The Riverbank Centre, 71 Reyburn House Lane, Whangarei

05/04/2013 - 05/04/2013

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

27/02/2013 - 16/03/2013

Victoria Theatre (The Vic), 93 Victoria Rd, Devonport, Auckland

06/04/2013 - 07/04/2013

Suter Theatre, Nelson

24/10/2013 - 25/10/2013

Arts On Tour NZ 2013

Nelson Arts Festival 2013

Production Details

Fascinating, compelling – an evening of pure delight.

Acclaimed actress Catherine Downes brings her latest work, Talking of Katherine Mansfield, to Circa Theatre for the opening season of her New Zealand tour. Talking of Katherine Mansfield opens in Circa Two on Wednesday 27th February, and runs until Saturday 16th March.

Cathy performed this wonderful exploration of Mansfield’s writing about life, death and what we want in between, at the Ubud Writer’s Festival in Bali in 2012 after a sell-out season on Waiheke Island.

In Talking of Katherine Mansfield, she discusses and performs highlights of her internationally lauded play The Case of Katherine Mansfield and offers new insights to its themes, illuminated by a selection of Mansfield’s finest short stories, including the much-loved The Doll’s House

During a literary career that abruptly ended with her death from tuberculosis at only 34 in 1923, Mansfield produced what are generally regarded as some of the best short stories in English. She was also a prolific journalist, and kept a journal from the age of 18 to 34 when she died.

“When I was researching, I became interested in Mansfield’s journals and diaries,” says Cathy, “her intimate writing about her own feelings and where she wanted to go. They were very personal and candid, very private. She probably didn’t expect they would ever be published.”

“And in her stories, there are so many layers beneath the surface. It’s like a spider’s web where everything is interconnected and every word counts. On a deceptively small canvas like The Dolls House, which could be a metaphor for all her stories, she was able to explore big and universal themes. And her articulation of them is so acute and precise.” 

Talking of Katherine Mansfield – an engaging and dramatic account of one of New Zealand’s favourite literary icons, whose creativity and ruthless honesty are brought to vibrant life in this fascinating work. 

“I would have been happy to stay on in the theatre and see it all over again” – The Gulf News

Tributes for The Case of Katherine Mansfield:

“A powerfully executed work of art”  – NZ Listener         

“A treat not to be missed”  – Time Out, London

Tues – Sat 7.30pm, Sun 4.30pm
Prices: Adults $46, Concessions $38, Friends of Circa $33, Groups (6+) $39, (20+) $36, Under 25 $25.
$25 Specials – Tuesday 26 Feb and Thursday 28 Feb
BOOKINGS: Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington; Phone 801 7992 | 


Friday 5 April Whangarei
The Riverbank Centre, Reyburn House Lane 7.30pm
$20 Book:
Whangarei Suit Hire, Rust Ave

Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 April Devonport
The Victoria Theatre, 48-56 Victoria Rd 7.30pm
$30; Students and community card holders $25

Friday 12 April Hamilton 
The Playhouse Theatre, Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts,
University of Waikato, 7.30pm
$25; concession $20; Students (tertiary and secondary) $10
Book:; 0800TICKETEK; or in person at Academy or Ticketek outlets

Saturday 13 April Tauranga
Tauranga Art Gallery 7.00pm
Adult $25; Student/youth/friend of the gallery $20
Book: Tauranga Art Gallery

Sunday 14 April Gisborne  
Dome Room, Poverty Bay Club 7.30pm 
$25 Book: Mediterranean Living

Wednesday 17 April New Plymouth 
Alexandra Room, TSB Showplace 7.30pm 
Adult $25; Senior/Student $20 (service fees apply) 
Book:; or 0800 111 999; or TSB Showplace office 

Thursday 18 April Wanganui 
Royal Wanganui Opera House 7.30pm 
Adult $25; senior $23; FOH $20; Student $15; School group of 10 or more $5 
Note: 1 teacher per 10 students also at $5; Additional non-students normal price 

Saturday 20 April 8pm   
Playhouse Theatre 
$25 (earlybird before 1 April $20) 
Book:  Paradiso Video Shop 

Tuesday 23 April Franz Josef Glacier 
St James’ Church 7.30pm 
$25 Book: Glacier Motors cash/eftpos or Bella Vista Motel 

