Play With Your Food 2010: Café Theatre

Beach Babylon Café, Oriental Bay, Wellington

28/06/2010 - 28/06/2010

Production Details

Written and directed by Barry Lakeman

Presented by Jawbone Co-operative

The Play With Your Food team is back with four brand new short plays to perform in cafés, to bring theatre to where the people are.

Barry Lakeman started this enterprise in 2008 because there are few opportunities to perform his plays of 10 to 30 minutes, and because he found that there was an audience for theatre that didn’t like the formality of “going to the theatre”.

Play With Your Food is designed to provide the immediacy and proximity of theatre, not far from home. (Of course, cafés are a second home to some of the audience.) People who are not regular theatre goers feel more comfortable among smaller audiences, and the cafe format, with breaks between each play, enables the audience to enjoy the evening in a relaxed atmosphere.

Four plays are performed each night. As Barry says, “If you don’t like one of them, there will be another one along soon”.

The challenge in presenting plays in cafés is in providing strong storylines and characterisation, as there are not a lot of opportunities for technical “tricks”. It is a challenge for the actors, too. They are in demand and it is not always the same six that perform every night, and as the café layouts are different, it makes for different stage orientations every time.

Over the last four years, three of Barry’s plays, which range from comedy to drama to “just plain weird”, were selected from 1200 entries annually to be performed as part of the Short and Sweet festivals in Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland.

The new season consists of four new plays, all comedies, one of which premiered at a performance at the Salvation Army Johnsonville in March in aid of their missions to Fiji.

The cast over the next few weeks are Andrew Edgar, Elle Wootton, Irene Miller, Jeff Osborne, Kim Smith and Tom Martin. Barry Lakeman has been dragged in to play a role in one. Don Blackmore handles all things technical.

Performances are scheduled around dates when cafes are available. The current list is:

Monday 21 June: The Cheeky Pipi, 163 The Parade, Island Bay. Café open for dinner at 6.00 p.m. Performances start 7.30 p.m. Bookings: 383 8260 or at the café. $10.

Wednesday 23 June: Caffe Bellagio, 3 Moxham Ave, Hataitai. Dinner 6.00 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. Performances start 7.30. Bookings: 386 1839 or at the café. $10.

Monday 28 June: Beach Babylon Café, 232 Oriental Parade. Dinner from 6.00 p.m. $40 includes 2 course meal (main + entrée or dessert). Theatre at 7.30 p.m. Bookings: 801 7717, at the café, or e-mail Website:




Four bite-sized plays by Barry Lakeman

These four brand new plays have not been performed here before.


Happy Birthday, Margaret!

Black comedy.  Rebecca and Simon visit their parents’ house to celebrate their mother’s birthday and try to get their parents to sort out their chaotic housing situation.  A game of Trivial Pursuit leads to their mother revealing a nasty secret. 



Comedy.  Two characters in a play try to determine whether they are real. 


S. W. A. L. K.

Comedy.  Three witches are waiting for a temporary replacement so that one of them can go on holiday.  A man — or is it a seal? — arrives.  He is tested, with help from the audience, to see if he is suitable as a temporary substitute.


Reunion in Columbus

Comedy.  A committee in America is holding another in a series of regular meetings to organise a family reunion.  There appear to be mistakes in the family tree.  A descendant of a black sheep of the family e-mails them from New Zealand.  Is he a legitimate member of the family, and can he attend the reunion?  The matter is decided when a family secret is revealed.


Play With Your Food is proudly Supported by Groove 107.7FM.

The players:
Andrew Edgar, Barry Lakeman, Elle Wootton, Irene Miller, Jeff Osborne, Kim Smith and Tom Martin

All things technical: Don Blackmore
Graphic design, photography, publicity: Marjorie McKee

Theatre ,

2 hrs incl. intervals

Four plays in search of a rigorous director and creative actors

Review by John Smythe 30th Jun 2010

I generally enjoy Barry Lakeman’s short play writing. He likes to play with genres and each piece is usually well crafted with distinctive characters, say-able dialogue and good dramatic structure, and infused with some kind of humour.

Being short – this itinerant Play With Your Food season serves up four plays within two hours, including three intervals – they tend not to outstay their welcomes. “If you don’t like one of them,” Lakeman observes in the publicity material, “there will be another one along soon.” Fair enough.

