Rubber Turkey

BATS Theatre, Wellington

22/04/2008 - 26/04/2008

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

29/04/2008 - 03/05/2008

NZ International Comedy Festival 2007-09, 2013

Production Details

A razor sharp comedy about comedy 

A laugh-out-loud comedy, with hints of tragedy; Rubber Turkey is  a study in the nature of comedy and what we find funny – is it fed to us by Hollywood? 

Inhabiting a "joke realm" are five characters, fulfilling comedic stereotypes – the funny "guy", the "chicken", the "clown", the "blonde" and the apathetic overseer, "The Reviewer". All is well, until they start defying their stereotypes. Blondie starts reading Wikipedia, Guy starts deliberately messing up jokes, the clown winces at the sight of cream pies, and Chicken starts trying to top himself. 

When the size of your laugh track determines your life span, this is definitely no joke. 

Rubber Turkey is the second production from Wellington’s The Playground Collective, (The Hunting of the Snark sold out in 2007’s Comedy Festival). It is written and directed by talented nineteen year old Wellingtonian, Eli Kent- already the hot young thing of the acting scene (Falling Petals, BATS; The Cape, and Armslength, Circa). His television and film credits include Sensing Murder, and Black Sheep.

It stars three Chapman Tripp nominees: Gavin Rutherford as "The Reviewer" (2007 Chapman Tripp for Best supporting actor in Circa’s Uncle Vanya; Fringe Festival 2007 award for Outstanding Performer, for’s Hotel). Other credits include Homeland, The Winslow Boy (Circa), and The Insiders Guide to Love

Alex Greig plays "Guy" (Chapman Tripp Best Supporting Actor 2005, for his role in I.D.) Alex performs with The Bacchannals- a Wellington company specialising in breathing new life into classic works, including the 2007 co-production of King Lear, with Fortune Theatre.  

Abby Marment (Chapman Tripp nominee for her performance in Picture Perfect, Circa, 2006).  She will be familiar to Auckland audiences from Penumbra, part of the Auckland Festival of the Arts in 2007. In Wellington, Abby has appeared in Falling Petals (BATS, 2007) and Armslength (Circa, 2008). 

Rubber Turkey is a fresh production for the 2008 NZ International Comedy Festival, which continues the new trend of live scripted theatre in the Festival as well as the traditional stand-up comedy fare.

22 – 26 April, 6:30pm BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington
29 April – 3 May, 7:30pm Classic Basement, Lower Greys Avenue, Auckland
$16 Full / $13 Concessions and groups 8+
Bookings Wellington: 04 802 4175 or
Bookings Auckland: Ticketek 0800 TICKETEK or

Guy - Alex Greig 
Blondie - Abby Marment 
Winston - Oliver Cox 
Chicken - Jack Shadbolt 
Reviewer - Gavin Rutherford 

Director - Eli Kent 
Producer - Eleanor Bishop 
Set Design - Heleyni Pratley 
Lighting Design - Rachel Marlow 
Marketing & Publicity - Fiona McNamara 
Stage Manager - Robin Kerr 
Costume Construction - Kirstie Baxter & Rose Morrison 

Chicken little

Review by Lynn Freeman 02nd May 2008

There are six main types of laughter, a man in a chicken suit explains at the start of Rubber Turkey – starting at the snicker. The chicken should know, being associated with one of the oldest jokes in the canon.  Rather than revelling in the fame, he spends the play trying to end it all.

Writer and Director, Eli Kent, brings together in a Big Brotherish kind of way, the comedic stereotypes – Winston the clown (who’s paranoid), the suicidal chicken, the dumb blonde and the tragi-comedian.  Assessing their work is the godlike voice of the reviewer (Gavin Rutherford). One by one they’re dying, or being dumbed down to appeal to their audiences. Which is worse?

Neat idea for a play, and in the midst of a million stand-ups in the Comedy Festival, it’s a real treat to see such an inventive play.