Wednesday 24 April Queenstown 
Queenstown Memorial Centre, 7.30pm tickets $20   

Nelson Arts Festival 2013  
Suter Theatre
Thurs 24 Oct 7pm, Fri 25 Oct 7.30pm
75 mins no interval
Earlybird $30, Full $34
under 18 $20
Plus service fee
Book Now » 

An absolute pleasure

Review by Anna Bate 25th Oct 2013

Catherine Downes, the creator and performer of Talking of Katherine Mansfield, assuredly took to the Suter Theatre stage last night to share this poignant work with a Nelson Arts Festival audience. 

The work interweaves personal writings and short stories from Mansfield with intermittent lecture content from Downes. The later contextualizes her relationship to and interest in the work of Mansfield in a revealing and autobiographical way. This autobiographical content, however, is not sustained and the show becomes increasingly biographical as it progresses. Something in me craves a return, if only slight, to the stated personal connections between these two artists lives.    

Downes explains that this work differs from her earlier play – The Case of Katherine Mansfield – because now, in her 60s, she views Mansfield’s work through a different filter; one that is more acutely aware of mortality. Hence, thematically, Talking of Katherine Mansfield hones in on Mansfield’s impending death.

Cleverly and somewhat chronologically structured, it exposes us to a patchwork of material that leaves us with a lasting sense of emotions, thoughts and acts that were loudly present in Mansfield’s later life. 

The technical skill of Downes is astounding. I relish being witness to those finely tuned moments when she slips almost seamlessly into another character; the subtle shifts in tension in her body, allowing room for another being (or state) to take hold and share their part of the story. I am particularly drawn into the work when the pace of these shifts between quickens or takes me by surprise. This is perhaps because, (being a choreographer); I view this work through a choreographic lens.

Currently accustomed to more experimental dance and theatrical experiences, a more conventional from of dramatic presentation dominates this work. At times I struggle to connect with this formal style of theatrical delivery but it seems appropriate given the content and lives involved in this play.

Nonetheless, what exudes from Downes’ body is a deep knowledge and affinity with Mansfield. And it is an absolute pleasure to watch as an artist shares this love and understanding of another’s work in such a precise, generous and layered manner. 


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So magical and forceful

Review by Mark Houlahan 14th Apr 2013

You might think we can move on now from Mansfield. And you might think that playwrights and scriptwriters would find other New Zealand subjects. She is surely the most ‘represented’ historical figure in New Zealand drama: there seem to be more scripts about her any anyone else. And yet, as Cathy Downes shows in her riveting new show, we are only just now digesting what Mansfield might mean.

Those who saw The Case of Katherine Mansfield will recognise the formula: some bio data, a reading/performance of key stories, what Downes calls “dramatic monologue” taken from Mansfield’s journals and letters, pretty much all of which have now been published. And yet Talking of Katherine Mansfield is quite a different show, and if you pass on seeing it, thinking you have seen it before, you have made a mistake. 

The previous script shaped a clearer biographical arc, as other Mansfield plays do, shifting Mansfield from her Wildean phase in Wellington through to her early death at Fontainebleu. In this new show the shape of the life is described, but the chronology is minimal. When anyone with a smart phone can dig out the relevant dates that makes sense. The Mansfield we see here is more concentrated, more focused on the fact of her impending death. She has a new sense of urgency.

Here too, not accidentally, we see much more of Downes. She makes us much more aware of the performance, of shifting from the I of the performer to talking of “she”, Katherine Mansfield, and then inhabiting the first person, when the script uses Mansfield’s own words.

Downes enters briskly, and begins almost in lecture mode – “Let me take the case of Katherine Mansfield” – and then smoothly rings the changes. There’s a chair, stage right, and hall stand, with a plant. A folder holds the text of the stories, though this is a visual prop more than anything. As each of the stories unfolds, you can see Downes hardly has to look at it.

She carries us away into the invented world. This is highlighted in the reading /performance of ‘The Doll’s House’, which is the climax of the evening. Downes brings home the story’s satire and its truth. Much may have changed in the streets of Karori since Mansfield lived there as a girl, but not the sharp divisions of class, the cruelty of the playground and the braying sound of new money. Downes nails this completely.

