BATS Theatre (Out-Of-Site) Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington

07/10/2014 - 11/10/2014

Elmwood Theatre, 31 Aikmans Road, Merivale, Christchurch

17/07/2015 - 18/07/2015

BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

11/11/2015 - 14/11/2015

Production Details

Presented by Best on Tap, from Wellington Improv Troupe (WIT)

Sex without the ‘ism’ 

Okay, so the sexes are equal in the eyes of the law. What the F happens now?

BATS will host the premiere season of The F Word – a sometimes funny, occasionally serious, but always-authentic exploration into what FEMINISM means in modern day New Zealand.

The world isn’t perfect – wage equality is a serious issue, the threat or innuendo of sexual assault is a constant bogey man, and gender stereotypes still influence our lives.

Best on Tap are a collective of four improvisers from Wellington Improv Troupe (WIT) who have begun using improvisation to semi-script plays. With their skills for improvisation they can follow Shakespeare’s lead and have a script that is still loose enough to allow for evolution, but with a clearly crafted storyline.

The F Word follows a group of friends over a few years as they discuss feminism at dinner parties and struggle to put these ideals in place in their day-to-day life. Occasionally this struggle descends into the surreal… In short the show is dealing with difficult issues that face all liberal-minded, overeducated people face when confronted with messy realities!

STARRING: Nicola Pauling (Voice Arts Trust, WIT, #Divas), Kate Wilson (Return to Sender, WIT, #Divas), Geoff Simmons (Return to Sender, WIT, Improv Bandits), and Matt Hutton (Secrets, Return to Sender, WIT).

Join us at and join the discussion.

The ‘F’ Word
7-11 October 2014, 8pm
BATS Theatre Out of Site, Cnr Cuba & Dixon Sts
BOOKINGS: / 04 802 4175
TICKETS: $18/14


The ‘F’ Word
17 and 18 July 2015
Elmwood Auditorium
Aikmans Road
Merivale, Christchurch

BATS Propeller Stage
11 – 14 November 2015
8.30 pm
BOOKINGS: / 04 802 4175

Theatre , Improv ,

Theatre-in-education for adults

Review by John Smythe 12th Nov 2015

Subtitled “Sex without the ‘ism’”, The F Word addresses the concerns heterosexual thirty-somethings may have as they attempt to negotiate the minefield of coupling, be it by virtue (if that’s the word) of a one-night stand or a committed partnership, parenting and the whole long-term commitment thing.

It’s origins in “a heated but extremely entertaining dinner party debate about what FEMINISM means in modern day New Zealand” is reflected in the recurring motif of four friends miming dining – all facing the front – as they interrogate the topic, albeit from the limited perspectives of relatively comfortable, urban middle class, heteronormative, Pākehā. And hey, for better or worse, where better than live theatre to find a receptive audience for that?

Best on Tap is primarily an improv group (Letters from the Front; Mixtape) whose members developed their skills in many a Wellington Improvisation Troupe (WIT) show. This is reflected in their uniform costumes and style of presentation, through a series of quick-fire scenes, even though The F Word is scripted and rehearsed (and somewhat developed from its first outing last year).

This quartet of creator-performers – Matt Hutton, Nicola Pauling, Geoff Simmons and Kate Wilson – certainly interact very well together, share an innate sense of comic timing, and know how and when to get into or out of a scene. They engage their audience and deliver well-modulated entertainment as if born to it.

It opens the morning after a one-night stand between Sarah (Wilson) and Tony (Simmons) and before either says a word we know where they stand on the matter. The instant Sarah tells her best friend about it, Rebecca (Pauling) wants to know if it was an equitably orgasmic experience.

Rebecca and Simon (Hutton), both fully committed to equal rights, are venturing towards marriage which brings up the full range of curly questions – including rings, frocks, what their family name(s) will be and what about when they have children – as they resist conforming to ‘norms’ and try to find their own authentic path.

