My Dad's Boy

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

11/02/2017 - 04/03/2017

Production Details

Peter used to play for Otago and in 1985, despite a loss to the Lions in the House of Pain he came close to joining David Kirk’s All Blacks. Honest! Life hasn’t really been as simple since. His son is a chip off the old block in a 2017 kind of way. While he’s writing this play about his Dad he finds out his girlfriend is pregnant. Men, their myths and realities fuel this richly honest kiwi comedy, opening at Fortune on February 11th.


Me: Alex Wilson
Dad: Greg Johnson
Various: Abby Howells

Stage Management: Erica Browne
Props Master: George Wallace
Set Design: Peter King
Operation and Sound Design: Anna van den Bosch
Lighting and Sound Design: Stephen Kilroy
Costume Design: Maryanne Wright-Smyth

Gentle comedy an unpolished gem

Review by Barbara Frame 13th Feb 2017

There’s a lot to like about the Fortune’s first show of the year.  

The notion that the play is self-referential, having been written by the son, an aspiring playwright known as ‘Me’, and is being performed, however inexpertly, by him and his Dad, establishes an endearing note and works brilliantly.

The two main characters are splendid. Dad (Greg Johnson) is an easily recognisable New Zealander. He’s among the thousands of New Zealand men who “could have been an All Black,” but he’s settled instead for a life of uninformed prejudices, dodgy DIY, chainsawing pohutukawas and blaming other people when things go wrong.

Floppy-haired son (Alex Wilson) is more sensible, but the effects of Dad’s less than sensitive parenting are obvious, and when girlfriend Caitlin announces she’s pregnant he’s destabilised by self-doubt.

Caitlin, and assorted other characters including Mum, a policeman and a barista, are played by Abby Howells.

This gentle comedy, directed by Anya Tate-Manning, has many compelling scenes, such as the one in which Caitlin tells the son of an important decision, and some lovely lines (my favourite was “Instant: the Gore of coffee”).

Somehow, though, a clever organising principle, strong characters, great acting and nice moments don’t add up to a completely satisfying play. The themes of middle-aged maleness and father-son relationships are not new and have recently been addressed at the Fortune, notably by MAMIL and The War Play in 2015.

Finnus Teppett’s script demonstrates talent and has clear potential but there’s room for further development, especially since the play is just 75 minutes long. Caitlin’s personality, and that of barely-seen Mum, could be explored further, and some elements such as the inclusion of Helen Clark as a character, and the play’s rather soppy ending, could be reconsidered.

My Dad’s Boy will tour Otago and Southland after the Dunedin season closes on March 4. 


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Charmingly spontaneous; never less than entertaining

Review by Terry MacTavish 12th Feb 2017

It’s grand to know theatre will always “shelter freaks and outcasts”, as splendidly claimed at the latest Screen Actors Guild Awards ceremony, but the commonplace need their voice too, and Finnius Teppett has boldly mined his own fairly conventional Kiwi family for this amusing insight into the fraught but fundamental father/son relationship.

Cast as Finnius himself, talented young local actor (and founder of Counterpoint) Alex Wilson wanders onto the stage and fiddles with an overhead projector that will signpost, in cosy low-tech fashion, 21 short scenes exploring this tortuous bond. The journey is made more urgent because Finnius, called ‘Me’ in the cast list, may be about to become a dad himself, and feels his father has not been the role model he needs. He really needs to figure his dad out. 

This could well have worked as a lively stand-up comedy routine for one performer, but Teppett has crafted a play proper, with three actors giving us perspectives other than that of the eponymous son. Of chief importance of course, is Dad himself. As played by accomplished veteran Greg Johnson, with a jovial insouciance, Dad succeeds in gaining our sympathy, despite displaying what many see as the typical shortcomings of the Kiwi bloke.

We are asked to believe that Finnius and his dad are the actual people, who have hired a “professional actress lady” to play all the other roles required to tell their story, particularly that of Finnius’s girlfriend, Caitlin. This turns out to be Dunedin’s own luminous Abby Howells, just returned from touring in Beards Beards Beards, and leading light of exciting theatrical endeavours from Improsauros to Discharge. Howells manages every role with aplomb, from the girlfriend unashamedly recalling the ‘stiffy’ that brought them together, to an especially stunning turn as a certain beloved former PM of NZ. 

The polished team swings into action and in a mere seventy-five sparkling minutes race through dad’s favourite, oft-repeated stories of his glory days almost making the All-Blacks, his health phobias, marital disasters resulting in his joining a vegan student flat, and most hilariously, his absolutely bizarre fascination with Helen Clark. Meantime his son judges him unmercifully, and is judged in turn by his increasingly desperate girlfriend: “You’ve always been immature!” 

There are some profound issues to ponder here. “Your biggest fear is turning out like me?!” Dad demands with incredulous anger. His own parents, fetchingly represented by cute sock puppets, were no saints, but he maintains, “You take what you want from your parents”.  

Well, do you? We are led to make our own judgements, possibly pretty severe as the two chief protagonists both seem remarkably selfish, but My Dad’s Boy is never less than entertaining. Teppett’s sharp observations of family life are expressed in some very funny lines and crazy flights of fancy. The son’s ridiculous rant about the probable disaster a child of his would be, winningly delivered by Wilson, has the audience in gusts of laughter.

Director Anya Tate-Manning, another brilliant Dunedinite brought home for this show, has worked with the playwright to develop a production especially for the Fortune, and wisely keeps to the apparent simplicity of the structure. She deals lightly with the cleverly absurdist elements of the script, and lovingly with her Kiwi blokes, so that however thick they are on occasion, the men are never without redeeming features.

The whole production appears charmingly spontaneous, not dissimilar to the style of stand-up comedy we are really good at here, as if it might be happening in some typical Kiwi living-room, which should make it work a treat on tour.

Dad does wheel onstage one of designer Peter King’s ingenious fold-out box sets, as his own handiwork (and despite his son’s objections: “Dad! We discussed this!”), but it is hardly needed to enhance the performance of these three busy actors, who mischievously bounce off each other as well as around the stage, contributing to the captivating improvised feel Tate-Manning has given the production. Introducing Howells as the professional actor, Wilson/Teppett murmurs excitedly to Johnson, “She does look a bit like Caitlin, though, doesn’t she?” and it’s rather sweet the way he can’t get over how cool the sock puppets are. 

Although Howells could probably have relied on her own expert technique to switch characters, there are some neat costume changes for her, including a spectacular headful of foils for mum interrupted at the hairdresser’s, and an impressive fantasy Clark outfit, all well designed by Maryanne Wright-Smyth.

And we definitely couldn’t do without the terrific sound track designed by Stephen Kilroy, and operated by Anna Vandenbosch, that shows off our very own legendary Dunedin Sound. 

As always, it is immensely satisfying to see the Fortune producing theatre that is all about us, not merely our parenting skills or pathetic lack of them, but everything from the nostalgia for Carisbrook to the rubbishing of poor old Gore. (Could that dig be because the tour itinerary favours Tapanui instead, I wonder?)

So patrons will share the laughter and bond with each other while contemplating their uniquely Kiwi upbringing. If you don’t get a bit sentimental during the play’s perfectly placed crooning of Chris Knox’s nationally beloved Not Given Lightly, you can’t call yourself a Kiwi anyway. Outcast!  


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