Celebration Theatre, Hagley Park, Christchurch

30/08/2013 - 30/08/2013

The Riverbank Centre, 71 Reyburn House Lane, Whangarei

03/08/2013 - 03/08/2013

Expressions Arts & Entertainment Centre - Upper Hutt, Wellington

30/07/2013 - 30/07/2013

Celebration Theatre, Hagley Park, Christchurch

24/07/2011 - 27/07/2011

Various venues or your living room, (not a specified venue)

01/03/2011 - 31/03/2011

Quaker Meeting House, Mt Eden, Auckland

08/03/2011 - 08/03/2011

Various venues - on tour, New Zealand wide

10/05/2007 - 03/06/2007

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

17/02/2006 - 04/03/2006

Auckland Fringe 2011

Arts On Tour NZ 2013

Production Details

Created bt by Helen Moulder and Sue Rider

Directed by Sue RiderComposer Gareth Farr
Pianist (live at Circa Two, recorded for the tour) Richard Mapp

Lighting deign by Philip Dexter
Wedding dress designed and crafted by Julie Wilson Lawrence

Willow Productions

Claudia lives an hour out of Christchurch with her farm accountant husband and son Ben who plays in a band. When an eccentric Irish film-maker comes to New Zealand to make a film of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Claudia sees a way out of her humdrum existence and auditions for the role of the jilted bride Miss Havisham. As she prepares for the role, Claudia finds her own life takes on the twists and turns of a Dickens novel.

A solo work of unexpected visual richness, Playing Miss Havisham unfolds with mystery, music, comedy and surprise. Complete with wedding dress and cobwebs.

For tour dates, venues and contact details. click here.

“Always a delight.” National Radio
“A magical performance” Glenda, Te Awamutu
“This is a wonderful piece of theatre by a consummate professional and should not be missed.” Nelson Mail
“I was dragged away from the rugby by my wife, but now I don’t even care what the score is.” Brian, Manawatu

2013 ARTS ON TOUR NZ season:

Ravishing Miss Havisham – complete with wedding dress and cobwebs! 

Helen Moulder on tour 30 July – 30 August (itinerary below) 

Claudia lives in rural Canterbury and is looking for more excitement in her life. When an eccentric Irish filmmaker arrives in New Zealand to make a film of Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’, Claudia is keen to audition. As she prepares for the role of Miss Havisham, Claudia’s own life takes on the twists and turns of a Dickens novel.

Written by Helen Moulder and Sue Rider, directed by Sue and acted by Helen (Claudia), Playing Miss Havisham features music recorded by Richard Mapp – Bach, Chopin, Schubert, Granados, Debussy and two pieces written especially for the show by Gareth Farr.

A work of unexpected visual richness, Playing Miss Havisham unfolds with mystery, music and surprise.

“…if there is one show you must see, it is this one.” 

Helen Moulder

An actor and singer for 40 years, Helen has worked in the theatre, radio, television and film, including singing with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company while in the United Kingdom in the 1970’s, and in musicals and pantomime. She returned to New Zealand in 1976 and has worked as an actor and singer ever since, performing not only in theatres, but in a huge variety of venues from farm sheds to a tent in Hagley Park to a 17th century brick cellar in Paris.

Among her many major roles she has played Aunt Dolly in Footrot Flats, (the musical), Madame Giry in Ken Hill’s Phantom of the Opera, (tour of Japan), Sylvia in Meeting Karpovsky devised with Sir Jon Trimmer, and Clementine in Meet the Churchills.

Her film and television credits include Close to Home, Pictures, Country GP, The Wall, Aberration, Erebus -The Aftermath, The Dark Knight and Sweet As.

“Touring – I love it. Love being in rural NZ where I grew up, enjoy meeting the audiences afterwards over a cup of tea. Last year was Dickens’ 200th birthday, but I toured Australia more than New Zealand, so this is a belated birthday tour. I’m going to all the places with this show I haven’t been before and am really looking forward to it.”


