Meteor Theatre, 1 Victoria Street, Hamilton

06/09/2017 - 09/09/2017

BATS Theatre, The Random Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

12/09/2018 - 15/09/2018

Production Details

 The Birth and Death of Margery Hopegood  

Things like this don’t happen here. That sentiment echoed throughout New Zealand twenty-five years ago in response to the brutal and senseless murder of English tourist Margery Hopegood. A sunny January Friday afternoon, in a public toilet, in the middle of Hamilton city. No one heard a thing, no one saw a thing.

Margery’s story captured hearts and minds across the country as it was revealed through news reports that she wasn’t just a tourist. For the first time she was coming home to New Zealand, the country of her birth where she had been adopted 31 years earlier.  This wasn’t just an OE, this was a pilgrimage. She had been in the country just four days when her life was taken. 

Operation Hopegood lasted five weeks before an arrest was made. It was the first time DNA was used in New Zealand. For much of that time Margery’s image held the front page of our newspapers. 

What reports never revealed was, who was this woman and what was she doing in Hamilton? Was she trying to find her birth parents? Who were they? Did they ever get to meet her? What was her birth story?

She Danced on a Friday is written and performed by Nicola Pauling, the granddaughter of the woman Margery was on her way to see the day she died.  Nicola’s grandmother, a Salvation Army Officer, had organized Margery’s adoption carrying her from one mother and giving her to another.  These questions have sat unanswered in her family and until last year, when she set out to answer them. 

She Danced on a Friday brings to the stage the birth and death story of Margery Hopegood. It has been created with permission from the Hopegood family and is based on research and interviews with Margery’s birth parents and her adopted family, the police and former city officials. 

Nicola Pauling is a theatre practitioner who has worked the past 13 years in the field of participatory performance art, supporting community and personal development by creating opportunities for people to tell their own stories in their own voice. She is the Artistic Director of Voice Arts ( She is an experienced performer and improviser but this is the first time she’s created an opportunity to tell one of her own stories in her own voice. 

Theatre Director Kerryn Palmer has been the dramaturge on this project and the play is codirected by Kerryn and Dr Sally Richards.  All three women live and work in Wellington but this is a Hamilton story and they decided the people of Hamilton needed the opportunity to see the show first.

It is brought to Hamilton with the support of four key sponsors: TalkingTech Foundation, Fiona Judd Judiciary, Engineering Solutions and Warren Storm Lifebrokers. 

Premiering at The Meteor Theatre, Hamilton,
6th – 9th September 2017 


BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
12-15 September 2018

Theatre , Solo ,

A grim tale told with love and hope

Review by Eleanor Wenman 15th Sep 2018

Margery Hopegood, an English tourist on a journey to find her Kiwi birth parents, was brutally murdered in a Hamilton toilet block in 1992. She’d been in the country just four days – the first time since she’d left 30-odd years ago as a baby.

She Danced on a Friday traces Hopegood’s birth and death and is told through the eyes of Margery’s birth mother, her temporary mother and Margery herself.

From the moment Nicola Pauling steps on stage for her one-woman show, her own connection to Margery shines through: she was a family friend of the Hopegoods and spoke to Margery over the phone the day before she died. [More


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An exquisitely crafted honouring of a life

Review by John Smythe 13th Sep 2018

There is nothing like a personal connection to a significant event to motivate its dramatisation. Nicola Pauling was 21 when she answered her parent’s phone to Margery Hopegood, whose adoption by English parents had been facilitated by her grandmother, Iris, a Salvation Army officer, some 32 years before. Margery had travelled to New Zealand, was in Hamilton – on the recommendation of an itinerant brother (also adopted) – and was confirming arrangements to come and stay, by way of finding out more about her birth story and possibly locate her birth parents …

Nicola never did meet Margery. Next day the questing visitor was randomly stabbed to death in a toilet block by the Waikato River, on 10 January 1992. The murder made headlines, shocked the nation and grieving strangers packed Hamilton Cathedral for her funeral. Now Nicola’s quest to get to know Margery posthumously, to empathise with her experience of that day and discover what Margery never found out, has produced She Danced on a Friday – named from a dark verse in her favourite song, The Dubliner’s ‘Lord of the Dance’.

The personal connection and focus on Margery elevates Pauling’s thoroughly researched play from potential prurience. We get to know Iris, her birth mother Jenny and the father, Billy, and her adoptive mother Helen. It’s impossible not to warm to them all, Margery especially, whose upbringing has been happy; she is now a lawyer and is on this pilgrimage after a break up with a boyfriend.   

