Maidment Theatre, Auckland

13/09/2012 - 06/10/2012

Production Details

Stars’ Return Home A Gift For New Zealand Audiences 

Multi-award winning actor Sarah Peirse joins Marshall Napier in returning to New Zealand to star in Auckland Theatre Company’s THE GIFT by Joanna Murray-Smith, at the Maidment Theatre from September 13.

About the anxieties of marriage, parenthood and leading a creative life, this superb, funny and provocative work by Australian’s leading playwright will shortly open on Broadway having already played a phenomenally successful premiere season in Melbourne.

“The Gift is theatre unnerving and vital enough to have you arguing about it all the way home” The Age

In THE GIFT, Murray-Smith creates an extraordinary situation to explore what gives our lives meaning. Directed by Colin McColl, THE GIFT is a bold, shocking comedy of morals.

‘Murray-Smith has Oscar Wilde’s gift for one-liners’ – Daily Mail

Sadie (Peirse) and Ed (Napier) meet Martin (Simon London) and Chloë (Laura Hill) at a luxurious Pacific Island resort and instantly hit it off, despite coming from completely different worlds. When Martin saves Ed’s life, everyone knows the debt can never be properly repaid. But Ed is rich and Chloe and Martin have a need so great it seems divine providence when Ed, wanting to show his gratitude, offers to gift them whatever they wish for. But what they want is surely a wish nobody could possibly grant.

“Fresh imagination, shimmering wit and emotional honesty” Time Out Sydney 

“We are delighted to have lured Sarah Peirse and Marshall Napier back to Auckland,” says Auckland Theatre Company Artistic Director Colin McColl. 

“This will be the first time Auckland audiences will have seen Sarah on stage since her days performing with Mercury Theatre, and will be the first time Marshall has performed with Auckland Theatre Company.” 

Since then she has performed on stage regularly with Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) and Sydney Theatre Company (STC), and has appeared in many films including THE NAVIGATOR, HEAVENLY CREATURES and RAIN. 

Marshall Napier’s equally as impressive career began in theatre in Wellington in the 1970s. Since leaving New Zealand in the mid 1990s, he has frequently performed MTC and STC and been a constant presence on Australian television and film.  

“Joanna Murray-Smith demonstrates a Stoppardian gift for pithily combining intelligence, wit and pathos” The Independent (UK) 

Spiced with Murray-Smith’s spiky dialogue, THE GIFT is a witty examination of our modern moral confusions. 

Murray-Smith is an award-winning writer whose work includes HONOUR, NINETY, ROCKABYE, THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES, RAPTURE, NIGHTFALL, LOVE CHILD and the two one woman shows BOMBSHELLS and SONGS FOR NOBODIES. 

Many of her plays have been produced around the world, including seasons on the West End and Broadway. In London, THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.

Her plays have been performed by some of the world’s leading actors, including Dame Eileen Atkins, Dame Diana Rigg, Jane Alexandra, Laura Linney, Corin Redgrave and Annette Bening. 

SONGS FOR NOBODIES has recently commenced an Australian tour and will be produced in New York in 2012. She has published three novels, ‘Truce’, ‘Judgement Rock’ and ‘Sunnyside’.   She wrote the libretto for the Australian Opera LOVE IN THE AGE OF THERAPY, composed by Paul Grabowsky, and her next opera, THE DIVORCE, is currently being composed by Elena Kats-Chernin. In 2004, US Variety described her as “Australia’s foremost female playwright”. 

“I’ve had the pleasure to direct two of Joanna Murray-Smith’s huge hits, HONOUR and THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES. Both these plays have had performances throughout New Zealand, Australia, Britain, Europe and the United States. 

I’m looking forward to getting to work on this new one, which is a stylish and witty meditation on selfishness, and am thrilled to be working again with brilliant kiwi actress Sarah Peirse, who we’ve enticed away from her busy Australian career to star in THE GIFT,” says Auckland Theatre Company Artistic Director, Colin McColl. 

