Torpedo Bay Navy Museum, 64 King Edward Parade, Devonport, Auckland

23/07/2014 - 02/08/2014

Te Pou Theatre, 44a Portage Road, New Lynn, Auckland

03/09/2015 - 06/09/2015

Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland

23/08/2016 - 28/08/2016

Meteor Theatre, 1 Victoria Street, Hamilton

18/08/2016 - 20/08/2016

Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum, Corner Quay and Hobson Streets, Viaduct Harbour, Auckland

06/08/2014 - 10/08/2014

Going West Festival 2015

Production Details




Background: Geoff Allen’s Grandfather A.S. Allen, on his way to the Gallipoli landings, fell sick and was put off at 1st Australian Field Hospital on Lemnos Island. When Geoff decided to do a play about Gallipoli, he chose the seldom covered story of the NZ women who were closest to our boys on the hills – The Anzac Nurses. 

Geoff interviewed the granddaughter of Hilda Steele, one of the original Anzac Nurses, and a key character in this story about the only Kiwi women to follow their men to the battlefields of the war to end all wars. 

Galatea Theatre founded by Gina Timberlake and Geoff Allen.

“Honourable mention should go to Geoff Allen’s Mrs Van Gogh for a wonderfully idiosyncratic piece of expressionist theatre.” Bouquets and Brickbats – NZ HERALD, Plays of 2012 

Torpedo Bay Navy Museum, 64 King Edward Parade, Devonport
23rd July- 2nd August 2014
Performances Tues-Sat 7.30 pm; Sun 4.30 pm 

Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum, Corner Quay and Hobson Streets, Viaduct Harbour, Auckland
6 – 10 AUGUST 2014 (5 nights only!), 7.30pm
$40 Per Person  
$35 Voyager Crew
Very limited spaces for each performance – book your tickets today
(09) 373 0800  

Presented as part of the Going West Festival 2015

In the centenary year of WWI there are many shows and exhibitions honouring those who served, and New Zealand’s personal histories. Very few cover the women’s story… This play is the story of the nurses who went to Gallipoli on the hospital ship The Maheno. 

It is a poignant and personal story traversing love and the human spirit, and highlighting the strength of our kiwi women who went to war.

Sister Anzac premiered in 2014 to an enraptured audience and to critical acclaim as a site specific piece at the Devonport Navy Museum, and in a unique promenade performance at the Maritime Museum, Auckland.

This production presents a freshly worked script, incorporating design elements: set, lighting, costume, music as it moves out of the museums and into the theatre.

The Going West Festival premieres the theatre showing of Sister Anzac in September 2015. Q Theatre is scheduled for August 2016.

Season Details:
Te Pou Theatre 
Sept 3-6 2015
Thurs 3rd- Sat 5th Sept 8.00 pm.
Matinee Sat 5th & Sun 6th 4.00 pm 
$32 / $27


Meteor Theatre, 1 Victoria Street, Hamilton
18-20 August 2016 
Thurs-Sat, 7.30pm
Book at | ph: 0508 iticket

Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen Street, Auckland 
23-28 August 2016 
Tues-Thurs, 7pm
Fri-Sat, 8pm
Sat 2.30pm | Sun 4pm 
Book at Q Theatre

Maritime Museum, Cnr Quay & Hobson Streets, Auckland 
31 August 0 10 September 
Wed-Sat, 7pm
Book at Maritime Museum 

Cast :
Matron Alice Corkindale : Donogh Rees
Red Cross VAD Elsie Livesey : Anthea Hill
Sister Hilda O’Neill : Gina Timberlake | Nicola Kawana 2016
Sister Maggie Haynes : Alex Ellis
Col Shelby Carter : David Capstick
Sergeant Harry Young : Jordan Blaikie 

Set Design : John Parker
Lighting Design : Jo Kilgour
Costume Design : Elizabeth Whiting & Fiona Nichols
Sound Design : Thomas Press & Morgan Allen
Composition : Thomas Press

Theatre ,

Silence a testament to the power of the play

Review by Leigh Sykes 23rd Aug 2016

The programme notes for the show tell us that the play, written by Geoff Allen, gives us “an opportunity to stop and consider, and most of all appreciate the women in our past”. The play also allows us to hear the voices of women who were real, who experienced things few of us can imagine, and who were rarely able to talk about those experiences once they returned because, as Matron Corkingdale points out, “no-one will understand”.

The programme also notes that this play “feels pertinent” as we consider events in the world today, and where our ability to embrace and protect those in need may be tested by the actions of others in far-flung corners of the world, in the same way as the characters in the play are tested.

The lady sitting next to me notes that we “hit the ground running”, as a variety of characters enter and exit the performance space while the audience takes their seats. The soundtrack to this action is appropriately crackly, and successfully places us within the timeframe of the piece. We see characters arriving with suitcases, introducing themselves to each other and taking no notice of us in the audience. At one point, nurses bolt through the curtain made of flags that screens off the back of the stage to take a breather from whatever is going on behind it. 