Tuesday 30 July 8pm Upper Hutt  
Expressions Arts & Entertainment Centre 
Adult $30; Concessions/friends $20 
Book: 04 527 2168 or 

Friday 2 August 7.30pm Omapere
Copthorne Hotel
$15 Door sales 

Saturday 3 August 7.30pm Whangarei 
The Riverbank Centre, Reyburn Lane
Adult $20 Book: or Whangarei Suit Hire, Rust Ave 

Sunday 4 August 8pm Onewhero 
OSPA Theatre, Hall Rd
$20 Book: River Traders Tuakau 

Tuesday 6 August 8pm Coromandel 
Hauraki House Theatre 
$18 Book: Coromandel Information Centre 

Wednesday 7 August 7.30pm Paeroa   
Little Theatre 
$15 Book: Arkwright’s Antiques 

Thursday 8 August 7.30pm Cambridge  
St Andrew’s Church Hall, 85 Hamilton Rd 
$18 or $15 Senior concessions 
Book: Cambridge Information Centre, 8233456  

Friday 9 August 7.30pm Hamilton 
Playhouse Theatre, Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts 
University of Waikato
Adults $25; Seniors/unwaged $20; Students $10
Book: www.ticketek.conz 0800 TICKETEK (fees apply) 

Saturday 10 August 7.30pm Tauranga  
Tauranga Art Gallery 
$25; $20 Student with ID, or Gallery Friend 
Book: Tauranga Art Gallery 

Thursday 15 August 7.30pm Darfield 
Recreation Centre 
$15 Book: Selwyn Art Gallery 

Friday 16 August 7.30pm Ashburton 
Ashburton Trust Event Centre 
$25 each; $22.50 each for 2 or 3, $20 each for 4 or more 
Door sales all $25 
Book: Ashburton Trust Event Centre Box office 

Saturday 17 August 2pm Balcairn 
Balcairn Hall 
$20 including afternoon tea 
Book: Sally Mac’s Amberley; Stan’s 7 Day Pharmacy, Rangiora 

Sunday 18 August 7.30pm Geraldine 
The Lodge Theatre 
$20 Louk NZ Clothing 

Tuesday 20 August 7.30pm Fairlie 
Red Stag Restaurant   
$20 Book: Heartlands Fairlie 

Wednesday 21 August 7.30pm Oamaru 
Oamaru Opera House 
Adults $25; Seniors $20 
Book: 0800 4 TICKET
or Oamaru Opera House 

Thursday 22 August 7.30pm Twizel 
Twizel Events Centre 
Adults $20; Students $10 
Book: Information Centre and Mackenzie Lotto Plus 

Saturday 24 August 7.30pm Arrowtown 
Athenaeum Hall 
$20 Book: Lakes District Museum 

Sunday 25 August 7pm Riverton 
Riverton Community Arts Centre 
$20 members; $25 non-members 
Book: Riverton Arts Centre or SPG Riverton 

Thursday 29 August 7.30pm Wanganui 
Royal Wanganui Opera House 
Adult $25, Senior $23; FOH $20; Student $15;
School group of 10 or more $5 
1 teacher per 10 students, also at $5.  Additional non-students normal price 

Friday 30 August 7.30pm Opunake 
Sandford Event Centre 

About Arts On Tour New Zealand

Arts On Tour New Zealand (AOTNZ) organises tours of outstanding New Zealand performers to rural and smaller centres in New Zealand. The trust receives funding from Creative New Zealand and liaises with local arts councils, repertory theatres and community groups to bring the best of musical and other talent to country districts. The AOTNZ programme is environmentally sustainable through bringing artists to audiences, rather than the other way round.

with Helen Moulder

Lighting operator Ashlyn Smith

Theatre , Solo ,

A delightful, gentle piece of theatre

Review by Richard Howard 10th Aug 2013

A woman in her late middle years, embroiled in the irritations and dissatisfactions of life as she now lives it, shares with the audience the contemplations of her life choices, the disappointments and the outcomes of her earlier life decisions. 

