The Hollow Men

Maidment Theatre, Auckland

10/04/2008 - 19/04/2008

Production Details

The Hollow Men examines the months of Don Brash’s leadership of the National Party leading up to the 2005 election and is a riveting piece of new documentary theatre, a genre which is currently proving to be a phenomenon overseas. The play had its world premiere in Wellington in September last year and among many nominations won a Chapman Tripp Theatre Award for set design.

In The Hollow Men, the cast plays a variety of political movers and shakers; many of whom still walk the corridors of parliament and have influence behind the scenes today.

Director Jonathon Hendry says The Hollow Men follows an international trend for stories about real events to be played out on the stage. "Shakespeare had great popular hits examining political events on stage with plays such as Julius Caesar and Richard the Third and in recent years, a new form of documentary theatre is selling out theatres on Broadway, at Britain’s National Theatre and at smaller fringe venues everywhere."

Renowned British playwright David Hare (whose play Stuff Happens dramatised events leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003) says that ‘theatre using real people has become a fabulously rich and varied strand which, for many years, has been pumping red cells into the dramatic bloodstream’, and the hottest piece of theatre on the international circuit at the moment is the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch, based on real events in Iraq.

"We’ve been performing Dean Parker’s highly entertaining adaptation of Nicky Hager’s book to packed houses. It’s fantastic to be able to bring it to Auckland."

Maidment Theatre
Thursday 10 April – Saturday 19 April 2008
Telephone bookings: (09) 308 2383

Stephen Papps:  Brash
Michael Keir Morrissey:  Keenan
Arthur Meek:  Sinclair
Sam Snedden:  Hooton
Lyndee-Jane Rutherford:  Diane Foreman, Sue Wood, Ronald Reagan, Winnie Laban, Ruth Richardson, Sandy Burgham, Katherine Rich, Claire Harvey, TV Journalist
Adam Gardiner:  Commentator, Michael Bassett, Dick Allen, Phil Goff, Murray McCully, Ron Hickmott, Richard Long, TV Journalist

Producer: Sally Woodfield
Set Design: Brian King
Lighting Design: Jennifer Lal
Costume Design: Judith Crozier
Sound Design: Andrew McMillan
Technical Operator: Jennifer Lal/Steve Crowcroft
Wardrobe: Estelle MacDonald 

Impression left of a lucky escape

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 14th Apr 2008

Based on Nicky Hager’s book – which exposed "file after file of inner-circle National Party emails that had been sensationally passed to him"* – and adapted for stage by Dean Parker, much has already been written about this piece of ‘documentary theatre’, after the play debuted in Wellington last year. [Click here for BATS and Centrepoint reviews]

In short: if you have even a passing interest in the nature of our democratic process, and how easily it can be manipulated, The Hollow Men is a must see.

As the play examines the politicking, campaigning and speechmaking of Don Brash’s advisors in the lead up to the 2005 election, understandably, on occasion, Parker’s script is a tad dense and wordy.

However, in the hands of director Jonathon Hendry, his extremely capable, entertaining cast** and his talented designers, the play’s colourful exposure of a deceptive campaign strategy, that side-lined substance and policy, will resonate far beyond these years of misguided electioneering, that National supporters would prefer we forget.

I say "years" by way of reference to 2008 as well as 2005. The Hollow Men gives strategic reference to John Key’s involvement, in a way that suggests that Parker predicts that this year’s effort will see the same insincere sincerity and spin, from the same movers and shakers, so easily transferred to their new guy.

Each cast member gives a stand out performance.

Arthur Meek as young advisor Brian Sinclair is speedy, manic and uber-confident in his delivery – the perfect antithesis to Stephen Papp’s superb portrayal of a bewildered Don Brash. Unable to get a word in, Brash is often distracted, looking at his cell phone, as if he is trying to work out how to text.

Papps skilfully appears to move in slow motion, as his team swiftly dip and dive around him, pulling strings, making rapid changes and giving him helpful suggestions such as "rehearse a few smiles and jokes".

