Shipwrecked Beneath the Stars

BATS Theatre, Wellington

15/02/2008 - 19/02/2008

NZ Fringe Festival 2008

Production Details

When guarding the King Kong ship you have to be on your game and Patrick is anything but. Will Adrien Brody’s pretentious stand-in, a childhood sweetheart come hooker, and a long forgotten menace from Patrick’s past sink the boat before Peter Jackson’s done with it?

Distinctly New Zealand, the play deals with the fallout from Deka going under, and how parents react when you use house paint on a pedigree cat.  "It was a telling moment, we all have ’em. Madonna’s was when she saw what a pointy bra could do." Murky Merv.

The play also deals, in a unique way, with loss and the coping mechanisms we employ to get over it. Patrick’s imaginary monster-friend from his childhood (think Barney meets drugs), an old school friend, and an acting stand-in battle together to get Patrick to open up to love and risk again, but can they succeed?

Directed by MTA Graduate Kerina Deas, director of Escape (Fringe ’07), The Attic, and You Want Me To Do What?, and written by Gavin McGibbon, writer of Stand Up Love and After Service.

"A piece of theatre that is engaging and compelling and raises the standard of Fringe Theatre productions up several notches … This thought provoking yet entertaining play is a must-see production this Festival" – Dominion Post review of After Service.

"A young theatre company bursting with ideas… I look forward to seeing their second production" – Lynn Freeman, Capital Times review of Escape.

BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington
Tickets: Fringe Addict $10, Unwaged $12, Waged $15, Group 8+ $12
BOOKINGS: or 802 4175

Publicity contact: Chris O’Neill, 04 385 4116/ cell: 0275 34 35 39 

The Loser
- Patrick - John Hui
The Hooker - Kelly - Raquel Simms
Murky Merv - David Goldthorpe
Adrien Brody's Stand-In - Carl - Alex Greig

The Set and Lighting Designer - Chris O'Neill
The Costume Designer - Meggan Frauenstein

Lighting and Sound Operator - Sarah Prestige
The Publicity - Chris O'Neill
The Producers - Tenacity, Chris O'Neill and Kerina Deas

55 mins

Script not well served

Review by Lynn Freeman 06th Mar 2008

Shipwrecked Beneath the Stars is less than convincing, though the idea for the setting is terrific – on board the King Kong boat during filming.

No cameos from Peter Jackson this time, the story is centred on a security guy who has to face up to the consequences of his inaction.  He’s visited in his dream by his childhood imaginary friend who’s Murky Merv, a green monster, who tries to help him back on track, in this case to declare his love for a prostitute who’s an old school friend of his. 

Coming in and out is Adrien Brody’s Stand-in, a nifty if underused Alex Greig is in this role.  Raquel Sims gives prostitute Kelly the necessary heart of gold, but John Hui is far less convincing as poor Patrick. 

Gavin McGibbon’s script is not as well served as it could have been in this production overall. 


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Welcome complexity and clever construction

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 18th Feb 2008

Shipwrecked beneath the Stars starts with The Beatles’ Nowhere Man which immediately tells us that Patrick is a bit like you and me, an everyman, insecure, lost and drifting at age 43.


He is the caretaker of the King Kong ship at the Miramar film studios where his cabin is invaded in dream and reality by Carl, Adrian Brody’s stand-in, Kelly, a hooker who used to be at school with Patrick, Barbara, his ex-wife, and Murky Merv, a nightmare figure who morphs in Patrick’s dream from being his imaginary childhood friend into King Kong himself.


Like the Beatles’ song, the outcome of these visitors and dreams cause Patrick to eventually accept that there is a world out there and it is his to command. Gavin McGibbon just avoids a sentimental, sermonizing ending though his characterization of the self-centered would-be actor, Carl (strongly played by Alex Grieg), resorts to the stereotypical.


The best scene, in which theme, character, and plot all come neatly together, is when Patrick (John Hui) attacks Murky Merv (David Goldthorpe in an excellent nightmarish costume) with a cardboard model of the Empire State that he filched from Peter Jackson’s studios.


Shipwrecked beneath the Stars is robustly played by the cast but the production never quite anchors the "real" scenes securely so that there is a difference in the playing between them and the dream/nightmare sequences. Nevertheless, it is a play that is more complex and cleverly constructed than most Fringe offerings of the past few years.


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A lot more work is required

Review by Kate Blackhurst 17th Feb 2008

Patrick (John Hui) iis a security guard on the ‘King Kong’ boat, who feels removed from all the excitement going on around him. Approaching 43, he is lonely, bored and depressed. His wife has left him because she no longer loves him and he has fallen for Kelly (Raquel Sims), a girl he went to school with who has become a prostitute. He wallows in his misery – “I live on a boat in a parking lot in Miramar” – and is haunted in his dreams by his imaginary childhood friend, Murky Merv (David Goldthorpe).

The highlight of the play is Carl (Alex Greig), who plays the part of Adrian Brody’s stand-in with wonderful self-possession. He begins the play by practicing his actor’s warm-ups and miming his Oscar acceptance speech as the audience enters. Greig has no interest in others and only wants to talk about himself and his art. He sets high expectations for a play of great promise, but these are never realized once he leaves the stage.

