Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

09/09/2014 - 13/09/2014

Production Details

Internationally acclaimed writer behind new work at Basement 

West Auckland playwright Gary Henderson whose work has earned acclaim throughout New Zealand and around the world, has mentored a group of writers who are about to present Out of our Heads, a short and varied season of new work at Auckland’s Basement Theatre.

Henderson was the 2013 recipient of the Playmarket Award, a $20,000 prize recognising a playwright who has made a significant artistic contribution to theatre in New Zealand. His work has been produced extensively throughout New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Great Britain, and last year his classic play Skin Tight was published by Bloomsbury Methuen Drama of London.

Behind the scenes though, Henderson is also an enthusiastic teacher of the craft.

In 2012 he established a year-long evening course at Corban Estate Arts Centre, and continues to conduct the ‘Graduate Studio’ – a monthly mentoring programme he set up for graduate writers while working at Unitec in Auckland, and which now runs at Corbans. 

Henderson describes the Studio as the hard end of theatre writing. “The evening programme is more nurturing” he explains. “The writers are taught the craft, and professional directors and actors are brought in to work on their scripts. The Graduate Studio though, is for writers who are self-motivated and prepared to drive their work on to the stage themselves.”

A group of writers from the Graduate Studio have put together Out of our Heads, a season at the Basement which they describe as “tales of stolen lives, broken hearts, love triangles, bad morals and robots.”

The writers have assembled their own teams – directors, cast, technical crew – and handled all the adminstrative work which supports a live performance. “They’ve gained a real understanding of the process, which I think is vital for a theatre writer,” adds Henderson.

Out of our Heads features tales of stolen lives, broken hearts, love triangles, bad morals and robots. Hooked out of our collective grey matter for your cerebral pleasure.

The season runs for five nights with a two-hour programme of three plays a night. 

The Basement.
Tuesday 9 to Saturday 13 September.
Start time is 6:30pm.
Tickets $15-$20 iticket.co.nz

TUES 9 September (approx 1 hr 30min)
Ashes and Mud by Korina Tuahine
Adrift by Anna Harding
The King, the Queen and the Servant by Cath Harkins

WED 10 September (approx 1 hr 30min)
Farewell to the Master by Marie Moodle
Adrift by Anna Harding
Rapunzel’s Enormous Problem by James Russell 

THURS 11 September (approx 1hr 45 min) 
The Sum of Us by Anna Harding
Adrift by Anna Harding
Dumped by Tracey Sharp

FRI 12 September (approx 2 hrs)
Ashes and Mud by Korina Tuahine
The King, the Queen and the Servant by Cath Harkins
Dumped by Tracey Sharp

SAT 13 September (approx 2hrs)
Farewell to the Master by Marie Moodle
The Sum of Us by Anna Harding
Rapunzel’s Enormous Problem by James Russell

Farewell to the Master:
Writer:  Marie Moodie
Director:  Marie Moodie
Gnut:  Johnny Aukusitino
Klaatu:  Zach Robinson
Emily:  Fabiana Sierra
Automaton:  Charlotte Thomas

Ashes and Mud:
Writer/Director:  Korina Tuahine
Piri:  Connor te Brake
Arataki:  Liam Coleman
Reikura:  Melissa Connors
Mahinarangi:  Rhema Sutherland

The King, the Queen and the Servant:
Writer:  Cath Harkins 
Director:  Toby Leach 
Servant:  Robert Tripe 
Queen:  Anoushka Klaus 
King:  Sam Berkley 

Writer:  Anna Harding
Director:  Damon Keen
Lulu:  Jo Brookbanks 
Maps:  Katrina Rumbal 

Rapunzel's Emormous Problem: 
Writer:  James Russell
Director:  James Russell
Rapunzel:  Kate Castle
Peg:  Laura Penswick
Prince Albert:  Brendan Louis-Smith
Prince Philip:  Mark Mockridge