The sound of waves against the hull of a boat is subtle but recognisable, and we are called to attention by Colonel Carter (David Capstick) so that the soldiers and nurses can give us a short song and dance. It feels like we have stumbled into a Concert Party but almost as soon as it begins, sounds of explosions intrude and we are in the thick of the action.

Characters swing into stylised action, treating the wounded, bandaging, stitching and comforting, as they describe to us what is happening. This is one of only two times we are addressed directly, and we are drawn into the action because of it. It feels like we are part of a documentary as the nurses describe the experience of dealing with the aftermath of the landings in Anzac Cove, and when the terrible action stops, we are ready to get to know these characters better.

To some extent, all of the characters are types: the naïve, posh one; the brash, confident one; the spiritual one and the experienced one who has seen war before. However, the play and the performances allow us to see beyond the surface types. The trio of nurses arriving on the hospital ship Maheno have very different reasons for being at Gallipoli, which become clear over the course of the play.

Elsie (Anthea Hill) from Parnell has the most trouble adjusting, while Maggie (Alex Ellis) seems right at home and ready for some mischief. Hilda (Nicola Kawana) talks to God and Matron Corkingdale (Donogh Rees) fights for her ‘girls’ to be recognised as ranking officers by the slightly pompous, but ultimately sympathetic, Colonel Carter. 

We are allowed to get to know the characters through their interactions with each other and the men they nurse, including Elsie’s ‘beau’ Harry (Jordan Blaikie). The interactions are revealing, and the direction by Amanda Rees keeps the piece moving forward briskly. We sense the larger events beyond the characters, but the director allows us time to take in the specifics of each character.

The design team (John Parker – Set, Jo Kilgour – Lighting and Fiona Nicholls – Costume) create a world that is specific and detailed yet also representative, and which gives the women the space to breath within the events.

The performances are uniformly effective at drawing us into the story and making us understand the effect that events are having on the nurses, but the stand out for me is Alex Ellis, as she moves seamlessly between hard-as-nails Aussie larrikin and a bereft sibling responding to news of her younger brother. All of the performers support each other as a true ensemble, helping us to clearly see the bonds that these experiences have forged.

As the group prepares to leave the Dardanelles, it feels like time has flown and the end of the show is near, but this is not the case and this is the one aspect of the show that doesn’t work as well for me. Although it is interesting to see the nurses transported to a new location, the pace of the play seems to drop here, and the tension that we have felt up until now lessens. It feels like situations from the beginning of the play are being replayed and even though we learn more about the characters, this section seems to be an addition rather than an organic part of the whole.

However, this section does pave the way for an ending that leaves the theatre in the most profound silence, with the audience not seeming to want to believe that this is really the end. Such a silence is a rare thing in live theatre, and I think our silence is a testament to the power of the play and its very able performers.  


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Unmistakeable commitment

Review by Gail Pittaway 19th Aug 2016

It’s great to receive this timely play to Hamilton and the Meteor Theatre as it celebrates stories of some of the women of ANZAC, a history only recently coming to our attention. The four featured here are from the nursing corps: a Matron, two Sisters and one trainee VAD, all backed up by two military men, a simple set, with great sound design and lighting.

John Parker’s clever set of painted New Zealand flags, serving as curtains, tents, flaps and partitions, works very well to convey the temporary nature of life in war and the privations that become the norm. In all it’s a pleasingly portable production that deserves to be taken on the road from its origins in Auckland. 

Sister ANZAC opens with a lot of energetic stage business, marching and singing ‘K-K-K-K-Katie’, one of the popular songs of WW1, where the cast parades onstage in the way of choruses of old, swinging arms, stamping feet in noisy boots and shoes. It quickly transpires that they are on board an ambulance ship, the Maheno at Gallipoli, and offstage explosions, flashes and choreographed lurches leave us in no doubt that it is well into the progression of the catastrophe that occurred over 100 years ago.

Some dates are given out, with now fabled place names – Quinn’s Post, ANZAC Cove – while, in mime, the nurses and soldiers show the panic and chaos that ensues as each new wave of wounded is brought aboard; the lucky few who have a chance of recovery. 

The writing of the play is a little too obvious, especially in the characterisation and development, where the author, Geoff Allen, no doubt motivated by concerns of truth to genuine stories he has unearthed, attempts to tell the stories of all the characters in too much detail, in the short time available. Consequently the four women are rather obviously contrasting in character types: the rich one who has to slum it, the vulgar one who becomes sensitive, the hard Matron with the heart of gold and the quiet, mystical one who becomes strong.

