Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

24/07/2012 - 04/08/2012

Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland

06/11/2012 - 10/11/2012

Production Details

Divided we fall apart, united we might blow up. 

Award-winning solo-show comes home to New Zealand 

Winner of the 2011 Moondance International Festival Atlantis Award for Best Stageplay (Script), Nuclear Family features New Zealand actor Yael Gezentsvey in a “tour-de-force performance” as she takes on twelve multi-cultural characters in this “riveting’ solo-show written with heart, tragedy and a fair balance of true comedy” by New Zealand playwright Desiree Gezentsvey (Fringe Review/Theatre Guide).

Set in green New Zealand on the eve of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, Nuclear Family is a comedic drama that illuminates the journeys of a colourful bunch of Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union and Venezuela as they swing between the shocks and delights of their new lives.

If only Abi’s in-laws could get out of the Soviet Union and be reunited with their family, she just might stop longing for her own in Venezuela. And if shrewd old Babushka could get her granddaughter Zina to sort out her own life instead of trying to manipulate everyone else’s, she would fulfil a promise she once made.

Longing to belong in this upside-down world of Kiwis and other quirky immigrants, they struggle with the realisation that although the grass is definitely greener on the free side, the fence is still there, and their loved ones are on the other side. Are freedom and control over one’s destiny only illusions? 

Nuclear Family is an entertaining and socially significant piece of theatre written by award-winning playwright Desirée Gezentsvey, author of bilingual poetry book ‘next time around /la próxima vez’ (SteeleRoberts), and a graduate of the MA in Scriptwriting at the International Institute of Modern Letters, VUW.

Performer Yael Gezentsvey is a graduate of both VUW and Unitec where she completed degrees in Film and Theatre, and Acting. Before moving to perform in Adelaide and London, she featured in the play Paper Scissors Rock and TVNZ’s film Piece of my Heart.

Director James Hadley trained at VUW, Otago and Toi Whakaari. He directed over twenty-five productions and was the Programme Manager at Bats Theatre before moving to London in 2006 where he presently works for the England Arts Council.

Nuclear Family premiered at the Adelaide Fringe Festival 2011 (directed by Dush Kumar), followed by the London Solo Festival 2011, Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2011, Etcetra Theatre London 2011 and Norden Farm Centre for the Arts 2012.

“A play that deserves to be the talk of the fringe.” (Edinburgh Fringe Review)
“An exceptional piece of theatre not to be missed!” (Fringe Benefits)
“Captures the audience with comedy and depth… the audience is entertained until the curtain falls.” (Fringe Benefits)

Circa Theatre opening night: Tuesday 24 July, 7.30pm (60 min)
Season: 7.30pm Tuesday 24 July – Saturday 4 August (excl Mon), Matinee 4.30pm Sunday 29 July
$35 full/ $30 senior, student & groups 6+/ $25 friends of circa, under 25s, actors equity & groups 20+
Book through Circa Theatre on 04 801 7992 or 

For more information visit , 

Q Theatre – Loft 
Tuesday Nov 6 – Saturday Nov 10 2012
Ticket price:  $25-$35 

No dud

Review by Matt Baker 08th Nov 2012

Young writers are frequently reminded to write what they know, and Nuclear Family is a great example of why that is. There is no indication as to which degree this show, written by Venezuelan born veteran writer Desiree Gezentsvey, is autobiographical, which in turn raises the question of how much art should imitate life and where artistic license should be permitted to incorporate theatrical falsehoods to illustrate truths, but there is nonetheless a kernel of truth that resonates throughout the piece. 

Performed by Gezentsvey’s daughter Yael, this resonance is compounded when one recognises that there is a generational passing on of story occurring. Aptly presented as a one-woman show, Yael finds a distinct variety of vocal patterning (accents are absolutely spot on) and physicality in each of her 11 (if I counted correctly) characters. Those that are closer to her age are clearly easier for her to morph into, and there is some slight shtick required for the others, but this is forgivable as the humour of these characters acts to drive certain scenes. [More]


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Characters vividly drawn and extremely enjoyable

Review by Stephen Austin 08th Nov 2012

The immigrant experience is such fertile ground in which to plant and grow a rich piece of theatre. So many possible characters, ideas and emotions abound in the concept of leaving one’s homeland for foreign shores to start a new life. Now that New Zealand has evolved into a more multicultural society in the last 75 years or so of its existence, the voices we are starting to hear are becoming much more diversified; excitingly so.

