The Mall

Cross Street Studios, Auckland

24/08/2007 - 26/08/2007

BATS Theatre, Wellington

22/07/2008 - 26/07/2008

Production Details

written and directed by Thomas Sainsbury

Fingerprints and Teeth productions

As the inhabitants of the local mall go about their days, a foodcourt attendant plans their destruction.

Cross Street Studios, 27 Cross Street
(off Upper Queen St/Behind K’road)
$10 (door sales only) 

BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce

Performed by:
AUCKLAND August 2007:  Todd Emerson, Stephanie Lee, Steven. A. Davis, Marion Shortt, Daniel Mainwaring, Terry Hoong   
WELLINGTON jULY 2008: Todd Emerson, Samuel Bowden Partridge, Lara Fischel-Chisholm, Morgana O'Reilly, Benedict Wall, Kate Simmonds

Theatre ,

1hr 15mins, no interval

Original voice

Review by Lynn Freeman 01st Aug 2008

Thomas Sainsbury is one of the busiest young playwrights in the business – not only writing for the stage but also now directing his own work.

His sense of humour is on the dark side, his dialogue not for those sensitive to swearing and his characters are people under intense stress.

I’m guessing Luv is an earlier work. It’s not as tight as The Mall, though both are too long, even with Sainsbury as the director keeping the cast moving.

The Mall, length aside, is a well imagined and crafted script which is enhanced by the cast, who never slip out of character even when they’re scooping ice creams or writing in the background.
Todd Emerson, Samuel Bowen Partridge, Lara Fischel-Chisholm, Morgana O’Reilley, Benedict Wall and Kate Simmonds epitomise ensemble acting, and the way they flow in and out of very different characters is remarkable.

We meet the disaffected, the lost and the supercilious, and you just know it’s all going to end badly when a bullied cinema employee meets a clearly deranged woman in the food court ….

Luv is, as mentioned, more problematic. Like Mall, there are interlocking stories, this time of a beautiful woman disfigured by a shonky plastic surgeon, a brattish gay exploiting his father’s TV job to bully producers into making him the star of his own reality show, a sluttish woman obsessed by a sports star and a love-forsaken psycho in search of a relationship.

Communication via texting, facebook and email leads to miscommunication, lovers are fair-weather, and the cult of celebrity is exposed. But these characters and their situations just don’t seem real and it’s hard to care for any of them, except perhaps, at the last, the psycho.

While these two plays are too long, Sainsbury has a great ear for dialogue and his characters, love ’em or loathe ’em, are intriguing. Sainsbury’s is an original voice, tapping into the youth scene with his scenarios. But there’s plenty for an older audience to enjoy at the same time.


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Dark comedies of our time

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 24th Jul 2008

The Mall and Luv (not to be confused with Murray Schisgal’s 1960s play with the same title) are two new plays that are dark, dark comedies about modern life. The Mall attacks the capitalistic system that is indifferent to the plight of its workers and Luv reveals the shallowness of modern relationships between people trapped in a world of surfaces.

The Mall looks at the lives of the workers in the ubiquitous shopping factories that we take for granted in our towns and cities and compares the workers to battery hens. The shop assistants, the managers and the supervisors display patterns of obsessive and violent behaviour towards each other because of boredom and the pointlessness of the work, the lack of freedom and the daily grind.

Luv looks at the lives of shallow and largely unpleasant young people and their search for love, fame and beauty in all the wrong ways and they learn that continual cosmetic surgery doesn’t create beauty, a gay reality TV show won’t bring either love or fame, and an obsessive desire only leads to death.

Both plays are structured cinematically: short scenes instantly cutting back and forth amongst three or four plots that are loosely linked, and with each actor playing a number of roles. Humorous monologues and duologues predominate though there are scenes when more than two characters appear in a scene together.