The Sum of Us:
Writer:  Anna Harding
Director:  Seamus Ford
Ophelia:  Angelina Cottrell
Beth:  Natasha Daniels
Deirdre:  Sheena Langguth
Scott:  Richard Green

Writer:  Tracey Sharp
Director:  Caroline Harding
Aleki:  Jephtah Coe
Leilani:  Faye Rillstone
Prakash:  Ravi Gurunathan

Technical Designer and Operator:  Amber Molloy

The most mixed bag of all

Review by Nik Smythe 14th Sep 2014

Tonight’s programme opens in writer/director Marie Moodie’s stark, ‘brave new world’ type future in her cerebral fifteen-minute play Farewell to the Master.  An impressively costumed, pale golden fembot, billed only as ‘Automaton’ (Charlotte Thomas), greets the convening audience as we take our seats.  Behind her stands ‘Knut’, a similarly impressive tall silver android with electrical-wire dreadlocks for hair and a Geordi Laforge-style visor (Jonny Aukisitino).  Next to Knut, a sombre fellow of extra-terrestrial origin ‘Klaatu’ (Zachary Robinson) lies prostrate.

I confess I don’t fathom Moodie’s choice to name the alien directly after its counterpart in the 50s sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still.   The Earth-built Automaton describes how some years previously they came to visit but were received violently and shut down, supposedly permanently.  Looking on with great interest and a professional camera is Emily (Fabiana Sierra), determined to find the real story in the hope of putting an end her son’s nightmares.

A minimal rehearsal period is again evident; intentionally or not, the wholly subdued performances generate a kind of creepy, awkward atmosphere as Emily tries to outwit the cordial, unrelentingly informative Automaton, for the chance to observe and document the alien robot as it lights up and gets to work on …whatever its actual purpose is.  Ultimately, the derivative plot seems consciously devised to frame a deeper, complex existential discussion, examining among other things such context-dependent concepts as ‘alien’ and ‘master’.

It’s perplexing and a tad distracting that Farewell to the Master’s museum signs remain unnecessarily on the rear wall throughout the subsequent programme.

The second offering from Anna Harding reverts to the past with a markedly different proposition to Adrift, her other work in this season.  Directed by Seamus Ford, The Sum of Us concerns precocious eleven-year-old Ophelia (Angelina Cottrell), who introduces herself in a polite tone with the incendiary remark, “I was a baby when I was stolen for the first time.”  Set in the eighties and flashing back to the seventies, the story involves her teenaged birth-mother Beth (Natasha Daniel), forced to relinquish her baby for adoption under the draconian laws of the time.

A decade later Beth has managed to track her child down, conveniently attending the school where she works as a music teacher, and makes moves to strike up a relationship.  In correspondence, adoptive parents Dierdre (Sheena Langguth Irving) and Scott (Richard Green) are obliging up to a point, but draw the line at her actually meeting them or Ophelia. Beth’s desperation is palpable, and she shifts to more underhanded means of reaching the daughter she never wanted to give up.

This is the strongest play of the season in terms of overall realisation. The striking production design comprises a largely red-and-white palette for the set, props and clothing, contrasted by the conservative earth-tones worn by Dierdre and Scott.  Ford’s prudent direction draws accomplished performances from his talented young cast, hinging quite effectively on Cottrell’s remarkably relaxed and articulate portrayal of the unknowingly displaced Ophelia.

Finally, Rapunzel’s Enormous Problem concludes the eclectic season with some old-school shameless broad satire.  Spiteful, viper-tongued 38 year-old Rapunzel (Kate Castle) is still waiting dutifully in her tower to be rescued, ideally by George Clooney.  Confiding abusively in her dutiful servant Peg (Laura Penswick), Rapunzel aspires to escape the arbitrary tethers of her prescribed destiny.

It’s impossible not to compare Rapunzel and Peg to Queenie and Nursie of Blackadder II fame.  Likewise, would-be suitor Prince Philip (Mark Mockridge) is essentially a clone of Rik Mayall’s iconic Lord Blackheart, while his aristocratic idiot rival Prince Albert (Brendan Smith) is less of a direct copy, but nonetheless clichéd.