The staging is wonderfully simple: a line strung with paper boats and airmail letters; a table with a backpack which evokes an autopsy, becomes a cradle and reveals evocative items of clothing before being carried on her back. Composer and musician Matt Hutton on keyboard accompanies the action, and the hymns and songs which are seamlessly integrated into the text and beautifully sung by Pauling. Wairehu Grant’s lighting smoothly indicates changes of time, place and character.

The structure is not linear yet it’s never a problem to pick where we are in the story. Kerryn Palmer’s sure hand as both dramaturge and director leaves us free to engage fully with Nicola Pauling’s effortless embodiment of each character as the story evolves. The ‘less is more’ adage is never more powerfully realised than in the evocation of the murder itself, which feels more like a bewildering out of body experience and is all the more moving for that.

We know no more than Margery did of who her murderer was or why he did it, although she does posthumously reveal how his identity was detected and how she is memorialised. She Danced on a Friday is an exquisitely crafted play that honours a life we can all relate to while reminding us how suddenly and randomly life can be cut short..


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Beautifully crafted

Review by Gail Pittaway 07th Sep 2017

It has probably been said before, but a fiction writer would be sneered at for heavy-handed imagery if characters who were victims of crime were called Ben Smart and Olivia Hope, or for saying a family called Bain died at Every Street. Yet once again truth is weirder than fiction, as this play tells the story of how a real person called Margery Hopegood, a pilgrim’s name, came on a reverse OE to New Zealand, where she was born, and met her end in the public toilets at the end of Hamilton’s main street in 1992.

It’s an extraordinary biography. She is born out of wedlock to teenagers in 1959, then nurtured briefly in a Salvation Army house by a friend, for an English couple who, in their forties, could not have children of their own. The child is adopted and taken to live in England where she has a happy, successful life, becoming the oldest of a family of other adoptees. At the age of 32, Margery Hopegood decides to come to NZ to find out her roots. Four days after her arrival she is killed. 

A relative of the second mother to the baby, the Sallie who gave her a first home, Nicola Pauling has devised this haunting and evocative piece of storytelling, based on family stories, interviews with both birth and adoptive families and police who investigated the murder. It is a beautifully crafted play, which utilises song, dance and music against a simple set.

Pauling shows us more of the characters through the songs that move them.  ‘Jesus loves me’ is sung as a lullaby by the foster mother while Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’ got the young couple into trouble at the beginning. The play also mentions the CD that was only half way through playing Rod Stewart’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Talk About It’ when Margery’s Walkman was returned to her family and, most movingly, the one hymn she loved: ‘The Lord of the Dance’. It was sung at her memorial service and becomes the uniting theme of the play.

Pauling takes on the three main speaking (and singing) roles. There’s Iris, the temporary custodial mother, whom Margery was coming to visit in New Zealand, who never quite gave up her care; Jean, the birth mother, all hot and ready for life then shaken by the consequences it throws at her and, finally, a warm, vibrant Margery herself, freshly arrived, and full of life and sunshine. With fluid accompaniment from Matt Hutton on keyboards, also doubling as a few male cameo roles, the play takes energy from Pauling’s subtle changes in role and mood, with only the flick of a hair tie or addition of a hat to switch characters.

The structure of the play moves from the unexpected end of Margery’s life, to the beginning of her life, then on to the reaches of this life on the wider community, in particular on a city that lost innocence with this violent act, and came out in large numbers to memorialise the victim.

Pauling has generously premiered this play in Hamilton before an audience which includes many who were involved or descended from the original participants in the story. A brave act for a touching and fitting memorial, and a strong start for a fine play that has a new life to begin of its own.


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A touching tribute to several women

Review by Ross MacLeod 07th Sep 2017

Despite being a play whose catalyst is an unexpected death, She Danced on a Friday is a piece that focuses overwhelmingly on life. Not always bright and happy life, there’s plenty of regret and sorrow but it never dwells on mortality or morbidity, choosing instead to celebrate the value of those imperfections.

Based around the murder of English tourist Margery Hopegood in Hamilton in 1992, the story focuses more on the back-story of the woman rather than the tragic event that ended her life. And yet there is a melancholic undercurrent that we are witnessing the events that led to her death, not in the sense of a tragedy where mistakes and actions compound but in the reflection of choices and decisions that crafted her life before she was even born.

Writer Nicola Pauling plays three characters in the one woman show (with a few lines and lovely underlying music provided by Matt Hutton). [More


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