The war itself is of course a situation of great conflict, but the male characters also generate problems to keep the narrative pitching forward. The senior officer and ship’s surgeon is a clipped, officious stickler to the rules and given a convincing reading by David Capstick, who conveys Colonel Carter’s progression into becoming a more human character credibly. Jordon Blaikie as a general soldier and orderly also morphs into Sergeant Harry Young, the love interest, below her class, of the trainee nurse, Elsie, from Parnell.

This character, played with energy and a convincing maturation by Anthea Hill, becomes the conduit for our understanding of the horrors of injury, death and filth through her sincere reaction to what is mostly offstage battle, while the others get on with their work. As the ship rolls against blasts and bombardment, Elsie recounts some of the duties she has had to perform — carrying out amputated limbs, deciding who will be left to die and who will get treatment, bandaging endless suppurating wounds, even stitching them with her best embroidery stitches.

Donogh Rees is a stand out trouper, as is her character, Matron Corkingdale: compelling, proud and brave. Already a heroine of the Boer War, Matron now has to fight a new battle for recognition, both as a ranked member of the forces herself, and for women to be active in the medical corps at all. She is ably supported by her two nursing sisters but must also manage the moments of panic in her newest aid, Elsie, and keep the group performing as best they can under impossibly difficult circumstances, with ever decreasing medical supplies. Rees’ voice is perfect for this role with its steady and calm inflexions, yet with an ability to generate ice or fire as needed.

Alex Ellis extends her considerable vocal talent to bring Sister Maggie Haynes to life. Australian born and Waikato bred, Maggie is brash and jolly, laughing off a leg wound, flirting with the wounded, all the while suppressing concern for a brother, missing in action, through her jokes and teasing. All changes with a moment of tragic recognition, in a moving and beautiful scene that brings tears to my eyes.

Nicola Kanawa’s character, Sister Hilda is a more complex character: a practicing Catholic and teetotaller, she is a tea cup reader and all round comforter. At first a weaker seeming person for her pre-occupations, her strength of convictions and training shine through, in a believable yet unobtrusive way.

Amanda Rees’ direction is crisp and fluid, using the actors and set wisely, keeping the action moving and drawing out moments of humour even in the awfulness of the circumstances. The women characters and performers are the heart of this production and the commitment of all to share their stories and this important thread of our history is unmistakeable.  


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Effectively affecting despite some affectation

Review by Nik Smythe 04th Sep 2015

One hundred years on* from the Great (absurd and tragic) War ‘to end all wars’, humanity is still piecing together what they can from official records and diaries of the time to … what?  Try to make sense of it all?  Learn from their mistakes?  Simply acknowledge the sacrifice our recent ancestors made in the belief that they were fighting for a better world for us, their children’s children’s children?

All the above no doubt, with varying degrees of success.  How can we ever really understand such insanity?  For that matter, how can anyone explain that the same terrible business is still happening around the world, running a booming trade?  So many questions to be asked, and must be asked. 

Set on a hospital boat off the coast of the newly christened Anzac Cove at Gallipoli, Turkey, Geoff Allen’s Sister ANZAC doesn’t directly ask these questions; they’re just what I find myself left with by the end of this commendable production.  

The most obvious point of difference in Allen’s script is its being centred on the incredible and disgracefully unsung efforts of the female nurses charged with sorting the brutally maimed patients, getting them to surgery and keeping them alive afterwards.  Seasoned throughout with wry and silly character-based humour, the play is to all intents and purposes an earnest melodrama about these capable but vulnerable heroines. 

The opening scene (after the spirited march-and-swing-your-arms type song and dance number) shows the girls working triage on deck, rough rolling seas adding to the prevalent chaos.  The poignant remarks they make, in between shouting instructions and taking orders, sound as if they could be verbatim diary entries from the actual women who endured such ordeals a century ago. 

Donogh Rees plays Matron Alice Corkindale, stern and sensible nursing veteran of the previous war in charge of thirteen nurses and trainees.  Anthea Hill is nurse-in-training Elsie Livesy, a young well-to-do woman of twenty from Parnell who volunteered to be closer to her fiancé, presently fighting with the infantry at the front line of Gallipoli’s infamous eight-month campaign.

Alex Ellis is Sister Maggie Haynes, an ex-pat Australian raised in the Waikato during her formative years.  Always the first to crack a joke, it becomes apparent that she’s concealing the anguish of her own personal secret.  Gina Timberlake’s strident, often quite shouty Sister Hilda O’Neill is quite British and rather religious.  Continually cringing with prudish aversion to Maggie’s crass sense of humour, it transpires she’s the strongest in a way, fortified by her enviable faith. 

Inverting the more common gender-balance of plays and stories even nowadays, the two male roles take a comparative back seat to the main action.  David Capstick is stiff-upper-lipped chief surgeon Colonel Shelby Carter, to whom they are all answerable; his vocal disapproval of the women even being there suggests he’s something of a belligerent prick.  Jordan Blaikie is equally heroic and pathetic as young wounded gardener-come-Sergeant Harry Young, Elsie’s fiancé.

