/2013 - 04/05/2013

Production Details

Robyn Malcolm (AGENT ANNA, OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE) returns to the stage to star in Auckland Theatre Company’s stylish and captivating production of MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW, a new play by award-winning Auckland playwright Dean Parker, which previews on Monday 15 April, 8pm [relocated to the Lower NZI Room at the Aotea Centre following the fire which has temporarily closed the Maidment Theatre]. 

“Seamless interweaving of an intriguing plot and interesting personal stories… Entertaining and thought-provoking.” – The Press 

Moscow, 1947. Love. Lies. Spies.  

The New Zealand embassy becomes embroiled in intrigue when rumours emerge that there is a spy in their midst. Loyalties to self, each other and country are tested as suspicion swirls around a group of Kiwis a world away from home.

Part spy thriller, part comedy of manners, part political debate, MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW is a fascinating, cleverly-crafted, and entertaining exploration of betrayal, set at a turning point in the history of the 20th century.

“An engaging and often highly entertaining insight into life at the embassy… Bravo!” – Theatreview 

Dean Parker is a screenwriter, playwright, journalist and political commentator based in Auckland. Winner of the inaugural Playmarket Award in 2012,  his plays include TIGERS OF WRATH, BAGHDAD, BABY!, THE MAN THAT LOVELOCK COULDN’T BEAT, SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM, and adaptations of GREAT EXPECTATIONS, THE TRIAL and THE HOLLOW MEN.

Parker has won awards for his screenwriting including for co-writing the successful big-screen comedy CAME A HOT FRIDAY, adapted from the novel by Ronald Hugh Morrieson.

His television work includes the Welsh-Kiwi rugby tale OLD SCORES, which Parker co-wrote with Greg McGee. With McGee he co-created the ’80s trucking series ROCHE, and the gold mining drama GOLD. He also worked on episodes of police drama MORTIMER’S PATCH and BETTY’S BUNCH.

Parker’s plays provoke and entertain audiences while examining New Zealand’s political history and the political perspective of individuals. In 1988 he wrote; “I would describe myself as a class-conscious writer. I’m with Lenin. I’m for the working class seizing control of the wealth it creates, for the replacement of parliament, the army, the police, the judiciary – all those deadly manacles of state control – with workers’ committees and militias, and all this done as part of a world-wide struggle.” He has written plays set on a factory shop floor, within the National Party caucus, war-ravaged Baghdad, the New Zealand Legation in Moscow, and the story of Robert Muldoon.

“Its premiere production at Christchurch’s Court Theatre lasted only two performances before its season was cut short by the February 22nd earthquake, so it’s our great pleasure to be able to include it as one of the highlights in our 2013 season.” says director, Colin McColl.

Stylish and captivating, this new play from Dean Parker presents a side of New Zealand seldom seen on stage.

15 April – 04 May
Lower NZI Room, Aotea Centre, Auckland 
Tickets can be purchased from Maidment Theatre, 308 2383 or www.atc.co.nz

Robyn Malcolm
Carl Bland
Adam Gardiner
Hera Dunleavy
Sophie Hambleton
Phil Grieve
Elena Stejko

John Parker – Set Designer
Nic Smillie – Costume Designer
Phillip Dexter MSc – Lighting Designer 

Reds in your Head

Review by James Wenley 24th Apr 2013

Since his stage debut in 1974, New Zealand playwright Dean Parker, who last year was awarded the inaugural Playmarket award for making a a significant artistic contribution to theatre in New Zealand, has been a consistent voice from the left worldview.  His last work staged in Auckland was The Hollow Men in 2008, the farcical doco-theatre adaption of Nicky Hagar’s political study into the Brash years of the National Party.

Midnight in Moscow represents the first time Auckland Theatre Company has programmed one of Parker’s works. The smoky Russian locale and intrigue of spies and lies, with a mole suspected within the New Zealand embassy in 1947, have been emphasized in this production and are appealing. But more than this, the play is a cerebral treatise on one of the most significant forces of the 20th Century: Communism, and its corruption. 

The immediate impression of the New Zealand embassy in Moscow is akin to a Gliding On for diplomats. [More]  


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Resoundingly good

Review by Gilbert Wong 19th Apr 2013

As a theatre the NZI Room at the Aotea Centre is a good function space. The seats are plastic and unyielding; the walls are resolutely grey and beige. More Powerpoints than any sane person could possibly bear have been delivered in these confines.

