Tinui Memorial Hall, Wairarapa

14/10/2017 - 14/10/2017

Luggate Memorial Hall, Wanaka

21/04/2015 - 23/04/2015

Festival Mainstage, Founders Heritage Park, Nelson

18/10/2017 - 18/10/2017

Carrus Crystal Palace, Tauranga Waterfront, Tauranga

21/10/2017 - 21/10/2017

Pirinoa Community Hall, Wairarapa

15/10/2017 - 15/10/2017

Kokomai 2017


Tauranga Arts Festival 2017

Production Details

Suitcase Royale are an internationally acclaimed trio and they ride across the ditch to bring you a murder ballad from the dead heart of Australia.  Junkyard theatre, visual trickery, dark humour and rag’n’bone live music.  

The Ballad of Backbone Joe tells a hilariously daft and gruesome tale of a murder set in a small country town, cooked up the way only the Suitcase Royale lads can. 

Wallace and Grommet meet David Lynch, five stars.”  Montreal Gazette 

Every once in a while a show has the power to beguile its audience with the sheer breadth of its originality. They are superb, four stars.”  The Scotsman

Luggate Memorial Hall 
Tuesday 21 April – Thursday 23 April, 7pm 

Kokomai 2017 
Sat 14 Oct, 7.30pm, Tinui Memorial Hall 
Sun 15 Oct, 7.30pm, Pirinoa Community Hall  
Adult GA $35 / Adult Friend $32 

Wed 18 Oct, 7.30pm
FULL $41 | UNDER 19 $25
SENIOR $37 | GROUP OF 6+ $37pp
(Group bookings only available at Theatre Royal Nelson) 
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Tauranga Arts Festival 2017
Carrus Crystal Palace, Tauranga Waterfront
Saturday 21st October, 08:30pm
$46 (TECT $37)


Miles: Messy Dimes Dan
Glen: Detective Von Trapp
JOF: Backbone Joe

Theatre , Musical ,

55 mins, no interval

She's a bit ropey, mate, but it does the trick

Review by James Redwood 22nd Oct 2017

The carney’s back and The Suitcase Royale are the most interesting manifestation I’ve yet seen. The persistent 19th century aesthetic that has occupied the millennial zeitgeist is given the larrikin treatment by this trio of clever buffoons. Miles O’Neil, Glen Walton and Joseph O’Farrell mash up film noir, roots country music, pantomime staging and clowning that is possibly more Python than Chaplin.  The Ballad of Backbone Joe is a theatrical comedy combination created by connoisseurs who clearly love the forms they’ve used.

Earlier reviews evoke the Marx Brothers, Tom Waits and Ennio Morricone. While the tent-performer aesthetic and classic noir style are northern hemisphere in origin, the engagement for me comes from the stylistic echoes of John Clarke, R H Morrieson and Nick Cave. 

One particular stage phone-call seems to directly reference the classic skit from Clarke’s 1970’s roadshows, where Fred Dagg attempts to locate “B, r, u, c, e” Bayliss via an exasperated phone-call to Bruce’s mother. It’s enough to bring a nostalgic tear to my eye. The rootsy country and bluegrass songs that open and close the show bracket a set of expositional songs that, both musically and lyrically, could have come directly off a Bad Seeds album. Walton’s singing of these is an excellent invocation of Nick Cave, while O’Neil channels Tom Waits for his turn. The plot and character development, both incidental to the entertainment, nevertheless are pleasingly reminiscent of Morrieson’s brand of noir down-under. 

The show is a murder mystery musical which does not resolve clearly (how can a dead woman write a letter?), and is replete with noir clichés. This is not important. It’s the chaos that matters. It is hard to tell if the initial technical glitch is genuine or part of the performance, which features lengthy ad-libs and penetration of the fourth wall.

Performer and character are only vaguely separated. The frequent detours out of character are further confused by the dual roles all three share of being both actor and musician. They all have sound and lighting roles as well. This is done both side-stage and backstage which, in the intimate setting of the Crystal Palace, adds to the chaos.

The set itself and the props are deceptively naive. The shadow work against a cartoonish, hand-cranked, rolling projection is particularly effective at providing opportunities for well-timed, or deliberately poorly-timed, slapstick. A suitcase is also charmingly converted into the bonnet and windscreen of a car against another projection. The skeletal puppet is so inexpertly made and manipulated that this becomes another source of laughs and extended ad-libbing.

The three performances are all funny, skilful and engaging. O’Neil stands out, both in and out of character, with his perfect comic timing and delivery. O’Farrell and Walton are responsible for most of the ad-libbing which, along with a handful of dreadful one-liners, provides most of the laughs.

The music is authentic and expertly played, evidenced by foot stompin’ and hand clappin’ even by those who don’t usually like country music. O’Farrelly and Walton’s rhythm section are tight and exciting. O’Neil’s singing is another stand-out feature for me, even when he’s not pretending to be Tom Waits. 

The range of theatrical conventions used in The Ballad of Backbone Joe, combined with the various creative style influences, keep us suspended in a surreal zone of being both audience and art historian. She’s a bit ropey, mate, but it does the trick. It’s not simple light entertainment. The performance is more satisfying for experienced consumers because of this rich, and ultimately local, artistic context. 


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Multi-tasking to the extreme

Review by Trish Sullivan 19th Oct 2017

The Festival programme promises “High-energy-live-music-Australiana-comedy-visual-theatre-narrative!” High energy we certainly do get.

The show begins with a couple of great foot-stomping tunes from exuberant trio The Suitcase Royale. Three superb instrumentalists then morph into characters in an old-school gruesome tale of deception, murder and love. Boxer Backbone Joe laments the loss of his wife, whom we presume he murdered, but he needs to fight just one more time to save the ill-fated abattoir. Yes, ridiculous, but somehow it all makes sense.