Her only compelling ambition, it would seem, is to understand her quiet obsession with Miss Havisham and then ultimately to play this jilted, lost, decaying Dickensian character of Great Expectations who is emotionally stuck in time and place; in a living death arising from a single instance in her life of love betrayed, some 30 years prior. 

So does Claudia, played by Helen Moulder, weave the audience into her very personal, intertwined and knotted stories of expectation, of chance, of love won and lost, of husband and son, of life’s connections and disconnections, all the time seeking to understand the parallels, the pain, the emotional choices and ultimately the wisdom of the atrophied Miss Havisham.

This solo performance has a wandering start and early progress but then leads to a rather beguiling and intimate piece of theatre where the audience becomes fully engaged, largely compelled by Claudia’s unrelenting (theatrically well crafted) willingness and insistence to share every detail of her existence and dilemma. As a result we cannot help but reflect on our own relationship to our past and present situation to discover just how stuck we are in our own dilemmas (or not); to consider our own expectations.

Helen Moulder plays the role with great warmth and confidence, rather deftly etching the varying historical and present day characters with great ease.  It is rather fun to note the vocal similarities and inflections – by chance or design – of Gloria’s husband Alan, and a certain recent New Zealand woman Prime Minister.

Miss Moulder is assisted by few but superbly designed props, in particular Miss Havisham’s wedding gown (by designer Julie Wilson) which in itself seems to add a second compelling persona on the stage. She could be assisted to a greater extent by a more creative use of stage lighting at key theatrical moments to accentuate mood and atmosphere but regrettably this not so. 

The production features the superb talents of one of NZ’s leading concert pianists, Richard Mapp, and the equally compelling composition of New Zealander Gareth Farr in a musical underscore. 

So expectations of a delightful, gentle piece of theatre are fulfilled with the unexpected edge of self-questioning following on from the main event.

Playing Miss Havisham is on a national-wide tour until the end of August. For details see 


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Eccentrically entertaining quest for fulfilment

Review by David Stevens 04th Aug 2013

There are enormous reserves of untapped of talent in rural New Zealand, especially among Kiwi women. I imagine they’re in the cities, too, but I live in the woop-woop. I’ll call them Kiwi-essess, because many of them follow a gender-defined role.

Having raised a family, the nest they made is empty and they need to find expression for their energy and their innate creativity which they may have long suppressed. I have seen quilts that the great Amish quilt-makers might envy and pieces of pottery I am pleased to have in my house. It isn’t limited to arts and crafts, it can be simply practical. When New Zealand supermarkets mysteriously stopped selling pineapple jelly crystals some years ago, Kiwi-esses didn’t waste time complaining, they just got on with it and simply made the jelly themselves, from fresh pineapples. 

Partly, it is the passing of time and that need to express themselves and partly, it is historical. In the early days, all they had was what came in on the ships from England or what they could make themselves – and if they wanted something that wasn’t immediately practical, they probably had to make it themselves anyway.

And partly, it is the old Kiwi concept of “having a go.”

In Playing Miss Havisham, Helen Moulder gives us an archetypical Kiwi-ess, Claudia, who probably makes a good pavlova and who is, unquestionably, having a go. It is as if we have been invited to Claudia’s house for tea while she entertains us with a story. She treats us as friends, chats with us, involves us in games – scratchies and cobwebs – and passes photos among us. All that’s missing is a cup of tea and a nice piece of cake.

