Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

01/03/2012 - 04/03/2012

Production Details

Mystery! Murder! Mayhem! 

When a forgotten movie star turns up dead, private detective Richard Marlowe has to follow all possible clues to uncover the mystery behind the movie star’s death. During his investigation he will cross paths with the likes of B-grade film director Ed Wood, buxom TV star Vampira, as well as the mysterious Russian inventor Leon Theremin and his ethereal music. A web of mystery, murder and mayhem, PLAY ME DEADLY! will take you on a journey into a world of music, monsters, aliens, washed out movie stars and classic Golden Age Hollywood.

It’s the attack of the invisible thing! Now presented in AURAL-VISION!

The Director:

Thomas Sainsbury is one of New Zealand’s most popular and prolific playwrights, gaining considerable attention and praise in the past few years for productions of his dark comedies in New Zealand, USA, Australia and London. His plays include Sunday Roast, LUV, The Mall, Loser, The Christmas Monologues and Crims. He has previously been selected three times for Playmarket’s New Zealand Young Playwrights Competition. The Mall, Loser and The Christmas Monologues have been published by The Play Press. Thomas’s debut TV show, the observational comedy, Super City, has been nominated for 3 Aotearoa TV & Film Awards, including Best Series and Best Writing.

The Writer:

Louis Mendiola is an experienced writer having worked in the TV and Film industry in the U.S. as well as directing and producing several short films screened all over the world. This is his third work in theatre, having debuted in 2011 with a couple of monologues for Tom Sainsbury’s Monologues series. 

The Basement Theatre
March 1 to 4 @ 7pm
Tickets: $20

B-Theatre Fun: So bad it's good

Review by James Wenley 02nd Mar 2012

Bela Lugosi’s career was rock bottom by the time he was working with infamously bad film director Ed Wood. After gaining success as Dracula in the 1930 film, Lugosi became a regular in horror films. By the 1950s however, he was washed up and irrelevant until Ed Wood bought him out of obscurity to star in his low budget B movies. Bela Lugosi’s death, of a heart attack aged 73, did not stop Ed Wood from having him star in one of his movies one more time – using only one day’s worth of silent test footage and a body double, Bela Lugosi would receive top billing for science fiction shlock Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Or so history records. This week at the Basement Studio, Play me Deadly tells its own ‘B-Theatre’ version about what really was behind Lugosi’s death, and the sinister plan behind the film Plan 9 from Outer Space.


Make a comment

Fun for the actors

Review by Stephen Austin 02nd Mar 2012

It can always be tricky making something intentionally ‘bad’.  Somewhere between the script and the production itself, a fine line needs to be worked between the truth of the characters and the ridiculousness of the shoddy production values.  A director and cast need to know the intent and either play the ironic audience-winking to the hilt or play it as straight as possible to heighten the camp value.

Louis Mendiola has written an honest homage to 1950s ‘worst director of all time’ Ed Wood, innovative Russian musician Leon Theremin and private dick Richard Marlowe (who I assume is an invention of the writer, riffing on Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe from The Big Sleep, et al). 

Bela Lugosi is Dead, Marlowe is called into investigate, and in a series of flashbacks it is unfolded that Wood has been working on a new script, but something went awry in the process and now he may or may not have aliens, the Russians, the studios, the law and several other heavies after him.

The pace of the writing is colourful and well paced but suffers somewhat from being almost a photocopy of so many pop-culture references that we’ve seen before (there are times when it feels all are reaching for the lofty heights of Tim Burton’s homage bio-pic of Wood, for instance) without actually giving the audience too much new or pertinent to chew on.  There’s also a bizarre through-line with Theremin cast against gender and cat-suited with an avatar who fully realises the composer’s work on his strange device.

The actors all make a good rollicking fist of the material and it’s clear they’re having heaps of fun.

Especially Liesha Ward Knox, who captures the bored sexualised poise of Vampira (excellent ‘tension hands’!), the cat-like otherness of Theremin, Natalie Wood’s inherent beauty and various other female characters in the work.  Her physical presence in each character is totally in the moment and her accent work is flawless. 

Sam Bunkall makes a passable Marlowe (lets face it, any depiction of the classic Hollywood private dick is going to come off as a little two-dimensional these days), but it is his cigar-chomping, loud-mouthed bickering studio head Chris Warner that he almost manages to steal the show with. 

Roberto Nascimento has the fresh-faced, good-natured optimism to pull off the role of Ed Wood, but unfortunately struggles against his own natural accent to make the American cadence fully work.  I’m a little baffled as to why he’s not playing Theremin in this production; there really isn’t anything in the script to suggest why the composer should be played by a lycra-clad female.

Professional Theremin [the instrument] player Glyn Evans lends his talents to the show by playing live and cuts an almost identical figure to The Amazing Criswell, who appeared in many of Woods’ later films, most notably Plan Nine From Outer Space.  His extreme posture and crisp elegant playing style lends an extra level to the production that could really be built upon to create an excellent evening of entertainment while informing the audience of the history and various characters being brought together here.

The set, lighting and sound design are all suitably shonky and piece-meal.

With a bit of concentration on making the characters even more self-absorbed and serious in their through-line to heighten the true camp value and tightening the production design to something a bit more distinct, this could be a production to take to fringe festivals, because when this production fires properly it’s certainly very entertaining.


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council