Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

25/02/2012 - 31/03/2012

New Zealand International Arts Festival 2012

Production Details

“Destined to become a classic…” National Business Review  

Playwright Gary Henderson takes a touching, bittersweet look at life in the 1960s in the beautifully crafted Peninsula. Michael Hope is 10 years old and sleeps on a volcano. This is his playground, his paradise. But rumblings in the adult world encroach on Michael’s life, then erupt, throwing his world into a chaos that will change him forever.

A Circa Theatre production, Peninsula is directed by Jane Waddell. Set within the moody landscape of its title, the play weaves a story in and around the everyday lives of a small-town community on Banks Peninsula.

Gary Henderson’s plays have been professionally 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 UK in 2007 and Canada in 2008.

He received a Chapman Tripp Theatre Award for Outstanding New NZ 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.

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.

Circa Theatre
25 February to 18 March
Tickets $50 available from Ticketek.
Circa Friends will receive Friends of the Festival discount for Peninsula by booking at any Ticketek agency or box office using their Circa Friends card. 

Lynette/Valerie:  Michele Amas
Ngaire/Sylvia:  Laura Hill
Michael/Bruce:  Paul McLaughlin
Alex/Jack:  Phil Vaughan
Mr MacIntosh/Pug:  Jason Whyte

Set Design:  Andrew Foster
Lighting Design:  Jennifer Lal
Sound Design:  Chris Ward
Sound Design Consultant:  John McKay
Costume Design:  Sheila Horton

Choreography:  Luke Hanna

Production Team
Production Manager:  Simon Rayner
Stage Manager/Lighting Operator   :  Ellis Thorpe
Sound operator:  Alana Kelly
Set Construction:  Iain Cooper, John Hodgkins
Production Crew:  Hamish Baxter-Broad, UlliBriese, Tim Dallas, Andy Den Haan, Matt Eller, Gavin Rutherford, Roger Thackery
Scenic Artist:  Eileen McCann
Publicity:  Colleen McColl
Graphic Design:  Rose Miller – Kraftwork
Photography:  Dominika Zielinska
House Manager:  Suzanne Blackburn
Box Office:  Linda Wilson 

Setting: Duvauchelle,BanksPeninsula

2hrs 20mins, incl. interval

Seismic rumblings

Review by Lynn Freeman 01st Mar 2012

Family epics are the stuff of theatre – there is such drama within most families, tensions and jealousies, power plays and the ultimate journey, from childhood to adulthood.

Gary Hendersonset his play in a tiny village onBanksPeninsula, over an extinct volcano. This was well before theChristchurchearthquakes. The volcanic soundscape at the start is a little confusing and you keep expecting a seismic event.

But the seismic rumblings that happen here are emotional ones, as 10 year old Michael Hope’s world is turned upside down.

Peninsula is set in the 1960s and is full of reminders of those innocent years, when TV was just coming in and kids played outside for hours without adult supervision. Michael’s interest in science and cartography are sparked by a new teacher who takes over the school. But while villages have their advantages there is also the danger of gossip spreading like wildfire.

Jane Waddellhas brought together a brilliant cast: Laura Hill, Michele Amas, Jason Whyte, Paul McLaughlin, Phil Vaughan. Under Waddell’s astute direction they play both parents and children, and in one case the best on- stage dog you’re likely to see.

It’s a long play which gives us time to get to know both generations, and to care about them. The drama is slow burning and subtle, and ultimately deeply rewarding for the audience.

This production stands up proudly alongside the International shows being seen at the NZ International Arts Festival. It’s on until March 31. 


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Actors carry off testing dual roles

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 27th Feb 2012

Jane Waddell and her cast and crew (particularly Chris Ward’s sound effects) have done New Zealand theatre proud in this International Arts Festival with a beautifully realised production of Gary Henderson’s Peninsula.

Unlike the fictional Grover’s Corner in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and Te Parenga in Bruce Mason’s The End of the Golden Weather, both of which came to mind while watching Henderson’s fine play, Peninsula is set in a real place: Duvauchelle in Banks Peninsula in 1963.

The central figure is a young boy, Michael Hope, who becomes fascinated by his surroundings when his teacher describes how Banks Peninsula was formed millions of years ago. He starts drawing maps of his tiny community and its place in New Zealand, the world, and the cosmos.

The play charts not only Michael’s growing awareness of time and place but also of the changes that disrupt this bucolic idyll caused by events in the adult world of his parents, neighbours, and teacher. And through the pinhole camera that the teacher shows his students and Michael later shows his family we see the beauty of the world upside down as it is revealed to one small sensitive boy just before the golden weather comes to an end.

Four of the actors play children which has the potential for being trying but the actors carry it off with assurance and nicely observed details. The fifth actor, Jason Whyte, plays the teacher as well as a pet dog but while he is very funny, Pug is never cutesy. His teacher from Wellington doing his country service is tense, stiff-backed, trying to fit into an almost alien community of typical rural Kiwis.

