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

11/05/2018 - 31/05/2018

Production Details

The Great Leader is having a nap. Boris and Stephan guard his room with revolutionary zeal.  

But wasn’t he supposed to be awake by now? The Great Leader’s Wife says wake him! The Great Leader’s General says let him sleep!

And doesn’t The Great Leader sleep with a gun?

Comedy with a bang in the tradition of Tom Stoppard, Armando Iannucci and Monty Python.

Two of New Zealand’s best and brightest comedy talents tackle this thumping new play from one of New Zealand’s finest comedy writers.

Witty, silly, relevant.

Problems is a highly relevant hilarious high dive into a world of demagogues, mixed messages and Big Brother. Envisioned as a George Orwell ‘1984’ inspired world of the Great Leader, we meet these ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’ styled buffoons as they tackle their responsibilities and each other with twists, turns and surprises to shock & entertain you!

Circa One
11 – 31 May 2018.
$30 Specials Thurs May 10 & Sun May 13
Tues – Thurs 6.30pm.
Fri – Sat 8pm.
Sun 4pm
$25 – $52
Book Now!

Starring Simon Leary and Andrew Paterson 

Theatre ,

Problems at Circa Theatre as play takes on the funny subject of dictatorship

Review by Ruby Macandrew 18th May 2018

Making light of dictatorships is no doubt a timely subject, ripe for comedic treatment but making black humour work and not be terrifying in this day and age can be a struggle, as evidenced in Joe Musaphia’s latest work Problems.

The beginning of the nearly 90-minute show opens on two security guards Stephan (Andrew Paterson) and Boris (Simon Leary) as they keep watch outside an impressively large door, behind which, their Great Leader sleeps. The unseen snarling Stalin-like figure has overslept but the two men can’t agree whether or not to wake him. [More


Make a comment

Diluted by opening night syndrome?

Review by John Smythe 12th May 2018

It starts with a pause. Two motionless security guards – Boris (Simon Leary) and Stephan (Andrew Paterson) – flank the massive ebony doors that dominate the red-walled and revolutionary poster-adorned wall of the outer corridor: a splendid set by Ian Harmon. (Portraits of the Great Leader and Mme Great Leader have watched over us as we enter.) 

The problem that emerges is that the Great Leader’s morning nap, somewhere beyond the forbidding doors, has lasted longer than scheduled, he’s due to address the Party Conference in 15 minutes and he’s known to sleep with a loaded pistol in his hand. What, then, should they do? 

Their dilemma is a leitmotif that is verbalised several times with slight variations and increasing complications. Also a hooter regularly snaps Stephan and Boris into performing an obligatory drill in order to exchange positions.

But the title of Joe Musaphia’s initially minimalist play is Problems: plural. And as the action, such as it is, proceeds, we learn more and more about the problems they experience in life, such as it is, under this leader’s dictatorship.

A programme note reveals Musaphia was inspired by the chapter in Stalin – the Court of the Red Tsar, by British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, that covered the death of Stalin. “[It] struck Joe as an electrifying view of paranoia, totalitarianism, cynicism and brute opportunism. It radiated black humour and he couldn’t resist it.”

When Circa presented a rehearsed reading of Problems in Circa Two seven years ago, those elements were powerfully present. Now this production is promoted as “a highly relevant hilarious high dive into a world of demagogues, mixed messages and Big Brother.” And Gavin Rutherford, who performed in the reading, is the director.

Andrew Paterson’s Stephan exudes ideological zeal as a true believer in the Great Leader and the Glorious Revolution, despite the obliquely referred-to trauma it inflicted on his wife. Simon Leary’s Boris is more opportunistic, cynically capitalising on the Minister of Justice General Kleb’s love of his wife’s fudge. Each knows he has the power to ‘delete’ the other by mere insinuation, so the paranoia is ever-present as they ‘walk on eggshells’.

What is not present, however, is electronic surveillance. This occurs to me at about the time of the second drill and from then on I find it hard to ignore. Given they are equipped with Bluetooth hands-free headsets linked to their cellphones, state-of-the-art surveillance technology would surely be a given.

What happens as time moves on and the Great Leader does not appear cannot be further revealed without spoilers. Suffice to say the downward pressure on these bit-parts players in the greater scheme of things increases, and their attempts to deal with it without endangering themselves only makes matters worse. Some highly dramatic moments are executed to great effect – enhanced by lighting (Marcus McShane ) and sound effects (Gavin Rutherford).

Yet, oddly, at just the time the tension should be increasing, it dissipates. We have not connected empathetically with Boris and Stephan, despite their flaws. Their vulnerabilities have not been glimpsed behind their different defence mechanisms. Instead of being compelled to believe in their predicament, and care about them, we find ourselves treated to displays of funny physicality. It’s as if they and their director have lost faith in the strength of the premise and fear we’d nod off if they didn’t ham it up a bit.

This may be a function of many in the opening night audience being more invested in the antics of their actor friends than in the actual substance of the play. Certainly they hoot with laughter at the increasingly silly drill routines which, while skilfully done and funny to watch, cannot be called “black humour”.

Dario Fo has proved, in such plays as The Accidental Death of an Anarchist, that farce can enhance political satire. And in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Tom Stoppard certainly finds the pathos in the fates of expendable bit-players. Similarly the comedy in Joe Musaphia’s Problems needs to arise from the credibility of the drama and the humanity of its hapless characters.  

At the ‘after match’ function a number of people quietly puzzle over why Problems hasn’t engaged them more. Some feel it would work better in the more intimate Circa Two, and it may, but for me it’s the diluting of politically relevant black humour that’s the problem. And as I say, that may be a function of opening night syndrome. 


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council