BATS Theatre, Wellington

17/03/2009 - 28/03/2009

Production Details

Serendipity is a challenging, contemporary play written by published author and poet Sugu Pillay (The Chandrasekhar Limit and Other Stories).

A powerful drama centred amidst the ceaseless atrocities of the Sri Lankan Civil War and its devastating effects on a family of Kiwi third generation Tamils.

Malini has returned to her family in Christchurch after a mysterious 13-year absence, coming back just in time for her sister’s wedding. She has finally stopped running and now must face her past and the choices that led her away from her home and family.

Can Malini learn to live in a divided world – Heroes/Villains, Tamil/Sinhalese, Mâori/Non-Mâori, just to name a few of the binary oppositions that govern her identity, her life, her fate.

Serendipity is a modern drama that probes with unflinching honesty the issues that matter to us all – war, terrorism, love, family, cultural and national identity.

Starring: Ban Abdul, Tony Hopkins, Waylon Edwards, Mark Venning-Slater, Aneela Pancha, Patrick Coelho, Madonna Malaeulu

is proudly sponsored by Creative Communities and EAT Wellington.

17-28 March, 9.00pm
BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce
Bookings: 04 8024175 or

Malini: Ban Abdul
Jeff: Waylan Edwards
Ramalingam Iyer: Tony Hopkins
Tom: Mark Venning-Slater
Shoba: Aneela Pancha
Ravana: Patrick Coelho
Nayaki : Aneela Pancha
Arasi: Madonna Malaeulu
Production Manager: Ahilan Karunaharan
Lighting Design: Gareth Hobbs
Sound Design: Arindam Sen
Stage Manager: Sonya Stewart
Set and Costume Design: Ahilan Karunaharan
Publicist: Brianne Kerr Publicity
Graphic Design: Geoff Richards

Uncomfortable viewing

Review by Lynn Freeman 26th Mar 2009

The timing for a play about the inter-racial tensions in Sri Lanka, is perfect.

Sugu Pillay could not have known about the assassination attempt on the cricket team when she booked her play into Bats for March 2009. In fact she started work on Serendipity back in 2004, the programme tells us, in an effort to understand her parents’ homeland.

"Everyone has a cause. Every cause is right…"

This play also looks at how ordinary, good people can do inhumane things and justify their actions. You don’t need to directly take a life to be a killer. Following on in a way from Kia Ora Khalid last week, there is an examination of New Zealand as a multicultural country and the imperative on migrants to fit it while not turning their backs on their home countries.

Malini (Ban Abdul) is a firebrand, just returned to New Zealand for her baby sister’s wedding. She fled a personal tragedy, but the decision she made in terms of where to go and what to do, is extreme. Ramalingam Iyer (Tony Hopkins) has been invited to New Zealand but he constantly wishes he had died along with his son in Sri Lanka.

Several sets of knowledgeable eyes have seen the script during its long and workshopped development and it’s directed by the experienced Bronwyn Tweddle. It stars the fantastic Abdul.

But Serendipity does not live up to its name. At 90 minutes it’s far too long, giving the sense that the writer is throwing all her research into the piece rather than focusing on a central story. The acting is stilted and the direction awkward, making it uncomfortable to watch.


Colin Hodson March 26th, 2009

Go and see it!

After reading the three (grumpy?) reviews for this show I feel I must have seen a different play -  I suppose I did - on Wednesday - many days into the run. I found the ninety minutes totally absorbing and the staging and acting excellent. The Sri Lankan immigrant angle was a fresh insight into New Zealand's racial/national identity issue. Lynn's comment that the play should be 'focused on a central story' mystified me - it seemed to be very much so, the subplots supporting each other. After having watched and enjoyed the very verbose RocknRoll at 3hours long, which seemed to present little in the way of staging, it is hard to see that show getting an oustanding 'pass' and Serendipity getting a brickbat . I suppose it wasn't written by Stoppard, and offered more in the way of the fantastic. This writer says 'Thoroughly recommended'.

Make a comment

Nugget of a good play but short on serendipity

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 23rd Mar 2009

Somewhere in the muddle that is Serendipity there is a play struggling to get out. The play grew out of the playwright’s need to understand the inter-racial tensions in Sri Lanka where her parents were born. It is also about inter-racial tensions in New Zealand between the central character, Malini, a Sri Lankan New Zealander and Jeff, her Māori partner, whom she deserted when she returned to Sri Lanka to join the Tamil Tigers.

A programme note awkwardly describes all this as ‘the problematisation of identity in terms of ethnic and cultural boundaries’. But the play is also about how the tentacles of a faraway war entangle people in New Zealand and how love can evolve into hatred, fanaticism, and revenge even at a wedding in a peaceful backwater like Christchurch where it all takes place, apart from a scene in the Sri Lankan jungle.

A Hindu priest has been brought over from Sri Lanka to officiate at Malini’s sister’s arranged wedding. He is haunted by the abduction of his 13 year old son by the Tamil Tigers. He immediately recognizes Malini as having fought with the Tamil Tigers and was probably the person who ‘recruited’ his son. The long arm of coincidence is stretched too far, and it is stretched even further still in the final scene when Jeff reveals to Malini the truth about what happened years before.

Serendipity is a disjointed play with a mix of theatrical styles, clumsily structured scenes, and some ‘poetic’ moments that sit uneasily amongst the scenes that are melodramatic and on one occasion unintentionally funny.

The production hasn’t helped at all what with two lengthy scene changes and some very odd movements by Jeff and Malini in their opening scene which has them moving like robots with no relation to what is being said. In the jungle scene two female Tamil Tiger fighters attack Malini for not being fanatical enough and they all bob up and down like jack-in-the-boxes. Maybe it was the heat or the insects.


