Stealing Games

Capital E, Wellington

04/07/2009 - 11/07/2009

Production Details

New Gary Henderson play tackles children’s safety    

Privatisation and protecting children versus overprotecting them are two of the complicated, and sometimes controversial, themes of Gary Henderson’s new play. One of New Zealand’s most acclaimed playwrights, Gary found it a personal challenge to write something political for children.

"At the time I felt hot under the collar about the privatising of public space – public property being taken away then sold back to us. Stealing Games imagines a world where that ownership of public space extends to children’s playgrounds and, in effect, to the games themselves. It was interesting that the children we worked with in development could easily imagine this happening."

"I’m interested in the debate about whether we are mollycoddling children to the point that they can’t exist in an environment that’s even remotely hostile. Are we creating children who are ill-equipped to deal with a world where the ground isn’t made of rubber? What happens when the bubble wrap is taken away?"

The play centres on four close friends – when an accident in a playground between the four leads to a media frenzy unsupervised playing is outlawed. Forced to play in private ‘Playparks’ one of the characters finds himself separated from his friends when he can’t afford the entry fee. When he decides to take matters into his own hands and confront the man who is taking his friends away he discovers a hidden agenda.

"Gary’s script has a great strength to it," says Director Murray Lynch. "He has the knack of engaging young people with big thought-provoking concepts in a truly entertaining and accessible way."

Stealing Games features set design by Brian King, choreography by Helen Winchester, original sound design and compositions by Murray Hickman and lighting design by Phil Blackburn, melded together by respected Wellington director Murray Lynch.

The talented performers, Suzanne Tye, Laurel Devinie, James Conway-Law and Rawiri Jobe all bring their own unique and fresh approach to this piece.

A highly physical and compelling theatre experience aimed at 8-12 year olds, presented by the Capital E National Theatre for Children — the play will also be seen by plenty of parents this July school holidays keen to experience something different this holiday break.

The Dominion Post season of
Stealing Games
When: Saturday 4 to Saturday 11 July (no shows Sunday)
Time: Sat 4 July 2pm. Mon-Fri 11am and 2pm. Sat 11 July 2pm.
Duration: 50 minutes
Venue: Capital E Main Floor
Price: $10.50 per person. $38 group of four. $8.50 per person for groups of 10 or more.
Bookings: Phone: 04 913 3720. Email:   

National Tour: dates, venues and booking details  

Capital E is managed by the Wellington Museums Trust with major funding support from Wellington City Council.
The National Theatre for Children receives major funding support from Creative New Zealand.



The Cast
James Conway-Law
Laurel Devenie
Rawiri Jobe
Suzanne Tye  

Designer:  Brian King
Lighting Designer:  Phil Blackburn
Choreographer:  Helen Winchester
Sound and Composition:  Murray Hickman
AV Design:  Nic Marshall
Animation:  Andrew Shaw
Stage and Tour Manager:  Dushka Blakely
Technician:  Jarren Jackson


50 mins, no interval

Not to be missed

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 10th Jul 2009

Kids being able to play after school in the school grounds or on the street even – hop-scotch, patter-ball, or just tossing a ball about – has been an integral part of their growing up in New Zealand.  It’s where their social interactions begin, mixing with others from different races and class (yes we do have a class system in NZ!), albeit not always for the best and where they learn to fend for themselves as well as helping and supporting each other. 

So what happens when, in this overly health and safety conscious society, this sort of activity is considered very un-PC and the kids are forced into supervised play parks? Social disharmony and discord erupts amongst the kids creating situations worse than before.  All of which is the basis of Gary Henderson’s intriguing and cleverly written play Stealing Games, given an excellent production for Capital E National Theatre for Children by director Murray Lynch and his four actors. 

When one of the four breaks her nose there is a huge outcry. A multinational company plays on the hysteria caused to get support for a change of law creating designated "Playparks" which kids have to pay to attend. 

The rich kids, whose parents can pay, go to the good parks while the others go to the basic ones or don’t go to any.  The resulting bust-up of the four friends has dire consequents till everyone sees sense and normality is restored. 

James Conway-Law, Suzanne Tye, Rawiri Jobe and Laurel Devine all give outstanding performances playing multiple roles with energy and commitment, one minute a kid, the next an adult, moving from character to character and scene to scene with confidence and dexterity. The production never misses a beat. aided by Brian King’s creatively versatile set and Phil Blackburn’s evocative lighting.

