Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland

28/02/2017 - 03/03/2017

Te Auaha - Tapere Iti, 65 Dixon St, Wellington

01/03/2019 - 02/03/2019

Auckland Fringe 2017

NZ Fringe Festival 2019

Production Details

‘Once There Was a Woman’

An evocative telling by a traveller on an epic journey to find her lost Mother. Memories are traded for access to destinations, imagination is the fuel and a true telling is the final exit point from grief. Bittersweet, punctuated with humour, ‘Once There Was A Woman’ uses physical theatre to reveal how extraordinary the ordinary is – it is a tale of kindness and letting go.

“….breathtakingly spectacular, raucously funny and delicately intimate…..Co. Theatre Physical have clearly established themselves as a company to watch.” (New Zealand Herald ’09)

Presented as part of Auckland Fringe festival from 21st February – 12th March 2017.
For the full programme visit www.aucklandfringe.co.nz

Show time: 8.15pm daily
50 mins (no interval)
Ticket price:
$14 – $24 (booking fees apply)

Tickets: http://www.qtheatre.co.nz/once-there-was-woman


Once There Was A Woman won ‘Judges Special Commendation For Performance’ at the Auckland Fringe Awards 2017.

A tender and eloquent work that has been meticulously crafted, Once There Was A Woman, has much to offer its audiences. NZ Herald: March 2, 2017, Reviewed by Dione Joseph

Kayes is a charismatic performer … melding her adeptness with physical theatre with the poetry of her script. It’s a gentle, sensitive performance … filled with the wonder and ambiguity of Kayes’ work. Theatre Scenes Blog: March 1, 2017, Reviewed by Andrew Parker.

TE AUAHA Tapere Iti
1 – 3 March 2019

Beth Kayes

Theatre , Physical , Solo ,

50 mins

Celebrating our shared humanity

Review by John Smythe 02nd Mar 2019

Rebecca Harris can’t sleep and the springboard for this physical theatre manifestation of her subjective experience – memories and imaginings; distortions and dreams – is her tentative visit to a therapist.

So complete within itself is Beth Kayes’ solo rendition of this piece, it’s hard to imagine how four actors were needed to perform it when it was first created, some years ago, with Kayes as director. Sure there are multiple characters interacting dramatically in various settings but explored as one woman’s progress through grief in the wake of her mother’s illness and death, it makes perfect sense for it all to be entirely processed through her being.

I have no idea whether Rebecca’s story is Beth’s story but Kayes owns it so utterly it doesn’t matter. And by drawing as it does on a daughter’s memories of her mother, the very personal particulars soon resonate with social history insights. For the audience empathy at an intimate level blossoms into visceral recollections and/or a raised consciousness of how life was back in the 1970s and 80s.

All this is achieved with one actor and a creatively utilised chair in an otherwise empty space – the dynamically fluid action enhanced by Hope Csutoros and Claire Cowan’s music, Emo Pogoni’s sound design and Russ King’s lighting. Credit must also go to Murray Edmond’s dramaturgy and Ruth Dudding’s directorial consultation, supporting Keyes-as-playwright in reworking the story as a solo piece (for her Masters in Drama at Auckland University) and premiering it at the 2017 Auckland Fringe.

In performance, however, it’s Kayes’ embodied recollection of Rebecca’s experience of, and progress through, grief that captures our hearts and minds. And we are not passive in witnessing it; we are constantly completing the minimalist sketch, imagining the hinted-at location, picturing the full catastrophe, empathising and adding our own recollections.

Is it perverse to gain such pleasure from someone else’s grief? I think not. What we are tuning into is the inevitable consequence of the unconditional love a child has for a parent and in so doing, celebrating our shared humanity.


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Recalled with levity, warmth, dismay, resignation, fear, disorientation c

Review by Raewyn Whyte 02nd Mar 2017

Once There Was a Woman is a solo show devised and performed by Beth Kayes; a monologue with movement and some very simple props: a straight-backed wooden chair, an oversized black handbag, a cell phone, a roll of loo paper, and a small tinkling bell.

This is a small-scale, intimate production which recounts a personal story, standing in marked contrast to the dynamic physicality of Oh Baby and the intensively domestic drama and hilarity of House Across Oceans, earlier physical theatre productions devised by Kayes with her company Co-Theatre Physical.

A looping story structure introduces the Woman whose story is being recounted: Rebecca Harris, aged 52, who has a husband, three children, a dog which she walks, and a therapeutic need for relief from insomnia. She has a recurring nightmare which involves being dropped from a great height and falling, plummeting, plunging, hurtling… only to drop into another problematic, confrontational situation. 

As she explains things to the therapist, we learn that her sleeping problems arrived when she became the caregiver for another Woman, her dying mother, dividing her loyalties at a time when her own daughter started to run off the rails and needed a good deal of attention.

During the course of the therapeutic session, we are positioned as eavesdroppers, hearing only the words uttered by Rebecca, a somewhat lacklustre, exhausted woman whose natural vivacity has been flattened by the ever-present impact of grief and loss from her mother’s death. Her thoughts flit about in a very disordered way, a state which will be all too familiar to those who have experienced this deep kind of loss.

Rebecca shares significant moments in her own life and that of her mother throughout the 1970s, some recounted with a good deal of levity and warmth, others with bleak dismay or resignation, and dream sequences are physically re-enacted. Her mother’s great love of Shakespeare, propensity to rescue at-risk students and bring them home with her for some respite and feeding, and the shocking care dispensed to her in the Remuera care home, take their place amongst police racism towards Pacific Islands youth, the arrival of McDonalds outlets, the arrest of Colin Moyle, anti-nuclear protests, and the radical hairstyles of Split ENZ.

Rebecca’s insomnia is placed alongside Lady Macbeth’s somnambulism and the watchful wakefulness of Mother Courage, her mother’s steady decline, and her daughter’s ever-more worrying behavior. We feel the weight of her responsibilities, even though they have already lifted. is yet one more thing she has to somehow be responsible for.

Rebecca’s flattenedness dulls her story-telling somewhat, and reduces our level of engagement with her difficulties. And although Kayes has a clear voice embellished by light and shade and subtle nuance, and credibly conjures up the Rebecca persona, the story is most richly communicated at the moments when it is extended through movement in the imaginary space beyond the therapist’s room.

The palpable fear and disorientation which come with her immersion in the recurring nightmare, and the guilt and frustration accompanying her altercation with a passing motorist whilst walking her dog, bring Rebecca fully alive, creating the most memorable moments of the therapeutic hour.


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