Milo's Wake

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

22/08/2006 - 27/08/2006

Dog's Bollix Irish Pub, Auckland

11/07/2006 - 13/08/2006

Production Details

By Michael and Margery Forde
Directed by Peter Feeney

Produced by Sally Woodfield


Milo O’Connor is alive and well.

However since people only say good things about a man after he’s died, Milo’s decided to hold his own wake ahead of time. And you’re invited…  

In an Auckland Irish pub Milo gathers with family, friends, his favourite band, the Wren Buoys – and a few uninvited ghosts. But this won’t be the rousing tribute he planned…  A comedy with heart, about a first generation Irish New Zealand family, MILO’S WAKE returns to Auckland’s Dog’s Bollix Bar following a sold-out six week season in 2005.

The return Auckland season of this acclaimed show runs from 20-29 June, 11-23 July and 8-13 August as part of a tour which takes Feeney McSweeney’s production of MILO’S WAKE to Leigh, Hamilton (as part of the Fuel Festival), Kerikeri, Awakeri, Dunedin and Timaru.

Milo is a whirlwind of energy, a hilarious and charismatic bloke who has tried hard to fit into Kiwi culture and run a successful business – and now dreams of driving off into the sunset in a brand spanking new motor-home.

Milo is directed by and stars Peter Feeney (Cold Feet, Shortland St, Secret Agent Men, Amazing Extraordinary Friends, Rude Awakenings, Black Sheep) together with Peta Rutter (Street Legal, Power Rangers, Head, 4:48 Psychosis), Ashley Hawkes (Billy Liar, The Glass Menagerie) and Hannah Marshall (Amazing Extraordinary Friends). Musical director Peter Hobbs and Irish producer Conor McSweeney add their own unique edge with the eclectic and harmonious sounds of The Wren Buoys Band.

MILO’S WAKE is an award winning play from the pens of Australian playwrights Michael and Margery Forde. Last year was the first time ever that the production was performed in a pub and it proved an enormous crowd pleaser – a perfect place to hear the songs, stories and sentiments of MILO’S WAKE – with a drink or two along the way.

Peter Feeney
Peta Rutter
Ashley Hawkes
Hannah Marshall

Jo Taylor and Francis Hunt

Dog's Bollix Bar
20-29 June,
11-23 July,
8-13 August
Tues-Thurs 7pm, Sat & Sun 3pm

Meteor Theatre
30 June & 1 July

Awakeri Events Centre
27 - 29 July SOLD OUT

The Centre
4 & 5 August

The Landing Services Building
17 August

The Gaiety
18 August

Fortune Theatre
22-27 August  

Theatre ,

- also on tour (click on title above for details)

Infectious jollity, spellbinding tragedy

Review by Terry MacTavish 30th Aug 2006

Once I had a golden-haired Irish friend who had married her childhood sweetheart. When I asked her, in the feminist 70s, why, though charming, he regarded her life as completely subordinate to his, and never lifted a finger to help her, she would shrug, "He’s Irish." As if that answered all. And perhaps it does. But it still exasperates me as I realise I am about to type "long-suffering wife" yet again. It’s a fine line between classic and cliché.

For this play is all about Irish immigrant made good, Milo O’Connor, bursting with hubris, riding roughshod over his family as he makes the age-old journey to cathartic self-realisation. He is holding his own wake (though I bet it was the wife who prepared the repast), ostensibly to hear the tributes normally paid to a corpse, but also to announce his retirement. Inevitably and inexorably his tragic secret is revealed, and through the loving strength of said long-suffering wife, Milo faces himself and his redemption can begin.

There’s no denying the Irish know how to party, and it would be a churlish theatre-goer who was not swept up in the buoyant mood created from the moment Milo pops out of his coffin, complete with booze and travel-pillow. The Dunedin audience certainly found him irresistible.

Milo’s Wake is usually performed in a pub, which would provide, as well as mandatory Guinness, the perfect ambience for a play that requires the audience to join in singing sentimental Irish songs. Dicey O’Reilly’s would surely have welcomed this rollicking show, but the Hutchinson Studio makes a good understudy, thanks to the energy of the actors and on-stage presence of the wonderful Wren Buoys. For of course, we were the guests at Milo’s wake. Drinks were offered round, spurious "friends" were greeted noisily, and it didn’t seem too embarrassing to bellow, "Come on, Eileen!" with the rest.

There are pitfalls to involving your audience, however: it can be hard to shut them up when the atmosphere darkens.  On the night I went, during a most poignant pause, an over-enthusiastic patron yelled, "Just leave him!"and when Milo tried to get us keening, some responded with a repeat chorus of "For he’s a jolly good fellow". A few beads short of a rosary, indeed.

The actors were up to the challenge though; the potentially awkward change of tone was carried off confidently, and the audience that had initially been hooked by jokes and infectious jollity were eventually spellbound by unfolding tragedy.

Peter Feeney as Milo displays all the infuriating charismatic charm of the wild Irish boyo. The role demands extraordinary energy and commitment, and Feeney gives it his all, leaping manically around the stage, roaring into song, sentiment or abuse, and re-engaging us with vulnerability after sickening us with cruelty.

Peta Rutter makes of the long-suffering one far more than a doormat. She gives Maura Eileen a quiet strength and watchful compassion that becomes intensely touching, and she too has her moments of glad revelry. Her dancing in particular is a delight. Perhaps one day someone will write Maura’s story.