Despite having an ardent feminist for a mother – or maybe because of it – Sarah resists the F label, and there is no doubt the way this is thrashed out with Rebecca reflects discussions many young women have had with each other over many generations. Meanwhile Simon has to deal with the mindlessly blokey attitudes held by his yet-to-be enlightened best mate – you’ve guessed it: Tony.  

The authenticity of each character, the attitudes they hold and the debates they provoke beyond question. Most of the story development focuses on Rebecca and Simon as she pursues her career as a lawyer, and hits the glass ceiling, while he is the primary care-giver for their child and works from home. Meanwhile Sarah and Tony continue to represent the single sector.

The fluid progression from scene to scene, facilitated by two masking screens and four red boxes, is admirable. There are many pertinent scenes, like the dilemmas surrounding a girl’s fifth birthday party, and stylised sketches – the perverting influence of wedding magazines, ‘The F factor: New Zealand’s Next Top Feminist’; ‘Once Upon a Time in the Ancient Kingdom of Patriarchia’ – that explore the core topic in entertaining ways. And Nicola Pauling brings a beautiful singing voice to a couple of well-wrought songs.

It has to be said, however, it’s a once-over-lightly treatment, dramatised in the mode of theatre-in-education for adults: more as a discussion-starter than as an in-depth dramatisation of human relationships in all their unpredictable complexity. There comes a point where the lack of dramatic turning points, profound insights, and character and relationship developments arising from really challenging circumstances, begins to show. There is no sense of pay-off from set-ups; no cumulative effect from all the component parts; no distilment to an essence that allows the play to resonate beyond its prosaic and parochial self.

I can see the logic of working up to the hard question of whether New Zealand has a rape culture but when Tony’s ‘joke’ goes down like a lead balloon and there’s no cathartic riposte, just more discussion, the dramatic graph takes a dive with no uptick. It ends up feeling like a list of good ideas inspired by the topic.

Maybe I’m on the wrong track, seeing this as a play. As a revue, the series of sketches punctuating a serial narrative thread could be seen as quite sophisticated. Certainly most of the opening night audience gives it an enthusiastic reception. Even so, there’s something about how the last ten-to-fifteen minutes plays out (it’s 70 minutes in total) that dilutes the overall effect for me. 


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A classy and spirited critique

Review by Lindsay Clark 19th Jul 2015

In fact the F word – Feminism – is just the beginning of a concentrated compendium of sexism in our society, as this intrepid team shines the almost pure light of reason into the murk of how we live our lives, decades after the great feminist surges of last century. ‘Almost pure’ because there seem to be no reasonable solutions to the cultural conditions which operate at a far deeper level than equal rights legislation has been able to reach.

Such thoughtful material has no business to be so entertaining. Part of its charm lies in the sheer slickness of fast moving scenes, some of them set in train by the ‘alternative’ wedding plans of a liberal, fair minded couple, interspersed with surreal detours into underlying assumptions and conventions, as attitudes arise and are examined. 

The pleasure for the audience also lies in seeing the complexities of truly civilised behaviour. The quandary of trying to be a pleasant social being without compromising one’s personal values is familiar to us all. The liberal male does not have a comfortable time of it any more than the liberal woman trying to establish fair practice. Whether at his stag do or at his daughter’s playground, for example, he is the odd man out.

The conversational style of the piece is another factor in its accessibility and humour. Thereby we are let into the woman-to-woman or man-to-man exchanges which are often very funny for us, even as they point out the contrived way we mostly handle our relationships.

All four creator/performers – Matt Hutton, Nicola Pauling, Geoff Simmons and Kate Wilson – have the flexibility and conviction to move from one set of circumstances to another without missing a beat or blocking the forward momentum of the whole. This is particularly important in the surprise surreal depictions, where attitudes can be personified in a way that is at once humorous and insightful.

Especially effective is the ‘F Factor’ spoof where our liberal woman of today is ‘judged’ by other waves of feminism. Then there is the plight of an interviewee, unable to decide what first impression she should focus on and not helped by (male) angel/devil advisers. Learned helplessness and decisive self-responsibility are presented as princesses imprisoned in a fairytale tower. Male puberty blues and pick up lines are explored with fresh impact.

