Sunset Cafe

BATS Theatre, Wellington

20/03/2007 - 31/03/2007

Production Details

Musical Director – STEPHEN GALLAGHER

Wellington’s own rock musical story!
Sunset Café follows four young people on the night of their last day at school. They each have their own plans for making the night memorable. The night doesn’t go as planned but it is definitely memorable!

Written by one of New Zealand’s favourite playwrights, Gary Henderson (Skin Tight, Tiger play, Homeland).

Season: Tues 20 – Sat 31 March (no show Sun/Mon)
Time: 6.30pm
Tickets: $16 full / $12 concession & groups 10+
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Grace Tully - JEAN SERGENT
Diana Graham - AIMEE RYAN

Producer - ANREW KAYE
Lighting Designer - LOUISE WILSON
Sound Edits - QUENTIN D'SOTO
Lighting / sound operator / stage manager - SHORN MARTIN
Assistant Musical Director - LUKE DISOMMA

Theatre , Music ,

1 hr 25 mins, incl. interval

Relationships and hormones

Review by Lynn Freeman 28th Mar 2007

"There is a moment when time stretches to snapping point."

School is over – and on the last day, four friends gather to work out how to mark the big occasion.  But there are bigger issues at stake for each of them than which of the numerous parties to attend.  One is a life or death decision while others test friendships through betrayal. 

The play was first performed 14 years ago, but it’s still fresh and relevant.  Teens are still pushing the limits as far as they can, still wondering what the future may hold, still struggling to cope with change and relationships and hormones.

Gary Henderson is such a great writer and captures the angst beautifully in Sunset Café and Jason Kennedy is a respectful director to Gary’s very fine script.

Billy Black (David Hoskins) is a biker with a desperate need to have his moment, whatever the cost.  Head Boy John King (Andrew Kaye) is Mr Nice Guy, serious and loving, but his girlfriend Diana Graham (Aimee Ryan) isn’t ready for the kind of commitment he’s seeking. Grace Tully (Jean Sergent), is hard case, though fixated on a past relationship that is long gone.  They are all searching for something just out of their reach.

Of the actors, Sergent and Hoskins stand out with their high energy, well pitched performances.  They draw the audience in, even when they’re behaving badly, and make us care for these two square pegs in round holes.  Ryan and Kaye are much less relaxed on stage, Kaye in particular struggling with his lines and failing to convey the emotional range his character demands.

Musically though, all four work in harmony.  Musical Director Stephen Gallagher has done a great job with the actors/musicians.  The songs slow things down a tad too much in the first half hour but as the action builds the music works brilliantly.


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Songs in the way second time round

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 22nd Mar 2007

Fourteen years ago I raved about the world premiere of Sunset Café when it was presented at Bats Theatre under the direction of its author, Gary Henderson. While it’s great that New Zealand plays are revived as often as they are these days, revivals do give us a chance to revise our initial thoughts.

I described it then as a musical but now, in this latest reincarnation, it is clearly a play with songs, but the trouble is the songs now seem to get in the way of the action, slowing it down, and they often only express what has already been clearly established in the dialogue. And when one of the songs, which wouldn’t sound out of place in a Lloyd Webber musical gets overly sentimental, I keep wondering what it is that now makes me see and hear it quite differently. However, the audience at Bats seemed to react as I did fourteen years ago – ecstatically.

Also little niggles about the plot keep popping up which never struck me before. How many senior secondary students live in flats free from parental authority? How come a young man who gets his arm injured in a motor bike accident forgets all about it an hour or so later? However, the ending, when all the late teenage love problems get sorted out, is still as emotionally mushy and unbelievable as it was the first time around.

Henderson’s script is often funny and he has teenage talk off to a T as the four friends start to celebrate their leaving secondary school with a party at Scorching Bay. Billy wants to turn himself into a legendary figure no one will forget by doing some outrageous deed that night. His friend, John, the head boy, sports captain and good-looking to boot, wants to be alone with his girl friend Diana, while her friend Grace is a nervous wreck because an old flame is back in town.

Billy does indeed become a legend though he nearly dies twice during the night of the party, and the romantic problems of John, Diana, and Grace get highly convoluted and even the promiscuous Billy reveals an unsuspected emotional attachment beneath all his youthful bravado.

The cast of four – Jean Sergent (Grace), Andrew Kaye (John), David Hoskins (Billy) and Aimee Ryan (Diana) – act and sing with great energy and attack but without subtlety in Jason Kennedy’s straightforward production. The four actors also play walk-on roles (a waiter/fourth form school girls, etc) and these characters are often presented as caricatures, a bit of comic relief, which somehow make the central characters appear to be caricatures too, which they aren’t until the final mushy scene.
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Catharsis for all

Review by John Smythe 20th Mar 2007

What a thrill to see this play-with-songs again! I still remember its world premiere at BATS in 1993.

We knew school teacher Gary Henderson was something special in theatre when The Big Blue Planet Earth Show delighted us in 1991 then went on to win and Adelaide Fringe Award for Excellence in 1992.

Sunset Café (his fifth play) was something else again: an intensely insightful, funny, exuberant, sexy and heart-felt work that told the truth about adolescence at school-leaving age. It deserved to be studied in every high school and mounted as a school production too, but of course it was way too real for that. [If anyone knows if it has been studied or produced in schools, please tell us via ‘comments’]. The following year, also at BATS, Henderson’s iconic Skin Tight premiered, developed through workshops, as many of his plays have been, with actors and designers closely involved.

Now 14 years and almost as many plays on from the debut of Sunset Café, with Gary Henderson’s standing as one of New Zealand’s major playwrights thoroughly confirmed, it is timely that director Jason Ward Kennedy – who played Billy Black in the 1994 Fortune Theatre production, at the beginning of his own professional performing career – should be the one to bring it back to BATS.  

This clearly ‘no budget’ production works on the strength of the script – which includes songs and music written by Henderson – and a well directed quartet of committed and talented performers who conjure the whole ‘make believe, in a simple park bench and cafe setting (no set designer credited), under Louise Wilson’s dynamic lighting, with sound effects edited by Quentin D’Doto.

Sunset Café finds four friends experiencing a rite of passage on the night of their last day of high school. There are various parties in the offing, and the plan is for everyone to get to one at Scorching Bay. Motor biker Billy Black (David Hoskins) is determined to mark night with ‘a legendary moment’. His mate John King (Andrew Kaye) head boy, sportsman of the year two years running, just wants time alone with Diana Graham (Aimee Ryan), but she is intent on making the most of the last night with their friends before they scatter. And her best friend Grace Tully (Jean Sergent), on realising ex-boyfriend Andy is back in town, threatens to stuff things up by becoming fixated on finding him …

Under Ward Kennedy’s well-paced direction, all four do great justice to their main roles while playing various incidental roles with flair and humour. Nothing works out as expected, everyone experiences cathartic moments that change them forever, the airport motorbike sequence is expecially memorable … and to say much more would spoil it for those who go.

Ward Kennedy and musical director Stephen Gallagher ensure the songs, that express very well the feelings and states-of-mind of the characters, are strongly rendered. Hoskins’ guitar-playing, Sergent’s singing and Ryan’s clarinet are especially good and the ensemble harmonies are a delight.

With their focus clearly on the emotional truth of their never-to-be-forgotten experiences, the cast promises to turn in a season that deserves full houses.


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