Parker gives himself plenty of comic licence, as he exposes how ineffectual Brash was as a leader. From the silent dust-buster scene; to Brash’s exclamation that, "My wife’s from Singapore!" as his trump card to close the gender gap in the polls; to his directionless, – "Well!" in response to the news that the perception is that the National Party is a ‘boys club’, Parker portrays Brash as a bumbling incipient pensioner, who is essentially sidelined in the game he’s supposed to be leading.

Michael Keir Morrissey, playing Peter Keenan, Brash’s chief speechwriter, is the play’s narrator. Morrissey relishes the opportunity to not only provide us with the perceived voice of reason (or explanation), but also deliver some of Parker’s most witty political commentary, such as "Nothing corrupts like the lack of power", and "Don, you have to get better at not answering questions".

Lyndee-Jane Rutherford appears as several pivotal characters, providing comic relief after passages of concentrated political detail. The versatile Rutherford is particularly delicious as Diane Foreman, giving her rich, strangulated vowel sounds; yet gives serious resonance playing an exasperated Katherine Rich, tending her resignation.

Another stand out performance is Adam Gardiner. He steals the show as American political strategist Dick Allen; bellowing our National Anthem, in both languages, hand on heart, alongside a meek Brash, lost for words. As Phil Goff, he devours Brash’s famous ‘gone by lunch time’ comments on our nuclear policy, in the House. He says so little, yet portrays so much, playing Murray ("It’s A Game") McCully.

Sam Snedden gives a consistent performance as Mathew Hooton, in particular in the build up to National’s big "One Nation" speech on race relations in Orewa and later, as he explains with a mix of blunt pragmatism and guile that Brash should meet, hongi and ‘engage’ with Māori constituents.

Brian King’s award winning set of neat scaffolding, which at some stage during the play frames each character, is suitably see-through, and … hollow. Symmetrical rubbish bins, placed to the left and right, provide a target for throwaway campaign speeches, each paper policy screwed up before they are tossed. Lines of quick-fix disposable coffee cups reinforce King’s theme.

Director Hendry strategically places Brash’s advisors so they have their man in their sights at all times. Like Big Brother, they are always looking on, watching every move. Except for the moment when Brash tells the truth, at which point, the team’s scatters.

Lighting Design by Jennifer Lal not only compliments King’s set very well; throughout the night, pivotal action is highlighted easily.

Upbeat bursts of music between scenes by Sound Designer Andrew McMillan, with appropriate lyrics such as "I don’t know where I’m going to" give a jolt of anarchy to the seemingly smooth political operations.

Costume designer Judith Crozier and wardrobe assistant Estelle Macdonald, have the National Party men suitably attired, looking slick, neat and tidy at all times. Similarly, Rutherford’s numerous costumes are each bang on the money.

From the top of the play, with its whirlwind "History Of How The National Party Lost Its Way 101", to the outing of Don Brash, and the secret meeting between John Key and members of the Brethren Party on the eve of the election, The Hollow Men leaves you with the strong impression that we had a lucky escape by not electing these men to power in 2005.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
* From Dean Parker’s programme notes
** The Auckland actors are the same as they were for the Wellington and Palmerton North seasons, with one exception – Adam Gardiner replaces Will Harris.


Dane Giraud April 17th, 2008

Parties, schmarties, John. You know very well what I mean... Can those of us who didn't start life as school teachers expect this every time we make a comment? It seems to me that you're just trying to take the wind out of my argument by going off on strange semantic tangents.

John Smythe April 16th, 2008

The pedant in me has to correct you, Dane: 1. The Labour Party (note Labour, not Labor) doesn’t pass laws, parliament does 2. What are Labour “parties” anyway? Group support sessions in a birthing centre? But for further discussion on the question you raise, please go to the forum ‘Could the EFA apply to plays?’

Dane Giraud April 15th, 2008

Please check the tone of your review... You might find you are actually breaking one of the Labor parties laws...

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A Brash mix of comedy and tragedy

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 14th Apr 2008

Nothing fades faster than memories of a politician who came second, and three years on from Don Brash’s ill-fated tilt for power it is strange to be reminded of issues that once blazed across front pages and inspired breathless TV commentaries.

Dean Parker’s sharply scripted adaptation of Nicky Hager’s book presents the behind-the-scenes story of the 2005 election that was disclosed in a bundle of leaked emails that expose the shadowy underbelly of the National Party’s campaign. [More]  


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