Suter Theatre, Nelson

16/10/2013 - 17/10/2013

Fortune Theatre Studio, Dunedin

10/10/2014 - 18/10/2014

The Mussel Inn, Onekaka (near Takaka), Nelson

10/07/2014 - 10/07/2014

Assemby, George Square, Edinburgh, Scotland

09/08/2013 - 26/08/2013

BATS Theatre (Out-Of-Site) Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington

25/06/2013 - 29/06/2013

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

02/07/2013 - 13/07/2013

Arts On Tour NZ 2014

Edinburgh Fringe 2013

Nelson Arts Festival 2013

Production Details

Award winning Actress/Writer selected to represent New Zealand at international level

“Renee Lyons is not just a star, she’s a constellation!”

Off the back of last year’s wildly successful seasons, Award winning actress /creator Renee Lyons returns to Auckland for one last season of her triumphant show ‘Nick: An accidental hero’, before heading to the UK to take part in the prestigious Edinburgh Festival, for which she was handpicked by international scouts earlier this year.

Renee has once again gathered together a team of NZ’s finest talent to create a truly special piece of theatre, one which promises to have its audience bursting at the seams with laughter one moment and reaching for the tissues the next.

Nick: An accidental hero is the enormously affecting and heartbreakingly honest story of New Zealand sportsman, adrenalin junkie and all-round wild man Nick Chisholm, whose life ground to a halt when he was struck by a major stroke during a game of rugby at the age of 27. He was left with a condition known to those in the medical world as “locked in syndrome” and to those who have experienced it as “pure hell.” The play explores Nick’s recovery, the many characters that surround and populate his life and the unlikely road to true love, all of which sees Renee play no less than eight characters.

Lyons was drawn to the story of Nick after striking up a friendship with his brother Matt at university. “It was just such an inspiring story,” says Renee. “I felt that it didn’t just belong to us, but this was a human story and one that should be told beyond our own backyard. Having the chance to take part in such an incredible event was beyond anything I imagined. Edinburgh is the world’s biggest arts market and I’m going to be there telling a New Zealand story to a global audience.” 

Taking part in the Edinburgh festival which has been operating for the past sixty seven years, not only means Renee will be performing with the world’s leading talents, it also provides an opportunity to springboard the show  to a broader international market.

Lyons and director Abigail Greenwood (Auckland Theatre Company’s ‘Cow’, Height of the Eiffel Tower, Chalk) worked together with the design team to build an intimate theatrical experience.  The internal world of Nick Chisholm was created through an exquisite lighting design by the highly esteemed Jane Hakaraia and sound design by acclaimed NZ musician Alistair Deverick (Ruby Suns). 

Nick: An accidental hero is a celebration of the power of the human spirit and our ability find joy and light in even the darkest moments of life.

JUNE 25-29 2013 
Book at or call (04) 802 4175

The Basement Theatre – Auckland
JULY 2–13 2013
Book at or call (09) 361 1000

Venue:  Assembly George Square
Event Website: 
Date:  9-26 August 
Time:  15:15 
Duration:  1 hour  

‘Transportive, uncategorizable, original, uplifting and brave’ (Theatre Review). An incredible true story about an ordinary man overcoming extraordinary challenges. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. It’s the ultimate story of friendship, triumph over adversity and of love.

Nick: An Accidental Hero was chosen by the Edinburgh Festival for performance at the prestigious Assembly Theatre in 2013, receiving a 5 star review and described as a ‘hot show’ (one not to be missed) by the Scotsman newspaper. 

It also won Renee the ‘Accolade for Outstanding Performance’ and nomination for ‘Outstanding New Playwright of the Year’ in the 2013 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards and is currently being prepared for broadcast by Radio NZ. Later in the year, Renee will take Nick: An Accidental Hero to the very popular Melbourne ‘Fringe Hub’.

The subject is serious, but there are moments of riotous comedy in this celebratory show, touring with Arts On Tour NZ in July and August (see itinerary below).