Downes generously stayed for half an hour of questions and asked me what I thought had changed since I saw her first Mansfield show at the Centennial Theatre at Auckland Grammar in the early 1980s. Two things have now come to the fore.

The quicksilvered charisma of Mansfield as a performer, shifting in and out of her self confessed “hundreds of selves” finds an equivalent in the dynamic energy of Downes on stage, so magical and forceful. It’s an irony of the actor’s craft that only someone so clear about what they were and who they should be could so winningly portray so many characters.

Secondly, Downes is much more concerned now with the final phase of Mansfield’s life, the quest for spiritual and physical health that took her to Guardjieff’s institute in Fontainebleu, where she died. The Mansfield of the last few months of her life can be hard to understand, and it easy to see her dabbling in flaky new age thinking. Downes shows a great integrity in this final phase: a desperation to finish writing, and then to move on to some new place.

The piece ends with a daringly long freeze, while we hear Middleton Murry’s account of his wife’s death. The final wrenching coughs of blood he describes are appalling. They contrast brilliantly with the contained energy of Downes as Mansfield, now almost twice the age of Mansfield when she died. Thirty four? It’s absurd. She’d only just begun. 


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A worthy reminder or compelling introduction

Review by Bronwyn Elsmore 07th Apr 2013

Ask them to name a New Zealand writer and a good proportion of Kiwis start with Katherine Mansfield, even if they’ve never read her works. Through her stories, but perhaps even more because of the highlights of her short career, Katherine has attained icon status in NZ literature. Which is no doubt why other writers continue to write about her and other artists including playwrights display a fascination with her life.  

Even though I have read her entire works, the total words produced by Katherine herself has been far eclipsed by the amount I’ve read written about her by others in multiple books and articles, appreciations, forewords etc, and heard in the many plays that cover her life. Like many other NZ writers I’ve even made the pilgrimage to Menton and posed for the obligatory photo outside the Villa Isola Bella. Does this make me a fan? Mmmm – I think, conversely, I’m probably over it. Time to move on. But just before I do, I’ll check out whether Catherine Downes’ recent contribution adds any new understanding of the iconic Katherine. 

Or, even more usefully perhaps, does this performance introduce a further generation to Katherine the Great’s life and work? 

Talking of Katherine Mansfield is a mixture of Catherine Downes’ own explanation of the Writer and her work, and readings from various letters, diary entries and her stories. 

The first ten minutes consists of Catherine the actress chatting about her own journey in relation to the material, the theme of truth and falseness that gripped the mind of Katherine the writer, and the latter’s determination “to be all I am capable of becoming”. The tone in this part is deliberately conversational, but perhaps too much so in that it comes across as jerky and hesitant.  

When Ms Downes moves into the scripted pieces on KM’s life the performance takes off – the rhythm of the words becomes established, the performance takes on new life and begins to sing and captivate. From this point there is no doubting the skill of the Actress: her exquisite sense of timing, her facial expressions and body language complement the words and reveal her interpretations of the Writer’s feelings and intentions.  

Particularly strong are the readings of the stories The Fly, in which a father is confronted with the death of his soldier son, and that all time favourite, The Doll’s House, though shorter pieces and snippets of others are also included. The Writer’s increasing ill health is indicated with masterful acting that supports the written explanation. 

It was unfortunate that an annoying buzz from the sound system and occasional computer sounds intruded, taking away from the timing of Ms Downes’ delivery, particularly in quieter moments and otherwise effective pauses. 

Overall, Talking of Katherine Mansfield is a very worthy reminder of the life and work of the Writer to those who know her stories, and an even more compelling introduction to those who don’t. 

A touring season continues throughout April with performances in Hamilton (12th), Tauranga (13th), Gisborne (14th), New Plymouth (17th). Wanaganui (18th), Takaka (20th), Franz Josef (23rd), Arrowtown (24th), Invercargill (25th), Oamaru (26th), Geraldine (27th), Ashburton (28th). 


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Admirable intentions and several wonderful moments

Review by David Stevens 06th Apr 2013

It isn’t often we get to see a love affair being played out on stage – right before our very eyes – but that’s what happens here.  

The splendid Cathy Downes obviously adores her subject, Katherine Mansfield, and is generous enough to share that love with us. Once it gets going it is very successful.

