The Blonde, The Brunette and The Vengeful Redhead

Maidment Theatre, Auckland

24/08/2006 - 16/09/2006

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

21/09/2006 - 07/10/2006

Production Details

Written by Robert Hewett
Directed by Colin McColl

Set and Costume Designer: Kate Hawley
Lighting Designer: Phillip Dexter
Sound Design by John Gibson
Visual Design by Steve Latty

New Zealand’s premiere season of Robert Hewett’s outrageous black comedy The Blonde, The Brunette and The Vengeful Redhead will play at the Maidment Theatre from 24 August – 16 September before touring to Wellington’s Downstage Theatre.

In the casting coup of the year, Auckland Theatre Company welcomes Kerry Fox home from London to star in this tour de force one woman show.  Loved by New Zealanders for her memorable performance as Janet Frame in, An Angel at My Table, Kerry’s many other film credits include Shallow Grave, Welcome to Sarajevo, and Intimacy

The Blonde, The Brunette and The Vengeful Redhead is a moving and devastatingly funny black comedy in which everyone has their own story to tell about the day that Rhonda Russell, deserted wife and mother, had a meltdown in the shopping mall.  But who knows where the truth lies?  In this gripping adventure, the world is turned upside down in a disastrous yet devastatingly funny sequence of events. As the intrigue unfolds seven different characters give a fresh twist to the tale.

Fox has developed a reputation for playing fiercely intelligent, independent-minded women and is looking forward to her first live New Zealand performance in years – a task made more demanding now she has two small children in tow.

“Yes, obviously it is such a huge shift to drag the whole circus half way round the world and for such a huge chunk of time, that I wouldn’t be doing it unless I expected it to be fun”, says Fox.

Auckland Theatre Company Artistic Director, Colin McColl, is thrilled that Fox is available for the production he describes as “an endearing and intellectual suburban tale of epic proportions”.  

“I’ve wanted to get Kerry back to do something with us for ages! The Blonde, The Brunette and The Vengeful Redhead, is a masterpiece role for an actress: she plays seven different characters, it has moments of tragedy and moments of high comedy – perfect for Kerry”, says McColl.


Rhonda Russell's Story
Doctor Alex Doucette's Story
Lynette Anderson's Story
Matthew McKinnon's Story
Graham Russell's Story
Mrs. Joan Carlisle's Story
Tanya Moisevitch's Story
Rhonda Russell's Final Story

- all told by KERRY FOX

Direction Colin McColl
Set and Costume Design Kate Hawley
Lighting Design Phillip Dexter
Audio Visual Design Steve Latty
Sound Design John Gibson

Production Manager Robyn Tearle
Technical Manager Bonnie Burrill

Stage Manager and AV Operator Aileen Robertson
Lighting and Sound Operator Robrecht Ghesquiere
Costume Construction Denise Hosty at The Costume Studio
Properties Master Vicki Slow
Set and Costume Design Assistant Caroline Stephen

Theatre ,

Transforming performance not to be missed

Review by Lynn Freeman 27th Sep 2006

The opening night audience at Downstage had impossibly high expectations of Kerry Fox in this solo play.

She met and surpassed them. She not only transforms herself from a young boy to a Russian sex fiend to an old woman in a series of vignettes, she transforms an average play into something memorable.

We begin with Rhonda, the vengeful redhead who’s really an ordinary woman, a wife of 17 and a half years who is suddenly and unexpectedly abandoned by her husband, Graham. Rhonda’s only real friend is Lynette, the kind of woman who "gets her knickers off quicker than a prawn in a heatwave".

Encouraged by Lynette, Rhonda takes her revenge on Graham’s lover and most of the play looks at the consequences of that one rash act – on Rhonda’s family, and the victim’s family.

The first half of the play is moving, arresting at times, as Fox shows (without showing off) her virtuosity as an actor. She’s breathtaking, luminescent and spectacular. Even she can’t stop the second half of the play losing its momentum as it turns into a parade of caricatures. It’s here where cracks in the script really start to show, starting with the ghastly Graham whom it’s impossible to believe would have three women desperate to be with him. Fox brings it all home though in the final scene.

