Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

25/02/2014 - 08/03/2014

Production Details


Theatre of Love proudly presents the Auckland premiere of Mo and Jess Kill Susie; a volatile, psychological hostage thriller by 2013 Playmarket Award recipient Gary Henderson.

In the claustrophobic basement of an empty building, two armed Maori women wait with their bound, gagged and unconscious captive. The hostage, a Pakeha policewoman, is the trump card in a dramatic showdown between police and Maori protestors; her captors await orders on how to deal with their victim….  But as the night tightens around them and there’s no word, the women are forced to not only confront each other, but themselves.

Gary Henderson (Skin Tight) is a local playwright with an international reputation. Mo and Jess Kill Susie won the 1996 Chapman Tripp Award for Best New Short Play, and has been produced in Canada and Europe, but overlooked in its home country, perhaps because its treatment of Maori activism and female violence were, and still are, so confronting. 

Henderson describes audience reaction to the play: “People would come out looking quite shocked, almost pale. Mo and Jess wasn’t performed again for a long time.” (Twenty New Zealand Playwrights

Eighteen years later, the Auckland premiere of Mo and Jess Kill Susie at The Basement Theatre is directed by Short+Sweet 2013 James Wallace Trust Emerging Artist Award recipient Matt Baker, who says “Gary’s writing is like a poetic equation, it successfully stands by itself on the page.” 

Featuring The Actors’ Program inaugural graduate Jess Sayer (Elevator, Wings) as Mo, Chapman Tripp award-winning actress Darlene Mohekey as Jess and Manchester University and London Drama Studio trained British actress Sheena Irving as Susie, with set, props, and costumes by designer and playwright Ben Anderson (Just Above the Clouds), and an original soundtrack from musician and audio engineer Ora Simpson.

Aucklanders will be hooked by Henderson’s exceptional savage, poetic and powerful writing, and the compelling, pulse-racing storytelling in this Reservoir Dogs meets Waiting for Godot cross.  

Following Mo and Jess Kill Susie, Theatre of Love is equally delighted to continue to throw the spotlight on Gary Henderson’s work by bringing beguiling mystery An Unseasonable Fall of Snow to The Basement in July.

Mo and Jess Kill Susie plays 
Tuesday 25 February until Saturday 8 March (no shows Sunday/Monday), 6:30pm at The Basement Theatre
Tickets $18 / $22 from

Presented by Theatre of Love (
By arrangement with Playmarket

Theatre ,

Absolutely believable

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 26th Feb 2014

Graphic and shocking in tone, dialogue, content and delivery, Gary Henderson’s Mo & Jess Kill Susie has lost none of its relevance and intensity. This Theatre of Love production comes 18 years after it premiered in 1996. 

It is set in a dirty room, where two disaffected angry women are holding a female police officer they have kidnapped as their hostage. Director Matt Baker ensures everyone’s stress levels are peaking from the start, with a forceful first frame with strobe lighting and an extremely loud wall of noise.

As the two kidnappers confide and unleash their back-stories, we are confronted with primal issues of hate, emotional scaring, intense loneliness, and desperation.  

While there are references to racial turbulence, revenge and extreme poverty as reasons for the kidnapping, Henderson is intentionally hazy on the details of the actual protest that has lead to the hostage situation before us. Ultimately, the vagueness helps to make the true intentions of the work more powerful. His script is unrelenting as he reveals the bleak pain that has driven young Mo (Jess Sayer) and mother of three, Jess (Darlene Mohekey) to the point that they are ready to kill.

In the hands of two actors who did not possess great depth in their delivery and characterization, the audience would feel no empathy or care towards them or the play’s purpose. Thankfully both women bring not only depth but also absolutely believability to their performances.

As the seemingly hard, detached and loveless Mo, who can only see the hostage as a ‘symbol’ not a person, Sayer reveals the causes of her hate with aching and increasingly affecting honesty. Mohekey balances a mother’s instinct with her inner-demons with total believability. With the addition of Baker’s detailed direction, the duo finds moments of stillness and restraint to intensify the narrative. 

Victim Susie (Sheena Irving) rises to the challenge of making a meaningful connection with the audience, even though she is blindfolded throughout the drama. Her scene with Jess, as she accuses her of carrying out this misguided mission based on a warped notion of atonement, is particularly strong. 

In support of these superb performances, Sam Mence’s lighting design uses shadow well to depict the passing of time and cramped surroundings; Sound design by Ora Simpson is suitably piercing and unsettling, and production design by Ben Anderson is an appropriate unwelcoming bloodied mess. 

While the audience is lead to believe through the title of the play that the outcome is a foregone conclusion, the twisted end is as violent and it is shocking. Having experienced this play, it would take a very cold, closed-minded person to not think about how a perpetrator’s life experience might have brought them to the moment when they feel righteous in their offending, next time such a violent situation hits the headlines. 

Therefore, while it’s not for the faint hearted, Mo & Jess Kill Susie is well worth the journey to the Basement Studio.


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