Public Service Announcements: Election 2023

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

29/07/2023 - 26/08/2023

Production Details

Written by Thom Adams, Johanna Cosgrove & Jamie McCaskill
Directed by Gavin Rutherford
Created by James Nokise & Anya Tate-Manning

Election night at the Beehive. Tensions are high, inflation is higher.

Long-running and beloved political satire Public Service Announcements returns to Circa with a brand-new production. Irreverent, ridiculous and up-to-the-minute political comedy with lots of laughs – just in time for the election.

Can Labour survive another round in the Thunderdome? Will Luxon make it to the election? Can the Greens and Te Pāti Māori spring hope eternal? Is Seymour on the edge of glory? And Winston’s back. Back again. Winny’s back. Tell a friend.

High octane comedy and musical numbers run wild across Aotearoa’s political playground. PSA makes excellent fun by mocking all sides of the political spectrum – no one is safe!

Circa One
29 July – 26 August 2023
6:30pm Tue – Thu, 8pm Fri – Sat, 4pm Sun
Tickets $30 – $55 | Book at

Cast: Carrie Green, Tom Knowles, Simon Leary, Jamie McCaskill, Sepelini Mua'au, Anya Tate-Manning.

Light Designer: Helen Todd
Set and Costume Designer: Daniel Williams

Producer: Anya Tate-Manning
Stage Manager: Andrew Paterson
2iC Light Designer and Head Electrics: Isaac Kirkwood
2iC Set Designer and Production Manager: Lucas Neal
Technical Operator: Gabriella Eaton

Graphic Design: Jon Coddington
Photography: Roc Torio
Publicity: Eleanor Strathern

Political satire , Theatre ,

90 minutes

Delivers high spirited political romp

Review by Nicholas Holm 11th Aug 2023

To really work, political satire needs to be served as fresh as possible. Having produced 18 shows over 12 years, Public Service Announcements clearly understand this principle: their Election 2023 show offers up a high-spirited political romp that, at its best, captures the spirit of our immediate political moment better than any headline or columnist.

At the heart of show’s success are the physical, comic talents of its cast, each of whom take on multiple roles spanning race, gender, and party lines.

With the simplest of props, costume changes, and a variety of wigs, the six actors manage to portray more politicians past and present than anyone could ever want. [More]


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Piling in boots and all – is that all we have left?

Review by Dave Smith 30th Jul 2023

People died to secure the vote so right now they must be pretty pissed about that.

As soon as the show opens, to raucous applause from a packed audience, just as the performers are bouncing onto the stage I know that this offering no more needs a review than does a Donald Trump rally. It is billed as “NZ’s longest running political satire”. I’ve seen a few of them and they have always been extra good. 

I’ve not been at one around election time and I fleetingly consider how that might make things just be a tad different. In essence it’s not. PSA, under master director Gavin Rutherford, comes with a highly successful (yea adored) format. Its fixed viewpoint is that our lives are ruled by a rebarbative clique of dysfunctional beings who are clogging up Parliament and the Beehive much as the Royals do at Sandringham. Writing and performing about them is in many ways doing no more than checking how the compost bin is coming along. Voters (several million of them) and their concerns aren’t on the agenda at all. The pollies don’t care, so why should we?

The looming election (it’s already had one of two mentions in the daily ‘newspapers’) is not conceived as a vital interaction between a battered public and those it trusts to deliver a better society after some awfully tough years. It is just a realignment of the pins down at the bowling alley.

Issues are not faced, they are expertly dodged. Actual results are presumed to be awful, no matter the stewards. Personnel are to be reshuffled in a way that makes the Titanic’s deckchair management look like high strategy. In this show we can even view the alluring likes of Chloe Swarbrick as though she’s a talented (but goalless) centre forward being hoicked around the Premier League for ever more extravagant transfer fees.

So the piece needs do no more than cement in (perhaps with ever-greater precision) the sagging ethical structure of our Government with the fickle and failing scams of the venal slugs that hang off it. The pols themselves have, to be sure, already done most of the work for the satirists.  In 2020, the Nats were uniquely in landfill mode and Jacinda Ardern (making a glossy guest appearance here) was unstoppable as the head paper-overer of massive cracks. 

This time around there is every sign that the two major gangs have blown it bigtime so that the minnows are having their chance to shine; albeit in a patently bankrupt foundering system. All the cast have to do is brush up on their political impressions. Fingering any lack of policy or principle is totally unnecessary – because there are none. So off we go.