Make a comment

Poorly executed mishmash

Review by John Smythe 18th Mar 2009

It is entirely possible that this first play by Sugu Pillay is a good one but its premiere production directed by Bronwyn Tweddle falls far short of revealing its potential.

In a majority of scenes, something in the rehearsal process – directorially imposed, we must assume – has resulted in the actors taking short sharp walks in random directions while delivering their lines, often ending up in awkward physical relationships with each other and always distracting us from the content of their dialogue, let alone the import of the scene. It is intrusive, subversive and finally abusive of the play’s presumed purpose.

Only Ban Abdul (the most trained and experienced actor in the cast of seven) transcends the superficiality of this irrelevant nonsense to give a comparatively credible performance as Malini, a Sri Lankan immigrant who, after a miscarriage and rejection by her father, ran away from NZ and her Mâori partner Jeff (I kid you not: ‘Jeff da Mâori’, played by Waylon Edwards). Now, 13 years later, she has returned for the arranged marriage of her sister Shoba (Aneela Pancha).

Flown in to officiate is Hindu priest Ramalingam Iyer (Tony Hopkins) who is befriended by Tom (Mark Venning-Slater), a workman who went to school with Shoba and is really a Political Science student wanting research material for his dissertation. His contrived, erratic movements, however, make him more a candidate for ADD diagnosis than a PhD.

The priest is emotively haunted by the ‘taking’ of his son back home. It turns out Malina joined the Tamil Tigers and recruited children to join their revolution. And unaccountably Ramalingam, who has only had eye-witness accounts of his son’s alleged abduction, instantly recognises Malina as the perpetrator* and threatens to kill her ("I will kill you!" – another homage to Bro Town and earlier Naked Samonas shows?). He goes into a trance, becomes imbued with great physical strength, assaults her with a stone slab and puts her in hospital with a broken leg and injured shoulder.  

When he does the trance thing again, "ohmmm"-ing his way to the hospital, the hoped-for dramatic tension simply elicits giggles from a patient audience attempting to give it all the benefit of their increasing doubts. Yet it is only when Ramalingam is thus possessed that Hopkins stops giving the impression he is trying to remember his lines and fully inhabits his role.

I suppose Jeff’s knee-jerk desire to kill Ramalingam is – along with Malini’s rejection by her father and Ramalingam’s loss of his son – an attempt to show how easily love flips over into hatred; how close to the surface the human impulse for violent retribution is, despite the obvious truth that far from resolving anything it will only make matters worse.

Given the ubiquity of these truisms, and their exploration here in the context of culture-clash and inter-racial tensions both within New Zealand and in Sri Lanka, the play clearly cries out for a judicious fusion of cultural and theatrical conventions. Instead we get a poorly executed mishmash of styles than makes the dramaturgy look clumsy.

Especially cringe-worthy is a scene involving Black Tamil ‘torpedo women’ in the jungle, whose over-the-top hate-filled dialogue is robbed of any potential for drama when the actors are obliged to bob up when talking and down when not. Someone please explain. Even better: justify.

Only sometimes, when Ban Abdul compels me to believe in Malini, am I drawn into the story. The rest of the time I am painfully aware of being stuck in a theatre, feeling variously uninvited, patronised, insulted, bored and finally – after 90 minutes, interrupted only by two interminable scene changes – grumpy.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
*(When in doubt, consider the title. Serendipity is derived from Serendib, the Arab name for Sri Lanka. Usually reserved for pleasant accidental discoveries, I can only assume it refers ironically, here, to the less-than-serendipitous coincidence of Ramalingam and Malini both turning up at a wedding in NZ.)


Jack Marshall March 19th, 2009

After reading this reviewers opinion of this show (and some other reviews of theirs). It leaves you pondering what their role is?

  • to provide a opinion?
  • to make comments which seem aimed at particular people?
  • to appear as if they attended the show, only to learn there are details regurgitated from the program (this ponder is due to your assumption that Abdul is the most experienced and trained actor, these people can only put so may words in for their bio's, such assumptions make reviews like this one questionable.
  • to outrage fellow thespians
  • or, is the role of a reviewer to isolate themselves, everytime to make their opinion less relevant?

I am flabbergasted by this review, I saw the opening night performance, and thought the performance was, as every show in BATS is - challenging to the audience.

The story required it's stereotypes of Maori, Pakeha, Priest, and victim.

Not putting a negative slant on Abduls performance as she was right up there with the top four actors onstage....however she did have the easiest dialogue to deliver because it was all directed towards her while she was able to deflect or absorb however Malini saw fit. "Iyer" in my opinion had the hardest dialogue to deliver as it was mainly monologues. I would place Jeff da Maori at the top there because he added heart, urgency, love and passion above a stereotype which critics generally can't look past.Venning-Slater too did a great job of adding humour, character to the stereotyped pakeha, and is an upcoming talent in the wellington scene, when I was listening to him I could remember a pakeha schoolmate of mine just like him

The black tiger scene was one of my favourites because there was action in it, this was also followed by a fight scene with the men as well. The girls in that scene delivered there performances fantastically

The subject these actors and director were dealing with is foreign, and they have done their best to put it into context within budget and parameters which come with low cost shows

Tweddle has done a commendable job in challenging my thoughts as an audience member. I think her style of directing is quite clever and definitely something which needs to happen more in Wellington scene.

I'm glad the reviewer name is shown before you read. I will think twice before reading your opinions


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council