Playhouse Theatre Park Avenue, Takaka, Golden Bay, Takaka

06/07/2022 - 06/07/2022

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

20/04/2024 - 11/05/2024

Production Details

Created and performed by Michael Hurst from the original by Apuleius
Directed by John Gibson

Adapted by Michael Hurst, with additional text by Fiona Samuel
Directed by Michael Hurst and John Gibson

Presented by Arts on Tour NZ

A Tale of Epic Proportions

Freely adapted from the notorious original by Apuleius, this brand new solo show is the story of Lucius – a young man driven by sexual desire and insatiable curiosity who is accidentally transformed into a donkey. Uh-oh!

What follows is a fantastical series of misadventures in a wicked world of witches, bandits, virgins, cultists, slaves, circuses, soldiers, pastry-cooks, prostitutes and priests.

Marvellously, sidesplittingly ridiculous, The Golden Ass is the original donkey show, inspiring such literary giants as Shakespeare, Boccaccio, Cervantes, Rabelais and Keats. It remains today a powerful plea for empathy in a world gone mad.

With music and direction from acclaimed composer John Gibson, and performance by renowned storyteller Michael Hurst, this modern take on one of the great classics will be a rollicking ride, well worth the fare.

Rating: Adult themes. Not suitable for children.

Michael Hurst

Michael Hurst (No Holds Bard, The Daylight Atheist) brings his renowned dramatic and comedic skills to this 2000 year old text. Expect vivid, fantastic and ever-so-human characters that use, abuse, seduce and sometimes revere The Golden Ass.

“Michael Hurst is magnificent … At once vulnerable and flawed, hedonistic, enigmatic, wily, and strangely likable.” – Theatreview

“… a true voice, a genuine star in spoken, live theatre.’  – Waikato Times

“…a towering performance by Michael Hurst that may well itself pass into legend. … a masterpiece, flawlessly enacted by a master storyteller” – Theatreview

“Hurst is the quintessential Fool, the prophet, the storyteller … only the most heroic actor would take on such a task” – Radio 16

[Scroll past the AOTNZ Itinerary to see 2024 seasons details.]

Itinerary 2022

Friday 1 July 7:30pm Te Awamutu
The Woolshed Theatre
$25 Tickets: Eventfinda and Te Awamutu i-Site Centre
Presented by Backstage Pass

Saturday 2 July 7pm Putaruru
The Plaza Theatre
$15 Tickets: Eventfinda

Sunday 3 July 2pm & 7pm New Plymouth
4th Wall Theatre
Adults $35; Senior $25; Students $15

Monday 4 July 7pm Whanganui
Whanganui Repertory Theatre
$28 Tickets: Whanganui Royal Opera House

Wednesday 6 July 7:30pm Takaka
Playhouse Theatre
$25 Pre-sale or $30 Door sales – LIMITED SEATS
Cash tickets available from the Pohutukawa Gallery

Friday 8 July 7:30pm Hokitika
Old Lodge Theatre
$25 Tickets: Hokitika’s Regent Theatre

Saturday 9 July 7:30pm Cromwell
Coronation Hall, Bannockburn
Adult $35; Senior $30; Student $5

Sunday 10 July 7:30pm Arrowtown
Arrowtown Athenaeum Hall
$25 Tickets: Eventbrite

Monday 11 July 7:30pm Twizel
Top Hut/65 & Dine Restaurant, Tasman Road, Twizel
Adult $20; Student $10 Tickets: Twizel Promotions Office

Tuesday 12 July 7:30pm Oamaru
Oamaru Opera House
$25 (plus fee) Tickets:

Wednesday 13 July 7:30pm Geraldine
The Lodge Theatre
$25 Tickets available: Louk Clothing, Talbot Street, Geraldine 03 693 9070 (Cash Sales Only)

Thursday 14 July 7:30pm Ashburton
Ashburton Event Centre
Adults $25; GoldCard/Student $20 (fees apply)

Friday 15 July 7pm Akaroa
The Gaiety Hall
$35 Tickets:

Saturday 16 July 8pm Picton
Picton Little Theatre
$35 Book: or Summit Real Estate, Picton

Sunday 17 July 7:30pm Upper Hutt
Whirinaki Whare Taonga
$20 Tickets:

Tuesday 19 July 7pm Gisborne
Gisborne Unity Theatre
$35 Tickets:
AOTNZ InCahoots with Unity Theatre

Wednesday 20 July 7:30pm Whakatane
Gateway Theatre
$30 Early bird; $35 from 1 July
Tickets: Eventbrite and The Good Life

Thursday 21 July 7:30pm Taupo        
The Playhouse – Centre Stage Theatre
$30 Tickets: 

Friday 22 July 7:30pm Rotorua
St Barnabas Church, School Road, Ngongotaha
$30 Tickets: Ph 07 347 6275

Saturday 23 July 7:30pm Matamata
Matamata Little Theatre
$25 Tickets:

Sunday 24 July 4pm Waihi
The Theatre, Boyd Road
$22 Tickets:

Monday 25 July 7:30pm Coromandel
Hauraki House Theatre
$30 Tickets: Coromandel Information Centre

Thursday 28 July 7:30pm Kerikeri
Turner Centre
$25 Early birds; $30 Regular

Friday 29 July 7:30pm Whangarei
The Riverbank Centre, Reyburn House Lane
$30 Tickets:

Saturday 30 July 7:30pm Onewhero
OSPA Theatre
Tickets are available from The Urban Market, King Street, Pukekohe

ARTS ON TOUR NZ (AOTNZ) organises tours of outstanding New Zealand performers to rural and smaller centres in New Zealand. The trust receives funding from Creative New Zealand as well as support from Central Lakes Trust, Community Trust South, Interislander, Otago Community Trust, Rata Foundation, Aotearoa Gaming Trust, West Coast Community Trust, The Lion Foundation and Community Trust Mid and South Canterbury.  AOTNZ liaises with local arts councils, repertory theatres and community groups to bring the best of musical and theatrical talent to country districts. The AOTNZ programme is environmentally sustainable – artists travel to their audiences rather than the reverse.


Arts Laureate Michael Hurst ONZM is easily one of New Zealand’s most celebrated and successful stage and screen actors. His extensive career spanning more than four decades includes No Holds Bard, An Iliad, Hamlet, Macbeth, Chicago, The Life of Galileo, and most recently ATC’s King Lear. In this epic production, he is supported by writer Fiona Samuel (Bliss, Consent, Pike River) and original direction by composer John Gibson (The Trojan Women, Lysistrata).

“A marvellous, skilful performance. This is a show to watch out for.”
— Charlotte Grimshaw, NZ Listener

The Golden Ass plays
Circa One, Circa Theatre
20 Apr – 11 May 2024
Previews 18 & 19 Apr
Tues – Thurs 6.30pm, Fri – Sat 8pm, Sun 4pm
$30 – $55
Book Now

Lighting Design by Rachel Marlow
Set Design by John Verryt
Produced by Giant Font.

Solo , Theatre ,

A fantastically engaging collection of slapstick adventures

Review by Cordy Black 21st Apr 2024

Ancient comedy is hard to stage. Its jokes reference a time period with values and social norms that can sometimes seem alien to modern audiences, available translations can be toned down or written in a register that feels a bit dated, and it deploys literally the oldest jokes in the book. Getting all of that to feel fresh, relatable and punchy is a tall order. Here’s one answer to the challenge: let Michael Hurst make an ass of himself for eighty minutes.

It’s brilliant. Hurst choses to wrestle with the text one-on-one. He has adapted it out of older translations, dragging the central narrative into the twenty-first century. He leaves in some of the more evocative Latin similes which, with the right delivery, are real hits with the audience – a favourite one: “She will drain you as dry as hay.”

Contrasts abound between three distinct cultural settings: full antiquity, full modernity and a liminal world somewhere in the middle where the academic papers and pop-culture references live. The story, the characters and the references are constantly modulating between these layers. Hurst’s game is to make all of the layers interleave and connect.

We start by defining the oldest world, the Roman world of late Imperial antiquity, a place we can only see through layers of iteration and distortion. Hurst lays that groundwork with a flood of Latin monologue which, thankfully, doesn’t last. In his words, it won’t do to “come all the way from Palmerston North” and see a theatrical museum piece!

Then there is a kind of pseudo highbrow narrative voice. Its chief vehicle is Lucius Apulius, the author, who is characterised as a voice of experience. He can be florid, he speaks in an eloquent and educated register, with frequent pauses for self-deprecation. Author-Lucius comes closest to embodying the Robert Graves translation which Hurst says is an inspiration for this one-person play.

Another layer goes on: author-Lucius takes on the role of his younger, arrogant and inexperienced selves. Hurst does fantastic body-work with just enough costume, props and set elements to really transform himself back in time. It’s wonderful to see what he will do next. John Verryt’s tight little island of a set is a perfect foil for Hurst’s physical and vocal antics. It is like a sketch pad, onto which the tech Michael Lyell-O’Reilly can project nuances of light, ambient noise and discreet musical cues where the audience needs delicate immersion – or smash-cut with a hilariously jarring rooster noise to the next lurid adventure.

The play shows signs of friction at times, between the ancient text and modern social norms. This tension works fine where it is simply called out for what it is. It even helps to power Lucius’s character arc. In both the ancient tale and this modern one, Lucius’s story is about humiliation and humility: Lucius sheds the selfish life-blindness of youth, discovering his empathy and connection to a broader range of society.

That same friction does get a little troubling when Hurst brings in a few of the comedic side characters that dot Apuleius’s storytelling. Giving a low-status flavour character a regional British accent to distinguish them is probably the least offensive choice one could make, and maybe this is a nod to the Graves translation. However, it does assume something about the audience and what or who they would consider safe to mock – or which accents they might recognise. This might just be one of those ancient theatre challenges which is impossible to unpack, and it is a very minor speed-bump in an otherwise fantastically engaging show.