Patrick invites Kelly to the boat and a lot of awkward dialogue ensues before they fall asleep and Patrick dreams, conjuring up his old friend Murky Merv who takes him to revisit all the gawky moments from his past, starting with Kelly beating him in long jump at school. Gouldthorpe has a forceful physical presence, and a ridiculous green costume, as he manhandles his unwilling host through his previous failures.

Murky Merv complains that Patrick is no fun anymore. As a kid, everything had seemed possible as Patrick had imagination and tried new things, but now he has given up. Patrick lays bare his humiliations with his ex-wife Barbara (also played by Raquel Sims whose only change in characterization is to wear a wig) from his truly atrocious dancing to his attempt to win back her affections with flowers and a promise of shopping and a gym membership.

Adrien Brody’s stand-in turns up in the dream for no apparent reason, but it is a relief to have him back, as even his attentive popcorn-munching steals the scene from the stilted dialogue and forced acting of the others. He laments that he once stood around for two hours while they filmed his shadow and that, “It takes a lot of strength to keep going and aim for things.” He explains that you have to emotionally engage with life because things, from films to relationships, will only work if you believe in them.

Merv warns Patrick that the ship is sinking and that he’s going down with it, but he wallows in pity and despair, saying he has used up all his possibilities. They try to kill one another with a fight around a model of the Empire State Building, which provides a bit of much-needed drama and an opportunity to wear a gorilla mask.

With the exception of a couple of gags about King Kong and Peter Jackson, this play could have been set anywhere. The minimal staging and direction is lazy rather than avant-garde; ‘Fringe’ should not mean skimping on essential production values. The Adrien Brody stand-in scenes are amusing, but seem out-of-place, as though they were a great skit which didn’t go anywhere or warrant a full-length feature. There are a couple of good one liners, mainly delivered by Alex Greig and David Gouldthorpe, but most of the conversation is unnatural and the ‘real’ characters are dull and one dimensional.

Patrick makes a poor Everyman, because we just get fed up with his whining. Barbara liked him because he was ‘practical’ and ‘genuine’ which just sounds like a euphemism for boring. Okay, so he never did anything about the dreams he had as a kid (although we never know what they were apart from painting a cat), and he promises to do something about it when he wakes up, but do we care?

Is it better to try and fail than not to try at all? If this play attempts to answer that question, the response would have to be that a lot more work is required. It is floundering in the wilderness and certainly needs to be rescued.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


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A pretty good stand in for the real deal

Review by John Smythe 16th Feb 2008

Gavin McGibbon’s third play (after After Service and Stand Up Love) is set below decks on the King Kong ship, moored at Miramar Wharf and minded during the long lonely nights by a security guard called Patrick (John Hui), single and lacking in self-esteem.

At heart it is a slow reveal of how Patrick – once gainfully employed in management and married somewhat dependently to Barbara (Raquel Sims) – came to be in this position, and a dramatisation of the night he moves himself on, ingeniously catalysed in an extended dream sequence by his imaginary monster friend from childhood called Murky Merv (David Goldthorpe).  

But first we encounter Carl (Alex Greig), Adrian Brody’s Stand-In, posing, posturing, practising lines, doing his centring exercises … And I have to ask: why are actor characters so often played in such a clichéd way? If anyone should know what actors are really like, it’s actors. Is it that playwrights are intimidated by actors and so send them up as pretentious wankers, and actors and directors are happy to play along in the name of self-effacing send-up and satire? Whatever the case, this approach is both beside the point and detrimental here.

If Carl had been written/directed/performed sincerely as a seriously deluded wannabe – instead of commented on in theatrical inverted commas – he would have been funnier, more poignant and much more relevant to the thrust of the story, which compares this world’s washed up flotsam (Patrick) and those yet to be launched (Carl), not to mention drifting prostitute and Patrick’s ex primary-school classmate Kelly (Sims), with those sailing at full steam ahead on the great ocean of life (Brodie, Peter Jackson et al).

Shipwrecked Beneath the Stars has to be grounded in a strong reality before the fantasy counterpoint – the dreamed-of challenge to self – can gain dramatic traction. And sure, the character of Carl can become heightened in the dream, as filtered through Patrick’s perceptions, although his main role here is to be attractive to ex-wife Barbara, and the more credible that is, the stronger the threat to Patrick.

Fortunately John Hui and Raquel Sims, as Kelly, work at naturalistic credibility in their early scenes although director Kerina Deas allows some rather amateurish front-facing staging to dilute the truth of their relationship. And Hui’s Patrick does get rather stuck, throughout, in a plaintive tone that could surely be varied in the character’s rare moments of confidence.

Sims doubles well as Barbara and the scene where she and Patrick first meet is dynamically evoked. David Goldthorpe’s Murky Merv – in an excellent costume and make-up designed by Meggan Frauestein – finds a full range of expression, honouring the writer’s well conceived vision.

The playfulness with which McGibbon addresses his serious theme, and the overall ebullience director Deas brings to it – in a simple setting well lit by co-producer Chris O’Neill – just manages to elevate the work above being a dramatised lesson in self-improvement. Again, the more we believe in the characters and the more empathy we feel for them, the better the play will work all round.

The use of a model Empire State building and the climactic/ iconic strafing sequence in Patrick’s final self-confrontation are inspired. McGibbon is the genuine article when it comes to being a playwright. He’s working at a level of complexity that deserves full professional support.

Meanwhile this production works well as a pretty good stand in for the real deal.


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