Nuclear Family weaves a rich familiar tale through the lives of two families – one Venuzuelan, the other Soviet Jewish – who, for their various reasons, are forging ahead to start anew on Kiwi shores. The patriarchy want to keep the orders of tradition, while the younger members eagerly explore their new country, its culture and its sexuality. All while tensions back home mount with familial concerns and heightening political situations.

All of these things are clear in Desiree Gezentsvey’s tightly compact script, which is set in a pre-Chernoybl New Zealand, with all of the associated nods to news of the day referenced. Most of these pointers to time and place seem overly functional and a bit kitsch, not really serving the play and the central characters at its core as well as they should. The devastation of that disaster we are left with at the end is slightly hollow, where it should have left us profoundly moved. I wonder if this same story could easily be moved into a more contemporary setting without the need for the historical context. 

The characters are certainly vividly drawn and extremely enjoyable though.

Yael Gezentsvey (Desiree’s daughter) interprets these highly volatile, emotional, staunch people through the course of the performance and gives them all the heart and style she can muster. While some physical switches are not always as tight as they could be, her shifts through multiple accents, often within mere words of each other, are seamless.

Her Babushka, especially, is lovingly rendered with a tactile quality that evokes so many grandmothers.

This is a very female dominant story, and the men involved are almost incidental, joking throw-aways to the plot, though both playwright and performer are careful not to exclude any of the experiences of any of the cultures on either side of the culture divide.

The set, consisting of yin-yang fences and letter-boxes, helps to realise the dislocation and create an excellent frame to the playing space. The lighting is swift and effective to help with changes of location and time.

Something certainly rings of the autobiographical here, especially considering the production team behind this, but I find myself wandering from lengthy passages that seem a bit repetitive and could well use a blue pencil. The lovely warm characters simply could have been allowed to breathe more and it would have been even more engaging. 


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Vital portrayal of immigrants’ trials

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 27th Jul 2012

Towards the end of Desiree Gezentsvey’s autobiographical play Nuclear Family, currently playing at Circa Two, one of the characters says “the joys of immigration – always questioning if you have done the right thing”.  And of course in such situations family and their support are crucial to surviving the rigors of a new life in a new land. 

All of which is central to this story of a Jewish Russian woman immigrating to NZ with her young son and grandmother, her Babushka, in the mid 1980’s, leaving behind a daughter and sister.  Once here she meets up with Abby, a Venezuelan (the writer) who has emigrated from Caracas with her Jewish Russian husband and their two daughters. 

The story then unfolds of how, over the course of a year, these families interact in their attempts to survive in fresh green, nuclear free NZ.  This friendship replaces their extended family of brothers and sisters and in-laws back in Russia culminating in the Chernobyl disaster, hence the play on words in the title of the play.

But what makes this production so remarkable is that it is all told by one person.  Yael Gezentsvey, the writer’s daughter and a very accomplished actor, and under the expert direction of James Hadley, takes on the roles of the various family members with consummate ease, fluidly moving from one character to another. 

And although – as is often the case in solo performances where the actor takes on a multitude of roles – the delineation of characters one to another becomes blurred and thus the various strands of the story are difficult for the audience to fit together, for the most part the story unfolds seamlessly.

Confidently and with boundless energy, Gezentsvey is one minute the delightfully intense Babushka, the old grandmother, the next the daughter playing up to her new found love Mike, a typical kiwi bloke. 

There are many comic lines in the play which Gezentsvey delights in regaling the audience with but there are also heartfelt and poignant moments of genuine grief that immigrants feel in adjusting to a new life in a new land giving the piece depth and colour.

The simple set of a white picket fence and brightly coloured letter boxes on one side of the stage in contrast to the upside down brown fence and not so brightly coloured inverted letter boxes on the other subtly highlights the sense of distance and the joys and yet difficulties of families communicating half way round the world to make this one hour solo performance well worth seeing.  


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Intriguing meditation on fate delivered with impressive skill

Review by John Smythe 25th Jul 2012

As life goes on and on and on we like to think we have free choice and are in some sort of control over the course it takes for us. Those who emigrate are entitled to feel especially proactive in changing the outcomes of their life choices.