“Transportative, uncategorizable, original, uplifting, brave.” – Stephen Austin (Theatreview)

“Renee Lyons’ performance has a compelling emotional honesty…the play deftly avoids any sense of sentimentality and presents an inspiring tribute to the way ordinary people rise to challenges posed by extraordinary hardship.” Paul Simei-Barton (The New Zealand Herald


Thursday 10 July 8pm Onekaka 
The Mussel Inn 

Friday 11 July 8pm Mapua 
The Playhouse Café
Dinner from 6pm $20 Book: The Playhouse Café 

Sunday 13 July 8pm Akaroa 
Akaroa Boat Sheds 
$18 Book: Akaroa Museum or Dale Thomas 304 8900 

Friday 18 July 7.30pm Luggate 
Luggate Hall 
$25 Adult; $10 Students Book:  

Saturday 19 July Invercargill 
SIT Centrestage Theatre, Don St 
$25/$20/$5 Book: or Cue TV 

Sunday 20 July 7.30pm Oamaru 
ODT Inkbox Theatre, Opera House 
$25 Adult; Seniors $20 Book: Oamaru Opera House; Oamaru i-Site;   0800 4 TICKET 

Wednesday 23 July 7pm New Plymouth
TSB Showplace
$25 Adult; $15 Student Concession (Limited numbers available.  Service fees apply) 
Book: 0800 111 999 and TSB Showplace Box Office 

Thursday 24 July 7.30pm Hamilton 
Playhouse Theatre, Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, University of Waikato
$28 Adult; Seniors and Unwaged $22; Students $10; Subscription ticket for 3 shows $60
Book: 0800 TICKETEK, Academy Box Office and Ticketek outlets

Friday 25 July 7.30pm Paeroa 
Little Theatre
$20 Book: Arkwrights Antiques 

Sunday 27 July 7.30pm Tauranga 
Baycourt X Space 
$25+ Service fees and charges 
Book: Baycourt Box Office,, 0800 TICKETEK 

Friday 1 August 7.30pm Gisborne 
Poverty Bay Club 
$25 Book: The Aviary 

Saturday 2 August 7.30pm Waipawa 
CHB Municipal Theatre 
$25 Adults; $20 Concessions/groups 8+ (Booking fees apply) 
Book: 0800 224 224 or CHB Municipal Theatre 06 857 8117 

About Arts On Tour New Zealand

AOTNZ organises tours of outstanding New Zealand performers to rural and smaller centres in New Zealand. The trust receives funding from Creative New Zealand as well as support from Interislander and liaises with local arts councils, repertory theatres and community groups to bring the best of musical and other talent to country districts. The AOTNZ programme is environmentally sustainable – artists travel to audiences so that that small town and country dwellers can enjoy high quality entertainment on their home patch.  

Dunedin Arts Festival 2014
Fortune Theatre Studio
10-18 November




1 hr

Deeply affecting and inspiring

Review by Barbara Frame 13th Oct 2014

It’s an accident in the year 2000 that sets Dunedin architect Nick Chisholm on his path to being a hero. 

It happens on the rugby field, causing a stroke and leaving Nick with locked-in syndrome, the appalling condition that renders its victim conscious but unable to move or speak.

Over the years Nick has learned to communicate and now participates enthusiastically in his family, in society and, now, in a play about himself. [More]


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An infinitely-relatable human interest story

Review by Alison Embleton 11th Oct 2014

Embodying a multitude of characters during the course of the hour long performance, Renee Lyons manages to take the audience on an emotional journey of devastation and recovery without once seeming maudlin. Her deft acting allows her to convey a great deal of humour and wit throughout what could have been a very bleak story.

A young man in the prime of his life, who has already struggled with alcoholism, suffers a stroke during a game of rugby. Nearly giving him up as “a turnip”, doctors inform his family the outlook is dire, until further tests reveal he is in fact experiencing Locked-in Syndrome and is fully cognitively aware while being entirely paralysed. The story of Nick Chisolm is familiar to many, but Lyon’s analysis of the emotional rollercoaster it takes him, his family and friends on is something everyone should see.

A minimalist set of a single chair and very few props is all it takes to set scenes from a rugby field to a fast-paced hospital emergency room. Clever lighting and sound effects add layers of realism to flesh out the one-woman show. Particularly effective is the use of a torch as a spot light on various parts of the body during a scene in the hospital, as well as the lighting of hands. Lyons manages to portray the feelings of several characters simply by highlighting her hands and allowing them to betray the honesty of what the characters are experiencing.

You will truly forget that there is only one person on stage in front of you; the fact that the actor is a slight, blond woman makes it all the more remarkable, given these characters are strapping male rugby players, a shifty (but strangely endearing) recovering alcoholic named Liam, a very chatty Korean orderly… to name a few.