The tale she tells is not especially unique, but it is certainly valid, it happens to a lot of people and can stand to be told again. She and her husband, Alan, have arrived at middle age and are feeling unfulfilled, empty nesters. He wants to go to Africa, but she’d rather stay home and explore the fictional Miss Havisham, because there is a movie to be made of Great Expectations and Claudia wants to play the role. Ultimately, each follows their own dream and along the way we meet (unseen) Chris, Claudia’s first lover and actual father of her son Ben. We also meet the (unseen) director of the film and hear of other people in Claudia’s life. 

It is this last – the story of the movie being made – that has me raising my eyebrows. Yes, such a movie could be made in NZ and yes, I can easily imagine the resulting film (with heavy Maori involvement) but I am unconvinced that Claudia would be cast as Miss Havisham and much less convinced that a family member would fund it. 

Don’t get me wrong – Ms Moulder is a fine actress (especially playing a character who isn’t), but the story of the movie seems a little far-fetched. No actual harm in that, of course; it is quite entertaining and we are there to be entertained. Indeed, Claudia, like any good Kiwi-ess, is determined that we shall not be bored. 

I am more convinced by Claudia’s interest in Miss Havisham herself, a woman who removed herself from life after being jilted. Claudia’s exploration of her made complete sense, since her own marriage has lost its urgency and its intimacy, and Claudia is looking for answers. 

The answer she finds – breathe in, breathe out – is far from the deepest commentary on the meaning of the life that you’re ever to going to hear, but it is valid. The Queen expressed it slightly differently – “we must just get on with it” – and however trite that may sound to the young, it is true. Miss Havisham’s life would have been very different if she had just got on with it; if she had breathed in and breathed out. 

It isn’t a great play, but I don’t think it aims to be that; its reach is not higher than its grasp. What it sets out to do, it does entertainingly – if eccentrically – well. And like any good Kiwi-ess talking to her friends, every so often, it touches on a truth that deserves to be heard. There is a sparkling moment, fairly early on, when Claudia wonders about her husband wanting to go to Africa because he’d never shown any interest in Africa before. That scratched my itch, because as Miss Havisham was for Claudia, so Africa was for Alan: an unfulfilled but suddenly urgent – and previously unspoken – desire.


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A warm heart and unexpected moments

Review by Hannah Smith 31st Jul 2013

Helen Moulder’s Playing Miss Havisham is a work that confounds expectations. 

In this solo show, we follow the story of Claudia, a woman who finds herself at a cross roads upon retirement: her husband Alan wants to adventure around Africa, but she has different desires.  

The plot, narrated by Claudia, is multi-threaded and full of unlikely coincidences, in fine Dickensian tradition.  There is Claudia’s marriage, and recollections of her youth, but also Whalerider, a delusional Irish film-maker, and Polynesian-punk-rock-fusion. The story-telling is interspersed with music sequences, songs sung by Moulder, and recorded piano pieces, in a direct and unusual tale of expectation and acceptance. 

Helen Moulder is a warm and engaging performer, with a gentle energy and a sincere connection with the audience.  The low key opening (fussing with the CD player), and soft tone of her presentation mean the show has a low energy. On opening night it is slow to get going and takes time for the audience to buy into the terms of engagement.  Moments of direct interaction help warm up the room, injecting a freshness and unique sense of humour to proceedings.  We are offered scratchies, shown favourite photographs, asked to provide sound effects, and even to vote on certain character decisions. 

The design for this touring production is minimal but elegant, the set dominated by a dressmaker’s dummy and wedding dress (designed by Julie Wilson), which provides a physical symbol of the slow revelations of Claudia’s expectations and disappointments. The simple staging is given depth and dimension by Philip Dexter’s subtle lighting design, perfectly complementing the shifts in action, and ably operated by Ashlyn Smith. 

Miss Havisham is an excellent character, and this is a unique piece of theatre.  Questions regarding ambition, satisfaction, and love dominate – great expectations, as one would anticipate.  Moulder and dramaturg /director Sue Rider have used these universal themes to put together a show with a warm heart and unexpected moments.  I salute the creativity and the unique vision. Odd.


