Ghost Light Theatre, 146 Bridge Street, Nelson

05/03/2019 - 06/03/2019

BATS Theatre, The Random Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

17/03/2019 - 20/03/2019

NZ Fringe Festival 2019

Production Details

How an humble poet defeats The Man who Organises all Anarchy.
“A masterclass in theatrical excellence” – Echoes from the Wings

Poet Gabriel Syme has been recruited into the Philosopher Police to infiltrate the Supreme Anarchist Council, where he gradually reveals their shocking truth. In this comedy, Pete Coates plays twenty characters (and an elephant) as they chase across Europe to defeat the dreaded Sunday – the Man who Organises all Anarchy.

Nelson Fringe Winner: Best Show, Best Solo Performer, Best Director

The Man Who Was Thursday was first published in 1908 and is sometimes referred to as a metaphysical thriller. The book has several layers including religious allegory and in adapting it as a play, I have had to strip a lot away, but I hope I have left enough questions about the relationship of Art to chaos and order. The story also raises questions about truth and how we spot it – and hide it – questions that fascinated an early 20th century audience. But may seem irrelevant in the modern political climate.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874 – 1936) was a prolific English critic and author of verse, essays, novels, and short stories. He was one of the great Edwardian men of letters alongside George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, and H.G. Wells. Chesterton is probably best known for his series of novels featuring the priest-detective Father Brown who went on to appear in some 50 stories. Between 1900 and 1936 he published one hundred books.

GHOST LIGHT THEATRE at 146 Bridge St Studios, Nelson
Tuesday 5 & Wednesday 6 March 2019

BATS Theatre, The Random Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
17-20 March 2019

CAST (in order of appearance)
Gabriel Syme, a Poet – Peter Coates
Lucian Gregory, a Poet and Anarchist – Caster Poete
A Policeman – Peet Escarot
The Chief Detective – Cat Steepore
The Secretary of the Anarchist Council – Opttee Acres
Gogol, An Anarchist – Poet Creates
Sunday – Cat Steepore
The Marquis de St Eustache – Peet Escarot
Professor De Worms – E.R. Peecastort
Dr Bull – Speac Teoe
Wilks, An Actor - E.R. Peecastort
Inspector Ratcliffe - Peet Escarot
Other parts: Comrade Buttons, Comrade Witherspoon, A Waiter, 2nd Policeman, A French Colonel, A Taxi Driver, A Footman, An Elephant – Played by members of the company

Director Giles Burton
Adapted by Rob Suteling
Sound design Gilbert Soun
Lighting by Burt Nigoles
Costume – Pauline Farley

Thanks to Roger Sanders, Frog Twissel, JR Richardson, The Nelson Fringe Festival Team, Amanda Raine, Founders Heritage Park

Peter Coates
Pete trained at UNITEC School of Performing & Screen Arts and has worked as an actor throughout NZ. He was a founding member and director of Auckland’s Outfit Theatre Company. Notable credits include Top of the Lake and Hillary (TV), A Frigate Bird Sings (Auckland Theatre Company) and Boys’ Life (Outfit Theatre Company). He is a member of Actors Equity NZ. You can currently find Pete crafting award-winning cocktails at Cod & Lobster in Nelson.

Giles Burton
Trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Founded Hong Kong Microfest, Nelson Shakespeare, co-founded Prague Fringe Festival.
Directing credits include:
(UK) The Hour of the Lynx (Enquist), Everyman (Anon), (Hong Kong) Dr Faustus (Marlowe), The Sneeze (Chekhov), Macbeth, The Hum (Tsonos).
(NZ) The Ugly One (von Mayenburg – Circa, Wellington) Calendar Girls (Firth – Queenstown), A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night (Nelson Shakespeare) and Maungatapu (Eade – Nelson Arts Festival).  

Theatre , Solo ,

1 hr

An inspired rebuttal of anarchism that also satirises law an order

Review by John Smythe 18th Mar 2019

Before the absurdist humour of Monty Python and The Goons there was that of Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874 – 1936), not that that such humour was all he generated. Best known for the Father Brown mysteries, he was a novelist, short story writer, essayist, poet, playwright, literary and social critic, historian, theologian, debater and (according to Wiki) an apologist.