Both plays use minimum scenery, props, and sound effects which are either recorded or provided by the actors on stage (most effective in final apocalyptic scene of The Mall). Thomas Sainsbury keeps the action flowing smoothly and swiftly through both plays.

His actors are, without exception, absolutely in tune with their stereotypical characters and they are able to switch roles and accents (the unnamed mall has a multi-racial workforce) with ease and they balance the comedy with the darkness convincingly and deftly.

Samuel Bowen Partridge, for example, as Dean, the bored out-of-his-mind ice cream and pop corn attendant at the Mall’s cinema, makes the readings from his diary that he keeps funny, touching and viciously angry, while Hannah Marshall in Luv is able to make the desire for yet more cosmetic surgery amusing in an Absolutely Fabulous sort of way and the outcome of the surgery poignant.

The plays, despite both being a mite too long, reveal the sharp, distinctive voice of a playwright with something to say and saying it with a theatrical flair that is refreshing and stimulating.


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Extremely compelling black comedy

Review by John Smythe 23rd Jul 2008

At last Wellington gets a taste of the prolific* Thomas Sainsbury with a brief BATS season of The Mall (6.30pm, 75 minutes) and LUV (8.30pm, 90 minutes). 

The Mall premiered in Auckland last year with a different cast (see Nik Smythe’s review) apart from Todd Emerson, who plays different roles this time round. Six actors play multiple roles to populate a stage arrayed with graffiti-covered tables, conjuring up the lives and preoccupations of a range of shopping mall employees and frequenters.

Sound bites of breaking news clips surfed across the dial, and manifested live by the skilled ensemble, bookend and punctuate the 11 days the play covers, characterising a wider world awash in often violent events over which we have no control, to which we too easily become acclimatised and inured.

Dean’s Diary, articulated by Samuel Bowden Partridge, tracks the would-be film-maker’s progress through tedious days in a dead-end job in the cinema complex alleviated by attempts to find the right medication and sneaking into the tail end of movies he is certain he could make better "sitting on the crapper". His general fantasies of death and destruction – which make him feel strangely alive – are accompanied by a more specific desire to kill his hated supervisor (Emerson) and/or their bigger boss, Adam (Benedict Wall) …

Dean later finds himself courted by Food Court worker Bing (Morgana O’Rielly), who shares his love of violent movies and has a vengeful agenda justified by believing no-one out there on a Mall is ‘innocent’. While she wilfully (ab)uses sex as a weapon to get what she wants, she is focused on much more lethal actions …

In the appliance store immigrant Kumwah (Emerson), their top salesman, remains unable to earn enough to bring his wife and family over from India, despite polite requests to his boss (Wall). Meanwhile Kumwah’s colleague (Kate Simmonds) and others are stealing stuff to make ends meet. Could this be the answer to his problem …?

Out on the concourse two high society Charity Ladies (Simmonds and Lara Fischel-Chisholm) promote the sponsoring of Third World children while engaging in vacuous chit-chat and gossip (shades of Ab Fab in their characterisations here). In total contrast, Simmonds, Fischel-Chisholm and Partridge also trawl the Mall as a PI girl-gang looking for … loot, love, life?

There’s also a venue that carries a sub-plot about a game-addicted flatmate (Emerson) who fails to pay his share of the rent and electricity despite pressure from his frustrated mate (Wall) …

The transitions are made with extraordinary fluency as these and other scenarios play out, with each actor playing extras when they’re not foregrounding a plot line, adding texture through sound and action to maintain the feel of the busy Mall …

I cannot further discuss the play, or my concerns about it, without revealing that it all builds up to a Mall massacre, master-minded by Bing and facilitated by Dean. The gunshots are effectively created by blocks of wood slammed onto a table, which combine with the individual reactions to create high drama. But the lack of a fast and wide-spreading panic, let alone any security or police response, sends me into objective analysis mode, wondering if we keep back-tracking to where people were when the carnage began, or is it a Mega Mall that makes it credible people could carry on oblivious until it all comes close to them? Then comes the question of consequences, with neither perpetrator being in any danger of being caught and not even taking evasive action on that score. This makes me wonder if what we are witnessing is really happening or just playing out in Dean’s imagination while he sits on the crapper.