The audience reaction is positive enough; I laughed a couple of times myself, however the evident skills of the cast are undermined by excessive and painful performances.  Overall, the unoriginal script lacks a clear intention that might qualify it as a play, as opposed to merely a lowbrow comedy sketch.

This grouping is the most mixed bag of the nights I’ve attended. All in all, ‘OOOH’ has been an interesting series of theatrically diverse works, providing varying degrees of entertainment value and food for thought.  Taking the opportunity to give their dramaturgical efforts a ‘real’ audience has no doubt it’s been a learning curve for everyone involved, especially the playwrights, which after all is no doubt the point.

Once again, respectful commendations to technical designer and operator for the entire season Amber Molloy, for her indispensable contribution.


nik smythe September 14th, 2014

You are welcome Cath, and everybody concerned, and thank you all too.  I feel honoured to have been there when it all began, whatever 'it' turns out to be.  

Cath Harkins September 14th, 2014

Just a short note to say a big thanks to Nik Smythe for reviewing our shows in Out of Our Heads.  Nik came to three nights no less, which is no mean feat! and took the time to write every play up.  As all emerging writers we appreciate your committment and comments.  Gary Henderson hopes to make a play season of graduate writers from his courses a yearly thing at Basement, so we have got off to a great start. Thanks Nik!

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Comedic fable

Review by Nik Smythe 12th Sep 2014

Tracy Sharp’s Dumped opens with Leilani, a young Samoan contact-centre worker (Faye Rillstone), entertaining Prakash, her new boyfriend (Ravi Gurunathan) from work, on the first night in her new flat.

What begins as a relaxed but awkward ‘evening in’ turns on its head with the premature return of her bombastic macho ex, Aleki (Jephtah Coe), who apparently didn’t realise Leilani’s parting words of separation were serious.  Through his excessive reaction to finding ‘his girl’ cozying up with an Indian ‘toothpick’, Aleki causes the frail Prakash to pass out from an asthma attack and at Leilani’s insistence is duty-bound to help get him to the hospital.

Thus concludes the first of a handful of scenes, each of which takes the 45 minute tale in a new direction. Directed by Caroline Hardie, the cast perform the script with a confident rhythm, to varying degrees of naturalism. I sense that they haven’t had the privilege of a lengthy rehearsal process, as flashes of self-consciousness betray the otherwise assertive performances.

Nonetheless, the engagement and laughter of the audience is testament to the insight of Sharp’s droll, insightful script – part rom-com, part farce, part buddy-movie.  Inevitably the cultural differences between Prakash and Leilani are discussed, although the area of most concern (after Aleki) is more of a similarity – namely their families’ shared traditional desire to marry within their respective races.

As much as ethnicity is made an issue, the real story in this comedic fable is about young people breaking away from familial ties and making their own decisions.  Sensible, articulate Prakash possibly has a bit of a head start, while Leilani and especially Aleki are just beginning to come to terms with the fact that it’s a long road ahead and not to be taken lightly, nor too seriously; and there’s no need to hurry.

(The last three plays in this series will be reviewed on the closing night).


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Impressive diversity

Review by Nik Smythe 10th Sep 2014

This week six emerging theatre writers from Gary Henderson’s Graduate Studio flex their skills to produce a selection of plays of varying length and content.  So they can fully experience and understand the whole process, the playwrights themselves have organised their cast and crew for each of the seven diverse pieces.  This is a review of the first three plays.

Korina Tuahine both wrote and directed the opening play Ashes and Mud, another specimen in the currently popular Polynesian World Wars genre.  Two close friends fight side by side in WWI while two sisters keep the home fires burning back on the pa.  Connor te Brake is Piri, a large, egocentric young man who takes as little as possible seriously, fighting for king and country in the trenches across Europe with his best friend Arataki (Liam Coleman). 