The blonde (a not quite convincing Abby Marment) opts to think for herself rather than be hemmed in by the proliferation of jokes at the expense of her hair colour.  Jack Shadbolt is refreshingly deadpan as the chicken, though the series of failed suicide attempts starts to wear a little thin by the end.  Alex Greig doesn’t come to grips with the black-humoured Guy, a difficult character to play or to like.  And as Winston the clown, Oliver Cox takes a while to warm up – his last scene though is poignant and memorable.

There is depth and originality in the script which makes Eli Kent a young writer to be supported and encouraged.  You can sense he has a lot more to say. 


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Darkly witty, superbly constructed

Review by Sian Robertson 30th Apr 2008

Rubber Turkey is a slit-your-wrists-sharp comedy about comedy that tickles your cerebral cortex as well as your funny bone. Actually, I can’t tell if it’s a tragedy masquerading as a comedy or the other way around. "All the best comedy is born of tragedy" (and vice versa), explains Guy (Alex Grieg) – I guess therein lies my answer. 

Guy just wants to be able to walk into a bar without tripping over the punch line. These days he’s not even as funny as the bartender. He’s recently become preoccupied with drama, Bob Dylan, sarcasm and film noir.

Blondie (Abby Marment), whose latest IQ test is cause for alarm (she’s started using Wikipedia and reading books), is not only developing a brain, but also balls. Her future in comedy is seriously threatened.

Winston, a nervous wreck of a clown in a Motorhead t-shirt, played by Oliver Cox, worries about his flinch reflex (he keeps ducking to avoid flying objects and shying away from painful situations) and whether he’ll ever be able to work again.

Jack Shadbolt, playing a delightfully dead-pan, depressed Chicken, annotates the proceedings with authoritative analyses of the mechanics of humour – from the biology of laughter to the psychology of The Joke… before attempting his next in a series of botched suicides. (Why do you think the chicken really crossed the road?)

The four joke clichés are painfully aware that comedy – or at least their careers in it – is on its last legs, compounded by the fact that they’re over-specialised, tired relics of days gone by.

The disembodied voice of Reviewer No. 473381500269 303 11 (Gavin Rutherford) summons the deadbeats for regular ‘check-ups’ and while ostensibly offering career advice, also predicts their impending doom – without laughter they’ll cease to exist and their days are clearly numbered. It’s no laughing matter.

Having read the programme notes of writer/director Eli Kent (he laments that the last time he really properly laughed was when he was 15, watching South Park) it almost seems he has set out to drag us all down with him, shatter the illusion of that huge belly laugh just waiting over the next crest, and have a good, hard, mean cackle at the fact that we’ll never be as good at mirth as we were when we were younger. After all, comedy is so often associated with pain.

Or perhaps it’s not our sense of humour but comedy itself that is getting old? I find Kent’s comments echoing my own recent thoughts on whether comedy has had to become more and more black, even sinister, to get the laughs – blame the ACES generation? Rubber Turkey got me thinking, but I promise I won’t inflict my half-baked theories about the direction of comedy on you, that wouldn’t be funny, and besides, that’s the Chicken’s job.

At any rate, it’s the over-the-top Orwellian-style sense of futility that makes this piece so piercingly funny. If you read between the lines, the moral (if there is one) of this cutting satire is to not take yourself so damn seriously, or if you do, make sure you do it when people are watching so they can laugh their arses off at how ridiculous you look.

Eli Kent has done an admirable job of directing an excellent cast in his darkly witty and superbly constructed piece of comedy theatre. 


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Playing for laughs

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 28th Apr 2008

Where better to present an inspired comedy about comedy than at an international comedy festival? The multi-talented Eli Kent, actor and now playwright and director, has come up with "a eulogy to that laugh I had when I was 15." That laugh, the pinnacle of his laughing life, was when he was bundled up on the floor gasping for breath while watching an episode of South Park. 

