Globe Theatre, 104 London St, Dunedin

05/11/2013 - 14/12/2013

Production Details

The last Middlemarch Singles Ball really stirred up the district. Now, a year on, planning is underway for the next one. The changes that have happened have affected everyone – especially the passing of the former committee chairman, Jack. His Auckland-raised widow Penelope has stepped into the breach, running the farm and joining the committee, much to everyone’s surprise. 

Incidentally, there are no men in Middlemarch needing wives either, but there is a group of very unhappy women…

And so the next Middlemarch Singles Ball is underway…

The Globe Theatre, Dunedin 
5 – 14 December 2013
7.30pm except Sunday 2pm
(No show Monday)

$20 general; $15 concession and groups 5+; $10 members
Opening Night, Thursday 5 December: All tickets $10 
Book: 477 3274 (message) or

Greg:  Dale Neill
Phyllis:  Leanne Byas
Penelope:  Elsa May
Pete:  Campbell Thomson 

Lighting Design:  Brian Byas, Ellie Swann
Lighting Op:  Martin Swann, Jo Ross 
Stage Manager:  Lani Swann

FoH:  Lynne Keen, Rosemary Beresford 
Publicity:  Ellie Swann
Poster:  Ellie Swann

Theatre ,

Potential buried by reported action

Review by Patrick Davies 09th Dec 2013

It’s that time of the year again – in Middlemarch anyway – when the ‘Love Train’ arrives bringing singles who want to mingle with the locals and the yokels. 

The Middlemarch Singles Ball II is “…a sequel, the play stands alone and it’s not necessary to have seen the first one to enjoy the second”. The committee is back navigating its way through the fallout from last year’s events; through “a passing” [“a death” as Penelope keeps correcting]; and this year’s major stumbling block: the women. 

Ella West’s structure is very much the same as her previous Middlemarch Singles Ball play which gives it the feel of a sitcom, where each week lets go of last week’s adventures and start afresh with the same set up. However there is so much reference to the past play that sometimes the dialogue feels over explanatory; every recollection and remembrance sounds like it comes with footnotes.

The scenes flit between outdoor Middlemarch locales slotted in between repeated locations of Penelope’s home and the Committee room, both simply set on either side of the stage, with the blocking making good use of the areas. And special mention has to be made of the lighting outside the pub: effective and graceful. 

With little onstage action (the dialogue is primarily reporting offstage action) there is a lot of focus on characterisation and the pace comedy requires. Ellie Swann’s direction is solid and the actors are working hard throughout the piece, however they all find it hard to keep pushing this production along.

The performance I see is a matinee during Graduation – if you’re from Otago you’ll know nothing clears the theatres more than Graduation or the All Blacks – and it takes three or four scenes for the cast to warm up to a very small audience (though not vice versa), so perhaps the expected laughs aren’t there as usual.

Once they get going they give it their all, but I think they are stymied by a need for more care with the builds, both comic and dramatic, within the scenes, and less dialogue. This is an overwritten play which forces the actors to speak so much of what they are doing and thinking rather than leaving it to suggestion and characterisation. This gets in the way of the momentum of the story and would frustrate more experienced hands.

Constant referencing to last year’s – and the similarity with this year’s – ball chafes after a while. Last year the Discovery Channel came to film, this year it’s the BBC; last year men were the problem, this year it’s the women. Then there’s the inclusion of Bondi surfers and American fireman. Because this is all only ever reported it lacks solidity in our imagination.

When these sort of things occurred last year it seems they had no effect on the same people who have returned this year: like a sitcom they start afresh having remained unaffected.  Like the first Middlemarch Singles Ball (and Fiona Farrell’s play Ground) – there’s only so much reported action you can listen to before all you’re doing is watching a race commentary. And it is extremely hard on the actors to maintain a level of energy when it all happens pretty much offstage.

After all this, I have to say there’s a spritely, quick-witted script in there somewhere, but it’s buried under too much explanation.


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