But as Desiree Gezentsvey’s Nuclear Family plays out, two words instantly alert us, in hindsight, to the realisation that other forces can and will upset our plans. They are ‘Chernobyl’ and ‘share market’ (OK, that’s three words). Thus our perception of the human behaviour being performed is tainted: the confident plans and decisions people make which we’d normally have applauded now offer proof that life is indeed a confidence trick.

Most of the dozen characters made manifest by Yael Gezentsvey are Jewish immigrants to Wellington, from Russia or Venezuela. We know straight away we are well back into last century when a milkman is mentioned. The reference to Chernobyl as simply the place where other family members remain is another clue, as is the mention that Regan and Gorbachev are having ‘talks’ to end the Cold War.

The focus on prosaic family events in the context of global forces is one of the play’s strengths. In performance, the deft delineations of the multiple characters through simple shifts in physicality, accents and vocal tones are also impressive. And a perceptive wit enlivens the play as the different and same, particular and universal dance with each other for a steady hour.

I’d have liked more variation in the pacing, more peaks and troughs, and perhaps some music or actual dancing to break up what sometimes felt like a relentless flow of words. There could be a few too many characters. Some, like the Maori neighbour Marama, appear briefly – and impressively, performance-wise – but have no further role as the story unfolds. I had to consult the character board outside Circa Two to get clear on who was who.

On the other hand, just letting it all wash over you and getting to know them as well or as little as you might in real life does have a certain validity.

Babushka wins our hearts very quickly with her droll observations. It takes me a while to distinguish Zina – who has brought her son Danik to Island Bay but has left her daughter Anya with her ex (the father), and her sister Greta, in Chernobyl – from Emma who, with Alek, has two daughters, Becky and Linda, and is suffering from housewife syndrome.

House painter Mike, the good Kiwi bloke in love with Zina, becomes embroiled in a scheme to liberate Greta from Russia and I think it is the funds which Alek has gone and invested in the share market which were supposed to abet all that.

Exactly who is related to whom and quite where Venezuelan Abi fits into the plot remains a mystery. I was not alone in sometimes getting confused as to which woman was whom, although it must be Abi who talks about never seeing the midday sun directly above, as that is an equatorial thing.

The ever-present quest for better accommodation is also linked to the money and the cameo of Mr Rossi, the Italian landlord, is memorable. Mr Potz, another contender for the affections of Zina, is also played broad but true. (I can’t place the character Jayanti, who is included on the character board.)

War-toy-toting Danik offers a high-point in physical acting and the naively romantic sisters Becky and Lina are a lovely contrast. Yael Gezentsvey is confidently fluent and fluid in her delivery and transitions throughout. While she shows no stress in meeting the considerable challenge, her audience may benefit from the odd breather to consolidate and get their bearings.

After its premiere at the Adelaide Fringe Festival 2011, directed by Duska Kumar, James Hadley (once programme manager of Bats, now working for Arts Council England) became the director. Also last year, Nuclear Family played the London Festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Etcetera Theatre London, and earlier this year, the Norden Farm Centre for the Arts (in Maidenhead, Berkshire), so it is well run in.

With just a small table and chair, a bottle of vodka and a couple of glasses, the action plays out against a sky blue background, between wall-hung sets of a picket fence and letter boxes, one the right way up, the other upside down. There are no design credits for this witty image but apparently it is a collaboration between actor /producer Yael, writer Desiree, stage manager /operator Tim Bell and publicist Lara Phillips.

The work the audience is required to do – in keeping up with the who, what, where, when and why of the unfolding action – pays off when we feel rewarded for paying attention but it can have a negative effect when we feel left out. More ‘get it’ moments and more modulation to better mark them would help. (I’m tempted to go again to get my head around it properly but that should not be necessary.)

The one climactic, and final, moment presupposes we all know what happened at Chernobyl in 1986. As for the 1987 share market crash, some of us will also know that is yet to come. We are left to ponder who would not have defied augury; whether anyone could or should have been ready; whether such events are as inevitable as the falling of a sparrow …  

Nuclear Family is an intriguing meditation on fate delivered with impressive skill. 


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