McColl’s direction is right on the money and the shedding of one character and transformation into the next is beautifully staged. The set and lighting are striking and the sound evocative, but the audiovisual elements are more distracting than anything, apart from the hospital sequence.

In this case the play isn’t the thing, the actor is – she’s brilliant and should not be missed.


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Fox excels with fatal flaws

Review by John Smythe 23rd Sep 2006

There is a special pleasure in welcoming Kerry Fox back home to the Wellington stage, via this Auckland Theatre Company production, directed by Colin McColl.

A graduate of the NZ Drama School, Fox’s international success on stage and screen, from the springboard of An Angel At My Table (1990, in which she scored the lead role of Janet Frame), is well deserved. The emotional intelligence and craft quality she brings to her often risk-taking work is enhanced by her avoidance of the vanities all too common among top actresses.

The Blonde the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead by Australian playwright Robert Hewett (whose Gulls was done at Downstage in 1988) has been relocated in New Zealand, accent-wise. Aware that Auckland critics seemed to concur – "great performance(s), shame about the play" – I come to the opening of this Downstage season primed to prove the truism that while you may do a bad performance in a good play, it’s just not possible to do a good performance in a bad play. Is it?

By interval I think I’m right. Kerry Fox has given us a quartet of very different characters, each with their own unique perspective on the central event of the play: the sudden and fatal shopping mall assault on a blonde woman by a redhead. And as the story reveals itself, we are increasingly engaged in silent dialogue with each new character because – by the third and fourth monologues anyway – we know more than they do.

This is subtly crafted writing. While intriguing us with insights into the flaws and foibles of each character, it stimulates our desire to enquire beyond their subjective viewpoints in quest of a more objective truth.

In set-designer Kate Hawley’s opaque evocation of a shopping mall – which will also suggest a doctor’s room, lingerie boutique, child’s home, McCafé, jewellery store, neighbour’s home and a women’s prison – discreetly lit by Phillip Dexter, Fox inhabits each of her first four roles with confident conviction, inviting us into their worlds in ways that are intrinsically engaging.

Rhonda Russell, who will prove to be the naïve and momentarily vengeful redhead, is truly bewildered by her husband Graham’s moving out. Given her representation of him as a monosyllabic grunter it’s tempting to think she’s better off without him, but there is their son Damian to consider, not that he gains much consideration from either parent …

This early in the piece I’m willing to sit with the questions, trusting that answers will emerge in good time. Exactly where Rhonda is in the timeframe and physical geography of the story while sharing her experience with us is also not immediately clear although the gratingly metallic sound effect – which recurs in John Gibson’s distorted and broken-up sound-bite sound-scape – could, I conclude in retrospect, suggest a police lockup or prison remand wing.

English-born Dr Alex Douchette – who turns out to be the partner of a blonde, if not ‘the’ blonde – is strong, articulate, socially conscientious and, once the background exposition is dealt with, emotionally shattered. Exactly why she feels moved to tell us her life story, as well as recount what was happening when the news came through that her partner had been attacked, remains a mystery. And the fact that her patient at the time just happened to be Graham is a contrived coincidence. But Fox’s compelling rendition relegates these concerns to the background, for the moment.

Lynette, Rhonda’s very Kiwi next-door-neighbour who runs the lingerie boutique at the mall, transcends stereotype to achieve the status of archetype in both writing and performance. The more she asserts she is not one to poke her nose into other people’s business, the more apparent it is that she is protesting too much. This juxtaposition, the strong characterisation and her tottering about in stilettos while dressing plastic torsos in black bras and panties, conspire to infuse the play with fresh energy and life.

Adults playing children can be fraught with difficulty but the denial, diversionary tactics and displacement activities lizard-loving 4 ½ year-old Mattie brings to his dealing with the loss of his mother, as he waits the "funeran" and the "party" they’re going to have for her, bring the first half to a poignant conclusion.

