The Cape

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

04/08/2007 - 01/09/2007

Production Details

Written by Vivienne Plumb
Directed by Conrad Newport

The World Premiere season of The Cape – a tender and funny new play by Vivienne Plumb – opens 4 August at Circa Two. Four young actors make their Circa debut in this production, beautifully realised by Conrad Newport, the acclaimed director of Niu Sila and King and Country.

The year is 1994. Kurt Cobain is dead but Eb, Mo, Jordyn and Arthur are 18 years old, on the road and very much alive. With a car full of ‘goodies’ they are making the journey north to the leaping place of the spirits – Cape Reinga. This trip will become the most important journey of their young lives.

The Cape is a compelling story about that time in any young person’s life where choices are offered and important decisions have to be made. That time we all nostalgically remember when we left our youth behind and were forced to accept the responsibilities of adulthood.

The Cape features Eli Kent, Leon Wadham, Michael Whalley and Rawiri Jobe – all young men who easily identify with the characters in the play. The actors are all aged between 18yrs and 24yrs. Newport made a conscious decision to cast actors as close in age to the characters to not only give authenticity and realism to the production but also an added poignancy to the bittersweet story that is The Cape. He is thrilled to have found such a talented young cast who are incredibly responsive to the nuances and subtleties of the play.

The actors may be young, but they already proving themselves as performers of note: Leon Wadham was most recently seen in The Henchmen, at Bats Theatre as part of the Young and Hungry season; Eli Kent recently performed in Falling Petals at Bats and co-wrote and performed in The Hunting of the Snark (based on Lewis Carroll’s poem) in the New Zealand International Comedy Festival; and Michael Whalley recently played Troy Bolton, the male lead in the hugely popular High School Musical.

The Cape was written by Vivienne Plumb, a New Zealand playwright, prose and fiction writer. Through extensive research Plumb has so successfully caught the nuances of adolescent male speech that when people meet her after reading The Cape they are often surprised to find that the writer is not a young male as well.


Plumb was awarded the 1994 Hubert Church Prose Award for her first book, The Wife Who Spoke Japanese In Her Sleep, and was the recipient of the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award for Love Knots. She has also held a Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship (2001). Plumb is currently based in Rotorua where she is the inaugural Writer In Residence.

Mo - Michael Whalley
Eb - Eli Kent
Jordyn - Leon Wadham
Arthur - Rawiri Jobe

Set design - Ross Gibbs
Light design - Jennifer Lal
Costume design - Melody Craw

Stage Manager / Operator - Corinne Simpson
Graphic Design - Charlotte Hird Design
Producer / Publicist - Melanie Hamilton

Theatre ,

1 hr 30 mins, no interval

Captivating contemplation on culture, life and friendship

Review by Melody Nixon 26th Aug 2007

I never thought I’d be of the age to see a production of a particular era and it would lead me to reminisce about childhood. But here I am, a nineties teenager, and here is a show that finally caters to my culturally broad, grunge-loving generation; when P was just a letter and it was still cool to have morals; a generation that has finally moved from present to past.

Amazingly The Cape, now on in Circa Two, was written by middle aged writer and mother, Vivienne Plumb. Her insight gleaned from raising a son through the years of Kurt Cobain, Gulf war fears and fashions which involved several t-shirts worn at once, she has a strong handle on the tastes and anxieties of the time.

As the title suggests, the play is the story of four boys in their late teens journeying up to Cape Reinga in the mid-1990s. Various stops for food, drugs and drinking are made along the way, as emotional conflicts flare between the characters and secrets are revealed. The sensitive Mo (Michael Whalley) has brought his friend Jordyn (Leon Wadham) along for the ride, to the displeasure of troubled Eb (Eli Kent) and Arthur (Rawiri Jobe); but their tensions are put into perspective when Mo reveals how fragile life really is. Their journey could be one of souls; the trip onwards from Reinga will certainly be into places they have not before known.

It is through the character of Mo that we hear Plumb’s voice the strongest in The Cape; Mo is a poet, and from his scribbled Warrick notebook he reads lines evocative of the concrete images and lyricism in Plumb’s work. Mo makes poetic imagery out of say, broken car windows in Kaitaia, and much like the play as a whole these images are filled with the humour and poignancy of the everyday.

Mo also verges away from strict realism at times, and into Tennessee Williams-type poetic or symbolic realism. His role as the “intelligent one” brings in a quirkiness and wisdom that is unexpected for a teenage boy in his particular circle of friends, but this ‘type’ aspect of his character gives the play an endearing depth. Perhaps integrating his moments of reflection and insight further into dialogue, or developing them as a whole, would allow us to more readily identify which part of him they are coming from. His final soliloquy also requires a suspension of disbelief that perhaps does not come as easily as it could, had more elements of the poetic and symbolic been combined into preceding scenes.