My feeling is that if these questions were better resolved to produce an audience response more stimulating than puzzlement – an intuitive feeling of not quite getting or believing it – the overall effect would be much better. (For example, if Bing is in Dean’s imagination, give us the moment to get it, after we’ve been sucked into believing it’s real.) Nevertheless a key point is well made when the event becomes just another item in the endless rollout of media news.

That said, The Mall is a stunning achievement in the way it reflects our world, wound on just a notch or three from were we are now … or is that future here already? And there is something refreshing in the way it manifests multicultural characters without fear or favour. That each actor believes totally in each character and each moment that play goes a long way towards making this an extremely compelling black comedy.
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*To get some insight to his recent output, type Thomas Sainsbury into the ‘Search Reviews’ field (top left) and click ‘go’.

And click here to go to The Sainsbury Case forum.


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The soul consuming world of commercial retail

Review by Nik Smythe 26th Aug 2007

Six very capable young actors and a number of chairs and long tables upholstered with newspaper are all the materials required to make up this engaging and entertaining black comedy.

Marion Shortt, Stephanie Lee, Daniel Mainwaring and Steven A. Davis each play multiple roles, whilst Todd Emerson carries the story for the duration as main character Dean.  He’s the character we get to know through his narrated diary entries – a clinically depressed generation Y lad who’s worked in the mall’s cinema complex for eight years. With his lousy pay rate and his inner-city cost of living plus his condescending superior at work, Dean is the consummate victim of his job, but too apathetic to look for anything better.

Terry Hoong plays Ying, a Chinese immigrant working in the foodcourt who mostly hides in the background for two thirds of the 75 minute show, with only a couple of letters home to hint at the shocking agenda she has planned when she finally comes to execute it.  Ying’s awkward Asian sweetness combined with her odd taste for bloodthirsty films make for a creepy sort of psychotic villain that younger people could have nightmares about.

Versatile Steven A. Davis, the buff one who looks like Jack Johnson, plays a number roles including a young Indian girl, an odd young man who spends his life in the mall’s model shop, and two middle-manager characters, each of whom is a complete prick.  The clear suggestion is that anyone with the inclination to rise up in the ranks of retail corporations has to be an arsehole.  It works for me, at least as a gross generalisation.

Amongst their own itinerary of diverse roles, the equally if not more versatile Marion Shortt and Stephanie Lee are a fine team as two middle class ladies from Remuera, running a starving children fund booth, and Tyasha and Felicia, troublemaking pubescent streetkid girls in hoodies.  I shan’t bother with the obvious comparisons to successful female comedy duos, but just suggest that someone give them a show.  I’ll watch it.  NZ’s answer to Absolutely Fabulous perhaps – ‘Predominantly Adequate?’ …but I digress.

As hardworking, badly exploited Indian immigrant Kunwar, challenged storeman Willy and frustrated shirt salesman Adam, Daniel Mainwaring is indeed no slouch in the versatility department.  Suffice to say, strong cast, no weak links.

Director / producer / playwright Thomas Sainsbury’s well written script is brought to fine life by the confident cast, owning their lines so well as to give the impression of being a slickly executed devised work.  That impression may be partly also due to the poor-theatre production values – no sound or theatrical lighting, just the actors and the perfunctory furniture.  Not even a programme in fact.  I could see how lights in particular could enhance the play’s numerous powerful moments, but with the strength of the performers and their confidence in the script, it holds up just fine.  Not to mention the added authenticity of the harsh flouro-lit environment.

As a commentary on the current state of current media pervasion and the soul consuming world that is commercial retail, The Mall is fairly on the money, bleak and uncompromising as it essentially is.


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