The rest of the top notch cast have good contrasting roles: Phil Vaughan plays Michael’s kindly dad and Michael’s bumptious best friend; Laura Hill is Michael’s young sister and a bored housewife with a wandering eye; Michelle Amas is the know-it-all child in the classroom and Michael’s mother, and Paul McLaughlin is the boorish husband of the bored housewife and, in a sterling performance, Michael.


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Essential theatre in every respect

Review by John Smythe 26th Feb 2012

Nearly seven years ago I wrote that Gary Henderson’s Peninsula was “clearly destined to become a classic”. I now have to revise that opinion: it is a classic – and insofar as its insights into individual and communal human experience are timeless and universal, it always has been.

Set in 1963 at BanksPeninsula’s DuvauchelleBay– where the pa-site Onawe is the plug of a supposedly extinct volcano – when Cantabrian pop star Dinah Lee was doing The Blue Beat and Echo satellites orbited planet Earth, the play was commissioned by the Christchurch Arts Festival. Directed by Henderson himself, it evolved over three years of workshops and premiered to great acclaim at the Court Theatre in August 2005.

What I wrote of it then, in the National Business Review, still holds true:

“While Bruce Mason’s The End of the Golden Weather is clearly an honoured ancestor, the boy in Peninsula is more challenging in his flawed behaviour. The device of using adults to play children is also redolent of Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills which in turn shares insights into the inhumanity of humankind with William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

“What adds particular value toHenderson’s intensely personal and therefore highly original play is the way he tracks the domino-effect of negative actions based on bad feeling. While every character is fully responsible for their own actions, collective responsibility looms very large as a fundamental agent in everyone’s fate.

“Michael’s fascination with the way light passes through a pinhole and turns the world upside down stands as a central metaphor that epitomises the quiet ingenuity of this exceptional work. And be assured the story’s dark side does have a flipside of optimism.

“In distilling a particular and unremarkable Kiwi childhood to its heartfelt essence with exquisite style, Peninsula makes the ordinary universal, timeless and extraordinary.”

Why such a work has taken all this time to achieve production in Wellington is a mystery (although I believe Downstage was ruled out as a venue because of its lack of soundproofing) but it is now very welcome as Circa’s contribution to this 2012 NZ International Festival of the Arts.

Peninsula is directed this time with superbly conceived and perfectly paced ‘less is more’ simplicity by Jane Waddell, who helmed the multi-award-winning Circa production of Henderson’s Home Land in 2007.

Paul McLaughlin reprises the pivotal role of Michael Hope, Chris Ward’s original and stunning sound design is revived (with consultant John McKay) and set designer Andrew Foster has replaced the wooden slats and weather boards of his Christchurch design with Astroturf and a freshly laundered linen backdrop, upon which the miracle of new days breaking – even in the wake of childhood trauma – is projected.

Jennifer Lal’s brilliant lighting design subtly evokes the everyday and heightened realities of childhood experience. Three light primaries throw up a tri-coloured shadow redolent of the printed 3-D comics that were so popular back then.

It’s easy to take Sheila Horton’s costume designs for granted until we realise the same garb works just as well for ten year old children as it does for their parents. Likewise every moment in the play – on paper and in production – does multiple service, setting the scene, advancing the plot, developing the relationship and exploring the themes.

Four of the five the actors step instantaneously from child to adult then back again with absolute conviction, adding or subtracting nothing to or from their costumes; they simply inhabit each role and we in the audience have no trouble following the seamless flow.

Jason Whyte, however, achieves split-second flits from the stern but kind – and harbouring a personal secret – sole-charge schoolteacher Gordon MacIntosh to Pug the dog, ever ready to share an adventure with the boys. Humanising his vocals (“Hey! Hey!”) and pointing, his physicality and ever-watchful eyes are a delight to behold.

Michele Amas’s know-it-all Lynette, whose family is the first to get a TV, is profoundly contrasted with Michael’s mother Valerie, who visits every high and low-tide tributary of motherhood and wifedom while the river of self flows by.

Michael’s younger sister Ngaire is wonderfully realised with attention to detail by Laura Hill who slips effortlessly into the frustrated – ‘would rather be in the city’ – Sylvia, wife of Bruce and mother of Alex.

Paul McLaughlin inhabits every present moment of Michael’s questing life lessons, the richness of which is light years away from his Bruce’s authentically blunt simplicity.

We are used to seeing Phil Vaughan playing the full-on Kiwi bloke but here he too brings superbly subtle detail to his Jack Hope, and (Bruce and Sylvia’s boy) Alex, quietly coping with the troubles at home and happiest when building on Michael’s dreams – except when he loses faith – and playing with Pug.

Just as the volcano lies beneath the very ground they inhabit, so the ‘real world’ of small-minded ignorance and prejudice cracks the blissful façade of childhood. I’ll say no more except to note that syndromes exposed by the Christchurch Crèche Case (of 1993, which saw Peter Ellis wrongly imprisoned for seven years) reverberate within Peninsula, as do the much more recent earthquakes at a metaphorical level. (As an enquiry into the nature of instability it is infinitely more rewarding than The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane.)

Essential theatre in every respect, Peninsula is not to be missed. 


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