BATS Theatre, Wellington

22/09/2009 - 03/10/2009

Production Details

For the underpaid, overworked and disenchanted.

Ever wanted to escape the meaningless, repetitive drudgery of your nine to five existence? Felt the need to bring down the workplace walls with a bloodcurdling scream? Clock your boss?

Slow Boat Records and Aro Video presents Postal by Lucy O’Brien at BATS Theatre – a biting black comedy focusing on three middle-aged, cross-cultured postal workers trying to find the meaning of life in a post office.

The play is a theatrical expose of the invisible members of New Zealand society, and the cultural divide that separates them. Underneath the veneer of the smiling public servant, Postal reveals a desperate, last-ditch quest for identity that seeks to reach the faceless masses of the ‘New Zealand public’.

The play is loosely based on O’Brien’s experience working for Australia Post. She says "it was one of the worst working experiences of my life. Part of that was because I had an incredibly overbearing, evangelical boss and part of it was because I was simply crap at the job. The bottom line is – nobody goes into a post office because they want to, not really. They’re always there to pay a bill, do the banking, stuff that’s really just an inconvenience to their day. I couldn’t deal with all the flustered, miserable faces. But I was determined not to give up, so I started writing about it as a kind of therapy, which is where Postal was born".

Although this is O’Brien’s first full-length staged production, it has already received considerable support, particularly from Playmarket who chose it for their Write Out Loud Festival at Circa Theatre last year. Award-winning director Kerryn Palmer (Sniper, Pig Hunt) says "Postal went down a treat at Write Out Loud and we’re excited about its debut in Wellington".

Postal – Going, going. Gone.
BATS Theatre
22 Sep-3 Oct, 6.30pm
Tickets $13/18
To book: or 802 4175 

Woman:  Heather O'Carroll
Michael:  Simon Smith
Fanti:  Rashmi Pilapitiya
Celine:  Paul Harrop

Stage Manager:  Charlotte Bradley
Lighting Designer:  Marcus McShane
Lighting Operator:  Deb McGuire
Set Designer:  Hannah Smith
Set Constructor:  Dan Beban
Sound Operator:  Lucy O'Brien
Publicity Designer:  Edward Watson

Comedy tugs at emotions

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 28th Sep 2009

Postal is a grayish comedy about a disgruntled divorcee in a trainee job she loathes with KiwiPost, an equally unhappy male work colleague, who is searching for love through "a weird internet thing" with, unbeknownst to him, a transvestite called Celine, and a Sri Lankan supervisor called Fanti whose bossy, overpowering nature ensures that while the post office is spotlessly clean it is never a positive and supportive workplace.

Each character has of course a back-story and each story is designed to tug at our emotions. Celine has tense phone conversations with her disapproving mother, while Fanti is struggling with the difference between the reality of her situation and her dreams of success, coping with her own and other people’s racial prejudice, and her evangelical zeal. Michael, an obsessive First Day Cover collector, has always been an outsider, while Fiona has a young son and is clearly struggling in the wrong job.

Her name isn’t Fiona but that’s what Fanti keeps calling her, presumably as a putdown. This occurred to the playwright when she was working in a Melbourne post office a few years ago and her unhappy experience there has been transformed into this wordy, bittersweet comedy about finding and making a meaningful life and getting things under control when everything is conspiring against you.

Despite being far too long at 90 minutes (sans interval), Kerryn Palmer’s production is uncomplicated and direct, using the Bats stage well and from her cast she has elicited robust performances. As Fiona (or Woman as she is called in the programme) Heather O’Carroll creates explosions of frustration that are both funny and emotionally painful as are her cautious attempts at seduction after a wine too many. Simon Smith as Michael and Paul Harrop as Celine tackle their difficult scene when the couple meets for the first time with aplomb, and Rashmi Pilapitiya tackles the role of Fanti with exuberance. 
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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Entertaining comedy-of-anguish

Review by John Smythe 23rd Sep 2009

There is much to commend this premiere production of Lucy O’Brien’s first full-length play. A variety of clearly-drawn characters with strongly-rooted back-stories are united only in their mutual desire to gain or maintain control of their lives. Well-wrought dialogue and superb performances generate many memorable moments.

But a core problem seems to have evolved through the script’s extensive development process (without a credited dramaturg, it seems, to advocate for the play and playwright).

When Postal was read at Playmarket’s ‘Write Out Loud Wellington’ event last year, it was set in an isolated mail sorting centre, located in the Australian outback if memory serves. Yes, the metaphor stretched credibility; an ‘industrial desert’ was all that was needed. And although it was inspired by O’Brien’s experience of working in the back rooms of Melbourne’s GPO, of course it made sense to relocate it in New Zealand.

But setting it in the customer service area of a KiwiPost Shop is a change too far.

It is fundamental to the play that a postal worker Trainee (Heather O’Carroll) – the solo mother whose real name we never discover while she is consistently mis-named Fiona by her ebulliently domineering Sri Lankan boss, Fanti (Rashmi Pilapitiya) – is trapped in a low-paid, boring, repetitive, thankless, dead-end job. She works alonhside a socially-challenged obsessive philatelist called Michael (Simon Smith), who is her only antidote to Fanti’s debilitating onslaughts.  