At this point I am in two minds about Colin McColl’s decision to avoid all theatrical tricks in beginning and ending the first half, and staging the transitions from character to character. Fox’s initial entry subverts anticipation and expectation when she strolls on, looks at us, then goes about preparing for her first role, the start of which is signified with a caption on video screens (otherwise used to suggest security surveillance). Between scenes she simply de-roles and goes about dropping no-longer needed items of clothing into plastic rubbish sacks, unpacking new items from shopping bags and redressing herself.

After the Mattie scene, she just strolls off. While the anti-theatricality of all this is intriguing in itself, the audience has received no clear cue that the first half is over, so there is no applause as the houselights finally fade up, very slowly. I’m also thinking these downtimes between scenes would be more justified if there was lots of cerebral and/or intellectual stuff for us to digest before the next round, but it’s not as rich and deep as that. The separations, the lack of flow-through or accumulating energy, does reduce the experience for the audience and leave us feeling flat when we want to be excited.

But there is every reason to suppose the second half will resolve the questions with flair and build on the strong foundations … Alas this is not to be.

The portrayal of Graham as a gormless consumer of fast-food fries with a banal attitude to life, a gross approach to women and no saving graces whatever, does irreparable damage to the credibility of the entire scenario. How could any woman be driven to uncontrollable passion, either murderous or sexual, in response to this lump? The audience has gone very quiet …

Joan Carlise, the neighbour, a nice if slightly cranky old dear with a loud-barking dog, is well observed, But being more of an observer of, than a participant in, the core events and their aftermath, her story – placed at this point – adds little to the dramatic tension. The information she offers, however, as to how things have progressed half a dozen years on from ‘the incident’ is made interesting by the consummate Fox.

The blonde to whom all blame has been attributed – for Graham’s leaving, Rhonda’s lethally impetuous response and all the flow-on effects on innocent parties – is Russian immigrant Tanya Moisevitch, who runs the discount jewellery store at the mall. Again, despite another string characterisation, the further tragi-comedy revelations are hampered by back-story exposition. The discovery that her ‘relationship’ with Graham was non-existent proves at least one out of three women has taste but the holes in the logic at this point severely subvert its dramatic value.

Specifically, Lynette has claimed it was Tanya who rang the security guards as the vengeful act unfolded but now Tanya claims she only found out Rhonda was a murderer much later. And if Graham had not left Rhonda for her, why did he leave? Shifting perceptions is all very well but it doesn’t work to simply replace a misapprehension with nothing.

Rhonda returns, mopping prison floors, with less than two years to go of her sentence (reduced from 12 to 9 years for good behaviour, we assume). And there is a plot twist here that should lift the ending, but somehow it doesn’t. I won’t go into detail but it’s to do with forgiveness and the idea that clarity of vision may best be achieved by those whose brains are uncluttered by extraneous stimuli.

Kerry Fox certainly embodies the idea of a woman transformed from a naiveté born of inexperience to one more worldly wise, despite her enforced absence from the ‘real’ world. Apart from Graham, her performances have made the show well worth seeing. But I remain bemused as to how this play, which was given intensive development in Sydney and has been in production and on the road for over two years, can still have almost fatal flaws that detract from its many strengths.  

I can but concur: great performance(s), mostly, shame about parts of the play.


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Simply, brilliantly red

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 23rd Sep 2006

With The Blonde, The Brunette and The Vengeful Redhead Australian playwright Robert Hewett has provided an entertaining, challenging and novel showcase – despite its misleading title – in which an actor can display her skills and above all her versatility. 

The challenge lies in the presentation of seven characters – a suburban housewife, a well-meaning but interfering neighbour, a lesbian doctor, a small boy, an adulterous and oafish husband, an old lady, a Russian blonde who runs a jewellery shop – and Kerry Fox meets the challenge brilliantly with rigorous attention to the details of human behaviour under stress, subtly underplaying the comedy, making simple but highly effective costume changes, and using plenty of variation in the sounds and speech patterns of the characters.

