Palliative Care

Globe Theatre, 104 London St, Dunedin

03/10/2008 - 12/10/2008

Otago Festival of the Arts

Production Details

The Globe Theatre and the Otago Festival of the Arts are pleased to present the New Zealand premiere of the play, Palliative Care, the latest work by emerging Dunedin playwright Emily Duncan, runner-up in the Young New Zealand Playwrights’ Competition with her first play ‘Lips’ in 1999.

Palliative Care is set in Alexandra where a family gathering becomes a catalyst of raw emotions that see three generations of family baggage uncovered. Ron Pederson is a World War II veteran and widower who is estranged from his adult daughter. His unconventional relationship with his nurse feeds the familial tensions that underpin the development of the play.

Palliative Care is a powerful drama that weaves love, hate, and sorrow into an ultimately uplifting tale of family dynamics.

The Globe Theatre continues its tradition of encouraging new works by New Zealanders by staging the premiere of this fine play.

Dates:  October 3rd -12th (except Monday 6th)

Times:  8pm every day except Sunday 5th and 12th (2pm)

Ticket prices:  General public $17 and  $14 (concession)  Globe members (contact theatre)

Bookings:  Regent Ticketek or door sales.

Doris:  Karin Reid
Rachel:  Rachel Chin
Althea:  Stacey Last
Theresa:  Kiri Beeching
Ron:  Chris Horlock
Tom:  Michael Fitzgibbon

Lighting design:  Martyn Roberts
Stage manager/operator:  Miriam Noonan
Musical direction:  Clare Adams
Set construction:  Andy Cook
Photography:  Melanie Peters
Publicity:  Roslyn Nijenhuis
Front of house:  Globe Committee

How do we comfort each other?

Review by Terry MacTavish 09th Oct 2008

"I saw death every day, and it made me blunt." Generation after generation of New Zealand men went off to fight in wars overseas. How did training to kill, to feel no emotion, affect their relationships with their families afterwards? Award-winning local playwright Emily Duncan tackles the issue in her new play, Palliative Care.

Ron Pederson’s war injuries have, with age, become chronic though not terminal. He is settled in the retirement paradise of Alexandra, in Central Otago, where he relies heavily on the district nurse, Doris. His wife died young and he brought up his only daughter, Theresa, on his own. Well, with some help, though he won’t admit it, from his strait-laced neighbour, Althea.

As the play begins he is about to receive a visit from his long-estranged daughter, who has brought her two teenage children from Australia to get to know their grandfather at last. Altogether they make an engaging family, good-looking and credibly related, with endearing flaws and some very funny lines. But all seem to rely on some sort of self-administered ‘palliative care’, like drugs or alcohol.

Chris Horlock as Ron is the lynchpin, with the rest naturally revolving around him. Horlock has a compelling stage presence, and gives Ron an attractively genial character despite the grumbles. He makes plausible the mellowing of Ron (perhaps under the cosy influence of Doris), and Ron’s admission that he was unable in the past to tell his daughter she was precious to him. He is now ready to show affection for his grandchildren, but it is not until tragedy strikes that he can truly make it up to Theresa.

Once upon a time at Uni, it was considered a funny joke to treat ‘district nurse’ as a rude and suggestive term, right up there with ‘stocking tops’, and this district nurse is certainly the stuff of fantasy, providing services beyond a mere bed-bath. But there is nothing sleazy about Karin Reid’s interpretation of Doris. She is as safe and comforting as a cup of bedtime Milo, and her relationship with Ron has great warmth and charm.

Laid-back Doris is amusingly contrasted with the very uptight Althea, played with manic fussiness by Stacey Last. Althea herself clearly has a soft spot for Ron. It might make for more tension if she were not the only one who disapproves of the closeness between Ron and his carer, as there is really nothing here to be resolved: the relationship is readily accepted by Ron’s family.

Kiri Beeching as Theresa, his daughter, with Michael Fitzgibbon and Rachel Chin as the grandchildren Tom and Rach, are all very confident, despite their proximity to the audience, whether performing within hand’s reach, or sitting quietly watching the action from the side. Although the characters are extremely self-absorbed, the actors make them likeable enough for us to care what happens to them. I loved Tom showing off his ‘manly smell’ to his mother who retorts, "It would offend a skunk!" and Rach hopefully offering her grandfather chewing gum to keep the pain at bay.

Unusually, the Globe’s seating has been arranged traverse-fashion, so that one half of the audience stares nervously at the other half across the acting area, while the set is virtually non-existent – just a formica table and grab-bag assorted chairs – yet director Richard Huber draws us into a solidly believable family scenario. The miming of all activities, from giving injections of morphine, to concocting ambrosia salad, is clearly carefully rehearsed and convincing.

Other aspects of the production are calculatedly non-realistic, with Clare Adams responsible for some interesting musical direction. Once the mood has been set by a recorded playing of Sentimental Journey, the cast make a stirring entry vigorously singing March On, my Soul. This seems suited to the crucifix-wearing Althea, and though the purpose of further hymns isn’t altogether clear, they are beautifully delivered. Better integrated, and thus more successful, is the absurdly funny unison-singing of the weather and sports news as if from the radio.

Some aspects of the script could use refining, with the exposition occasionally requiring characters to tell each other what would already be known, but overall this is a very enjoyable production, showing Duncan as a playwright fulfilling her early promise.

The question seems to be, how do we comfort each other? Each character needs the others, and plays a part in making life more bearable for each other. Theresa has come for refuge, and finds it despite the tragedy. The message ultimately is positive … and the last image lingers sweetly: Theresa dancing with her dad, her feet on his, like a child.


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