If I have some unease about the early part of the evening it is because Ms. Downes is communicating unease, trying to justify what she is doing, why she feels the need to revisit Mansfield’s life again. I raise an eyebrow: if The Case of Katherine Mansfield was so good (and I’m assured it was), why give us this later version, instead of the original?

Perhaps Ms Downes is aware of this, because she gives a justification for the new show, setting up a thesis – bravery and the casting off of the false life – which she fails to prove. There is nothing “false” about KM’s writing of her illness, it is heartbreakingly truthful.

But this is nothing new. KM’s writing has always been notable for its truth. At an early point, Ms Downes happily abandons trying to prove to us what a wonderful woman, KM was and launches into that great short story – ‘Leves Amoros’ – and there, up on the stage in front of me, is love: the thing itself. KM’s words and CD’s telling of them meld into a complete whole; they are one being, the two of them, and I am enraptured.

It feels increasingly secure from then on. Obviously, a few biographical points are necessary but thankfully, they become less and less and KM’s words dominate more and more.  Now we are on firm ground: KM has provided those glittering words and CD speaks them. I don’t need any more than that. The proof of an extraordinary life lived, the proof of bravery lived is there; the proof of bravery – it is a love scene between two young women – is right in front of my eyes and rightfully gets a stirring round of applause. 

But then we are back to uncertainty for a while, and I can’t work out why, except lack of confidence. I don’t need to hear of goings on at Waiheke or performances in Holland or (again) the previous play … I just want the love story.

The over-selling of something essentially so pure, simple – and so seldom seen – is present in the staging, too. The music is intrusive and seems to cause Ms Downes to hang about until it ends, and I do not understand why we are given bird song as a background to one story, when there have been no sound effects for any of the others. The lighting irritates me as well – why do the lights dim whenever CD starts to read from pages? I worry about her eyes. Why try to underline a dramatic moment with a dramatic mood lighting change when the actress is creating the dramatic mood so beautifully? In the presence of dramatic purity – which this often is – less is almost always more. 

But during the second half, I put all my reservations aside because it is just KM’s words and CD as the enamoured speaker. My heart is touched so often.

Until the ending. I don’t know why the intrusive, disembodied voice of a doctor has to tell us of KM’s death. From the git-go, Ms Downes has said that the evening is intensely personal, it is about what Katherine Mansfield means to her and blatantly, in her mind, the writer isn’t dead at all. She lives on triumphantly in those words, those glittering words, that extraordinary achievement.

It’s a good show, with admirable intentions and several wonderful moments. The audience enjoyed it and Ms Downes does outstanding work. But with just a little more bravery, and a little more trust in the audience, it might have been something really rather special.


William Walker April 7th, 2013

Re: David Stevens's review of 'Talking of Katherine Mansfied.' I liked Cathy Downes talking to us personally at the beginning and a couple of times  during the show. It focused the evening and bound us with Cathy in her exploration of Mansfield's writings from the perspective of a 62 year old as oppoesed to the 28 year old Cathy Downes who performed a different show about Mansfield many years ago. Rather than repeating unaltered the show she did back then, as the stuffy sort of review would have her do, Cathy is taking the sort of risk Mansfield urged us all to take. It was a fresh engagement.

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Powerful writings and readings

Review by John Smythe 01st Mar 2013

In this revisiting of her subject and the earlier show she inspired – The Case of Katherine Mansfield (1978), compiled almost entirely from Mansfield’s own words in letters, journals and stories – Catherine Downes now talks of, and as, KM in both personal and authorial mode (ambiguity intended: both Mansfield and Downes are being personal and authorial).

Since The Case first opened, and was performed around the globe by Downes, further scholarship has revealed more of KM’s short and emotionally torrid yet productive life. New elements were added for the version performed by Danielle Cormack in a Silo production (2006-07), and Fiona Samuel wrote an award-winning screenplay, Bliss (2010), drawing on more personal revelations: the fifth version of KM’s life to be brought to the screen.

Downes acknowledges Samuel’s Bliss but her quest in Talking of Katherine Mansfield is different. In explaining how she came to revisit the works – on being asked to contribute something to her Waiheke Island community’s May Day ‘Theatres of Resistance’ event – she shares her necessarily more mature appreciation of Mansfield’s timeless and universal insights into the human condition.

