Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

03/04/2018 - 07/04/2018

Production Details

Experience provocation…


In Seminar, four aspiring young novelists sign up for private writing classes with Leonard, an international literary figure. Under his recklessly brilliant and unorthodox instruction, some thrive and others flounder, alliances are made and broken, sex is used as a weapon, and hearts are unmoored. The wordplay is not the only thing that turns vicious as innocence collides with experience in this biting Broadway comedy.

A provocative comedy from Pulitzer Prize nominee Theresa Rebeck. (Information about Theresa Rebeck is available at:
This season is directed by LA Director, Corey Sorenson.

This will be a New Zealand premiere of Seminar and a portion of proceeds will go to charity

Hannah Playhouse, Wellington
Tuesday 3 – Saturday 7 April 2018
Prices*: Adult $35.00; Student (with ID) $18.00; Senior Citizen (65+) $18.00. *Service fees may apply.
The show is rated R16

Latecomers will be seated when appropriate. Tickets are for allocated seating.


Writer - Theresa Rebeck
Director - Corey Sorenson
Assistant Director - Shivneel Singh
Stage Manager - Alley Lane
Marketing/Design - Sarah Browning
Make-Up - Alley Lane

Leonard - Jason Tolley
Martin - Shivneel Singh
Kate - Natalie Yatsina
Douglas - Jacob Masters
Izzy - Annica Lewis

Co- Producers - Shineel Singh, Joshua Free, Hannah Lee
Set Builder – Mark Nicholas   

Theatre ,

1 hr 30 mins, no interval

Passes from comedy to tragedy without much comedy

Review by Dave Smith 04th Apr 2018

It’s an interesting setup. Four estimable young people – Kate (Natalie Yatsina), Martin (Shivneel Singh), Izzy (Annica Lewis) and Douglas (Jacob Masters) – have, together, paid $20,000 for the apparent privilege of attending seminars to be given by Leonard, a well-recognised author and foreign correspondent. They are held in Kate’s family’s opulent New York apartment. This highly capitalist arrangement has little in common with the formal educational institutions that rigorously enforce an ethical code between teacher and student. Here, therefore, human sacrifices and sexual exploitation are always firmly on the agenda.

Leonard is the spine of the play. The others hang off him like mildly diseased limbs that jiggle fitfully but (much later in the play) to good effect. They have each presented written pieces of varying lengths. They do not read them out. Leonard just grabs them from the pile and goes into his verbal demolition routine. The similarity to affluent business men paying hundred of pounds for being disciplined with a cane by a Mayfair dominatrix comes to mind. As does the J K Simmonds character in the film Whiplash.

The elaborate Jane Austenesque manuscript Kate has been sweating over for six years is trashed in seconds (and half a sentence) ending up on the floor as Leonard stalks out of the first ‘seminar’ after about three minutes. Although she has provided the commodious seminar venue, Kate gets pilloried for being who she is without benefit of a trial and with unearned loathing. Douglas and Martin suffer broadly similar fates. Only the truly voluptuous and sexually overt Izzy with her two-page offering rates any kind of acclaim as she slips effortlessly into “this way for an A” mode.

This peremptory and poor value treatment naturally sets up a social dynamic among the four novitiates who are far from unintelligent but are cowed by the appallingly dismissive Leonard. Why do they put up with it? Well, Leonard is good at what he does. He has a coruscating wit and a nice line in crapping on people from a great height. His professional mana and imposing CV carry him along. The punters may loathe him but they are compelled to look up to him.

And this is where I encounter my first difficulty with the crucial character of Leonard. Jason Tolley comes in through the apartment door at a rate of knots like a wasp on methadone but otherwise there is nothing setting him apart from the others. He could be taken for another student in appearance and does not carry the mantle of age and craggy wisdom. In a part that requires a consummate range of voice and timing Leonard goes full on into non-smiling assassin and stays there; which is rather hard to listen to. Dominance is one thing; domineering is another.

Whenever Leonard condescends to pick up a manuscript the judgements he makes are on the basis of his miming of a perfunctory reading. There is no actor-generated process of apparent absorption. So his lines come out as shrill preconceived indictments rather than clever barbs aimed at the individual concerned. This stunts cast interaction which is the life blood of comedy. So laughs, sadly, are rather thin on the ground. A little honey and less vinegar from Leonard might have paid huge dividends. If Leonard seizes so does the overall performance.

The supporting cast is good and the play holds up overall, especially when Leonard is forced to reflect and talk to, rather than at, the others. As the play progresses their roles convincingly change as they became group savvy and justifiably sceptical about Leonard. In the end the overwhelming irony is that Leonard has been chastising his charges with the spectre of what he judges they will ultimately become when, in fact, he is simply holding up a dark mirror to what he has become. We pass from comedy to tragedy without actually passing through comedy to any great extent.

Author Theresa Rebeck is a mature mid-westerner writer who has made it big on Broadway and in the more respectable areas of US television drama. She prides herself on giving women a voice in drama (even though here Leonard’s only real interest in the two women is fixedly below the waistline). There is here no attempt to change society as much as to signpost the way both men and women can clamber up the greasiest pole on the planet. It’s rough on everybody as dog merrily eats dog. Suck it up.

In his final moments, one-on-one with the standout writer of the four, Leonard quietly lets drop that, aside from innate talent, the top-earning writers are the ones who were ridden word by word by a ruthless editor. We can all agree on that. So we must wonder why Leonard’s rough and tumble seminars have been the very antithesis of that. Is that because good writer-coaching makes for dull drama?

The first night audience certainly loved the play and it was not a wasted outing by any means. A more considered and beguiling rendition of Leonard at the outset could, however, make a world of difference. 


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