There are no real answers of course, but Best on Tap deserve acclaim for their plea for honesty and for offering some sense of the size of the problem in this classy and spirited critique.


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Naivety becomes dangerous

Review by Deborah Eve Rea 08th Oct 2014

The F-Word began as a “heated but extremely entertaining dinner party debate on what FEMINISM means”. Unfortunately, after 18 months of conversation, it appears that the company have yet to make any discoveries.  

The F-Word’s program states, “Ok, so the sexes are equal now in the eyes of law. What the F happens now?”Unfortunately that statement is untrue. New Zealand does have gender based laws and crimes, such as ‘Male Assaults Female’, not to mention differing levels of sentencing and persecution based on gender as well as institutional sexism. It’s a very, very bold statement to deliver and I look forward to its exploration through the play. Unfortunately, it never – even remotely – comes up.

The F-Word (with an adult cast of four) is played out in a format reminiscent of a high school social development skit whereby the characters converse in a domestic environment and then break away to explore areas of conflict using imagined, surreal dramatic vignettes.

I spend a good portion of the play wondering why these four very different people dress so alike. Perhaps they are in a pop band… or a cult?  

The archaic views explored through The F Word, coupled with its format and costume-matching cast and set, have me convinced that the play is set in the 1980s and perhaps the group are showing us how far we’ve come. My mistake is brought to light by a character mentioning that she “sent a text”. 

The view of feminism and gender equality are very, very naively explored (there are only two different genders mentioned), such as a scene where a woman is deciding what to wear: an angel suggests a “conservative” option and a devil suggests a dress that will get her “noticed”; “this is the kind of dress that causes accidents.” 

In no scene do the two women discuss anything other than men or how they look. A woman says, “We are capable of talking about other things you know,”yet they never do. It is mentioned in passing at one point that one of the female characters is a highly talented lawyer (perhaps they will talk about gender-based law now?) yet she never speaks of this.

In fairness, The F-Word doesn’t seem to claim to be on either of the two sides of its feminism discussion. 

While The F-Word is a largely comical piece, its naivety does become dangerous when it approaches the subject of sexual and domestic violence. 

The performances however, are quite good. The actors are very generous and playful. The relationships between the ensemble are strong enough to be rivalled in the Wellington theatre scene. 

The script’s dialogue has some real jewels too: “I can’t believe I have been cuckolded by capitalism”.The comedy of the piece is verysuccessful with its opening night crowd. 

Perhaps The F-Word could serve a good first introduction to thoughts on gender equality for a particular audience but I find the thought that such a naïve audience exists quite scary.


John Smythe October 11th, 2014

Having witnessed the emergence of feminist political theatre – memorably Betty Can Jump at The Pram Factory in Melbourne, 1972 – I find The F-Word intriguing. These creator-performers are the children of that revolutionary generation – a point well made in this play-cum-sketch show. 

Despite the ‘agit-prop’ breakout segments where the state and status of feminism are overtly debated, The F-Word determinedly confines itself to the attitudes and experiences of four fiends – two married (Nicola Pauling & Matt Hutton); two single (Kate Wilson & Geoff Simmons) – in the context of their relationships. As such it is a valid reveal of where the issues have settled in the minds of middle class thirty-something Kiwis with their arguably ‘first world problems’, not that glass ceilings, domestic violence and sexual safety issues are not important, ever-present and worthy of confrontation.

Their target audience packs out Bats and responds with delighted recognition and, quite possibly, some ‘thinking twice’ about some of their unconsciously embedded attitudes. While the characterisations are broad and the dramatic scenarios are two-dimensional, the fluid transitions and comic timing are impeccable.

The improv background of the cast serves them well in their onstage dynamics but as a pre-scripted and pre-rehearsed work it could be much more complex. As it stands, it’s a dramatised discussion – and entertaining with it.

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