Once Upon a Time in Aro Valley

BATS Theatre, Wellington

20/02/2009 - 24/02/2009

NZ Fringe Festival 2009

Production Details

Scarfies meets late night Tarantino in a bold new black comedy being premiered at Bats during the Fringe 09 Festival

With a title like Once Upon a Time in Aro Valley, the play being staged at 9.30pm from February 20th-24th may sound like a fairy tale but with its mix of dark humour, snappy dialogue and the occasional dismembered body, is not for the faint of heart.

Bats theatre programme manager Steph Walker said, with its "authentic masculine themes," it is a show for blokes as well as females.

Written originally by NZ School of Film and Television graduate Tza Drake for filming, it has been re-worked for the stage to provide a script performed by actors Jack Pierce, Stefan Alderson and Barbara Woods, which is wrought with moral complexity and flexibility.  

It centres around friends Dennis and Gene. Dennis finds himself in an awkward situation. His girlfriend is dead, it’s kind of his fault, and he doesn’t know what to do. Like many blokes in a spot, he calls his best mate Gene, who is horrified to discover Liz’s body in the bathtub.

The limits of friendship are tested, weaknesses are exposed, truths are sought and a bloody outcome seems to be the only conclusion.

Walker said the on-stage splatter-fest will have audiences squirming in their seats one minute, but in fits of laughter the next.

Drake, who is also directing the play, said he wanted to bring some filmic aspects to the production and show life’s more brutal side leavened with humour while also asking the awkward questions.

"Is it okay to laugh at death and misfortune?"

Once Upon A Time In Aro Valley
BATS Theatre
20th – 24th Feb at 9.30pm.
Tickets: $15 and $12.
Bookings: BATS Theatre (04) 8024175 or book@bats.co.nz 

Footage of the crime is available to preview online at www.criminalproductions.co.nz/onceuponatimeinarovalley/
See photos attached or visit our headquarters at www.criminalproductions.co.nz  

Jack Pierce
Stefan Alderson
Barbara Woods

What is a bloke to do?

Review by Lynn Freeman 04th Mar 2009

The conceit of Once Upon A Time in Aro Valley – Dennis is a perfectly decent bloke, but his girlfriend Liz is – was – a harridan and she’s ended up dead in the bath. What is a bloke to do? Call his best mate obviously – Gene, a chef who’s handy with a sharp blade.

It’s an amiable way to spend an hour but not a play that will linger in the memory.


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Doesn’t deliver

Review by John Smythe 22nd Feb 2009

To promote this play as "Scarfies meets late night Tarantino" is either wilful misrepresentation or it betrays an abject failure to understand what makes such models work.

All we get is Dennis (Stefan Anderson), more depressed than aghast, trying to talk his mate Gene (Jack Pierce) into helping him get rid of the body of his girlfriend whom he has inadvertently killed. A flashback to that moment with Liz (Barbara Woods) suggests he acted in self-defence and her death was an accident.

There is no strong character setting and inexorable build-up to innocence lost and compelling ‘what-would-you-do?’ moral dilemma (Scarfies), nor any ironic blend of humour and violence with rich, eclectic dialogue (Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, as per Wikipedia).

The darkness of the situation does produce the odd laugh as the men bumble through to the realisation they have to dismember her and bury her parts in different places. But because Tza Drake’s script offers no convincing reason for this behaviour, it soon palls.

While the actors play out their roles competently, if in a minimal film-acting fashion (without the benefit of specific lighting, angles and editing to give it some dynamic), their characters have no existence beyond this situation. It is mentioned that Liz has friends, and presumably they all have family somewhere in the real world, but none of this is utilised to create the obstacles and challenges that might conceivably generate the sort of black comedy that makes us laugh in spite of ourselves.

The programme claims this play "speaks to audiences not usually catered for [in theatre] – males 25 plus." Well for my money, it doesn’t.


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