The Illusion

Te Whaea - The Garage, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington

01/07/2008 - 05/07/2008

Production Details

A flamboyant theatrical feast; featuring a magician, meddling maids, sword fights and dreams of life on the moon.

"The art of illusion is the art of love, and the art of love is the blood-red heart of the world."

Inspired by commedia dell’ arte and French neo-classicism, this production offers a feast of theatricality: of wild characters, outrageous costumes, music and laughter. By being presented with many different layers of performance, the audience is provoked to consider the "small discrepancies between vision and memory"… and theatre.

In this, Kushner’s adaptation of the seventeenth century L’Illusion comique, Pridament of Avignon visits the cave of the magician Alcandre, to aid him in finding his estranged son. Alcandre conjures up three visions, in which Pridament sees his son entangled in three love affairs, always mysteriously with the same woman and her maid. As the father searches to find the truth of his son’s existence, the audience members too search to find the distinction between reality and illusion and to discover their own part in it. As Kushner says, "Difficult Art needs to be assembled in collaboration with the spectator; it doesn’t come prepackaged by the artist."

Director, Master of Theatre Arts (MTA) student Adam Donald, says, "I want the audience to be thoroughly delighted. I want them to laugh out loud". The Illusion is Adam’s major work as part of his MTA in directing, co-taught between Toi Whakaari NZ Drama School and Victoria University.

The show features a cast of professional actors, as well as current students and graduates of Toi Whakaari and the Victoria University Theatre programme.  

Starring: Gene Alexander, Tim Carlsen, Sophie Head, Stuart Henderson, Romy Hooper, David McKenzie, Edward Watson and Nick Zwart.

Design by Margaret Janowska and Hermione Flynn

7pm, 1-5 July
Basement Theatre, Toi Whakaari NZ Drama School, 11 Hutchinson Road

$10 unwaged / $15 waged
Bookings: 04 381 9237 or

Pridament: David McKenzie
The Amanuensis/Geronte: Stuart Henderson
Alcandre: Nick Zwart
Calisto/Clindor/Theogenes: Edward Watson
Melibea/Isabelle/Hippolyta: Sophie Head
Elica/Lyse/Clarina: Romy Hooper
Pleribo/Adraste/Prince Florilame: Tim Carlsen
Matamore: Gene Alexander

Musicians: Stuart Pedley and Alissa Pedley
Lighting Design: Adam Walker
Set Design: Margaret Janowska
Costume Design: Hermione Flynn

Production Manager: Theresa Hanaray
Stage Manager: Chelsea Adams
Marketing/ Publicity: Fiona McNamara
Lighting Operator: Rebecca Weatherhead

Emotions and magic collide in lively work

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 03rd Jul 2008

The play Tony Kushner wrote before he wrote the play that made him famous, Angels in America, was a free adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s only comedy L’Illusion Comique, which, like other plays of the 16th and 17th centuries (and the 21st), explores theatrical conventions, illusion and reality, the evanescence of memory and the function of theatre.

Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Calderon’s Life is a Dream come to mind as the Kushner/Corneille story unfolds in Adam Donald’s lively, well-mounted and well acted production, though apparently not a single line translates from the original French.

Pridamant of Avignon (David McKenzie), a wealthy lawyer, aware that he is getting old, longs to find his son and heir, Clindor (Edward Watson). He visits a mysterious magician, ‘a chemist of emotions’, Alcandre (Nick Zwart), who, with the aid of a supposedly deaf and dumb dwarf (Stuart Henderson), is able to conjure up scenes of what the errant son is getting up to.

He is up to wooing the beautiful and rich Isabelle (Sophie Head) who is also being wooed by Pleribo (Tim Carlsen) and a likeable rogue Matamore (Gene Alexander), who is described as a monster of ego run amok and goes mad in the end trying to get to the moon. And there is, of course, an outspoken comic maid (Romy Hooper) who is possibly the most astute of all the characters.

The scenes change at the magician’s flick of his cloak or when the father has had enough disappointment; the characters’ names change too from scene to scene (confusing at first); and the comedy seeps into tragedy towards the end. However, Prospero-like Alcandre brings the curtain down with a satisfactory ending for all concerned though the father, despite not being sure of his son’s name, is not too happy with his chosen profession.