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Classy combinations

Review by Lindsay Clark 25th Jul 2011

Anyone who saw Helen Moulder’s performance as Dickens’ somewhat goulish character in The Court production of Great Expectations , will remember the bitter poignancy of that portrayal and be both relieved to see it expanded into this light charmer of a solo piece, and gratified to have snippets of that initial role revisited. 

For Claudia, whose story we follow, is having to choose her next step after a long flashback in which we see her prepare for, win and triumph in the film role of Dickens’ frozen bride character. Claudia is totally engaging in her naïve but impassioned development of the role, at the same time as she reveals to us her current domestic circumstances (no soul mate there) and a past affair that she was forced to leave behind. When, at the end of the play, she has an invitation to resume that relationship, she finds herself wondering about the life lessons that experience and Miss Havisham have taught her. 

With over 250 performances of the piece behind her, there could have been that fatal veneer of complacency that sometimes follows familiarity. Perhaps it is the cosy intimacy of the tent or, on this occasion, the bouncy strains of Offenbach intruding from the neighbouring dome, or the numerous interactions with the audience, which create immediacy. More likely the genuine warmth and versatility of this fine actor are what carry the day.

She conjures up some unexpected presences. Her rendering of husband Alan, farm accountant and Land Cruiser enthusiast; Jules O’Connor, Irish film director and Miss Havisham herself are particularly fine. In between, her direct approaches to the audience are delicate enough to keep the main story alive and endear us to Claudia at the same time. 

The Offenbach intrusion at the beginning of the play meant intrepid Claudia had to stop twice and leave the stage until she could establish herself, but in general music and song snatches add to the ideas and mood of the piece. Richard Mapp’s recorded piano playing and Julie Wilson’s costume work both lift the simple concept into classy stuff. 

In the end, Claudia’s decision, which we are invited to inform through a simple vote, is whether to follow a new dream with her old flame or to settle for more of the same with her stolid husband. Should she to take a chance on her own Expectations or just let time roll on? She’ll think about it, she says. Meanwhile the framing of the question is certain to go on delighting its audience.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


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A cobweb-fine tapestry

Review by Venus Stephens 09th Mar 2011

Playing Miss Havisham is an hour and a half of story that darts between the lead character, Claudia’s (Helen Moulder), life present and life past. Light hearted at times and at others, chillingly captivating, Playing Miss Havisham is an exciting, humorous, texturally layered piece of theatre.

The subtle ‘Dickensian’ play on storyline adds a quirky humour to the performance. Moulder’s monologue holds me captive; I feel a childlike awe, soaking up her every word and movement like a kid at a pantomime. On the occasions she breaks the fourth wall to prompt us for Foley effects I gladly assist. 

Moulder deftly spins a tale of Victorian weddings gone awry, of intrepid Kiwi travellers, of Irish charmers with Fellini-tinged delusions. Playing Miss Havisham is a performance tailored with imagination and colour. 

A natural storyteller, Moulder weaves a melange of personalities and history into a cobweb-fine tapestry. Her performance is rich with humour and expression; she threads each character’s energy through and around us as we eagerly wait for her next impassioned outburst. 

Playing Miss Havisham is an artistic, wonderfully layered work; Helen Moulder’s performance is infectiously exuberant. The style with which she multitasks between characters and technical requirements is quirkily contemporary; she maintains the integrity of Dickens’ Miss Havisham with cool aplomb. 

The understated listing in the Fringe programme does no justice to this artistically quirky show. I implore you: if there is one show you must see, it is this one. To miss it would be a dick up of Dickensian proportions.

This review kindly supported by The James Wallace Arts Trust

For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.   


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She charms us

Review by Terry MacTavish 20th May 2007

Dickens, who virtually killed himself giving dramatic readings of gothic-horror scenes from his novels in barnstorming tours of England, would surely approve of Helen Moulder’s initiative in taking Miss Havisham’s story to the forgotten corners of godzone.