None of these characterisations are insensitive or overwrought at any point. While I initially balk at the idea of a Caucasian impersonating an Asian individual as a humorous story-telling device, I am won over by Lyon’s approach. She never allows her characters to become caricatures or punchlines. Using a range of accents and physical transformations, Lyons even plays scenes between multiple characters at once; an intimate scene between Chisolm and his partner as she bathes him is particularly beautiful.

An infinitely-relatable human interest story, Nick, An Accidental Hero is solo theatre at its best.


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Captivating, spirited, playful and emotional

Review by Hannah Schenker 11th Jul 2014

Renee Lyons is a dynamo as she plays all the characters in this true tale of a healthy young man, Nick Chisolm, who in one devastating moment suffers a stroke on the rugby field, forever altering the course of his life. 

Taken from his reasonably happy life as architect, star rugby player, keen mountain biker and fan of the ladies, Nick now faces the grim realities of ‘Locked In Syndrome’: bed-ridden, hooked up to all manner of machines, unable to move anything except for his eyes. Nick’s recovery is slow, but his determination wins in the end, as he confounds medical staff some 10 years later by finding his feet and learning to walk all over again.  

With a pared back set containing only a simple chair as a prop and the careful use of lighting, Renee transports you right into Nick’s reality, bringing the space and the many characters alive – including medical staff, Nick’s mother, his best mate Boyd, his AA buddy Liam and eventually his lady love. And who could forget the Korean woman cleaner who works as comic relief, opening the show and introducing the story, and popping up now and then to move the narrative along. After all, how do you tell a story that takes 10 years in one hour?

Renee’s energy as she moves deftly from one character to the next is skilfully managed, ranging through caricature to a wellspring of deeper emotion using deceptively simple changes in posture, voice and movement.  She evokes each person through bang-on voices and distinctive stances, often with great speed, conjuring a visual image for each person with ease. We move with her through each scene: the frightening moments following “Chizzy’s” stroke, his first days in hospital and the painful process as everyone around Nick comes to grips with what life now means.  

Nick himself is present as a mute, we only ‘see’ him through the other characters as they talk and interact with him, and we come to know him as a cheeky, resolute young man. His physical progress is shown directly through his hands and feet. Cleverly spot-lit with a torch, we watch a curled hand slowly unfurl as his mother plays classical music to him, or later, with the stage in darkness, only Renee’s feet are lit as Nick pushes himself from a slow shuffle to actual steps. These simple techniques work hard to tell the story Nick himself can’t tell with words. 

While the subject matter is heavy at heart, Renee manages to weave the light in with the dark, the humour with the tragedy, the hope with the loss. Each character is so human, so recognisable, that the story becomes your story, the pain your pain, the small joys your small joys. You are sitting with Nick as he refuses to move in with his mother, you are rooting for him as he claims his limited independence, and you go warm and fuzzy as an unconventional love story unfolds.

Captivating right from the start, Renee tells a story that doesn’t often get told, and her spirited performance is both playful and emotional, and most definitely worth witnessing.


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Skilled and energetic performance both exhausting and uplifting

Review by Melanie Stewart 17th Oct 2013

Nick: An Accidental Hero is the true story of Nick Chisholm a young, active, sporting, Dunedin man who was struck down by a brain stem stroke whilst playing Rugby. This left him unable to move, breath or speak in a state referred to as “locked in syndrome”. Lyons created this emotionally charged piece with the permission and support of Chisholm and his family and friends. 

Lyons produces a powerful performance that will have the audience both laughing and crying, often within the space of a few minutes. She takes on the lofty task of presenting to the audience the family and friends of Nick as they struggle to come to terms with the situation.

She seamlessly transforms herself from one character to another while transporting you through fifteen years of Nick’s life. Despite the fact that Lyons various roles often change several times in quick succession, her ability to manipulate her voice and physical presence and careful wording of the script, leave you in no doubt as to which character she is portraying.

Nick, himself is often portrayed as little more than a twisted limb or stumbling feet highlighted by effective use of a torch, as his thoughts and feelings are vocalised.

Despite the serious nature of this story there are still a number of humorous, even hilarious, moments. The one fictional character, a Korean orderly, is used delightfully to advance the story. The best friend Boyd, also creates many light moments as he relates his weekend antics. 