Tickets for THE GIFT can be purchased from the Maidment Theatre, 09 308 2383 or

By Joanna Murray-Smith  
13 September – 06 October
Maidment Theatre  

Sarah Peirse – Sadie  
Marshall Napier – Ed  
Simon London – Martin  
Laura Hill – Chole  

Creative team: 
Colin McColl – Direction 
Rachel Walker – Set Design & Costume Design 
Philip Dexter – Lighting Design 
Adrian Hollay – Sound Design   

Challenging, riveting play delivered with clarity, charm and class

Review by Lexie Matheson 20th Sep 2012

As the house lights went down on the almost full stalls, the delightful – and garrulous – older gentleman seated behind me said, in the loudest of stage whispers, “tickety boo.” He may have been English.  

Whatever his nationality, he and the group of men and women in his party were demographically representative of the audience at large: European, middle class, middle aged, educated and tastefully attired. This was a bit of a shock.  

It’s been awhile since I attended an Auckland Theatre Company production – May for A Midsummer Night’s Dream – and I’d forgotten in the intervening months what experiencing ATC at the Maidment was like. I seriously regret missing Black Confetti [at the Herald] and Awatea but life, work and twelve other reviews intervened and the pleasure I always get from going to the Maid for an ATC show had to be put on hold.

Why mention this? Simply because I’d forgotten what the ATC audience base is. My reviewing missions had been at The Basement, the Pumphouse and The Herald theatres and they tend to attract a different crowd – younger, more alternative, edgier – and I was interested to see whether the response was different too. It wasn’t.

The Gift is the work of Melbourne playwright Joanna Murray-Smith. Murray-Smith is a wordsmith by trade, a librettist, columnist, novelist, poet and writer of screenplays.*

Colin McColl’s production of The Gift has class written all over it. From glittering cast to swanky set (Rachael Walker), from the cool Pacific jazz of Adrian Hollay to the fabulous audio-visuals of Simon Barker, from the subtlest of lighting by Phillip Dexter MSc to the divine costumes of Sara Taylor there’s barely a thing out of place. McColl’s direction is masterful to the degree that this psychologically labyrinthine script is made as clear as day from beginning to end. Not that there is an end – but let that go.

Walker’s set is visually exciting but it’s also a great place to play. Constructed like a sloped and angled Rubik cube with a mirrored replica at the back there are further blocks that create a low wall on each of two sides. The whole is in a teal colour and I have little doubt that many in the audience owned, as I did, an airline bag of a similar colour in the ‘60s. (Tasman Empire Airways Limited: TEAL.)  

There are chrome railings and a swimming pool-like entrance with handrails up from the back. There are pillars to each side for projections that assume an increasing importance during the 90 minute (no interval) journey. It’s beautiful and practical and Walker, again, confirms her place among our best designers. 

Enter Sadie (Sarah Peirse). Peirse has been around for awhile and done this and that in film, TV and on the stage. She directed a bunch of stuff too and she’s, all in all, a totally class act. No surprise then that she’s won more awards than most and it’s a real joy to see her back working with ATC. She’s perfect for Sadie and she spends the evening proving it.

Her greatest gift, in my view, is her understanding of how ensemble works. She fits seamlessly into any situation and in this she’s witty, zany and feeds the play like it was her own pet pigeon. She’s going to tell us a story, she says, and what a story it turns out to be.

Ed (Marshall Napier) arrives next. He and Sadie have been married 25 years and this trip, this holiday to an unnamed island resort, is a wedding anniversary present to each other. Ed has made his millions in woodworking equipment – he’s franchised even in Samoa – and he’s been there, done that in a rather red-neck way. He’s a man’s man, or so it seems.

Like Peirse, Napier is perfectly cast. He has an awful lot to say and he says it awfully well. A no-holds-barred, shoot from the lip sort of bloke, Ed endears himself to us in a Married with Children sort of way and we love his right wing reactionary views. We all know people like Ed – voted for them, perhaps – and they’re as comfortable as our favourite sneakers. Napier has certainly paid his dues and it’s great to see ATC using its resources to contract artists of such talent and experience – and then casting them so well. 

Enter Martin (Simon London) and Chloe (Laura Hill). They’re young, in love, married eight years and on the island because they’ve won a holiday in a raffle. They are also immensely attractive – to Ed and Sadie and to us. 