So it is more than a minor miracle that the people at the Edge and the Auckland Theatre Company production and creative crew have managed to resurrect a resoundingly good piece of theatre after fire left the Maidment Theatre, the original venue, out of action. There’s even a revolving set, which for my money, always adds to the satisfaction of the best theatre as a piece of fine watchmaking.

Playwright Dean Parker has often focussed on social justice and a view from the left. And certainly the story, the possibility that spies were at work in the New Zealand embassy in Moscow in 1947, features in microcosm the great struggle between capitalism and communism in the early days of the Cold War. [More


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Thought-provoking intrigue with laughter and song played with aplomb

Review by Heidi North 19th Apr 2013

Midnight in Moscow is a new play from Dean Parker. Set in 1947, inside the New Zealand Legation in Moscow, 30 years after the Bolshevik revolution it revolves around the public and private lives of the legation staff. The play contrasts the relaxed sociable world inside the Legation, where no-one seems to do much except eat and drink, with the pressured political world of Soviet Russia just beyond their walls. 

This makes the violations within the walls of this supposed sanctuary – as the embassy becomes embroiled in intrigues when it is revealed that they have a spy in their midst – even more treacherous, and it heightens the tension of the play’s central question. What constitutes the deepest treachery: betrayal of your country or your friends? 

Parker skilfully interweaves this debate into a lively and at times very funny work. He never lets us forget, however, that at every turn, betrayal simmers just below the surface. This creates a wonderful tension in the play, as layers peel back and the relationships between the characters are revealed.  

The central character of June Tumm (Robyn Malcom), while being “totally made up”, is lovingly based on Jean McKenzie, the first woman to head an overseas New Zealand diplomatic post. From the moment we meet June, lying on her couch wearing a silk dressing gown and desperate with a hangover, we adore her. “What time is it?” she asks, “10 o’clock”, Kit, her right- hand-man (a delightful performance by Carl Bland) replies. “Which 10 o’clock?” Robyn Malcolm gives a stunning portrayal of this woman who, while being rather generous with the scotch, is an astute political player. She is the sun around which the play revolves.

The rest of the accomplished cast also turn in excellent performances. On the New Zealand team we have the hapless Hugh (Adam Gardiner), his innocent, poetic wife Sophie (Hera Dunleavy) and June’s niece Madeline (Sophie Hambleton, who does a great line in youthful enthusiasm for engineering).

This party is offset by the two Russians, Boris Pasternak (Phil Grieve, a hilarious drunk) and his beautiful mistress Olga (played with just the right amount of desperation by Elena Stejko).

As a production, Midnight in Moscow has faced many setbacks, closing two days after its premiere season in Christchurch after the 2011 earthquake, then facing a fire in the Maidment theatre days before its opening in Auckland. It is a credit to the production that the old adage  “the show must go on” rings true, with the play opening only four days later, relocated from the Maidment to what is normally a conference room in the Aotea centre with no hint from the cast of the behind the scenes disruption.

Designer John Parker (set) and Phillip Dexter (lighting) have done a wonderful job with the space not their own; the revolving set flows well, and the deep red velvet curtains evoke a rich sense of time and place in Moscow, despite our barely leaving this cocooned room.

It’s not so much about ‘who will betray whom?’ in the end, as what this treachery will do to the players. “Life is not a stroll through the fields,” writes Pasternak. Or is it? We are asked to test this assumption.

Lots of laughs throughout, a dash of singing, and a well-tuned cast all seek to lighten the tone of what could be a dark subject, making Midnight in Moscow an entertaining and thought-provoking work performed with aplomb.


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From Russia with Kiwi wit, sophistication, intelligence and erudition

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 19th Apr 2013

With John Key’s stewardship of the GCSB, farce might be the appropriate form for a Kiwi spy story. But in the hands of playwright Dean Parker the intrigues swirling around New Zealand’s Moscow Embassy in 1947 provide the raw material for a sophisticated, entertaining and intelligent piece of theatre. 

Although the story is fictional, the characters are based on real people and Parker’s easy familiarity with the bewildering cross-currents of Soviet politics gives the drama an utterly convincing ring of authenticity.

Embassy life in the post-war era is shown to be cultured, dissolute and frequently inebriated. The urbane environment stands in stark contrast to droll recollections of New Zealand and the ironic distance between the two worlds provide some wonderful moments of humour. [More


Matt Baker May 9th, 2013

Ah, right. It sounded like you meant critics in general. Thanks for clarifying. I couldn't agree more, by the way - on both accounts.