Margaret Janowska’s striking chess-board floor backed by a small gilt framed stage on which Alcandre’s conjurations appear neatly echoes the stage Corneille wrote for, and Adam Donald lets the action break out of the proscenium arch onto the chess board and close to the audience and he allows Adam Walker’s lighting to create a shadowy world for Alcandre’s cavern where mysterious things can happen.

It’s a rich and intriguing play that toys with our emotions, our love of dramatic stories, however hackneyed, and our realization that all the world’s a stage, and nothing is what it seems.


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A worthy challenge

Review by John Smythe 02nd Jul 2008

Somewhere between writing A Bright Room Called Day and Angels In America, Tony Kushner was commissioned to adapt Pierre Corneille’s ‘strange monster’ of a pastoral-comical-tragedy, L’ Illusion Comique (which translates as both The Comic Illusion and The Theatrical Illusion), written in 1636. The Kushner version, which retains its 17th Century setting and French neoclassical conventions, is Adam Donald’s major ‘showcase’ production towards completing his Master of Theatre Arts (Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School / Victoria University of Wellington).

In the first instance, The Illusion depicts how Alcandre, a magician, helps Pridamant a distraught father and lawyer who is facing his own mortality, catch up with the fortunes of his estranged son and heir, by conjuring up scenes of the life he has lived over the 15 years they have been lost to each other.

The title also refers to the illusions of love (familial, romantic and carnal), loyal service and ultimately the illusion of theatre itself, not least through the ingenuity with which Corneille manages to range through time and place in ‘present action’ while remaining faithful to the ‘one action, one place, one day’ strictures of French neoclassical drama. *Meanwhile over the channel in England, the post-Shakespearean Jacobeans had no idea someone had suddenly imposed these rules.)

Set in the magician’s ‘cave’, the expanse of the basement theatre at Te Whaea allows set designer Margaret Janowska (final year Toi Whakaari / Massey University performance design student) to suspend a huge ornate gold picture frame in distant darkness, within which scenes involving the son become manifest.

The space bridging that and the bleacher-seated audience is defined by white pillars and a floor painted in black and white chessboard squares which, disturbingly, diverge instead of converging, thus subverting the standard illusion of perspective. Even more unsettling is the sense of something different but hard to pin down after the interval … Has the ground moved or is it us?

Adam Walker’s lighting design serves the non-naturalistic conventions well and Hermione Flynn’s costumes are excellent. Adding to the atmosphere is the evocative musicianship of Stewart and Alyssa Pedley.

Casting is crucial and Donald has done well, drawing from Toi Whakaari (2nd year), recent university theatre graduates and experienced professionals. Nick Zwart’s hooded Alcandre and Stuart Henderson’s deaf-mute (or is he?) Amanuensis play malevolently with David McKenzie’s dry yet tormented Pridamant.

Adding mystery to the magic, Pridament’s son and those he engages with as the scenarios unfold play out what seems to be one progressive drama except – apart from Gene Alexander’s farcical Captain Matamore – their names keep changing (a Kushner embellishment, I think).

Thus the son (Edward Watson), who appears to have found work as a manservant, is Calisto / Clindor / Theogones as the love story between him and Melibea / Isabella/ Hippolyta (Sophie Head) plays out. And her maid is Elicia / Lyse / Clarina (Romy Hooper) while the lead lover’s rival is Pleribo / Adraste / Prince Florilame (Tim Carlsen).

Of course it is through Alcandre’s magic that the Amanuensis is able to become Melibea / Isabella/ Hippolyta’s father, Geronte, who is determined to prevent his daughter from marrying out of her class.

With wit and great fidelity to the style the clashes of class, emotions, loyalties, conscience and – finally – swords bring the story to its inexorably tragic conclusion. Except … I won’t give the show away here. Suffice to ask: by what means, well known to us all, may a person live many lives, even unto death, yet live to tell the tales?

What’s missing for me is a sense of true passion, especially from the male lovers, If Calisto / Clindor / Theogones comes over as a cynical go-getter, it diminishes the credibility of two women being hopelessly attracted to him. Better, I think, that he too is a victim of his testosterone; that he too truly believes he loves each woman he seduces.

Some scenes flatten out in pace and tempo suggesting to me that in performance the cast is too conscious of the stylistic conventions. This can be remedied by giving more focus to the emotions, foibles and vulnerabilities that, sincerely felt and fully relished, go to the heart of the commedia conventions the French were beginning to explore in their own way (with Molière soon to become its most enduring exponent).

But Adam Donald has set himself a worthy challenge which he and his team are rising to with impressive commitment. Well worth catching.


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