The Playhouse, 31 Albany Street, Dunedin North, Dunedin

12/03/2015 - 14/03/2015

Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington

05/03/2015 - 07/03/2015

Dunedin Fringe 2014

NZ Fringe Festival 2015 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details

Over the course of 60 breathless minutes two actors bring an entire school to life in this new dark comedy by award-winning playwright Paul Rothwell. The twist being is that the school is in quarantine due to a newly discovered virus. 

Alex Wilson, Caitlin McNaughton and Paul Rothwell had previously worked together on Thomas Sainsbury’s Sunday Roast that also calls for two actors to play multiple characters – a convention they just fell in love with. Caitlin says “It’s a fun challenge, it forces the actor to be playful when you have nothing but your fellow actor to support this entire world”. 

The aim this time however was to take this physical challenge and apply it to a situation that was larger in scope and a more volatile in nature. “We were interested to see what would happen if you put a high tension situation, like the hysteria caused around the current ebola case, in an already stressful environment – like the modern primary school system.” says Alex. 

The show unpacks the nature of hysteria over disease which can turn civilised societies into frenzied mobs in an instant. Rothwell had a lot of fun writing how different people within a school yard would react in this situation, especially conserving the differences in age and mentality between pupils and faculty. He says “It’s such fun writing about this run down four room rural primary school. It’s like a battleground. As teachers fight amongst themselves and the children descend into an inevitable Lord of the Flies scenario, who will rise above the Ebola-like hysteria and restore sanity to heartland New Zealand?”

The show’s topical subject matter was what attracts director Thom Adams to the piece. “I like unsettling stories,” he says. “Theatre has this great ability to make people feel slightly off-balance. I hope to leave the audience in stitches but also feeling a little bit unsettled. ”

Pupil Zero is part of the 2015 New Zealand Fringe Festival and plays at the Gryphon Theatre between 5th-7th March. Thanks to funding from Creative New Zealand and the Dunedin Fringe Festival Trust the show will tour down to the Dunedin Fringe playing at the Playhouse Theatre between the 12th – 14th March.

Actors Caitlin and Alex will play the entire cast of a primary school under quarantine. Teachers, students, custodial staff as well as roving news reporters, townspeople and parents who are separated from the chaos inside by a piece of yellow and black tape. The play will be a dark comedy focussing on how people change and relationships are tested in extraordinary circumstances. Will mass hysteria reduce the school to a Lord of the Flies dystopia or will common sense prevail? 

Pupil Zero will be the debut production of Big Lies Theatre Company which puts an emphasis on work that is both theatrical and challenging. Formed by Abby Howells and Alex Wilson, ‘Big Lies’ likes to focus on the unique relationship between the audience and the performer – where both parties use their imagination in order to create and be engrossed in the world of the play. ‘Big Lies’ believes that theatre should be about using this power for exciting theatre – where the simplest action should have the largest effect.

Review of previous work: 

“Actors playing multiple roles are… exploited to full comedic effect here, as McNaughton and Wilson jump seamlessly between their characters” – THEATREVIEW  

Gryphon Theatre, Wellington:
5th – 7th March
@ 9.30pm.

Playhouse Theatre, Dunedin:
12th – 14th March
@ 7.30pm

Theatre ,


Memorable comedic mayhem

Review by Kimberley Buchan 12th Mar 2015

The Playhouse Theatre is a very busy venue this Fringe. The upside of this is that you can see three great shows bang-bang-bang one after the other. Another upside is that you can hear half a show that you didn’t pay for while watching another.

The fine actors in Pupil Zero are not put off by errant bits of audio and create a zany zingy show. The play starts with Pupil Zero Kayla who initiated the epidemic. Quarantine is imposed on Kayla’s primary school to keep the community safe. As the quarantine stretches on, all the conflicting theories on how to deal with the situation take the show on several unexpected turns because obviously what an apocalypse needs is Quarantine Idol

All the old primary school archetypes are dredged up: saccharine teacher, bossy girl, the class pet, that weird boy that no one wants to play with, a sock puppet and audience favourite Janine, the cigarette hardened office lady, and a slightly mystical cricket bat. 

Paul Rothwell has written an excellent script and actors Caitlin McNaughton and Alex Wilson more than do it justice. With tremendous energy they rampage all over the stage bringing numerous unforgettable characters to life.

This show is darkly hilarious. In spite of it being set in a primary school it is not a show for children. Having a set that consists of two chairs and only two actors who have great capacity for physical theatre playing all roles gives massive scope to create comedic mayhem.

Memorable moments include Jayden’s final run, the rooftop standoff, Fingal’s rants and pretty much everything that Janine does.

Directors Thom Adams and Simon Leary have done a fantastic job. They left a very happy audience on Thursday night, and will have many more to come.


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Comedy of grotesquerie

Review by Patrick Davies 05th Mar 2015

Pupil Zero is a romper stomper ride through all the clichés of the Zombie story. It’s a Simpsonesque collection of a local community and their reactions to ‘an outbreak’. 

Between them Caitlin McNaughton and Alex Wilson play a wide range of pupils, teachers, administrators, parents and others caught up in the school where this outbreak of supposed zombie-ism has occurred. Each character is well articulated and invested in as is the use of two chairs to signify the varying locations the action takes place in.

There are many fine moments of clear characterisation through voice and body, as well as particular attention to detail in the mime work. It’s just the two actors, two chairs and simple effective lights. And a lot of sweat; these guys have been drilled to a high degree. 

You can see co-directors Thom Adams and Simon Leary’s background in comedy performance coming to the fore. The large audience of Vic/Otago/Fringe regulars have a very fine time indeed. The directors keep the action at a high pace from the word go keeping the actors moving through the story with a freneticism you’d see in a theatresports scene. Take a Paul Rothwell play and chuck it in a blender with Theatresports games – Rollercoaster, Furniture, Song, Pimping, you name it – and you have a delightful high octane showcase for the actors. 

The prodigious Paul Rothwell is known for the macabre and grotesque in his plays, for dystopian families and communities, as much for his prolific output. Here the macabre takes a back seat to the comedy of grotesquerie – it feels like Rothwell’s been defanged. He uses all the usual narrative suspects well: the ending is a classic example of the genre and it’s peopled by Rothwellian verve.

The style of performance does make you feel there could be some judicious editing; sometimes gags sit in place of content. Can we please lay the Novapay thing to rest? These (additions?) feel very ‘panto’. 

McNaughton and Wilson work extremely well together and I think it’s the best performances I’ve seen from both. On opening night sometimes the frenzy gets the better of them, and we lose some dialogue to the laughs and some of the audience rapport, but as they are both fine comedic performers I’m sure that’ll quickly smooth out.


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