The mise en scene comes courtesy of the late unlamented Trevor Mallard’s ludicrous playground area in Parliament grounds (the burning of which being the one defensible legacy of the idiot mass protests last year). The fine and substantial set (by Daniel Williams and Joshua Boudreau) gets it bang on. There is a blue-tinted playground wing for the Nats, a red one for the Labour lot. In between there is a dry-ice central coolstore-cum-pottery oven for trotting out grotesque new manifestations of old clunkers such as Peters, and Ardern, both wrapped in impressively dramatic fumes.  There is much built-in space so that the actors can do the necessary subterranean crawling.

This is quite some stage production and the programme credits list is not wholly unlike that of a Rings film. (Satire shows in Wellington often used to be done on the rebellious whiff of an oily rag, an out of tune piano, and a comb and paper, said he nostalgically).

Our mover and shaker parliamentarians here are infantile-to-adolescent. The all-too-real political and social upheavals of the last year seem to have relieved them of any obligation to sport themselves as anything other than self-absorbed hacks. They are each prey to urgent below-the-belt desires and powerful crushes on people wearing the same (or other!) coloured top. Spotty Chris Bishop fancies Nicola Willis but her classy drink bottle is way too good for the Hutt Intermediate classes likes him. David Seymour has improbable eyes for Ms Swarbrick – the local jailbait and trophy mattress. However, they all wear the same black and red school stockings (a nice un-Barbarians touch from Daniel Williams, wearing his costume designer hat).

The central comedic cast of six (now extremely well known to Wellington if not the world) niftily makes up the two major gangs and “the mixed-breed rest”. I’ll name them as a matter of record although they shapeshift by the minute: Carrie Green, Tom Knowles, Simon Leary, Jamie McCaskill, Sepelini Mua’au and Anya Tate-Manning.   

They all perform resoundingly well and can pivot character-wise on a sixpence (or an unused voting form). The range of impressions and characterizations is massive and seems to fall out of Marvel Comics, the Beano and the Hammer Horror Studios. The best ones I will lovingly recall forever and are:

A superbly observed, narrow-eyed Hipkins PM gliding effortlessly around on a zig-zagging skateboard in a business suit jacket then morphing into a cluelessly myopic and semi-invisible James Shaw. Luxon, in essence, swearing allegiance to the huge Air NZ logo that fell down from the flies and wrapped around him bringing to mind a certain German ex corporal from a few years back. A Nicola Willis that captured, to the life, that creakily Victorian enunciation and feckless preciousness of the lady herself – one who callously treats her ‘leader’ Luxon like a sick mongrel.

The wonderfully stealthy, all-singing, urban guerilla Māori Party’s seduction of La Swarbrick in a manner reminiscent of the hucksters that grabbed a naive Pinocchio in the Disney classic. Winston Peters back from the superannuated tomb, unsettlingly convincing us that he still has plenty more miles on the clock. Judith Collins speaking brutishly, insistently (and with chilling sibilance, thanks to Oliver Devlin/Tim Seconi) almost two years after her political ‘death’. David Seymour as the ultimate lounge lizard and pox doctor’s clerk to Satan himself. Any one of those is worth the admission price, while there were many more besides.

But, still, I’m left with a lingering spoilsport unease about all this extensive character romping. The writers’ notes in the programme repeatedly and urgently order us to vote and “get your friends to vote”. The show, though, hammers away over two beefy acts on the single subject of what a bunch of lowlife policy illiterates we have at the summit of our local polity. When it comes to valuable ideas, they don’t have any and their attention spans seems be riveted on the classic ‘who’s up who and who’s not paying’. Are these shambling wrecks the ones we must vote for in October?

Abstruse matters like climate change, co-governance, crime, communities’ destruction and poverty are mentioned en passant purely by name but barely make it into the “too-hard basket” as live issues ultimately to be addressed. All is appearance, visceral personal hatred and spin (clearly, I accept, a winning formula).

PSA do all that invective stuff supremely well. Maybe that’s the right tack. Maybe, though, there could be a little more complexity to the governance of Aotearoa? Is piling in boots and all the only valid thing we have left after years of high level government ‘reforms’? I will leave that to you – and go and make myself a warm Milo.      


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