Dean Parker May 8th, 2013

I was comparing writers who've made up their minds before the curtain goes up on their play and critics who have. The first half of that is metaphorical, the latter literal.  

Matt Baker May 8th, 2013

Hi Dean,

I'm genuinely curious, in regards to your comment "...there's one thing worse than writers who've made up their mind before the curtain rises, and that's critics...", does that place critics at the bottom of some sort of sliding scale of theatregoers? Or is there something worse than a critic in your opinion?

Editor May 4th, 2013

Dean Parker's MayDay piece in The Herald: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10880726

Dean Parker April 26th, 2013

I've deleted my reply.

Paul Simei-Barton April 26th, 2013

If you really want to believe that expressing an opinion on your work constitutes giving advice on how to write then I’m guessing it won’t help to say that is not my intention. Like wise with ‘stepping back’ – I thought I’d been quite consistent. Yes - in my opinion (and only in my opinion) the play presents an apology for Stalinism. – I understand from your comments this was not your intention.

If a viewers response to work of art is at odds with there artist’s intentions there are 3 possibilities;

1 – the viewer’s perception was faulty

2 – The form of the work did not make the artist’s intentions clear

3 – Some combination of 1 & 2

With theatre this is further complicated as viewers are responding to the director’s and actor’s interpretation of the script.

You seem determined to prove that my interpretation of the play was false. Maybe it was - but artists don’t get to control how viewers respond to their work.  (that would be Stalinism).  People have been arguing for hundreds of years over the meaning of Hamlet and the debate wouldn’t end if we discovered a document stating the writer’s intention. In the end I can only write about my own personal experience of the play and you are free to dismiss this as you see fit.

The fact that a work can be interpreted in many different ways is usually welcomed as an indication of the work’s complexity – it does not imply any criticism of the writer.   

dragqueen April 24th, 2013

Best take down of a critic I've read in a while. Thanks Dean, it's nice to see a writer being able to defend themself.

Dean Parker April 23rd, 2013

I’ve just read this.

Having first of all accused me (rightly) of failing to write a spy caper and then of "rehashing standard left-wing apologetics for Stalinist totalitarianism", the Herald’s theatre critic popped up again to take a cautious step back, while at the same time giving me advice on how to write.  He still seemed to be claiming I was, one way or another, an apologist for Stalinism. This failing was the basis of his writing advice to me.

Now, presented with evidence contradicting him, he seems to be disappearing behind “a thousand and one other factors that could have contributed to my impression,” but stands (vaguely) by his claims.

Simply put, his impression was false and I have presented the evidence.

I note he writes at the beginning of his latest response, “I can't see the point of getting into this debate as all we are talking about is my personal response to a complex and multi-layered work of art.” No we’re not. We’re talking about whether it’s the writer who’s made up his mind before the curtain rises -- or the critic.

Paul Simei-Barton April 23rd, 2013

I can’t see the point of getting into this debate as all we are talking about is my personal response to a complex and multi-layered work of art. But as I’m being accused of insanity I better say something.  My impression on the night was that, taken as a whole, the play’s discussion of the Soviet system was weighted towards a justification of Stalinism based on the old end-justifies-the-means arguments.  There are a thousand-and-one factors that could have contributed to this impression include the way the characters present themselves and the writer’s programme notes. Obviously my own state of mind is also a factor and I’m happy to admit that I found the justifications for Soviet totalitarianism to be morally bankrupt – but  it  is impossible to respond to a work of art in a way that is not  subjective.

In the end if you are convinced there is absolutely nothing in the script that could have given rise to my response then you’ll just have to conclude that one insane critic was incapable of properly appreciating the play.  For my part I stand by my opinions including my view that the play was ‘sophisticated, entertaining and intelligent’

Dean Parker April 21st, 2013

>> The way the political material was presented seemed to me to be polemical rather than dialectical. The justifications for Stalinism were lengthy, articulate and a bit repetitive while the criticism of Stalin presented by Pastenak seemed to represent the voice of head-in-the clouds artist who could not understand the importance of electricity and with the Robyn Malcolm character her worries about the police state seemed primarily motivated by a fear of offending the Americans.  I thought the drama might have been richer, more complex and more dramatically satisfying if at least one character had shown some empathy with the victims of Stalinist terror.<<

I’ve written elsewhere that there’s one thing worse than writers who’ve made up their mind before the curtain rises, and that’s critics.