The very different dynamic of a customer service centre does not serve this premise and it is problematical, production-wise, when it comes to suggesting the presence of customers. I realise it works for the scene where Michael becomes the Trainee’s first customer for a First Day Edition issue of new stamps that have to be presented just so. And there is also value in having the Trainee lose it in front of the (imaginary) customers Fanti is regaling with stories about her family instead of helping her. But for the rest of the play the customer-service setting is the proverbial round hole into which the square peg of the premise cannot fit.

Also poorly integrated is the convention of the manically upbeat Fanti addressing the audience directly, for no apparent reason, with stories of her perfect daughter and perfect husband, observations on Kiwi failures to appreciate other cultures, and exhortations to look on the bright side of everything.

Are we supposed to be the customers, I wonder? But later, in the Christmas party scene, after hours, she finds the place deserted, calls to her staff and hushes us … so bang goes that theory. It’s not wrong, just awkward somehow, not least because – despite Pilapitiya’s effusive performance – her stories are of little consequence. If the way she flipped at the end, from believing she was in total control, was directly related to all her harangues, they would better earn their keep.

Heather O’Carroll and Simon Smith are hilariously poker-faced as they endure the daily grind, redolent in their comic style of silent movie stars. Their rare moments of animation are equally delightful by contrast and the build-up and delivery of her big melt-down is beautifully handled, as are the consequences.

Inevitably, between these two painfully lonely people who irritate the hell out of each other, a strange attraction grows … except Michael is already in a slowly evolving phone-only relationship with another lonely heart called Celine, made wonderfully real by Paul Harrop. We know straight away s/he is a transsexual (yet to have the op) and Michael doesn’t know …

For these three the quest for love transcends the quest for control and, with director Kerryn Palmer at the helm, the tidal shifts they experience are sensitively and entertainingly navigated. Celine’s phone-call attempts to align her mother to her new reality are as heart-breaking as her salacious fantasy chats with Michael are funny.

Hannah Smith’s set design, given the brief, allows the action to flow effortlessly between work, living and social venues, abetted by Marcus McShane’s lighting.   

With so much going for it, I hope any further draft will find its way back to the soulless, mundane work setting that would more strongly support the basic needs of the story. (There are other ways for the Trainee to offend Michael’s anally retentive sensisbilities and to be provoked into yelling abusively at her boss.)

That issue aside, Postal is a very entertaining comedy-of-anguish.
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.


MarkG September 26th, 2009

I saw Postal last night and agree with John that is thoroughly entertaining! I disagree on the setting point however as this really worked for me. Further, the sole direct-address character acted as my guide through the show, and I enjoyed being so warmly (or terrifyingly) brought into the world of the play. I was happy to move between being a patron of the post office and fly on the wall - as this seamless-shift effect found its way into all elements of the show (John notes the set), including the actor/audience relationship.

I would also like to give serious kudos to whoever made those frightening posters.

What an awesome first full length production from this young writer - I cannot wait to see what she does next.

Corus September 25th, 2009

That's what I thought too Emma, but this site seems to be set up simply so John Smythe can waffle on. 

Emma Brady September 25th, 2009

I'm sorry, but is this even a review? Because this reads like a comparative essay.

I thought that this website is about reviews for audience members? It all feels a little too much like insider knowledge to me.

John Smythe September 24th, 2009

I stand corrected! Where I got the idea it was set in a remote part of Australia, and in a mail sorting centre, I do not know. Wasn’t there something about steaming open fancy envelopes to vicariously get off on someone’s long-distance romance …? Or was that some other play altogether? Perhaps I have muddled the play reading with aspects of the ensuing discussion, or has my brain just gone completely a.w.o.l?  

However (despite your robust defence, Erin) I remain unconvinced that working on the public counter of a post shop, especially in this day an age of diverse business activities, would in itself produce the stultifying experience the Trainee is supposed to be enduring, unless the point is she is fundamentally unsuited to customer service and working with others full stop.

Nor do I get the feel of a public work space … Maybe it would help if the production drew clearer distinctions between when the shop was open and when the staff were preparing to open, or completing their after-closing tasks.

But hey, pursuing this question – of whether this aspect of the play and production fully supports the superbly realised characterisations – should not detract from my conclusion that “Postal is a very entertaining comedy-of-anguish.”

Adrianne Roberts September 24th, 2009

 You are totally right Erin, the setting of Postal has not changed since the Write Out Loud reading.

Erin Banks September 24th, 2009

Correct me if I'm wrong, but as i recall when i saw the rehearsed reading of POSTAL during Write Out Loud at Circa last year, I'm sure the play was set in a Kiwibank/NZ post shop at that time. In any case I'm sure the characters were serving customers.  I haven't seen this production of POSTAL yet, but the setting described in your review John is pretty much exactly what I remember from the reading.  Am I wrong Lucy?

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but man oh man could I relate... Having spent a university summer working in customer service at a NZ post shop I can assure you it is most certainly a low-paid, boring, repetitive, thankless, and dead-end job.

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