This reviewer brought along a companion who does not have a Classical education: they absolutely loved the transformation sequences and immediately drew parallels between the ancient cautionary tale and the predicaments of Pinocchio and Bottom. Perhaps we could even include the donkey from Shrek in the same cultural journey. The point is, this odd collection of slapstick adventures is a fascinating starting point. It’s well worth going even if Roman history isn’t your thing, simply to travel to a time where all those corny old jokes were wild and new.


John Smythe May 3rd, 2024

I've just seen The Golden Ass and yes, it's brilliant. On your point about regional accents being 'safe to mock', Cordy, I don't see it that way. Everyone is mocked, especially Lucius when he talks posh. The accent choices are simply devices for distinguishing the multiple characters from each other - which Hurst does brilliantly. He also delivers the raunchy comedy with a perfectly calibrated light touch. I kept on thinkling how Frankie Howard (showing my age) would have layered it in on and admired Hurst's skill even more.

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An inspiring, classic, relevant, hilarious plea for empathy

Review by Antony Hodgson 07th Jul 2022

I had not read any backstory to this show, assuming some connection to A Midsummers Night’s Dream – Michael Hurst, an Ass, what else could it be? Well deeper and more potent than I thought: both a cautionary and inspiring tale, told raucously well.

Our Playhouse Theatre in Takaka has approx 100 classic red seats, tonight filled with the familiar faces of the practitioners and patrons of the small but vibrant local theatre scene. The auditorium and stage box is in good shape and the recent re-roofing has ensured that many more shows will tread these old boards.

House lights dim and Michael Hurst walks onstage – in a white T shirt, braces, simple brown trousers, bare footed and bearded – and spouts Latin, yes Latin, a good long stretch of Latin, just Latin. Dropping out of character and breaking the 4th wall he quips, “You know it’s all in Latin, right?” The room lifts with laughter and we are quickly at ease, ready to be taken wherever this actor, at the top of his craft, will take us.

This is a very new show, we are just the 5th audience to see this work. It is so fresh off the page, Hurst is almost fizzing as he rollicks through character after character, setting up the world of the outrageous cast in the telling that he – with Director John Gibson and a very strong production team – has made.

I love seeing works at this stage in their creation. The spirit of the work is busy finding it’s voice, with every possibility still bursting to be included in what will, by the culmination of this 4 week, 25 show tour, be a defined rendition of what these story tellers set out to make. The support that Arts On Tour give is a boon in this tiny country, providing a vehicle where our theatre craft is given the rigorous road testing of a national tour. It is a valuable opportunity to run a show in different spaces, in front of different audiences, night after night, honing the work and through this process to give it the genuine possibility of longevity.

A new show, perhaps, but Hurst has ‘freely adapted’ from a very old story, nearly 2000 years old, The Golden Ass being The Metamorphoses of Lucius Apuleius, written by Apuleius approx 160AD.

So off we go. Our narrator and primary protagonist, Lucius, brings us into his world. At 20 years old, he is freshly graduated from university, cocksure, and off to research his book on magic. With quite an ego on him, what could possibly go wrong? Well, of course, nearly everything does, otherwise it wouldn’t be much of a tale. We journey with Lucius, full of curiosity and desire to find the real stories of magic being practised. He seeks to get concrete first-hand stories and experiences of this hidden world of witchcraft and sorcery which will fill his book and make him famous.

Hurst plays the range of characters surrounding the protagonist with style and panache, most devastatingly in the petulant house slave-cum-lover, Erotica. Well it is 160 AD and there are many opportunities for a confidant and curious young man to explore. This is a bawdy piece of theatre, a laugh out loud, outrageous exploration of the human condition. Certainly nothing is sacred and yet there is no denigration of these character types in Hurst’s renditions. Thinking he is a young man in control of his world, he does of course follow his desires and is pulled inexorably down through various experiences into what could be described as a Jungian underworld.

Here we feel the real power of this cautionary tale stretching through the years and turning a mirror on our own times and selves. Reality bites Lucius hard at the end of the first act and we are left to ask ourselves during interval, where does this all go from here?

The second act begins with Hurst as an Ass, a visual snapshot I doubt I’ll ever forget. The rollercoaster ride of Lucius’ distorted reality really takes off. Journeying through many more characters, twists and turns, some questionable sexual predilections and finally his salvation, on his knees at the waters’ edge in the face of the rising moon. The Metamorphoses of Lucius is an inspiring treatise treatise on the point of human existence. Jeepers!

This is classic strong story telling: a simple set, simple tech, damn good acting and a relevant tale to tell. The verbal vernacular may burn very delicate ears but essentially this is a plea for empathy in a world, nearly 2000 years ago, gone mad. Relevant now? I think so. Hilarious? Totally. Good theatre? Absolutely.

If you can get to a show, go, this Golden Ass will not leave you unsatisfied.


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