Amidst the genius cardboard cut-out set and hilarious low-tech stage craft, we are treated to a melange of puppetry, moving image projection work, superb music and partially improvised comedy. It all happens right there on stage in front of us, from the plugging in of the lamps and operation of the sound desk to the set changes and live musicianship. This is multi-tasking to the extreme, which takes energy, accuracy and, I would assume, many, many rehearsal hours. 

We are drawn right into the tale, and into the obvious fun that these three men are having on stage. Throw in a few local references and some fantastic comedic recoveries, and we are hooked. I haven’t laughed so much in a long time.

Keep an eye out for more from The Suitcase Royale. They certainly deserve their plethora of accolades. 


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A thoroughly enjoyable, light-hearted ride

Review by Joanne Simpson 16th Oct 2017

Kokomai brings a piece of meta-theatrical tomfoolery to tiny Tinui and it’s a hit, if not quite a knockout.  

This award-winning offering from Suitcase Royale, a Melbourne-based trio of musicians and actors, has been on the Festival circuit for a few years now. Their brand of ‘junkyard’ theatre, mixing film noir narrative, jokes and whiskey-soaked blues certainly charms, but the supposedly-improvised shtick sometimes feels a little clunky rather than inspired. 

Fittingly, the plot is as skimpy as the silk scarlet dress that is all that remains of Backbone Joe’s murdered wife. Joe is a bare-knuckle fighter in an Australian country town in the 1940s. He is unbeaten in the ring but his private torture is the thought that he might be the villain who pushed his wife off a bridge. Messy Dimes Dan, the local abattoir owner and fight promoter, feeds Joe pills to ‘help’ with his mysterious blackouts. Desperate for money because his hybrid fruit/ meat products are slow to sell, Dan encourages Joe to fight newcomer, Elijah Upjump (Detective Von Trapp in disguise). Farcical mayhem ensues as the truth is chaotically revealed and some get their grizzly deserts. 

These performers know how to loosen up an audience, encouraging them to drink up large at the make-shift bar, while they warm up with a few songs. Glen Walton on double bass, Joseph O’Farrell on drums and Miles O’Neill on guitar are talented musicians and energized performers who effortlessly engage us.  

Once the show proper is underway, they deliberately aim for a rough-around-the edges vibe, but there is skill in the bunch of theatrical tricks used to entertain, including puppetry and projection. The set is cobbled together from old boxes and sheets, strings of coloured lights; little models of the towns’ buildings, lit from within, perch on the top of the backdrops.

There are magical transformations of props and set elements into whatever is needed at that moment to tell the story. A suitcase turning into a car is a delight. A fight scene conducted as shadow play produces visual gags galore. The actors zing about the stage and in and out of character, trying to keep the show afloat, returning to their instruments to provide live sound effects, augmenting the recorded soundscape. And, most effectively, they intersperse the action with a soulful ballad or a bit of dark and dirty blues.

With so much going on (the performers having to be actors, musicians, and special effect operators) the genre dictates that there must be mistakes; the sound effects which don’t quite match the action, missed cues or dropped lines, hence the anachronisms (a reference to a touchtone phone pad) and ‘improvisation’, all of which are supposed to add to the mad-cap humour. Except that the improvisational aspects seem rehearsed rather than real and this therefore begs the question, why do it?  It works wellish some of the time.

The highlight of the evening for some of the audience is the appearance of a small skeleton puppet, ghoulish but wise-cracking, which, despite the apparent best efforts of the puppeteer, begins to fall apart starting with a dislocated jaw. Skeleton keeps jawing on, making the most of it.  At that moment, it is possible to suspend disbelief and buy into the fiction that the guys are losing it, and it is hilarious.

For the most part, the playful, anarchic spirit of this production makes for a thoroughly enjoyable, light-hearted ride, and I know that the considerable crowd who turned up last night would love to see and hear more from Suitcase Royale.


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Entirely charming idiocy

Review by Pip Harker 23rd Apr 2015

The Suitcase Royale is an award winning comedy-music-theatre ensemble from Melbourne, composed of writer/performers Glen Walton, Joseph O’Farrell and Miles O’Neil. This current production, The Ballad of Backbone Joe, is set in a small town in Australia, “like any small town” and follows the trials of boxer Backbone Joe. 

Before the play begins the musicians play us a few tunes from their onstage band set-up of double bass, guitar and drums. Straight away they endear themselves to us – a cunning ploy – then the show begins.

This is rollicking, unruly and loose as a goose theatre. The performers are in and out of character, with asides to the audience, mickey-taking at mistakes and more.  It’s hard to know how much is ad-libbing and how much is scripted.  But it works because of the madcap fun, hilarious moments and great live music throughout. 

This kind of theatre may not work for the more conventional theatre-goer and the slightly self-indulgent quality may grate on some but, if you leave cynicism at the door, there is a huge amount to enjoy in this simple tale of lost love, an evil trainer and a detective trying to solve the mystery of who killed Joe’s wife. 

The junkyard-style set suits the story and the loose story-telling and the brilliant use of soundtracks and sound effects makes for even more hilarity. From my seat I can’t see the screen clearly because of the double-bass onstage but there is clever use of images and movies to create movement and an hysterical shadow-boxing moment where all manner of things are pulled out of the Detective’s stomach. 

The story is secondary to the many laughs throughout this production but this idiocy is entirely charming. I’m not surprised to discover these three are old University chums – this almost Marx brothers-style madness would only work with actors who know each other very, very well. These high-energy lads are having a blast – and we are fortunate to be along for the ride.


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