The play is concerned with the chain reaction of one event – Rhonda’s discovery of her husband’s adulterous affair and how her reaction affects so many lives. In a highly charged emotional state Rhonda comes across in a shopping mall the blonde her husband has run off with. She attacks the blonde with tragic results. The play ends many years later with Rhonda in prison slowly coming to terms with her past.

At times some of the characters are bordering on caricature and the husband munching his fries at Macdonald’s seems to be there only for some easy laughs, but what holds the interest is how the links in the chain of characters are joined and how each of the characters, except for the boy and Rhonda in the final scene, is isolated, self-serving and without compassion.

The publicity for the play has made much of the fact that parts of the play are set in a mall, but the mall setting is not essential to the tragic events even though Kate Hawley’s cold, uninviting set with its distracting TV monitors and fluorescent lights and John Gibson’s harsh sound design seem to want to make some sort of connection between the alienating effects of modern retail practices and the characters’ lives.

Robert Hewett’s play simply concentrates on the characters and provides Kerry Fox with a showcase that allows her to shine brightly as she does most movingly and without sentimentality in the final scene which hints at a brighter future for the unfortunate Rhonda.


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Memorable performance in messy mall incident

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 28th Aug 2006

The Blonde the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead is a story about an ordinary woman reacting to traumatic news in an extraordinary way, with devastating results unfolding in a shopping mall. This story is told through the eyes of seven contrasting yet related characters.

Why was this play written? What was the embryonic force motivating Australian playwright Robert Hewett in 2003? Referring to the programme notes, it turns out he hurriedly wrote a play – any play – for a friend, an out of work actor, to "produce and perform, then tuck way in her bag, ready to be pulled out whenever the coffers were getting a bit low." So, it was a rushed, moneymaking venture to help out a mate. How convenient. Fair enough. But in this instance, the end result was thin and average.

Holistically, The Blonde … didn’t connect on that inextricable level which, as an audience member, I hope for when I go to the theatre. The stakes simply weren’t high enough or credible enough for me to really care, or become fully engaged. Moreover, The Blonde … felt like a series of recognisable caricatures, presented one by one for a specific reaction, glued together by a shocking, sensational plot with some cheap gags thrown in for entertainment.

It does make points about human nature and the consequences of our actions but in a predictable way I’d expect to see on Days of Our Lives, rather than in an ATC production.

I felt the lack of intuitive substance made staging The Blonde … problematic for Director Colin McColl and his creative team, who, perhaps by way of compensation, tried to do, and add, too much.

John Gibson’s sound scape, for the vast majority of the play, was a pot pouri of crackle, hum and the usual wall of mall noise. He adds chance touches here and there, such as ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ after Doctor Alex Douchette’s scene.

The set was also a mixed bag, with various representations, props and structures strewn about the stage. It also incorporated 3 TV monitors and a projection screen. Loose electrics hanging precariously from a crooked neon light, was a significant touch by set (and Costume) designer Kate Hawley, giving the sense of something about to short circuit.

Like a shopping mall, lighting design by Phillip Dexter, was harsh, stark and white.

Overall, the presentation felt messy, plastic, bright and unwelcoming. The nature of shopping Malls seemed to be the desired hook. "Mall Life" was given a lot of focus, not only through sound, light, and set, but also through a 3-page article in the programme. I struggle with this. The Mall was simply the venue for a series of events, not the reason for them.

For me, the use of multi media (visual design by Steve Latty) was distracting and unnecessary. The Blonde … has a simple episodic structure, leaving the audience little room for doubt as to where we are heading. From my perspective, the projection screen and TV monitors merely guided us to what was already obvious.

Kerry Fox, heralded back to New Zealand by a full and effective marketing campaign, gives a memorable performance in all roles. She has an organic way of delivering lines, which is conversational and untreated. She was generously received. Some smitten opening night audience members gave her a standing ovation.

ATC Artistic Director Colin McColl states in the programme: "This production marks a new partnership between Auckland Theatre Company and Downstage Theatre." It opens a Downstage of 21 September.


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