Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

29/03/2014 - 19/04/2014

Production Details

Featuring: Nick Dunbar, Rosella Hart, Julie Edwards, Phil Vaughan and Andrew Laing 

Gary Henderson (recipient of the 2013 Playmarket Award) has crafted a beautifully funny, touching and bittersweet play about a small-town New Zealand community in the 1960’s.  

“Destined to become a classic…” National Business Review

Ten year old Michael Hope sleeps on a volcano. This is his playground, his paradise. He becomes fascinated when his new teacher describes how his hometown on Banks Peninsula was formed millions of years ago and he begins a project mapping his tiny community.

As he prepares for the Christchurch Science Fair, unbeknownst to him, there are undercurrents of change and discontent slowly rippling through the adult world around him.

“A rare immersion experience, this slice of imminent nostalgia is fluent, intelligent, evocative, multilayered storytelling that effectually mirrors our present                  through our not so distant past.” – Evening Standard

Gary Henderson’s plays have been produced in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Great Britain, Canada and the United States. Skin Tight won a coveted Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1998. It was also produced in New York in 2006, the United Kingdom in 2007 and Canada in 2008.

He received a Chapman Tripp Theatre Award for Outstanding New New Zealand Play of the Year in 2007 for Home Land and Best New Short Play in 1996 for Mo & Jess Kill Susie. More recent commissions include Stealing Games for Capital E National Theatre for Children and My Bed My Universe for Massive Company in Auckland. 

Peninsula was written in Dunedin while Henderson was resident at the Robert Lord Writers’ Cottage. Although the story of Peninsula is fictional, the places and some of the incidental anecdotes are real, the playwright says. It is an acknowledgement, a nod to a time and a place that was a step on the way to here and now.

Director, Patrick Davies, says, “When I first read Peninsula I knew I had to direct it. I consider it to be one of New Zealand’s best written plays, containing all the elements that make live theatre so enthralling; a great story, the magic of imagination, a huge heart and characters who could easily be your family. You will fall in love with this production, leaving the theatre with a warm heart and a huge smile.”

“Essential theatre in every respect, Peninsula is not to be missed.” – Theatreview  

Production Dates:  29 March – 19 April 2014
Running Time:  Approx. 2 hours 20 minutes (including interval)
Venue:  Fortune Theatre Mainstage, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin
Performances:  Tuesday, 6.00pm, Wednesday – Saturday, 7.30pm, Sunday, 4.00pm (no show Monday)
Tickets:  Gala (first 5 shows) $34, Adults $42, Senior Citizens $34,

Members $32, Tertiary Students $20, High School Students $15, Group discount (10 +) $34
BookingsVFortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin 
Box Office 03 477 832303 477 8323 or visit 


Lunchtime Bites / Thursday, 20 March, 2014 – meet at 12.15pm in the Dunedin Public Library, ground floor. The cast will perform an excerpt from Peninsula with an opportunity to win tickets. Reading will commence at 12.30pm followed by afternoon tea. This is a FREE event.

Peninsula Opening Night / Saturday, 29 March, 2014 7.30pm, Fortune Theatre.

Members’ Briefing / Sunday, 30 March, 2014 – meet at the Fortune bar at 3.00pm and join Director Patrick Davies for a lively informal chat about Peninsula. 

Forum / Tuesday, 1 April, 2014 – join the cast and crew for an open question and answer session following the 6.00pm show.

Audio Describe Performance / Sunday, 13 April 2014 – an audio described performance offered in collaboration with Experience Access for visually impaired patrons and friends. Bookings essential.

Education Pack – a High School Education Pack will be available from Monday, 24 March 2014.

Lynette/Valerie:  Julie Edwards
Ngaire/Sylvia:  Rosella Hart 
Michael/Bruce:  Andrew Laing
Alex/Jack:  Phil Vaughan
Mr MacIntosh/Pug:  Nick Dunbar 

Writer:  Gary Henderson
Director:  Patrick Davies
Production Manager:  Lindsay Gordon
Set Designer:  Peter King
Set Build:  Peter King, Richard Clark
Lighting Designer:  Stephen Kilroy
Costume Designer:  Maryanne Wright-Smyth
Stage Manager:  Monique Webster
Assistant Stage Manager/Properties Master:  George Wallace 

Theatre ,

Admirable, entrancing

Review by Barbara Frame 31st Mar 2014

What volcano? “The volcano we’re all sitting on right now,” the new teacher, Mr MacIntosh, tells his class. To the kids in the primary school at Duvauchelle, on Banks Peninsula, this is a revelation. To one of them, Michael, it’s life-changing. 

