Midnight in Moscow

Court One, Christchurch

19/02/2011 - 21/03/2011

Production Details

Love, Spies and Lies at The Court Theatre

The Court Theatre presents the world première of Dean Parker’s new play MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW, a drama that follows a group of New Zealanders working in the NZ Embassy in Moscow in 1947, who must question their loyalty to self, loyalty to friends and loyalty to country when suspicion arises that someone is leaking classified information.

Director Ross Gumbley considers MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW as “one of the classiest New Zealand scripts to appear in a long time. Parker’s play tells the story of New Zealand’s role in the Soviet Union’s acquisition of secrets that led to the construction of Russia’s first nuclear bomb. Add to that an inspired portrait of Boris Pasternak, author of ‘Doctor Zhivago and you have a thoroughly engaging and complete play.” 

Parker drew on several works researching his play, including James McNeish’s biography of Paddy Costello, The Sixth Man.  It was claimed that Costello – an outstanding New Zealand diplomat and best friend of writer Dan Davin – was a Soviet spy. Parker noted among his own friends “it was only the blokes who carried on about whether or not he was a spy. Women had a much more honest and personal view of what constituted treachery.” 

Several real individuals are referenced: Pasternak appears in the play (played by Stephen Papps) and the character of June Temm, head of the New Zealand Ligation, is inspired by Jean McKenzie, the first woman to head a New Zealand diplomatic mission. Renowned actress Darien Takle returns to The Court after two decades to play the role of Temm. 

While MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW is a provocative look at New Zealand’s role during a key time in international politics, Parker stresses that it is “an imagined piece set in an actual time” and at its core is an examination of the proposal, “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”

Venue: Court One, The Court Theatre, Christchurch

Production Dates: February 19 – March 19 2011
Performances: 6pm Monday / Thursday; 7:30pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (no show Sundays).
Tickets: $46 Adults, $39 Seniors, $27 Students, $27 School Children (Group discounts available). $30 matinee 2pm Saturday 26 February.
Bookings: The Court Theatre, 20 Worcester Boulevard; 963 0870 or www.courttheatre.org.nz  

Dean Parker wrote BAGHDAD, BABY! (set in occupied Iraq) and THE PERFUMED GARDEN (examining five failed invasions of Afghanistan through history) and has a penchant for blending political themes with crackling dialogue and believable characters.

Darien Takle has enjoyed an international career on stage, film and screen, and is probably best known internationally for her role as Xena’s mother Cyrene in the popular 1990s fantasy series XENA WARRIOR PRINCESS. She won a New Zealand Film Award for her role in the 2007 feature film CHRISTMAS. 

Cast: Kathleen Burns, Claire Dougan. Georgia-Kate Heard, Jonathan Martin, Stephen Papps, Jon Pheloung and Darien Takle

Parker succeeds with thought-provoking play

Review by Alan Scott 21st Feb 2011

Midnight in Moscow is a new play from Dean Parker; one of his best. What gives it such force is his seamless interweaving of an intriguing plot and interesting personal stories with the politics of one of the great debates of the twentieth century. 

The highlight of the play for me was the argument between Boris Pasternak and a New Zealand diplomat, which reminded me ever so much of a scene from a Ken Loach film, and I can’t pay a bigger complement than that. 

Set in 1947, inside the New Zealand Legation in Moscow, it concerns the public and private lives of the legation staff. While communism might well be “the god that failed,” it’s not that clear to one of its disciples, a staff member, who is busy passing on information. 

The unstated irony running through the play is that while the diplomat is betraying his country for the greater cause of the class struggle, Stalin is betraying the class struggle for the sake of the country.

At the same time, those who are playing it straight are betraying their wives and lovers. Indeed, personal treachery is to the fore and it all makes for a fascinating play. 

A very strong Court cast complements the very strong writing. Stalwarts Jonathan Martin, Clare Dougan and Jon Pheloung invest their characters with an easy believability, while squeezing every ounce of meaning out of their lines.

Stephen Papps and Darien Takle are both insightful and forceful in their portrayals. Kathleen Burns holds her own as the young student and Georgia Kate-Heard, as Pasternak’s lover, is strongly convincing. 

Add to the mix lots of humour throughout the play, and you have an entertaining and thought provoking production. 
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. 


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Lunches, hunches, romance and an occasional whiff of ‘home’

Review by Lindsay Clark 20th Feb 2011

Espionage has not figured too often as the raw material of New Zealand drama, but undeniably it furnishes some rich ingredients. The tensions of betrayal fuel Dean Parker’s new play all the way, as a fascinating contrast to the relaxed sociable world of New Zealand Legation in post war Moscow, 1947. 

The play is, as he explains in the programme notes, “totally made-up,” but woven from threads and snippets of true characters and happenings. Sensitivity to Russian interests in developing atomic weapons, Stalin’s iron rule, Boris Pasternak’s noble preoccupations are part of the fabric of the play.  

Inspiration for the warmly hospitable head of the Legation came from real- life June Mc Kenzie, the first New Zealand woman to hold such a post. Mostly, however, the characters are Parker’s own, crafted by his active imagination and cleverly applied to the time and place. 

Framed by reflective musings from Kit Lovell Smith, the laid back diplomat at the centre of it all, the play takes a while to find its momentum. Once characters take shape and find their distinctive voices, an engaging and often highly entertaining insight into life at the embassy emerges, sustained as it is by lunches and hunches, romance and an occasional whiff of ‘home’. The suspicion of a leaked file hovers in the background but it is betrayal on a personal level which really sets the pace.

Director Ross Gumbley wisely steers his course away from the ideological and into the human complications generated by the sociable June Temm (the McKenzie character) and her staff. There is a niece as well, studying engineering no less, and a glimpse of the Pasternak household. Ample material for cover-ups / diplomacy of varying significance arise as keeping up appearances motivates every move. For the audience this means ongoing interest and entertainment.

The embassy itself is a comfortable cocoon in Tony Geddes’s set, the Russian connection heightened and lightened by sound design from Josh Major. With ‘telltale’ costume from Emily Thomas and effective lighting from Brendan Albrey the world of the play is in good hands.

The hands of course belong to a team of accomplished actors and each adds a strong note to the play. (In fact breaking into song seems to have been part of diplomatic culture at the time, to the delight of this audience.) Each relates also to the general theme of personal if not political betrayal. 

June Temm, played with warmth and insight by Darien Takle is both arch diplomat and, at a personal level, betrayed by her closest team member. Without giving too much away, Jon Pheloung’s sophisticated Kit Lovell Smith is himself betrayed by his own conscience. 

Jonathan Martin and Claire Dougan, as Hugh and Sophie Toomey, both turn in well tuned performances and Kathleen Burns, as niece Madeline Corless, does a great line in dewy enthusiasm. 

The real Russians, Boris Pasternak and his young companion Olga Ivinskya played by Stephen Papps and Georgia-Kate Heard, add colour and a convincing reminder of other realities beyond the cosy Legation.  

With its thoughtful undertones about delusion, life (“not a stroll through the fields,” writes Pasternak) and political theory, the play manages to freshen our acquaintance with the convoluted ways of diplomacy. This production gives us cause to ponder as well as smile. Bravo! 
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. 


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