At first the character of Jordyn rings a little clichéd; he is the effeminate “gay one” who loves his Nike sneakers. However Leon Wadham soon convinces us this role is genuine and multi-dimensional and we remain sympathetic to his character throughout the rest of the play. Frantic Eb has elements of a very young, less genius Dean Moriarty, and is played brilliantly by Eli Kent who, following his season in The Hunting of the Snark, seems suited to such energetic and vivacious roles. Rawiri Jobe as Arthur, the “strong, silent one” easily provides the kind of unassuming patience his character is built upon; interestingly it is he who shows the most compassion and caring for his fellow ‘choice bros’. It is pleasing too to see the acknowledgment of Maori heritage and spiritualism in this character, and the way Arthur’s beliefs around ‘the Cape’ inform much of the journey.

A gentle soundscape contributes atmosphere and cultural identity to the setting; owls and perhaps moreporks call into the night when the boys are camping. Set design is strikingly stark; little else but a long white screen serves as the backdrop; car seats and versatile black boxes are the only objects to fill the space (and both are utilised well). This emptiness creates an eerie, otherworldly feel, hinting at the spiritual undertone of the play and allowing a thematic convergence of ghost and actual person. It also hints at the way Plumb has captured the double meaning of the zeitgeist/’spirit of the times’ and turned it somewhat literal. However, the set is grounded by the very earthly and physical dialogue of the four characters and their everyday activities, and this allows the spiritualism to remain an undertone, subtle and convincing.

Solidly crafted, the play follows four clearly defined narrative arcs as each character meets with a challenge, supersedes it, and moves on. Director Conrad Newport states that using the quintessential ‘road trip’ as a metaphor for self-discovery is a popular technique; but one that does not “translate easily to the stage”. The only evidence of this rough translation comes in moments near the middle of the play where enthusiasm – both of the actors and audience – seems to lag. For a brief period the ‘jokey’ moments stretch on to a point where they became almost monotonous, and it is not clear if anything else will eventuate. Ed’s continuous banter becomes excruciating. This means the mid-way change in tone is very welcome, but could come on quicker.

Despite these minor grumbles, the overall effect of The Cape is that of a captivating and heart warming contemplation on culture, life and friendship. Its exploration of kiwi youth and the beautiful and complex ways kiwi males respond to that youth is welcomed by a community eager for broadly accessible, genuine local theatre which reflects relevant home truths.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


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Plumbing the depths of what’s important

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 06th Aug 2007

Journeys of self-discovery are in the theatrical air this year. We have already been taken to Monte Casino in search of Māori and Italian whakapapa in Rob Mokaraka and Paolo Rotondo’s Strange Resting Places, to Te Parenga for Bruce Mason’s journey through childhood in The End of the Golden Weather, and into the heart of the world’s maelstrom in Shakespeare’s search for understanding in King Lear.

And now Vivienne Plumb takes four eighteen-year-old men on a journey from Wellington to Cape Reinga in her new play The Cape. On the way we get to know the thoughtful Mo, the compulsive talker Eb, the caring Jordyn and the taciturn Arthur.

They tease each other, fight, argue, take drugs, and ponder life (Why do things change? Why do parents split?). They take pot shots at places (Keri Keri too middle-class/Dorkland for Auckland), and they fantasize about their futures.

By the time they reach the Cape and are watching the two oceans merge they have traveled a long way and have learnt a great deal about themselves. The play ends positively with the young men realizing that there is only one chance at life and it should be lived to the full however brief the time available.

It is hard to write about the young men without giving away too many of the revelations that Vivienne Plumb judiciously drops into her 90 minute play, but each learns about such central matters in life as trust, friendship, sexuality, and mortality.

Conrad Newport, as he did with his productions of Niu Sila and King and Country, keeps the action simple and moving swiftly from scene to scene. He is blessed with four very talented young actors: Michael Whalley as Mo, Leon Wadham as Jordyn, Rawiri Jobe as Arthur, and Eli Kent as Eb. They work beautifully as a team and each creates a fully rounded character.

However, one character dominates to the point of irritation, despite being the catalyst for the others (except possibly the Māori Arthur) to open up. Eb takes centre stage far too much of the time, nervously pacing and relentlessly talking), going on and on about his ghastly parents, his hatred of just about everything, his loathing of gays, and his need for acid.