Set somewhere around 1960, Gary Henderson’s play is entrancing. There are moments of magic, notably when a family snuggles under a blanket to watch a satellite in the night sky, and when a class marvels at the simplicity of a pinhole camera. But it’s not all lyrical and, when prejudice and violence crack the serenity to expose some of New Zealand society’s more shameful aspects, the volcano metaphor is apt. 

Director Patrick Davies describes Peninsula as “simply the best New Zealand play,” and it would be hard to disagree. Davies’ inspired, beautifully designed, precisely paced production does justice to the play’s scope and vision.  

Five actors – Nick Dunbar, Julie Edwards, Rosella Hart, Andrew Laing and Phil Vaughan – each play two parts and blend the 46 scenes into a seamless (except for the interval) whole, changing locations and characters in split seconds while never confusing the audience for an instant. Movements are fluid and agile, children are completely believably played by adults and Nick Dunbar’s Pug is as fine a stage dog as you will ever see.

Apart from two telephones and some wooden chairs there are few props to clutter the action. Peter King’s set features freshly laundered sheets, emphasising the play’s domesticity. Maryanne Wright-Smyth’s costumes are historically and visually perfect, and Stephen Kilroy’s lighting design captures and enhances each mood.

I was lost in admiration, and prolonged and enthusiastic applause from the large audience assured me that I was not the only one. Heartily recommended. 


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Oh yes, a classic

Review by Terry MacTavish 31st Mar 2014

I have been longing to see Peninsula ever since reading John Smythe’s prediction nearly ten years ago that it was destined to become a classic.  Winner of the 2013 Playmarket Award for Contribution to New Zealand Theatre, Gary Henderson is surely a national treasure.  With apparently casual ease he shows us ourselves in the wonderful tradition of The End of the Golden Weather and The Children of the Poor, employing the Brecht-influenced style that has actually become an identifiable characteristic of NZ Theatre: a small cast playing myriad characters to create an era and community instantly recognisable to us. 

I meet friends at interval who are marvelling over the accuracy and honesty of this recreation of the nineteen sixties, from junket for tea (“The awful food we had!”) to six o’clock closing (“Dad got arrested once”). 

This is part of the joy of Peninsula, that we can live again those days when, the minute school was out, kids went bush – building huts, digging secret tunnels, never home till dinner was on the table, running horrendous risks, making our own fun.  By way of this seductive nostalgia Henderson leads us to contemplate how the NZ of the 60s has led to the NZ we know today.  Some lines seem eerily prescient. 

Director Patrick Davies is Peninsula’s most passionate advocate: it is not always given to directors in professional theatre to be handed a play they utterly believe in, but Davies has been trying to get Peninsula put on in Dunedin for nearly a decade, and it is clear he has thrown all his extraordinary energy into this production.

The play is a wonderful showcase for the talents of well-trained and versatile actors, offering opportunities for swift role changes and impressive mime as well as depth of characterisation. (Drama teachers round the country take heed.)  The cast assembled for the Fortune is admirable.  Under Davies’ direction the transitions are breathtakingly swift, but absolutely clear, and the mime, especially of mealtimes, is impeccable.

The costumes (by Maryanne Wright-Smyth) are simple: cotton frocks with little cardies for girls, plaid shirts over dark shorts for the boys.  The only change is to add shoes for adults, a surprisingly effective notion, and oh those bare feet!  Performers in themselves!

To tell the story of ten year old Michael who lives on Banks Peninsula, the actors play two main characters, firstly one of the four children who, with staggering energy, easily convince us they are a class of twenty (the feet swinging childlike from the chairs, twined round the legs – someone give those eight feet an Oscar) and secondly their parents.  Each actor makes each role convincing and entertaining, but as the children they are unforgettable.  