Māori Hill, Dunedin, might not care to see itself so categorised, but its pretty little Community Hall feels more like the centre of village life than of a privileged suburb. It has multiple uses – the next day it was set up for a Persian rug sale. Once upon a time it was a church, and the audience seemed mostly of an age to have attended Sunday school here, or perhaps one of the crowded, carefully chaperoned Saturday-night dances. But on Thursday night, cramped conditions and numb bums, some perched on windowsills, were quickly forgotten once Moulder, herself a consummate storyteller, had cast her spell.

Dickens’ beautiful mad heiress Miss Havisham in Great Expectations is an unforgettably fabulous character. When her confident expectations of a blissful future are dashed by the non-appearance of her lover on her wedding day, she stops the clocks and immures herself in her mansion, still dressed in her yellowing (and probably very smelly) gown and brooding over the decaying wedding cake infested with mice and spiders . . . Marvellous theatre, darling; any actress of a certain age would kill for such a role.

Thus Moulder is not Dickens’ Miss Havisham, but Claudia, who once headed off to London Drama School armed with an Arts Council grant and great expectations which came to nothing, thanks to a selfish muso lover. Instead of stopping the clocks she has settled for a prosaic though not altogether unhappy life married to a Canterbury farmer. The play takes up her story at the moment when eccentric Irish film producer ‘Jules’ arrives to audition for Great Expectations, and Claudia sees her chance to live the life she’d missed after all.

Moulder succeeds, not only in creating a Claudia we come to care about, but in showing us Claudia’s world, slipping effortlessly into character as the various menfolk who do not come up to expectations, from retired farm-accountant and would-be explorer husband Alan to punk-Polynesian-rock-fusian musician son Ben. Her rapport with the audience quickly established, she charms us into enjoying the narrative without troubling too much over some rather implausible coincidences.

It is a brave actor who is their own technician, but Moulder controls the modest but effective lighting, creates Miss Havisham’s wedding gown as she chats confidingly about auditions with Jules (“she says I’m deliciously gaunt”), and without a single hiccough operates the CD player to enliven the show with atmospheric music, beautifully played by Richard Mapp, ranging from classics to a captivating Gareth Farr work, “For Helen”.

A touring one-woman production is fortunate indeed to have Sue Rider on the team. Rider, Artistic Director of Brisbane’s consistently innovative La Boite Theatre for many years, is a top director as well as playwright, and as anyone who has been involved with, say, The Matilda Women can attest, she can work theatrical miracles with just a length of rope. In this production, simple props are used with telling effect, and the audience seems delighted to be involved in holding ribbons to represent a spiderweb, examining photos passed round like exhibits to a jury, and whistling up spooky wind-effects while Miss Havisham’s ravaged features are lit by a torch held under her chin. And inevitably we become part of the show at the end, giving our vote to help Claudia decide what step she should take next.

Terrific to have quality theatre taken round the country, and already this year Dunedin has enjoyed great shows by accomplished performers such as Jan Bolwell in Here’s Hilda, the liveliest-ever tribute to a grandmother, and Alex Ellis in the frenetic Biscuit and Coffee. Both these were mounted in the Fortune’s Hutchison Studio, but Moulder has gone a step further in accessibility and intimacy by taking Miss Havisham to homes, libraries, and even farm-sheds: barnstorming indeed.

While Moulder’s air of pained elegance admirably became this particular venue, with its wood-panelled walls and stained glass, I discovered in myself a desire to become a bit of a groupie, following the production round the country to see how different it would be in each new venue, with each new audience. Apparently Southland has been giving its vote at the end for Claudia to stick with the farmer husband. Huh. Dunedin, home of the first university, opted for her to abandon all blokes and do something for herself alone. I felt a thrill of pride.