Ned, the Kiwi son, played by Ashley Hawkes, initially appears somewhat wet in comparison with his charismatic father, but succeeds in capturing our sympathy, while his very engaging fiancé Brooke (chrysanthemum-haired Hannah Marshall) charmed with no apparent effort at all. She has a mean right-hook too.

The success of the evening, though, was ensured for me by the magic of the musicians, Jo Taylor and Francis Hunt, with their fascinating range of traditional instruments. I liked also the amusement and gentle sincerity with which they watched the story unfold.

The cast liked us too. "You were afraid there’d be a bunch of boring old farts here, but look, the place is packed with crazy funsters!" Bet they don’t say that to all the audiences.


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'Corpse' generates mirth and exhumes demons

Review by Nik Smythe 25th Jul 2006

If you don’t normally read play reviews, maybe find them over wordy and a bit of a wank, then perhaps you won’t read all of this.  But do go and see Milo’s Wake, you’ll love it.  Thought I should mention that first off.

In the words of co-playwright Margery Forde:  "Plays are not written in isolation.  They are a blueprint for a hopefully living, breathing three dimensional event involving a whole barrage of people – directors, designers, actors, musicians, stage management and so on." Strangely, though, she hasn’t mentioned the audience. 

Everyone at Milo’s wake is in Milo’s Wake, and tracking the unfolding story in Milo’s wake (it might make more sense after a coupla Guinnesses!)  We’re old family friends, distant relatives and folks who’ve had their home cladding done by that unforgettable old paddy, Milo O’Connor.  And here we all are at our favourite local, to pay our final respects to the man at this most unique of wakes; unique in that Milo isn’t dead yet …Or is he?  I don’t mean to imply that there is any supernatural intrigue here, eerie and enchanting tales of faeries and changelings and dancing leprechauns notwithstanding, but the more serious questions raised during this hilarious function include matters of integrity, morality and quality of life. 

Milo (Peter Feeney) is throwing himself a premature wake in the hope that he may hear a kind word said about him from this side of the grave.  And he’ll be the first to tell you the myriad accomplishments he has achieved to earn them.

Irish must certainly be in the top five of cultures that most effectively wear their hearts on their sleeves.  Milo’s Wake is here and now, warts and all, plus a few old (and young) skeletons in the closet just waiting to be brought out to show to the guests.  For the supposed deceased one, Milo is the life of the party: "…if you’ve heard this one before, don’t stop me ’cause I’d like to hear it again."  He throws his weight around on everyone with classic brutish charm, and half the time they (we) love him for it.

The quintessential better half, Milo’s dear wife Maura, is beautifully portrayed by Peta Rutter with wry long-suffering wit underscored with Celtic passion and kiwi melancholy.  Anyone would feel lucky to have Maura for a relative, she’s all faith and principles and, above all, love.  Clearly the backbone of sanity in the family.

Enter their son Ned (Ashley Hawkes), eldest of two . Sadly his younger brother, Aidan, has since passed on.  Hawkes’ authentically awkward turn delivers a striking contrast to the cultural Irish personality (Ned was born here).  Loyal to his family, he’s typically standoffish but doesn’t take too much prodding to rise to the occasion.  He’s brought his girlfriend, classy but down to earth publicist Brooke (Hannah Marshall), and they have a little announcement of their own to make …

As for the music, the Wren Buoys – Jo and Francis (Jo Taylor and Francis Hunt) – are simply grand, rolling out barrels of Irish music old and very old, with soulfulness and skill, using the gamut of traditional instruments.  Of course the production would have been noticeably lacking without the traditional Irish musicians at the traditional Irish wake.  Even so, there’s something about a live score that helps me to absorb myself into a piece of theatre more fully.  Taylor’s voice in particular, already famous in the Dog’s Bollix, is most welcome in this sidesplittingly sombre event.

Acknowledgment is also due to Sally Woodfield, producer, and special mention must also go to Conor McSweeney, for three reasons: 1) he co-founded the Dog’s Bollix, 2) he co-founded Feeney McSweeney (with Feeney) to launch the original run of Milo’s wake in 2005, and 3) he coached Feeney and Rutter on their Irish accents, which are totally convincing.

Teaming an Irish pub up with a professional Auckland theatre production is the cleverest cross-cultural match since Metallica got a classical orchestra for a backing band.  Ultimately, everything in Milo’s Wake is very much alive, from the people to their demons to the stories and songs.  As a guest I was honoured to be a natural part of it – I didn’t know him personally, but I could almost recall him doin’ me claddin’.

There’s so much I’d love to rave on about but it’s one of those ones where it might spoil it a bit if I give away too much story.  This colourful family is really best revealed in their own way, so like I said at the start, just go.

[To see further dates & venues, return to the top and click on the title.]


John Smythe July 29th, 2006

In this case, yes - the audience is a living, breathing part of the show. Unlike a Theatresports audience, however, they do not affect the story's progression or outcome.

Hugh Bridge July 29th, 2006

"Plays are ... a blueprint for a hopefully living, breathing three dimensional event ..." This should not need stating by a 'playwright'. Mind you, my dictionary says a 'wright' is a maker or builder rather than the drawer of 'blueprints'. So Forde is right to acknowledge the role of all theatre practioners in wrighting a production. But is Nik right in claiming a role for the audience in the creation process?

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