Although her schoolgirl meeting with KM’s ‘Miss Brill’ had made her judge the author as rather old fashioned, being cast as Katherine in Brian McNeill’s The Two Tigers in her early twenties found Downes relating strongly to Mansfield’s quest for adventure, identity and authenticity: “…Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth…” Yet KM judged herself as having led “a very typically false life”.

Now Downes’ focus is more on Mansfield’s awareness of social injustice, the quest for survival in the face of insuperable odds and her own mortality. And the paradox here is that her resistance is not to her impending premature death but to succumbing to the fear of it, and to maudlin self pity.

Thus ‘The Fly’ is read in the context of her brother’s accidental death in France, the ‘war dead’ fates of two sons in the story and the fly’s persistent endeavours to recover from a series of inkblot bombardments: also a metaphor for KM’s recurring illness. The old man’s inability to remember what he was thinking of before he became preoccupied with ‘testing’ the fly may also be seen as a comment on how history repeats itself because we forget it.

Mansfield’s resistance to turning 30 when she still feels like running and jumping is beautifully expressed in ‘Bliss’. And resistance to the older generation’s demand that children conform to notions of class and thus perpetuate social injustice is beautifully rendered in Downes’ reading of ‘The Doll’s House’, which includes a blisteringly honest account of how cruel children can be to each other.

Mansfield was the mistress of the maxim “show, don’t tell” and Downes followed suit with The Case of Katherine Mansfield. This time, In Talking of Katherine Mansfield incorporates quite a lot of telling, including more than one report of how her previous performances of KM’s work have been “incredibly powerfully received”. This sets up a bit of a resistance in me against conforming to that established norm but in the end the subtle power of Mansfield’s multi-layered writing and Downes’ sensitive yet equally powerful readings work their magic. 

Contextualising KM from a personal perspective that also resonates with her audience is also entirely valid (as with Miriam Margolyes’ Dickens’ Women).

The 80 minutes end with Mansfield’s account of entering The Gurdjieff Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, and John (Jack) Middleton Murry’s account of her last moments (voice recorded by Stuart Devenie).

Sam Downes contributes subtly nuanced sound and lighting culminating in a ‘dying of the light’ effect you will have to witness in the Circa Two season as it is unlikely to be possible everywhere they play in their whistle stop tour around the country with Arts On Tour New Zealand in April. 


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Seizing the quest for life lived to the full

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 01st Mar 2013

I seem to remember that Cathy Downes started her solo play, the acclaimed The Case for Katherine Mansfield, by standing on her head. As the title suggests she is not as athletic in Talking of Katherine Mansfield, but she is just as compelling as she was all those years ago.

Talking of Katherine Mansfield starts with Cathy Downes explaining how she came to write and perform The Case for Katherine Mansfield. She then explains the genesis of her current solo performance and her continuing fascination with Mansfield’s writings and that Mansfield’s attitudes to living and mortality are of universal appeal. But Talking of Katherine Mansfield is neither a talk nor a lecture, nor a solo play but a judicious mix of all three.

After a brief introduction to Mansfield’s early life we are confronted with the rebellious eighteen year-old Mansfield, stuck in deadly boring Wellington and longing for LIFE in London, in her story Amore, which Cathy Downes reads. One can hear amongst the adolescent melodramatics snatches of the brilliance of her maturity. Downes keeps reminding us that Mansfield was only thirty-four when she died.

The impact of the death of her brother during the war is revealed in the devastating short story The Fly. Cathy Downes reads it superbly and it says a great deal for the power of the story and the reading that there was no applause at the end, just silence. She also reads The Doll’s House and an extract from Bliss with the same authority and skill.


Mansfield’s relationship with Middleton Murry is strongly portrayed in extracts from her letters to him. He seems unable to feel or react to Mansfield’s shimmering intensity of her love of life and her ability to pin down in her work its fleetingness, its beauty and its sadness.


Despite an ending, which tugged at the emotions in a very theatrical way and seemed unnecessary since no tricks except the tricks of fine writing and performing had been used before, Cathy Downes gives a brilliant performance capturing that shimmering intensity and quest for life led to the full.


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