One imagines he would be diagnosed as ADHD. Jordyn suggests at one point he should be given Ritalin, but unfortunately none is available. He never stops and in the end it is too much. This is no reflection whatsoever on Eli Kent who sustains the role quite brilliantly throughout.


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Breakdowns bring breakthroughs to a good end

Review by John Smythe 05th Aug 2007

The Cape, Vivienne Plumb’s new play, takes us on a road trip with four post-adolescent refugees from screwed up families, escaping their crap lives in Wellington. Cape Reinga, at the northern tip of New Zealand, is their destination. In Mâori mythology, it is the point of departure for spirits leaving this world for the next.

A cape also conjures up images of flourish, wizardry, bravado and something to hide behind: all valid resonances for the play that unfolds. It is 1994 and these are four sons of ‘flower children’, ‘sexual revolutionaries’ and various ‘counter-culture’ survivors.

“The road less travelled is not the road for me!” declares hyper-active Eb (Eli Kent) as three of them wait for the fourth to join them. In this context he is expressing homophobia, as he will many times more. He may or may not know he is quoting Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ but probably saw ‘The road less travelled’ on the title page of his mum’s copy of M Scott Peck’s ‘spiritual growth’ best seller.

With a head full of knowledge but little wisdom with which to apply it, he may also be unaware he has implied that he is a conformist. How could he be when “I hate … [insert just about everything in the world around him, beginning with his old man]” is his constant refrain, albeit counterpointed with declarations of love for his brother and friends? Focused as he is on a past that has done him wrong, and stewing as he is in his own juice, his fantasy of going to drama school seems just that.  

The mate obliged to receive Eb’s rant – one of the many rants Eb will compulsively let off, like stink bombs, as they travel north – is Arthur (Rawiri Jobe). His dream of moving on from dope-dealing to owning and operating a chain of car parks could possibly be be more realistic. Meanwhile he is providing the transport, and is the only licensed driver for their trip to the Cape.

Asleep on the car seat behind them is “varsity” student Mo (Michael Whalley), the instigator of the trip, who is not well. It takes his student friend Jordyn (Leon Wadham), whose mother is a nurse, to see that his regular throwing up is caused by more than a hangover. But Mo doesn’t want special treatment or attention …

Thirty-minutes in to the 90-minute journey, as alcohol, dak, LSD and heavy metal ‘music’ take their tolls, the quartet’s aimless obsessions and mindless boy-games cannot help but remind most of us of times we’ve been straight but stuck with stoners or drunks and wishing we weren’t. Their banter, improvised poetry, game-playing and less-than-profound pronunciations oscillate authentically between tedious and painful.

Two young women did walk out, I’m not sure why. But it does seem clear that playwright Plumb and director Conrad Newport have chosen to challenge us with this relentless authenticity in order to press the buttons that will ensure we connect this with our own real worlds. Just because these boys are trying to escape their realities, that doesn’t mean we can. 

And nor, of course, can they finally escape themselves, each other and what life is throwing up for them. As their vulnerabilities begin to show, and as we come to understand what’s really going on, it would be a hard-hearted person indeed who didn’t want to stay to find out where they’d end up. After the breakdowns come the breakthroughs. The trip becomes a journey that is to a good end.

Designer Ross Gibbs sets the action against a white cyclorama with car seats providing the vehicle and wheeled boxes allowing for an en-route picnic table, Wendy House, café, tent, etc. Jennifer Lal’s white lighting adds to the general bleakness – the road they experience is all desert – until sunrise greets them at the Cape.

Also warming, in the hope it brings, is the boys’ ability to focus, at last, on a wider horizon. There is pathos, too, in the implications for Mo. And just in case the imagery of two oceans meeting to point the way ahead becomes too precious, we are treated to a comic spectacle that at once brings Eb back to earth and offers a weird kind of redemption for a serious wrong he has done to Mo.

Vivenne Plumb has scripted the characters, ethos and argot of her late son’s generation with extraordinary accuracy. With the sure hand of a seasoned writer she has ensured each character has a past and future that meet in the present to clear dramatic effect, so that all their sound and fury will finally signify something.  

Michael Whalley’s Mo is most eloquent in his unspoken thoughts and feelings. Leon Wadham’s Jordyn is almost heroic in confronting his truth and claiming it. Rawiri Jobe is totally convincing as Arthur. Eli Kent’s Eb gets right in our faces and up our noses before he reveals his fragility. Together, with Corrine Simpson operating lights and sound, they take us on a memorable journey. 

On opening night, those currently of the characters’ age and stage, those who had been there in the 90s, and those who are parents of that generation or were their teachers, were all excited by The Cape‘s authenticity.


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