He referred to George Bernard Shaw as his “friendly enemy” and once remarked to him, “To look at you, anyone would think a famine had struck England.” Shaw retorted, “To look at you, anyone would think you have caused it.” Chesterton’s physically generous proportions are relevant to the work we are here to discuss.

The length of the novel, The Man Who Was Thursday (1908), is indicated by the fact that (nearly a century later) English actor Geoffrey Palmer recorded it in 13 half-hour episodes for BBC Radio. Yet here, at BATS Random, thanks to the judicious editing of one Rob Suteling, it plays out in 50 riveting minutes, directed by Giles Burton with a named cast of 12 playing 20 characters including an elephant.  

That only one actor – the inestimable Peter Coates – appears on stage to manifest all 20 may surprise those who have studied the programme beforehand, until they revisit it and decode the cast list. Similarly the credits naming Gilber Sount for sound design and Brite Nigols for lighting require further consideration. As in the play itself, no-one involved in this production is quite who they seem to be.  

I call The Man Who Was Thursday absurdist because it takes a logical premise to an absurd conclusion – or do I mean an absurd premise to a logical conclusion? It does seem logical that a special police force should be formed to monitor the activities of a clandestine anarchist cell, in this case The Council of Days, and that infiltration should occur incognito. Is it also reasonable that poets and philosophers are considered ideal candidates for recruitment to such a police force?

Of course it is oxymoronic that the anarchists should be organised in a series of cells throughout Europe but that is also realistic – as is the proposition that the seven mostly doddery old councillors are able to hide in plain sight by loudly expounding their dastardly plans in public, because no-one believes them. In short, the extraordinary tale is riddled with paradox.  

On stage a chair is the only furnishing, an epee the only prop. Young, lithe, slender and bearded, Peter Coates exemplifies the heroic Edwardian storyteller impeccably and transforms into the myriad characters – all men (except for the elephant) – with élan. No action is without purpose and his stillness is as eloquent as his leaps and turns.

Also kept to a minimum, and therefore very effective, are the sound and lighting effects. (Anyone who thinks they need to keep pacing the stage to hold an audience’s interest will find the opposite proven here.)

For Chesterton’s fans at the time, and for today’s audience members who know a bit about him, the mysterious man who is Sunday in the story can only be read as self-referential. Such is slender Coates’ skill as Thursday, I could swear I saw Sunday in gargantuan person – not to mention the elephant.

All-in-all the creative organisation of the source material into this presentation is an inspired rebuttal of anarchism that also satirises law an order. I guess that means an absurd premise is taken to a logical conclusion. 


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Concentration pays off

Review by Melanie Stewart 06th Mar 2019

This compelling piece of theatre is adapted from the novel of the same name, by GK Chesterton. It tells the story of a young poet, Gabriel Syme, whose chaotic family drives him to normality and leads to him to the decision to join the police force. From here his life is anything but normal. He is inducted into a special branch of the police and becomes an undercover police officer whose job it is to fight anarchy.  He then uses his wiles to infiltrate a secret organisation of anarchists dedicated to overthrowing the western world.

Peter Coates takes on the daunting role of playing all 20 characters, including an elephant, in this fast paced, gripping, humorous show. His transition from one character to the other in quick succession is close to flawless; each character has its own accent, traits and personalities, all of which shine through his remarkable ability to make each character distinct.

Performing with only a chair, a sword and a sword stand, Coates transports the audience through a multitude of settings from a train station to a park, a pub, an underground hideout, a hotel, copious street scenes and a darkened room. Well-timed sound and lighting effects are integral to the need to sell these settings to the audience and the technicians are spot on with their cues.

This is definitely a play where losing concentration would play havoc with your understanding of the plot.  The pace of the dialogue and the speed with which characters come and go leaves no opportunity for drifting off, especially given that, at times, Coates is playing a character who is also impersonating another character.

The next stop for this play is at BATS Theatre from 17-20 March, for the New Zealand Fringe Festival. It is well worth seeing but you will have to hurry as the tickets are selling out fast.


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