Putting them on in inner-suburban restaurants with basic lighting and sound facilities, in a space not designed for performance, lowers our expectations of production values, which is also fair enough. Having to rise above such odds can bring out the best in actors.

Unfortunately the uneven acting skills among this seven-actor co-op, as seen at Oriental Bay’s Beach Babylon last Monday night, undermines the potential entertainment value of the programme. Also, playing them against a side wall in a long narrow ‘dog leg’ space affords poor sight lines for most of the audience where some sort of traverse orientation would have been better.

The lacklustre introductions from writer-director Lakeman don’t help either, although I can see why he prefers to be low-key rather than hype it up with showbiz pizzazz. Keeping the expectations low means the only way is up.

Happy Birthday, Margaret! is a domestic comedy that turns ‘black’. Grown children, whose personal lives are variously dysfunctional, come ‘home’ for their Mum’s birthday, play board games with their ever-ebullient Dad while she slaves in the kitchen alone, then take the moral high ground when she turns out to have been less than saintly in her marriage. But there is more than space-saving and energy conservation behind the lounge room having been locked up and unused …

Jeff Osborne, as Terry, the father, bellows all the way through and Kim Smith, as Margaret – whose awkwardness could be justified by the character’s secrets – shouts to match him. This leaves Elle Wootton’s Rebecca (the single-again daughter) and Tom Martin’s Simon (the married son whose wife and child haven’t come) to establish some level of familial credibility, which they do.

Terry’s sister Janine (Irene Miller) and nephew Jeffrey (Andrew Edgar) pop in briefly, largely to increase the awkwardness of the situation, it seems. The tag line mirror’s that of Roger Hall’s Middle Age Spread – “What are we going to do now?” – although the answer is not “The dishes” but “Play more Trivial Pursuits”. And yes, this is the way some people live their lives.

In Cast, Wooton and Martin play “two characters in search of reality”, riffing on the proposition that their existence is only possible because someone has written them into a play. They delight in earnest consideration of the metaphysics – which are recycled in ever-decreasing iterations – and play off each other well. Wootton especially proves to bring a strong, well-centred emotional intelligence to her role, which draws us into her world and concerns. She’s good.

Described by its author as “an absolutely silly comedy”, S.W.A.L.K finds three witches – Guhilde (Smith), Avril (Wootton) and Esmeralda (Miller) – attempting to accommodate a ‘temp’ to maintain the coven’s quorum (the minimum is three, apparently, to maintain effectiveness), while Esmeralda goes on holiday. Unfortunately Avicore (Martin) has taken the form of a seal …

A welter of stock conundrums and cracker-style ‘jokes’, allowing for audience participation, may or may not have something to do with lifting the spell, which finally happens with unexpected results. The modern day version of a witch’s broomstick offers a good sight-gag to end on.

Reunion in Columbus, set in Ohio USA, dramatises the umpteenth committee meeting to plan a family reunion and the accurately-depicted petty minutiae of meeting procedure had one table in hysterics last Monday night. Michael (Edgar), Danny (Lakeman), Carsten (Osborne), Anna (Smith) and Vicky (Miller) bring their stock roles alive, with the women developing some good non-verbal byplay.

The dramatic objective appears to be (as with Happy Birthday, Margaret!) to prick the bubble of moral hypocrisy, with an email from a distant relative in NZ being the catalyst. Unfortunately the pay-off falls flat for lack of a well-wrought set up (i.e. I assumed all the committee members were part of the ever-extending family and it needs to be made clear that one of them is not for the punchline to work).

Barry Lakeman is ‘one of nature’s playwrights’ in that his experience and observations of life constantly provoke him to make plays. Every community needs such people. It is sad that our better resourced professional theatres have not been constantly hungry for the work of such writers, and committed to their development, so that their plays and talents could reach their full potential.

These plays need rigorous directing and creative actors able to do much more than remember their lines and not bump into the furniture.


Marjorie McKee September 2nd, 2023

It is worth noting that after the performance John reviewed, Barry was persuaded to see a doctor and was diagnosed with advanced cancer. He died just over 6 months later. Barry’s energy, vision and creative electricity designed “Play with your Food”, formed and inspired the troupe, and wrote and directed the plays, but the Beach Babylon season was the last.

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