Only a few years older he is now disturbed at the fact that the pleasure of laughter is so closely linked to pain of others. He explores this fact with the help of four depressed dead beat jokers: a Guy (Alex Greig), a Blonde (Abby Marment), a clown called Winston (Oliver Cox) and a Chicken (Jack Shadbolt) who has studied comedy and ‘the machinery of wit’ possibly too closely because nothing seems to get a laugh any longer and it is sending him over the edge.

Somewhere in the comedy heaven (or is it the comedy hell?) there is the unseen Reviewer No 47338150026930311 (Gavin Rutherford) who controls, guides, reprimands, and generally bosses about Guy, Blondie and Winston with a testy head masterly voice of supposedly benign care.

Guy has given up on telling jokes in bars, Blondie is getting a bit too intelligent to tell dumb blonde jokes any longer and poor old Winston in trying to avoid the pain of slapstick and pratfalls is a quivering wreck of a clown. The Reviewer’s solutions to their problems are uncompromising but somehow more humour is generated for us as the challenges are set and attempts are made either to meet them or avoid them.

The play has a quiet, downbeat ending with a visual joke that provokes a smile rather than a belly laugh and is quite consistent with the mood of the play which is, remarkably, almost somber as we realize the truth that Eric Bentley expressed in his The Life of the Drama that with "’experience’ comes division and duality – without which there is no humour, no wit, no farce, and no comedy."

Rubber Turkey is an auspicious debut and Eli Kent is blessed with an excellent cast in which Jack Shadbolt shines as the disheartened Chicken whose attempts at killing himself as if he were in an old silent movie comedy are hilarious  Comedy says, as Eric Bentley points out, "In the midst of death we are in life."


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Cheap laughs seriously under threat

Review by John Smythe 22nd Apr 2008

Eli Kent’s debut play Rubber Turkey is perfectly placed in the Comedy Festival to interrogate the whole idea of the joke, which he does with ingenious flair. A Chicken, a Guy, a Blonde and a Clown called Winston walk on to a stage … And they’re bored with themselves. They’re dying.

Actually, throughout the evening, the deeply depressed Chicken (a wonderfully down-beat Jack Shadbolt) attempts to top himself in a full range of classic ways while sharing his accumulated knowledge of the nature, psychology and philosophy of jokes. 

The others progressively come under the spotlight of Reviewer No. 473381500269  303  11  (Gavin Rutherford as an only-just patient ‘voice of God’), who interrogates them as to how they propose to redeem themselves.

Alex Grieg’s Guy, truly over it, has no desire to ever walk into another bar. Abby Marment’s Blondie, bright-eyed, questing and finally stroppy, is enjoying filling the space between her ears with knowledge. And Oliver Cox’s Winston, lugubrious and twitchy, has developed a counter-productive duck reflex to avoid flying objects and pain.

The status quo of the cheap laugh is seriously under threat. And the results are very funny. "I find it fascinating," writes Kent in his programme note on humour, "that something that brings the human race so much pleasure can be so closely linked with pain." It was ever thus. The best comedy is indeed born of tragedy. And vice versa.

As the action unfolds the human condition of each joke cliché and their inter-relationships are truly drawn, and the short scenes that follow each encounter with the Reviewer are deftly scripted. Clearly, as the director, Kent has worked well with himself as writer and with his cast, as have they with him and with each other.

The proof of a joke – or any story, really – is in the punch line; the ending. This could be where Rubber Turkey falls short, at least in terms of delivering a ‘big finish’. But how do you resolve the insoluble questions the play poses? Especially when you’ve got big laughs throughout from some of the most hackneyed jokes, strangely rejuvenated in this anti-joke context.

The chosen ending produces not a snigger, giggle, chuckle, cackle or belly laugh but either a silent laugh or a quiet smile; who can tell? Rather than offer the predictably unexpected, Rubber Turkey gets away with the unexpectedly predictable. Cheeky.

Once more a new writer has been extremely well served by an excellent cast. Go.
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