London is a fine young talent, last seen in Silo’s The Pride where he shone. He shines again here as Martin the uncompromisingly talented conceptual artist and everything that’s anathema to Ed.

Chloe is pretty, sexy and bright. We learn she has a PhD in something arty, the perfect pairing for Martin and she’s definitely outspoken. There’s something extraordinary about Hill, some quality that makes her extremely watchable, and we watch with pleasure as Ed and Sadie fall – as we do – for this delicious young thing. She’s talented too, incredibly so.

There is the meeting, much talk about art and artists and the meaning of all that – Napier excels – and the couple acknowledge a growing bond that they accept yet don’t fully understand. They keep us hanging. Is it sexual? Is it intellectual? What is it that bonds these people together so completely? It’s tantalising stuff and you can hear a pin drop. 

We learn that the youngsters have a daughter, Eleanor, aged four. Sadie and Ed have no children.

There’s a crisis and Ed drowns only to be brought back to life by CPR and Martin’s strong hands. There is a debt to be paid and Ed and Sadie offer Martin and Chloe a gift, and they agree to meet again in a year, at which time Martin and Chloe will have decided what their gift – an unacceptable gift as it turns out – will be. By this time the couples have agreed on a truth-or-nothing relationship and the die is cast for the astonishing denouement of the play.

I’ve been intentionally vague because this is a thinking person’s play and you really need to experience the rest for yourself. It’s riveting stuff throughout and, as I’ve already said, there is no resolution. But there is a surprise at the end – and I think you’ll like it. I did.

The Gift is a challenging play for actors and director but you’d never guess it from this production because all the questions have been asked and all the problems solved – with the production that is but not the presentation: they certainly don’t do our thinking for us and we’re left to cogitate happily on what might have been and what might be. McColl’s splendid cast sidle coolly through the work addressing all the philosophical and intellectual issues with clarity and charm and we love them for it. 

The curtain call, so well earned and so gleefully acknowledged by the audience, was different and I really liked it. No effusive bows, no artifice, no fixed smiles, just an honest acceptance of our warm applause and an exit that left us all feeling we’d just spent an evening with dear friends. 

My chum in the seat behind me was also joyously happy. In his agreeably cultured voice he chirped loudly to his friends, “Well done. Jolly well done the ATC!” I could only smile and concur.

Footnote:  ATC produce great programmes. This one is especially good because all the photographs show cast and crew smiling and happy. I hope the days of turgid, serious programme photos are, at least temporarily, over. Jolly chipper, chaps. Well done. 

*Following graduation from the University of Melbourne, Joanna Murray-Smith undertook a writing programme at Columbia University in The Big Apple where she wrote her first major work Honour (1995)before returning home to marry and have children. Nightfall (2007), Scenes from a Marriage (2008), and the controversial Female of the Species (2008) followed with The Gift (2011)being the latest in a line of fine works. 


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Danger when odd couples connect

Review by Janet McAllister 18th Sep 2012

Engaging but puzzling drama explores morality and the consequences as opposites attract 

This inoffensive Auckland Theatre Company production is a conversation drama which builds to a Big Reveal, about an odd couple of couples: an older wealthy businessman and the wife who “facilitated his glory”, and a younger, hipper, poorer artist and his art-journalist wife.

To a certain extent, it is about morality and, ostensibly, parenting, but only the last third touches on these issues. The play is more focused on the developing inter-couple relationship, and the dangers of opposites attracting. [More]  


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The Gift of the gab

Review by Sharu Delilkan 17th Sep 2012

“Wow!” was all we could say when we saw the striking set as we walked into the Maidment Theatre. 

A Rubiks-like upholstered grid with minimal cube props for tables and seats is the genius creation of set designer Rachael Walker. This style is repeated behind as a backdrop with the whole set raked at odd angles, which set the scene for the quirky story that follows. 

I particularly liked the versatility of the shapes, which reminded me of Lego pieces, allowing them to make any configuration they required. 

The story opens with an aside to the audience by Sadie (Sarah Peirse), setting the stage perfectly, while inducing laughter from the audience from the get-go. [More]


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