Meteor Theatre, 1 Victoria Street, Hamilton

19/05/2017 - 27/05/2017

Meteor Theatre, 1 Victoria Street, Hamilton

11/08/2017 - 19/08/2017

Production Details

Writer and director: Michael Switzer

Designers: Michael Switzer, Aaron Chesham and Moxham
Producer: Russell Armitage

Local playwright Michael Switzer’s latest play ‘One Hill of a Fight’ tells an intriguing local story and is an entirely appropriate opening act of our new-look Meteor!

Bound to be an instant classic, this fast-paced piece examines the great political battle in the 1930s – between the Hamilton borough engineer Rupert Worley, HCC and ratepayers- over removing the hill that once covered Garden Place.

The politics still resonate. How much debt should be taken on by council? How much does personality shape policy decisions? Who should drive the decision-making process – council, the ratepayers, or ‘experts’? The audience at each performance, having heard all the arguments, get to vote on what they would have selected- keeping or cutting the hill!

Worley was an extraordinary man, at only 23 he was directing engineering works on the Western front in WW1 and was later awarded international prizes in Paris for his world leading engineering innovations in Hamilton. ‘One Hill of a Fight’ reveals the immense hidden strain that survivors of the Great War felt when they returned to civilian life in New Zealand. And also offers a glimpse of what might have been for the city, had the hill not been removed from Hamilton’s CBD…

The play’s short scenes dissolve seamlessly to create a film-like feeling, the action moving from 1925 to 1942. There is a great deal of character-driven humour, irony, frustration and sadness. All of which humanises the events of this local story and makes them universally understandable. No prior knowledge of Hamilton or its history is required to enjoy this play.

The Meteor is extremely privileged that ‘One Hill of a Fight’ will be the first show in our newly renovated theatre.

Meteor Theatre, Hamilton
Friday, 19th May, 7:30 pm – Saturday, 27th May, 7:30 pm
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Meteor Theatre, Hamilton
11th – 19th August 2017

Ryan Wolf
Nick Wells
Graham Pollard
Charlotte Isaac
Calum Hughes

Theatre ,

A joyful and committed production

Review by Gail Pittaway 29th Aug 2017

One of the unwritten tenets of theatre productions is that the writer should never direct her or his own play.  Michael Switzer defies such expectations and delivers a deft and clever play in a fast-moving and slick production. One Hill of a Fight tells part of the story(it is currently being updated) of the Hamilton City Council’s dealings with the growth of the city beyond its ribbon development along both sides of the river, and fast expansion in the 1920s.

Impeded by the river on one side and a large hill on the other – which, by the time of the play’s commencement in 1925, already hosts a school and the large homes of several local worthies as well as having local tribal importance – the commercial centre of the town is physically blocked from expansion. Add to this a railway that passes through the main street at inconvenient times and we have a tetchy mayor and much conflict in the city council.

The main option seems to be to move the centre of town away from the area around the courthouse, cathedral and town hall, either further north of the existing civic group or to an outer suburb, such as near the railway station, at Frankton. 

Enter Rupert Worley, the newly appointed Borough Engineer, who offers the extravagant solutions of removing the hill and lowering the railway line, to no longer run across the main street. In this way, by flattening the land, it will be offered up for commercial purchase and development, and the council should get recompensed for the original cost of the dig out. Of course who was to know a depression and subsequent World War might put additional strains upon a council’s pocket? 

If it all sounds a bit civic and historic as a concept, it is – but One Hill of a Fight has been written and directed in such a way that the council chamber scenes run like good courtroom drama, and the actors are so convincing that it is never dull. 

Compliments first then to Switzer, the writer, for skilfully balancing the needs of background and history with the need to tell the story in an entertaining way. The play dances along, sometimes literally, with quick shifts in scene and time, rather like camera cross-fades as scenes merge into each other. 

There are serious moments of direct address to audience, given by Worley’s young assistant James Baird, and engagingly delivered by Calum Hughes. At these moments we are taken back to Worley’s war heroism, in the field at Ypres, where, as operating officer of a light rail line, he delivered munitions to armies on the front and earned the Military Cross for his bravery and tenacity. The play slips easily into this device of direct address, given the council chamber scenes have already been addressing the audience as council members or those in the public gallery.

Further credits must go to the play’s designers: Switzer (again! Still breaking those rules), Aaron Chesham and the play’s indefatigable producer Russell Armitage. Simply designed, even starkly set with only a desk and chairs, to rotate as mayor’s office, council room, Worley’s office and kitchen table; one simple additional prop that is used to exhaustive and entertaining effect is a blackboard on an easel. Here Worley repeatedly draws an aerial sketch of the city with river and hill, always blocking the chance of growth.

In contrast to the simple set, there are long hanging side wings which serve as screens to show images of these historic places, interiors, street scenes, people and even very powerful movies of the recent World War, with appropriately alarming sound effects. At the final curtain call each actor stands by a photo projection of the character portrayed. Luke Thomas works the technical script admirably, to the designs of Chesham (lighting) and Moxham (sound).

Finally, compliments to the fine cast for such a joyful and committed production. Nicholas Wells is hugely entertaining as politically savvy and wily mayor, John Fow, while Graham Pollard provides additional conflict as Lafferty, his opponent and fervent spokesman for the Frankton lobby, and the common man. Calum Hughes shines as the youthful Baird, whose character moves from youthful hero worship to realistic frustration at Worley’s obsession.