A few more affected cerebral moments seem to unnecessarily force a level of profundity that really speaks for itself, however overall Amanda Rees’ resolute direction produces a visceral punch.  There’s a feeling of relief when the company goes on leave in London, only to be subverted as they are returned even closer to the front lines.  The narrative concludes quite suddenly with the hospital unit in retreat, their fates ultimately undisclosed. 

Morgan Allen’s sound effects and Thomas Press’s classic yet original sounding musical compositions are essential for drawing us back to a time and place before we were even alive.  John Parker’s simple rustic four-piece NZ flag/curtain set design is characteristically versatile in its function, and I daresay unintentionally topical in the climate of our nation’s current debate.

As appealing and well-appointed as New Lynn’s recently launched Te Pou Theatre is, there is a sense that the cast are still coming to terms with performing this work in a larger open space, having previously played in much more intimate venues.  It’s also an unfortunate minor distraction that the scene where the bombing and shooting finally ceases is somewhat undermined by the sound of a basketball game in the gym next door. 

*The opening scene is pointedly dated 22nd September 2015, less than three weeks from one hundred years ago exactly.


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Remarkable ‘herstory’

Review by Johnny Givins 24th Jul 2014

A unique window on our history opens up with Geoff Allen’s Sister ANZAC. It tells the story of the remarkable women who were the NZ nurses at Anzac Cove in WW1.  However it also provides dramatic, human and emotionally satisfying characters that become living history. 

There is developing a vast WW1 media industry as we remember the awful, disastrous, and futile conflict in Europe one hundred years ago.  Gallipoli is certainly a central icon in our nation’s memory. Recently we had the privilege of seeing a revival of Maurice Shadbolt’s Once on Chunuk Bair; however that was totally a man’s story. 

Sister Anzac tells the little know stories of the women who were at Gallipoli and the Western Front.  They were the nurses on the NZ hospital ship Maheno.  They were steeped in the blood, injuries, amputated limbs of wounded and dying soldiers from Anzac Cove. These women became as battle scarred, hardened and stoic as the men. 

To add to the importance of these stories the opening season is being staged at the Navy Museum in Torpedo Bay in Devonport.  What an appropriate setting for Amanda Rees to direct the script by Geoff Allen.  Surrounded by the images, objects and memories of our Naval History, the excellent cast of actors bring real life to the history. 

Geoff Allen has chosen to concentrate on the story of four nurses, one doctor and one male soldier.  I understand that all the cast did independent research and developed their performances in rehearsal workshops and it shows in the believability of the actions and emotional revelations.

Matron Alice Corkindale (Donogh Rees) gives an outstanding performance as the no nonsense, authoritarian, but caring leader of her nurses. Rees brings truth and honesty to moments of striking beauty in the horror of the war and its results.  Her character spans Boer War hero, medical expert, military leader, mother superior and confidant.  Her personal drive is palpable: “Bring our boys home.” Matron Corkindale is a dramatic icon.

The three nurses are a lovely mix of three character types.  There is motorbike-loving, Aussie-born Sister Maggie Haynes (Alex Ellis) from the Waikato who just grows and grows throughout the story.  The slightly mad, possibly psychic Sister Hilda Steele (Gina Timberlake), an uncomplicated woman of simple beliefs, is delightful. 

Balancing this triangle is the ‘Girl from Parnell’: VAD Elsie Livesey (Anthea Hill).  She is totally out of her comfort zone as the bodies pile up and the blood spews.  However, as in all good stories, she survives and grows into the women we all knew she could be.

The males are represented by the stoic doctor, Colonel Shelby Carter (David Capstick) who starts as a symbol and becomes a real man.  Sergeant Harry Young (Jordan Blaikie) is the believable love interest for Elsie.  He is tough yet sweet and totally convincing as the wounded soldier and ardent young gardener from Elsie’s home.  He and Elsie provide some excellent moments of happiness in the hell hole of war.

Although some of the drama and character situations do feel a bit like a BBC drama production, it does hold a unique quality of ‘Kiwi’.  The play does suffer from the need to ‘tell this bit of the story’ and at two hours without an interval is a bit long for a single sitting.

The performance area is a section of the museum, not a stage, and some dialogue is unclear, especially at high volume, due to the large space and its very high ceiling.  The quieter personal scenes, especially with Donogh Rees, have power and clarity.

Sister Anzac is an important part of our ‘herstory’. Recognising the importance of this production, the opening night was full of real uniforms and lots of gold braid!  Top Naval Brass (both male and female) were in attendance to launch this remarkable show. 

Sister Anzac will play for 10 days at the Naval Museum then transfer for a season at the Maritime Museum on Auckland Waterfront.


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