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Ultra-solo show ideal for touring

Review by John Smythe 20th Feb 2006

Actresses of a certain age have no great expectations of leading roles or regular work unless they score a mature character part on a TV soap opera. One or two live theatre gigs a year is good going. Hence Helen Moulder’s growing habit of creating work for herself.

It began eight Fringe Festivals ago with The Legened Returns, in which her unhinged diva Cynthia Fortitude was bracketed with accompanist Gertrude Rallentando (Rose Beauchamp). Four years later she teamed up with director Sue Rider and dancer Sir Jon Trimmer to create Meeting Karpovsky. My review described her Sylvia as "a delightfully genteel and dotty lady of indeterminate age … going quietly mad in one room of a large rambling house" who enjoys a fantasy relationship with a world-famous ballet dancer. "The play uses fantasy to take us into a profoundly moving reality of great emotional depth." It opened in Christchurch, won the Listener Best New Play Award in 2002, and saw Helen named Actress of the Year at Wellington’s 2003 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards (Wellington).

It was also in 2003, that Helen conceived her next project, while playing Miss Havisham ("grotesque yet poignant") in Cathy Downes’ Court Theatre production of Simon Phillips’ epic adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.

Again collaborating with director Sue Rider, she has developed Playing Miss Havisham as an ultra-solo work, sharing the stage only with a dress-maker’s dummy and wedding frock, a music box, a minimal lighting board and a mini-disc player which she works by remote control, all designed to pack in a van and take far and wide – "No town or rural community too small" – even into people’s homes for audiences of 20 or more.

While he has recorded the music – by Granados, Bach, Schubert, Chopin, Debussy and, composed especially for the play, Gareth Farr – for the tour, pianist Richard Mapp does play it live for the Circa Two premiere season with great skill and sensitivity.

And so to the play and production.

Claudia – in contrast to Miss Havisham’s stopping the clocks and mouldering away in cobwebbed decay, when her great expectations of romantic love and happy-ever-after wedded bliss are shattered by a jilting cad – has long-since moved on from her first real love and a brief flirtation with drama school and the profound cultural wealth of London. She has settled into rural Cantabrian security with husband Alan, a farming accountant about to retire and take her to Africa in his customised Land Cruiser. Meanwhile musician son Ben is finding himself as part of a "punk Polynesian rock fusion group."

When an idiosyncratic Irish woman film-maker comes to Wellington to remake Great Expectations and holds open auditions for roles including Miss Havisham, Claudia sees her chance to recover something of her lost self. It is recalling her quest to find Miss H, win the role and cope with all the attendant vicissitudes that drives the play’s action.

To detail more would upset the delicacy with which Ms Moulder peels back the layers, much as she exposes the hidden dimensions of the not entirely white wedding dress, exquisitely crafted by Julie Lawrence. In the deceptive guise of an amiable chat with her audience, embellished with multiple characterisation and punctuated with beautifully sung songs, she blends the eccentricity we’ve come to expect with an inescapable grounding in the real world.

Indeed it is her fidelity to that reality which makes it hard to credit a couple of way-too-convenient coincidences that are clearly contrived to serve the writers’ need to pull their plot threads together. Also, they let Claudia off the hook far too easily when it comes to confronting her own past actions and facing the consequences. She does, however, pay a penance with regard to her hitherto insufferable Uncle Frank.

The inclusion of Maoritanga in the financially troubled but resurrected film also feels contrived. If the idea is to have a dig at what it would take to achieve co-production status according to NZ Film Commission kaupapa, it doesn’t quite come off. Perhaps we’re just not used to getting our satire infused so subtly by such a gentle commentator.

These concerns aside, it is impossible not to warm to this play because Helen Moulder connects with her audience and involves them – not least in their own game of chance, and in influencing the outcome – with great charm and sincerity. Just as you don’t need to know in advance about Great Expectations to understand the play, you don’t need to be an experienced theatre-goer to engage with pleasure in her Playing Miss Havisham.

Ideal for small as well as big town tours.


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