Arataki’s two sisters Reikura (Melissa Connors) and Mahinarangi (Rhema Sutherland) are diametric opposites: Reikura thoughtful and industrious, dreaming of a better life; Mahina the cynical illiterate alcoholic, struggling just to give basic care to her own baby.  Reikura has ambitions to teach, rejected by older sister Mahina who herself left school to marry Tere (unseen in the play, now at war with her brother and Piri).

Meanwhile, the hate/love relationship between Piri and Reikura, as illustrated in various flashbacks throughout the play, is pivotal.  It seems to take a few scenes for performance nerves to settle, but as the actors warm to their roles the tone of the play finds its resonance.  The soldiers’ banter is relaxed and natural (when they aren’t screaming in terror under heavy enemy fire), while by comparison the sisters are portrayed somewhat more melodramatically. 

Spanning 3 years, from Gallipoli to the end of the war, the conclusion – or rather conclusions, given each individual’s journey is resolved one way or another – are appropriately tragic.  While fairly predictable, the ultimate message of hope is satisfying thanks to the sensitive performances of te Brake and Connors. 

Running a full hour and digging deep into the minds and hearts of the characters, Ashes and Mud seems a short cry from a fully-fledged production in its own right, given a budget and a few more weeks’ rehearsal. 

The next work, Adrift by Anna Harding, directed by Damon Keen and Jo Brookbanks, is in many ways the antithesis to the first.  Running a brief fifteen minutes, set in the globally-warmed future where the sea levels have dramatically risen, and concerning two strangers on a lifeboat – although there is apparently a kind of war going on, of the post-apocalypse variety.

Katrina Rumbal plays the boat’s owner, a hard-bitten no-nonsense teenaged survivor who answers to the name ‘Maps’ due to a keen sense of direction.  Jo Brookbanks plays Lulu, found by Maps bleeding in a dugout canoe she recognised as her own lost mother’s and rescued specifically to be interrogated as to said mother’s whereabouts.  The problem is, thanks to a nasty looking unexplained head injury, Lulu can’t remember much besides her own name.

Tensions quickly rise and explode and the twist is reasonably interesting. Ultimately it seems to me this earnest drama could have either gone deeper and further with the concept, or been shortened just a tad to become a worthy contender in the recent Short and Sweet seasons. 

Finally, all bets are off in terms of drawing any parallels between the preceding works and The King, the Queen and the Servant by Cath Harkins, directed by Toby Leach.  Expertly overacting, the titular trio paint a highly comical, somewhat grotesque portrait of aristocracy in the midst of a reported plague epidemic.

Anoushka Klaus plays the high-strung Queen, seemingly capable at any moment of either laughing hysterically or stabbing you in the eye.  Sam Berkely is the doddery King, apparently a fair bit older than his queen; I’m at first uncertain whether his brilliant slapstick blundering is due to senility, a stroke or alcoholism.  I conclude possibly a little from each column. 

Robert Tripe is the nefarious Servant whose devious manipulations have him gunning to usurp his king’s throne and/or wife, as he drip-feeds scandalous propaganda to the frustrated and gullible queen.  The manic, unashamedly absurd performance runs at just over twenty outrageous minutes to which the closest comparison I can muster is somewhere between Beckett and The Goodies. 

Commendations must be made to each company for their efforts in producing an exemplary array of sets, props and wardrobes.  From the pleasing authenticity of Ashes and Mud to the subtle, contemporary take on fairy-tale costumes in The King, the Queen and the Servant, it is evident plenty of thought has gone into every stage of these works’ development. 

Even more so, the exceptional effort and skills of technical designer and operator Amber Molloy cannot be applauded too highly, given her dedicated service to all seven plays in this season. 

Three plays per night playing for the rest of the week, I’ll be reviewing one more on Thursday evening and the remainder on Saturday’s closing night.  So far I feel that while all these plays could stand some degrees of further development, there’s plenty enough going on to appreciate that there is something to this Gary Henderson fellow’s mentoring programme.


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