The Gods of Warm Beer

Centrepoint, Palmerston North

14/06/2008 - 26/07/2008

Production Details

PLEASE NOTE: This production contains strong language and sexual content that may offend some patrons.

Starring Laura Hill (Nurse Toni from Shortland Street), Eddie Campbell (King Kong, Eagle vs Shark) and Malcolm Murray (Shortland St, The Farm).

Cold War, McCarthyism, Waterside Strikes and a little invasion on the West Coast…
It’s New Zealand in the Fifties and British Rugby League has come Down Under with a sterling idea: poach talented young Kiwis to bolster the ranks of their professional league.
But will Billy and the boys defect or will they be true to their mates in the mines of Godzone?
From one of the Manawatu’s most cherished writers this sparkling new comedy is Peter Hawes biographical tale of life on the West Coast.

"Gods has all the froth to be found on the top of a West Coast ale, but with all the dark richness to be found there within the depths of the pint glass. It’s a truly remarkable play about New Zealand."
– Mark Amery, Director Playmarket

Eddie Campbell = Sid Holland; Maddock
Susan Curnow = Gloria; Mrs Aherne
Malcolm Murray = Skin Aherne
Phil Grieve = Max; Horace (rugby scout)
Tony Wyeth = Pook; Keith Holyoake
Laura Hill = Maureen
Richard Knowles = Rory; Jack McCarthy
Brad McCormick = Billy Dineen; Harry Truman
Josephine Stewart-Tewhiu = Rose Aherne
James Jennings = Ernie; J Edgar Hoover; Frank the policeman

Set Design: Robyn Yee
Costume Design: Ian Harman
Lighting Design: Laurie Dean
Stage Manager/Operator: John Lepper
Production Manager: Shelley Irwin
Set Construction: Brad Cunningham and Blair Ryan
Costume Assistant: Stephanie West
Publicist: Alister Browne

Ripsnorting tragi-satiric epic

Review by Richard Mays 16th Jun 2008

Sex, violence, religion, sport, politics, history, all leavened with conversational, and often, burlesque humour, make for fascinating theatre. In The Gods of Warm Beer, playwright Peter Hawes has written with insight and authority about an insular community steeped in a rugby, racing and beer culture, and harbouring ingrained prejudices.

This is Westport 1951, where Catholic versus Protestant, union versus Government, and rugby union versus rugby league. On the narrative level, The Gods of Warm Beer is a story of two young talented rugby rivals, Billy and Rory. This pair of "Judases" decide to sell-out the amateur code to play professional league in Britain for three thousand "pieces of silver" – an enormous sum in those days. Back then though, the repercussions for this kind of "treachery" were dire. Simply contemplating a shift to the "pagan" game would brand them no better than prostitutes or scabs, and forever outcasts.

On the side, Rory (Richard Knowles) is having it off with the vivacious and tres amorous Maureen the wife of Percy Owen, played by Laura Hill in her first post-Shortie Street role.  Brad McCormick’s Protestant Billy is going out with Catholic Rose played with real feeling by Josephine Stewart-Tewhiu. She is the feisty daughter of Skin the local bookie – an assured Malcolm Murray – who has a vested interest in the outcomes of all local sporting fixtures.

Westport miners are on strike in support of what is now known as the 1951 Waterfront Lockout, and daily they report to "work" at The Vatican, a pub run by Susan Curnow’s no-nonsense Gloria. All these characters are strong and vivid – especially the women who have plenty to contribute, and show plenty of pluck in this male-dominated setting – with the three female performers revelling in these opportunities.

Acting two roles, Phil Grieve is especially effective when he plays a scene as a poetic northern rugby league talent scout, with an accent that just about clogs the bottle. But my, how having to listen closely sharpened the senses, the wits, and focused attention.

On the wider scene, the play exposes the machinations of then National Party Prime Minister Sid Holland, played by a bullying bellicose Eddie Campbell, to twist the waterfront dispute to his own ends. He is abetted by the cardboard cut-out callow toadying compliance of his deputy and successor, Keith Holyoake, played in cameo by Tony Wyeth.

Laced with calculated irony, not to mention a certain vitriol, these scenes of Brechtian burlesque look like a 1950’s version of last year’s The Hollow Men; only unfettered by the niceties of an existing transcript, Hawes has let his imagination run riot. At first, these two strands of the play seem at odds, but as it progresses, the connections are made, with a last short scene bringing The Gods of Warm Beer home to roost. Unafraid to mix styles, Hawes includes a surreal episode where Rory, sitting in church deliberating his decision to play league, has an unseen (and unheard by Rory) "Him on a stick" responding in voiceover.

Scene changes on this craftily constructed set are cleverly and deftly managed by having a half-stage revolve manually turned in partial blackout by miners wearing lanterns and helmets.

The accomplished cast of 10 should easily tighten the opening scenes of this wonderfully engrossing, thoughtfully constructed, ripsnorting tragi-satiric epic, which offers the suggestion by way of parallel, that the way we once were is really not so very far removed from the way we are now. 


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Warm beer hits just the right spot

Review by John C Ross 16th Jun 2008

Westport, 1951, with the local miners out on strike in support of the wharfies, and Sid Holland in far-off Wellington waging cold warfare to beat down the uppity workers – such is the setting. The West Coast way of life, as it used to be, re-created by Hawes from his memories of it, was always fairly tough, but some times were harder, `when the beer was warm and the pies were cold.’  

It comes across as quite tribal, with even the Greymouth people seen as hostile; and two young blokes are fatally violating the tribal law by deserting local rugby for the financial haven of an English league team. The repercussions of that generate much of the plot, with plenty of humour, but drama rather than comedy.

This is Peter Hawes’ most ambitious, technically clever play, so far, and it’s a really good one, with a cast of ten, plus a certain amount of doubling, and with multiple scene-settings, managed by twisting a revolve. Simon Ferry’s directing of it is very able. There’s scope for a little fine-tuning: the voice-over material needs to be louder; and voice-projection could sometimes be better. Otherwise it all works admirably.

Susan Curnow anchors the central scenes as the hard-bitten pubkeeper Gloria, always very live on stage, and doubles well as a fiercely Catholic mum. Eddie Campbell’s rendering of Sid Holland, as Hawes portrays him, is full-on: bullying, feral, and, as Holland was once described in the House, `as cunning as a water-closet rodent.’

It’s a strong cast, with every actor more than adequate, and several of them especially good, with Richard Knowles standing out as Rory, one of the league-traitors, and Laura Hill as his lady-love. Phil Grieve doubling as Max the miner, and as the Huddersfield league-recruiter is notably assured, as is Josephine Stewart-Tewhiu as the mum’s daughter. Malcolm Murray, Tony Wyeth, Brad McCormick and James Jennings carry the other roles.

This is just the kind of new play one hopes for from our community theatres. All credit to Peter Hawes and Simon Ferry. Go see it.


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