What is the evidence we have before us? Let us look at the play proper rather than the vague recollections of the Herald’s troubled critic: 

... JUNE:  Please! I feel I constantly have to remind you all that we are living in a police state. Everywhere we go or gather there are listeners and listening devices, reports and recordings. There have been diplomats in Moscow who have walked out into the streets and simply disappeared. I do not want any of you to be one of them….

... BORIS:  You see the house in the distance? Through the clearing? That was Babel’s. You know his work? Of course. Well that was where Stalin had him arrested. May, 1939. “Counter-revolutionary activities.” His execution a crime against all humanity… Mr Toomey, this country has only two dangers. Writing. And conversation. Puts me in a vulnerable position. You know the first thing one should find out about those who worm their way into your favour? Whether they’re Party members…

... OLGA:  …He thinks Stalin will call for him one day. That Stalin will want to talk to him about life and death. The only death Stalin will want to talk about is Pasternak’s! Soon Stalin will come for Pasternak. And for me. We will disappear….

... JUNE:  Sophie, we are stationed in the capital of communism. It’s not sane at all. Quite the opposite. It’s insane. Why can people not admit the obvious? No matter how you detail it to them, no matter what you point to it seems to be either disbelieved or explained away with various rationalisations. It is not a noble idea put into practice. It is appalling in its inhumanity and consequences. Its people are poor, their dwellings are crowded, there are rumours of vast political prison camps... How do you think that canal was built that Madeleine talked about.

SOPHIE:  Look, I know Russia has its problems—

JUNE:  Problems? It’s drab and fraudulent... 

The Herald’s critic’s claim that “the Robyn Malcolm character” [June] had  “worries about the [Soviet] police state [that] seemed primarily motivated by a fear of offending the Americans“ – well,  fuck me, sport, where on earth does this come from? The play’s been published, the script’s in the public domain -- where’s the evidence for this insanity? Why on earth are you making this up? 

Paul Simei-Barton April 21st, 2013

I guess reviews can be misinterpreted like any other piece of writing but for the record I did not intend to suggest the play should have been a one dimensional spy thriller, or that the speeches defending Stalin should have been excluded, or that audiences cannot handle complexity.  If I wasn’t limited to 300 words I might have made this clearer by writing something like this:

In my opinion as a viewer there was a problem with the way the different elements in the play were balanced.  It seemed to me that spy thriller with its engaging reflections on the nature of betrayal was sometimes neglected in favour of some political reflections that I found a good deal less interesting. The way the political material was presented seemed to me to be polemical rather than dialectical. The justifications for Stalinism were lengthy, articulate and a bit repetitive while the criticism of Stalin presented by Pastenak seemed to represent the voice of head-in-the clouds artist who could not understand the importance of electricity and with the Robyn Malcolm character her worries about the police state seemed primarily motivated by a fear of offending the Americans.  I thought the drama might have been richer, more complex and more dramatically satisfying if at least one character had shown some empathy with the victims of Stalinist terror.

I think the original review made it clear that these reservations did not me prevent from enjoying the play and admiring the quality of the writing. Finally I would emphasise that these opinions are not intended as a prescription on how the play should have been written – they are simply offered as a viewer’s response to the way the play was written. 

Michael Smythe April 19th, 2013

The Herald reviewer seems to suggest we (the audience) can only cope with a single theme. The 'who's the spy' question was just one of many questions and issues raised in a beautifully layered evocation of a bygone era. Like a Walters work each moved from foreground to background - creating something much richer than black and white distinctions. The Herald reviewer needs to know that we (the audience) had no difficulty following and appreciating each interwoven subplot.

The Mikado strand brilliantly subverted our expectation of an irrrelevant but jolly little sidebar ...

Dean Parker April 19th, 2013

I do wonder if a perception of what to expect of theatre in New Zealand has shifted over the years away from the serious.

The NZ Herald's critic says of the Auckland Theatre Company’s Midnight In Moscow, “The central spy thriller… sometimes feels neglected in favour of political discourse.” If Paul Simei-Barton wants a spy caper, go to the movies.

I see he further claims, “considerable effort is expended on a rehash of the standard left-wing apologetics for Stalinist totalitarianism.” Hey, give us a break! Does he expect anything different? The characters stand on either side of the onset of the Cold War!

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