The set is about as simple as you can get. A square marked out on the floor and one chair. No more is needed as this space is manipulated to create myriad images. One particularly compelling, creative bit of theatre has Lyons depicting a night-time escapade when Boyd straps Nick to himself and smuggles him out of the Hospital for a ride on his motor bike.

This play will leave you feeling both exhausted and uplifted from the abrupt emotional changes, the skilled and energetic performance and the story of a remarkable young man.


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Emotionally potent and inspiring

Review by Robbie Nicol 26th Aug 2013

Nick Chisholm was on the rugby field at the age of 27 when a stroke left him completely incapacitated. Doctors thought he was in a vegetative state until it was realised that Nick was suffering from locked-in syndrome. Against all odds, and with the support of his family and friends, Nick slowly began to overcome his condition.

This extraordinary story of determination – Nick: An Accidental Hero’s – has been brought to the stage by award-winning actress Renee Lyons, and has come to the Edinburgh Fringe after successful runs in both Wellington and Auckland.

Jane Hakaraia’s lighting design gives us the first real moment of shock. A torch held in Lyons’ hand shows glimpses of her still body as she mutters the urgent dialogue of paramedics. Alistair Deverick’s sound design creates the urgency of a hospital as we continue with the close-ups – a shaking hand, an eye forced open by a doctor.

Then comes the voice of the mother; Renee Lyons mouth hidden in the shadows vocalises the dialogue between a doctor and the woman who just needs to see her child.  The lights come up and we instantly know that the person sitting anxiously on the seat is Nick’s mum.

Lyons won the award for best performer in the 2011 New Zealand Fringe Festival for Joseph and Mahina and it was clearly well deserved. Chisholm’s good mate Boyd is convincingly played as the rugby player we all know, and the unlikely friend that Nick helped get through AA is at once ridiculous and endearing.

Perhaps the most compelling performance by Lyons is of Chisholm’s mother. Nick doesn’t have the ability to verbally speak throughout the performance, and it is through his mum that we grow to care for the protagonist we rarely see or hear.

There has been some criticism made of the character Su-Yung Kim, who works as an orderly at Nick’s hospital, and who shares his story with us. Those who criticise Lyons’ portrayal of the middle-aged Korean woman are not necessarily wrong to do so, but the character does work as a great theatrical device, bringing us into the play and sharing Nick’s story with infectious enthusiasm.

That said, it is easy to see why some are growing tired of Asian roles that provide comic-relief with little room for character development. 

Nick Chisholm’s love-interest, Nicola, is also a little simplistic. I am reminded of the moment in Eli Kent’s Thinning in which a character is concerned that she is the ‘amazing girl’, the one that continues to seem perfect for the duration of the story. It is difficult to tell a true story, especially one with such emotional potency, without treating some of the characters too carefully, and Nicola does at times come off as the ‘amazing girl’. 

On the whole, Renee Lyons has avoided this problem. She has taken the story of an accidental hero and made it a compelling piece of theatre. The piece doesn’t quite escape the threat of kid gloves, but it does successfully entertain and inspire.

For those who wish to see an extraordinary human-interest story successfully brought to life, Nick: An Accidental Hero is set to continue touring New Zealand for the following year. 


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Success is no accident

Review by Matt Baker 03rd Jul 2013

This is what theatre is all about; stories through unique perspectives. There are many articles about Dunedinite Nick Chisholm, from Men’s Health and the British Medical Journal, to The Mirror and 20/20, however, while they each come from their own journalistic angle, they simply do not have the same opportunity to cover the full emotional spectrum of events the way theatre can. Which is where Renee Lyons comes in. Coming across the story (by fate?) on the Internet, and realising she knew Nick’s brother, Matt, was all the inspiration the actress needed to develop her one-woman show, Nick: An Accidental Hero, with the help of Sophie Roberts and director Abigail Greenwood.

The result is a testament to Lyons’ abilities as an actress, as she not only creates her characters with complete vocal and physical particularisations, but also is able to fully encompass their emotionality, whether it is utter heartbreak, or absolute love. That being said, this is not a sad show. It is an absolute laugh-out-loud comedy. There are, however, three particular gem-like moments, which Lyons treats with utter reverence, which one simply cannot avoid being affected by. [More]


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Triumphant performance amusing and moving

Review by Bronwyn Elsmore 03rd Jul 2013

Renee Lyons says she didn’t go to acting school till her late twenties. She doesn’t look much more than that now, but it’s obviously been time enough to perfect her craft. Her performance in Nick: An Accidental Hero is a triumph.