Andrew Laing, the actor who last year so splendidly created the role of Frank Sargeson, makes the central character of Michael appealingly sensitive.  He’s not much good at rugby, but he’s interested in maps, intrigued by the realisation he’s living on a volcano and full of big dreams inspired by the new teacher.  Laing deals well, too, with the darker moments of Michael’s journey. 

Phil Vaughan brings his own brand of irresistible charm to Alex, Michael’s best friend and the devoted owner of Pug the dog.  The maddening and wonderful physicality of boyhood is vividly portrayed by both actors, who must be losing pounds!  Vaughan is touchingly credible too, as the concerned dad, Jack, who is much less red-necked than one might anticipate. 

Rosella Hart is delightful as the unbelievably annoying little sister Ngaire, telling tales and slyly provoking her brother, then switching smoothly to become the frustrated wife Sylvia, who unwittingly provokes the play’s crisis. 

Quite inimitable is Julie Edwards as both cosy, caring mum and lively child.  I enjoy the warm relationship she creates, as Valerie, with husband Jack, and can’t help laughing at her gorgeous little Lynette, whose round eyes grow ever rounder whether she is desperate to be class monitor or desperate to get out of trouble for bullying. 

The cute young girl with familiar face behind me can’t stop giggling at her antics either, and I recognise a next-generation Edwards. “How did your mum get so good at playing a little girl?” my companion asks her between scenes. “Through watching me!” is the smart reply, with a toss of her blonde ponytail. 

But all the actors must be practised observers, none more so than Nick Dunbar in the plum role of Pug, who enraptures the audience.  He’s not the first dog I’ve seen on stage, but I’ve never seen a better: from the erratic dash-around to the gentle at-rest panting to the utter bliss of the tummy rub, he has me sorely missing my own German Shepherd.  With equal conviction (though more dignity), Dunbar is also the recently arrived teacher doing country service, inspiring young Michael with stories of the volcanic history of the peninsula, and helping him with a special project despite nursing a private sorrow. 

This is a play that would work with a bare stage, but it has been given most impressive support by the Fortune crew under Lindsay Gordon.  The opening is thrilling, the volcanic rumblings beneath the auditorium and glowing fire beneath the stage at once exhilarating and disturbing.  Stephen Kilroy’s lighting justifies the wonder Michael finds in the night sky, and the sound (the original design by Chris Ward) is remarkably detailed, although on opening night occasionally a little too exuberant, causing a couple of lines to be lost. 

Peter King’s set is ingeniously flexible enough to support all the frenzied activity: a rough wooden platform at a useful angle, with a scattering of chairs that can quickly become schoolroom or pub, the odd post to suggest a jetty, and two of the old party-line telephones so crucial in the sixties to the generous sharing of other people’s secrets. 

Local digital company Myth, led by clever Zoe Hobson, has collaborated with the Fortune in creating marvels of imaginative and technically skilful effects.  The most spectacular is probably the stunning flow of lava across the stage when Michael is experiencing a nightmare, but I am captivated by the great teamwork between actors and lighting technicians that creates the impression of boys and dog on a home-made death-trap trolley hurtling down hill at crazy speed. 

It powerfully evokes my brother’s insane, breakneck adventures on a similar trolley. What was my mother thinking?  And instead of feeling guilty about the dangers we were exposed to, she actually regrets that kids no longer career down the street or build dangerous huts and forts and tunnels! – I’m sorry, it is all too easy to get caught up in personal childhood memories when recalling Peninsula, including the rambles over Dunedin’s own glorious peninsula with its wild beaches beckoning adventure. 

Pen-insula: what is it?  Almost an island.  Inevitably John Donne comes to mind – we may not be islands, but neither are we absolutely of the main, and sometimes it is only a slender bridge that links us to the rest of humanity.  What we do share, as Michael comes to realise, is the turbulent earth beneath us, the infinite sky of stars above.  Henderson is poet as well as playwright, and the script moves seamlessly from children’s speech: “You’ve got dog-shit on your pants!” to the dreamy lyricism of adult reminiscence: “…the smell of the sea-grass or the mud squishing under your feet or the flax bushes rattling or the melty tar on the road or Onawe like a big nose…”   Through such vivid detail, Henderson shares with us his love of the land. 

Oh yes, a classic.


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