The Birthday Boy

Court One, Christchurch

06/09/2008 - 11/10/2008

Production Details

Contemporary Kiwi Comedy Debuts at The Court Theatre

The Court Theatre proudly presents the world premiere of a contemporary kiwi comedy by award-winning writer Carl Nixon, THE BIRTHDAY BOY, from September 6 until October 11.

Director Steven Ray describes THE BIRTHDAY BOY as an "urbane, sophisticated comedy of modern manners" that made him "re-evaluate [his] views on New Zealand comedy." Ray feels the deeper themes addressed in the play bring an additional layer and resonance to the laughter – "it shows how far we’ve journeyed in recognising and seeing ourselves in everyday situations".

The story begins at a fortieth birthday party, where the "birthday boy" David (Ross Gumbley) and his wife Kathy (Sandra Rasmussen) make an announcement that shocks their best friends Stuart and Elizabeth (Timothy Bartlett and Rima Te Wiata). The play then shows the consequences for the characters and their relationships by jumping in time five, ten and twenty-five years later.

Rather than starting in the past and "catching up", THE BIRTHDAY BOY begins in present-day Christchurch and moves into a future that includes video-phone walls and Afghanistan as a tourist destination. The design team relished the opportunity to incorporate new technology into the show, including a video projection system used for the first time at The Court Theatre.

With a futuristic set and clever structure, Ray believes THE BIRTHDAY BOY remains at heart a comedy about "families – how friends become your family, and how families can fall apart." For an entertaining look at how life never turns out according to plan, THE BIRTHDAY BOY is a must-see.

Venue:  The Court Theatre, Christchurch
Cast:  Timothy Bartlett, Judie Douglass, Ross Gumbley, Sandra Rasmussen and Rima Te Wiata
Production Dates:  6 September – 11 October 2008
Performances:  6pm Monday / Thursday; 7:30pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (no show Sundays). 2pm matinee Saturday
Tickets:  Adults $37, Senior Citizens $32, Tertiary Students $23, School Children $15, Group discount $31
Bookings:  The Court Theatre, 20 Worcester Boulevard; 963 0870 or   

STUART MARSHALL:  Timothy Bartlett
KATHY WILLIAMS:  Sandra Rasmussen
RITA WILLIAMS:  Judie Douglass
8 year old WILLIAMS' BOYS:  Satori Dobbie & Liam Helleur
11 year old WILLIAMS' BOYS:  William Latham & Thomas Lee
25 year old LOCHLAN:  Jeff Clark
25 year old CAMERON:  Jonathan Martin
POLLY & BABY:  Vanessa Lawrence & Toby Clark
DOUGAL WILLIAMS:  Brendan Albrey 

SET DESIGN:  David Thornley
PROPERTIES:  Nicki Evans, Louisa Davies
OPERATOR:  Robert Henderson
SET CONSTRUCTION:  Nigel Kerr, Maurice Kidd, Richard van den Berg, Richard Daem
COSTUME CONSTRUCTION:  Pamela Jones, Emily Thomas, Bronwyn Corbet, Beryl Hampson

2 hrs 15 mins, incl. interval

Best to laugh, really

Review by Lindsay Clark 09th Sep 2008

There is always an extra frisson hovering over the opening of a new work and a commissioned one at that. Has the faith been justified? Is the territory fresh (please, O please)? Are we provoked? Entertained? Both?

Carl Nixon is a versatile writer, well positioned to meet all such challenges. He is comfortably observant in this play, structuring a neat exploration of contemporary middle class parenthood with exhilarating gusto, covering 25 years of family and friendship, careers and complications in a series of male birthday occasions.

Two couples, best and oldest friends, are at the centre of things. One pair faces the hectic joy, recurring frustration and occasional weariness of raising three boys (including twins). The other chooses the lesser gamble, perhaps, of full on careers and each other. It is the impact of the offspring that shapes  relationships over the years, inevitably changing the trajectory of lives leaving less and less shared experience to celebrate.

Steven Ray’s direction maintains the balance between our insights into the two life styles very successfully.

Unclouded joy prevails at the first. It is David Williams’ 40th and all is right in his world. To cap it off, he and his wife Kathy, an author on the rise, announce to their best friends Stuart Marshall and Elizabeth Marshall- Clarke, that the next generation is on its way. Ecstatic determination that the "baby will fit in" finds a knowing response from the audience. As so often happens, the grandmother steps in to keep the domestic scene intact, but bringing too another decided voice, another complication. 

Little by little, tensions build up. From the perspective of the onlooker they are mostly deliciously funny. Basically well intentioned and rational human beings find themselves behaving and speaking in desperate ways. Some of the best moments of the play ignite when people are trying to say the right thing but inadvertently choose the worst. The audience is constantly amused and sometimes startled as a seemingly innocuous remark triggers a flare of resentment or anger.

Thus the years rattle by, pace flagging a little before the breather of the interval (too much talking), but picking up again in the second half as lives unravel and the implications of choice arrive  before us.

Physically, the characters seem to age very little, considering the pressure of their lives, but all five  roles are securely handled and warmly received. Judie Douglas, with her experienced talent, finds unexpected dignity as the grandmother, given the inanity of most of her lines and underscores the importance of that extended family notion. Her restrained disapproval of Stu, played with cocky verve by Tim Bartlett, is matched by his determination to "lighten things up".

The two younger women are well contrasted in script and performance. As Elizabeth, successful lawyer, clear in her no-child policy, Rima Te Wiata crosses the bridges between comedy and seriousness with ease. Sandra Rasmussen gives us a Kathy who develops from starry eyed first time mother to multi-media authorial success without missing a beat.

In the David Williams role, the main focus of the play, Ross Gumbley fleshes out the comedic opportunities with warmly human detail, so that by the end of the play, when he and Stu encounter each other at a futuristic Heathrow airport, there is real significance in his words and demeanour.

It is an urbane play, about people who have the choices of city professionals. They holiday in Rarotonga rather than at a bach somewhere. It is probably appropriate then, that the perspectived set, designed by David Thornley, is a clean, sophisticated space, adaptable for this time and circumstance or that. The world revealed beyond the constant living space is created with wonderfully effective technology.

The messy world of the child however, is always out of sight, apart from some baby gear early on, whose main function is to entangle the legs of a desperate dad on his way to answer the door. Child art work marking the passing years is a cleaned up version on an impeccable wall.

The effect of all this is to focus us squarely on the interaction of characters as they deal with life and each other. Parenthood, like old age, is not for sissies. Best to laugh, really. Stephen Sondheim is not the only one to have insisted "It’s the little things…"  


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