That should read performances, plural, because Renee plays all the characters in this well-peopled show. Working in a black-box set, with just a silver chair as the only prop, she makes the space come alive with multiple characters – various hospital staff including doctors, nurses and a Korean woman cleaner; family and friends of the main subject; a builder; girlfriend Nicola. All contribute their stories as they struggle to cope with a situation out of everyone’s comfort zone.

Each one speaks with a distinctive voice so there is no difficulty in distinguishing one from another. In fact, they don’t even need to speak for us to recognise them; the different stances signal the arrival of each. The changes are often rapid but Renee captures them all without falter. 

Then there’s Nick himself: the young man who became the accidental hero by suffering a stroke that necessitated the rebuilding of his life. The scenes in which we see him struggling through the rehabilitation process are particularly moving, with the pinnacle being the walking scene. Though only torchlight illuminates the stumbling steps, we see that even this actress’s feet can act! 

Though the overall subject is serious, the comedy moments are many, and help the audience deal with the emotions of the subject. Nick’s mother tries to instil a sense of responsibility in his rugby friends who come to visit; the Korean woman’s descriptions are priceless; even granddad’s letter to his stricken grandson recalls a ridiculous memory.

In places the very fast pace of the ‘dialogue’ means some lines are lost, particularly when audience laughter rides over the words.

Jane Hakaraia’s lighting design and Alistair Deverick’s sound design deserve applause, as does every aspect of this new play. It has already won Renee Lyons acting awards and a place at the Edinburgh Festival.

(The only thing that lets down an otherwise top show is the standard of proofing in the printed programme.)


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Confronting our fortune, fears and fragility in body and soul

Review by Lucy O'Connor 26th Jun 2013

A rigid metal chair sits in the middle of a boxed off space. From what I know, this piece is about a stroke victim who suffers locked in syndrome. What a clever parallel – stuck in a box with nowhere to go.

Renee Lyons enters but does not embody herself. A Korean woman has possessed her and appears the narrator for this tale. We are educated in the background of the production and how one man’s struggle inspired this overall positive performance.

And so it begins. An ambulance is called and there is obvious stress as a staff member instructs another in how to heal while trying to calm and extricate a petrified mother. A torch light in the darkness highlights the trauma Nick’s body is facing; from dilated pupils to a hand that shakes uncontrollably, the small light in the black forces us to see only the reality unfolding.

And then it turns. Lyons is Nick’s mother and we, the audience, are Nick. It is uncomfortable. I feel an intruder and suddenly the space seems too small as she talks to her beloved son with such tragedy, such frustration, and with the wrought fear of a mother facing loss. But always, there is determination, there is love and there is light. And now, there is not a dry eye in the theatre.

We struggle through memories, impossible normalcies and desperate positivity as new figures in Nick’s ‘before’ life are introduced. Each tries to hold back devastation so as not to block any progression but despite their best efforts, we see each doubt all too clearly. The characters have one thing in common – an underlying hope seen only in the unbreakable bond of true friendship.

Lyons is an incredible actress. She plays each character with such commitment, intensity and patience that I forget she is the only person on stage. Sometimes there are three people present and the transitions are absolutely seamless. It is impossible to declare which persona is the most credible – each is as human as the other. Lyons takes on different gender, race and accent and at no point is there flaw in execution.

Tragedy and humour are the elements in this production. I have certainly heard the term emotional rollercoaster before. In this performance, I am strapped in for the glorious highs but am forced to bear the most challenging and stomach clenching of turns. Through the loved ones in Nick’s life, we learn who he is and understand exactly why he perseveres.

An accidental hero? Yes indeed. By embodying Nick in her audience, Lyons punishes us in our natural want to avoid confrontation with his pain, his physical restriction and emotional stress. We experience a tale of what it is to be human and are reminded in our own lives of our fortune, our pitiful fears and above all, our fragility in both body and soul.


John Smythe June 30th, 2013

This is indeed a remarkable production full of treasures. Book early, Aucklanders!

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