This is a show for both young and old and one not to be missed.
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Kids play with adult message

Review by Lynn Freeman 09th Jul 2009

In this climate of fear for the nation’s children, at risk from perverts, accidents, or other misadventures, Gary Henderson has crafted a play that warns of our society being too protective.

Stealing Games concerns a sports equipment corporation which, as sales drop, finds another way to boost profits – and save jobs.  They privatise children’s playgrounds, corralling kids into parks where they have to pay to get in.  Parents who can afford it are only too keen to pay up, but inevitably some children either end up in the less flash play areas, or in none at all.  Here, four close friends end up divided.

In a strong cast, Laurel Devinie stands out, showing great flair in her many roles and never once playing down to her young audience.  Rawiri Jobe was convincing as the young man being judged by the criminal actions of his big brother, while James Conway-Law is the most naturally comedic of the excellent cast.  Suzanne Tye’s child character was the least appealing, being the rich kid on the block, but she made us like her and was also memorable as the trendy lefty teacher.

Murray Lynch’s direction has a great physicality about it, leaving the cast sweating at the end, and never letting the action flag.

My 10 (almost 11) year old co-critic Rose left Stealing Games uncharacteristically without saying much about it. She was rushing off to see Hannah Montana the Movie, so her mind may have already switched focus.  

She caught my eye and giggled often enough during the play for me to know she enjoyed much of it.  I suspect though it’s the parents who leave this thinking more about the message than the kids, especially given our generation played anyplace, anytime without fear.

Brian King’s set works brilliantly with a great use of primary colours (it works for the Wiggles) and very effective sound from Strike impresario, Murray Hickman, all contributed to a production with stand out production values.
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Excellence on every level

Review by John Smythe 05th Jul 2009

The four actors chat with their young audience (target age group 8 – 12) before the show starts and deal to the cellphone / photography stuff too, so the game of ‘play’ is clearly acknowledged. The game four school friends play in the opening sequence – 4-Square – is boxed in, has strict rules and is very competitive. Failure, success, delight and (yes) danger at individual and group levels interweave with random twists that keep all players – and their audience – on their toes.

Right from the start, then, playwright Gary Henderson declares these dynamics are a natural part of human behaviour, integral not only to the growing-up and learning processes but also to the business of surviving in the bigger wider world. The question is, who has responsibility for what?

While there is nothing simplistic in the way Stealing Games explores its themes, the unfolding drama is clearly played out and instantly accessible as directly relevant to all our lives, which makes it very engaging and highly entertaining.

Directed by Murray Lynch, in Brian King’s evocative tubular steel, wire netting and ‘concrete’ walled set, lit by Phil Blackburn with percussive sound composed by Murray Hickman, actors James Conway-Law, Laurel Devenie, Rawiri Jobe and Suzanne Tye play multiple characters – kids, business executives, parents, teachers and cops – with fluent ease and great distinction (in both senses of the word).   

In a ‘high mountains’ round of 4-square, a hard ball bounce gives Abby a bleeding nose and it turns out her septum is cracked. Meanwhile the New Zealand branch of multinational sporting goods company PlayTime is threatened with closure if they can’t ‘lift their game’ in the highly competitive market place – illustrated to great effect with an animated cartoon (AV, Nic Marshall; animation, Andrew Shaw).

Frank, who can’t afford to lose his job because his disabled daughter needs round-the-clock care, comes up with the winning strategy: use the media to foment fear about the dangers of public playgrounds then solve the problem with privately owned, "safe, friendly, supervised Play Parks" for which users must pay, while the speedily passed Child Safety Act makes it illegal to play unsupervised in a public place. 

The shock-horror media reports (in which the cracked septum becomes a broken skull!) are unnervingly familiar and instantly recognised by the very media-savvy audience.

The new Play Parks range from flash, well-resourced and expensive to cheap and basic (under the motorway), so Nicole, whose parents are rich, gets to go to the flash one. This means Abby can’t play with her any more. Brendan prefers to hang out with Judd but he’s got a brother in trouble with the law so the police are watching him too …  

When Nicole’s purse is stolen, the whole question of ‘haves’ versus ‘have nots’ comes into stark focus, exposing the true ‘trickle down’ effect of a market forced society. Some excellent twists, which I won’t reveal here, bring the play to its reassuring close, which also completes the contributions of choreographer Helen Winchester.

Especially worth noting is how naturally the theatrical conventions of multiple roles aqnd locations are employed, allowing the focus to stay on the unfolding story’s key moments of emotional crisis and thought-provoking dilemmas.

Stealing Games has evolved as a script and production over more than two years. The result is excellence on every level.
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