Charlotte Isaac as Betty, Worley’s sweetheart then wife, conveys constant calm and gentle humoured support until even her patience is worn thin by her husband’s driving fixations. Finally, as Worley himself, Ryan Wolf is perfectly cast as a dedicated engineer, following his passion for perfection while allowing himself some moments of levity and love along the way. Their relationship is one of the softening threads of the storytelling.

Worley’s farewell speech, as he leaves to take on new responsibilities at the Auckland Gas Company, in 1942, nearly twenty years after his arrival in Hamilton, is a genuinely moving climax. Those of us who live with his legacy, and are not always well pleased with it, leave with a greater understanding of the context and people in this fight.

The large audiences who have come to the newly refurbished and reopened Meteor Theatre nightly, to see a play about their city, leave having seen a really good play about politics and passion, and encounter an extremely satisfying night at the theatre as well. 


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An experience to treasure

Review by Sam Edwards 26th Aug 2017

Trying to condense years of history into a couple of hours usually spells narrative disaster – unless you are Michael Switzer. He has a remarkable ability to condense events into their very essence, then recreate them as temporal summaries looking like reality itself.

In One Hill, he reduces a couple of decades of Hamilton history to a narrative populated by five historical characters from dynasties like the Jolly family, the Fows and the Laffertys, and two real-life engineers who made an enormous impact on the future shape of this city.

Switzer keeps the audience spellbound for nearly two hours. [More


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Well-researched, highly relatable, strong performances

Review by Ross MacLeod 20th May 2017

A well-told story explores not only the world of its tale but also reflects on contemporary issues. With One Hill of a Fight playwright and director Michael Switzer does a great job of not only exploring events of local history but also linking them to the modern world on local, national and even global scales.

The core of the story is the removal, in the early 20th century, of a large hill in the centre of Hamilton, and while at its heart it’s about local politics and identities, the play never really shoehorns local references at the expense of broader narrative accessibility. Certainly there are plenty of references to geography and demographics but Switzer does a good job of explaining these through characters or visual design, meaning that, while the play is certainly a Waikato-focussed tale, it certainly has potential to resonate throughout the country. 

We start in 1925 where Rupert Worley (played by Ryan Wolf) is a WW1 veteran and new Hamilton Borough engineer. Worley has grand ideas which put him at odds with the politics of the time, leading to almost two decades of fighting to have his plans enacted. From the first scene Wolf gives an energetic, passionate performance which quickly expands out into broader traits: romantic, shrewd and occasionally obsessive. Wolf does a fine job translating the playwright’s flawed but intelligent and tenacious Worley to the stage.

Switzer’s script and direction do a clever job of delivering a cast of characters who are all more well-rounded than they first seem.

Nick Wells does a fantastic job of playing Mayor John Fow. Initially appearing to be a stubborn but skilled politician his character expands and adapts to both the political landscape and his relationships. Wells is utterly believable in the role: a well-meaning man, strongly set in his beliefs but not so much that his rules override his morals. He does especially well explaining the nature of local politics, in a neatly written piece perfectly indicative of both past and present.

Many of the laugh-out-loud moments come in the exchanges between Mayor Fow and Councillor Lafferty (Graham Pollard). Like the other characters, Lafferty at first appears to serve a single role: a curmudgeon antagonist. But he is swiftly fleshed out into a clearly biased but well-intentioned representative of his community. This subtlety of character works as a real strength of the play: characters who are a little heightened but totally believable, especially in politics.

Rounding out the small, efficient cast are Charlotte Isaac as Betty Worley and Calum Hughes as James Baird. Betty is ostensibly the play’s love interest but has a solid character of her own; the aggressor in the relationship, self-aware of her foul mouth and ultimately a subtle countering force both in the political and personal realm.

Isaac and Wolf have their best exchanges in higher energy or emotional moments, both positive and negative. It’s only in a few more neutral moments that their dialogue exchanges feel a bit unnatural. Credit also has to go to their brief dance scene: fun and knowingly imperfect. I enjoy the moment, realising that seeing such entirely relatable dancing on stage is actually a rarity.

As Assistant Engineer, Baird has less to do as a character though he certainly has some very effective moments. A throwaway line in his very first scene delivered with such memorable poignancy that both my fiancée and I mention it afterwards. Baird is also given intermittent monologues talking about the war experiences of Worley; a slowly crafted jigsaw that reveals the ingenuity and determination of the man. It also delves into the horror and scale of World War One without ever wallowing in it. His experience certainly influenced Worley but did not define him. Hughes does a fine job in these pieces: clear and bold against the soundscape of exploding shells.

The simple set is augmented by projections of archival photos of the city which give a nice linking perspective to the non-fiction nature of the piece, and the ever-present blackboard is a fantastic device for translating topographic sketches and designs into visual form.

One Hill of a Fight is a well-researched and highly relatable play melded with strong performances. Anyone with an interest in local or national history will find a wealth of material here and the story itself is strong enough to stand on its own merits.

I highly recommend people head down to the newly renovated Meteor Theatre to see it and absorb some of the history from the great foyer display, which I hope will find a second life once the season is done.  


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