The Needies

Cross Street Studios, Auckland

15/03/2009 - 18/03/2009

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

21/04/2009 - 25/04/2009

Auckland Fringe 2009

Production Details


The Needies charts the downfall of three flatmates and their insatiable appetites for everything consumerist.  This will be the season premiere which will be débuting as part of the Auckland Fringe.  

This is the first work that Thomas Sainsbury has written on his adjourn over to London.  Sainsbury has made a name for himself in the Auckland theatre world as a talented and prolific new playwright. 

One of the focuses of The Needies is the subject of consumerism, on how mid to late 20 year olds are used to living their life’s outside their means, amounting debts and at times choosing to ignore it.

The play makes use of Thomas Sainsbury’s fantastically dark and comedic tone, with strong imaginative content to instigate the audience to think how this subject matter would affect their daily routines.

The cast includes 3 talented young actors, Claire van Beek / Isla Adamson (return season), Roberto Nascimento and Blake Fraser.

Roberto Nascimento is an actor and producer, with previous experience in fringe theatre in Brazil, where he was born and raised; Roberto has spent the last 5 years mastering his English and getting familiar with the Auckland scene.

Claire van Beek is a Toi Whakaari graduate, who’s well known in the Auckland scene; Claire is also a writer and producer, on her first collaboration with Thomas Sainsbury.
(Return season)
Isla Adamson, a recent UNITEC acting graduate has featured in Auckland Theatre Company’s Shrew’d, The Silo Theatre’s Threepenny Opera, and recently performed and devised the popular Auckland Fringe show Ruby Tuesday.

Blake Fraser is an actor, producer and film maker, who has been a finalist in a recent short films competition; this is Blake’s first journey into Sainsbury’s world.

Ashley Hawkes directs, showing versatility and expanding his horizons (he previous co-directed a show at UNITEC); Ashley brings a world of experience and is excited to work with Thomas’ play.

(Return season)
Abigail Greenwood – fresh from her directorial debut with Morgana O’Reilly’s The Height of the Eiffel Tower – directs the cast of The Needies.

The Needies
runs for 50 minutes
and will be presented at
Cross Street Studios,
on March 15, 16, 17 and 18,
from 8pm.
(Return season)
The Basement, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland CBD
Tuesday 21st April – Saturday 25th April 8:00pm
Tickets: $20 Adults / $15 Concession / $10 Unitec students Tuesday 21st & Wednesday 22nd April
Tickets available through ITICKET or phone (09) 361 1000


Claire van Beek / Isla Adamson:  Britney Mann
Blake Fraser: Rupert Long
Roberto Nascimento:  Malcolm Squash

Graphic Design by  Blake Fraser
Music by  Dale Hitchcock


50 min, no interval

You may find it discomforting, disgusting, sick-making as well as funny and thought-provoking

Review by Sian Robertson 22nd Apr 2009

I reviewed the premiere of The Needies last month in the Auckland Fringe Festival (click here to read it), so I won’t go into the story at length. This new season has one cast change – the female lead is played by Isla Adamson – and a new director, Abigail Greenwood. It has moved from Cross Street Studios to The Basement (which by the way, has much more comfortable chairs).

The play has come together somewhat after a shaky start. They’ve obviously had a bit more time to rehearse and performances are more consistent and believable. A few minor tweaks of the script have ironed out a couple of odd bits. The opening scene, before the house lights go out, of the three flatmates on the couch discussing the comparative edibility of Mickey Mouse vs. Minnie Mouse is a nice touch – as we get to see them just hanging out together at home before the shit starts hitting the fan.

I have to say I think Isla Adamson really carries the show. She’s a talented actor and very funny, and really gets into the guts of her character.

Roberto Nascimento over-acts a bit, but he gets a fair share of the laughs as the compulsive spender Malcolm Squash, who is earnestly over the top and oh-so-vain. Blake Fraser was the most solid actor in the Fringe season, and he’s still good, although his character Rupert seems to have developed into more of a caricature – stupider and grosser and less endearing – and I can’t decide if this is a good thing or not.

The set is even more simple than last time. Almost everything is made out of brown wrapping paper and brown cardboard, even the babies. Is this a deliberate boycott of consumerism or just a very lean budget, I wonder?

A silent character, ‘Debt’, skulks around the edges of the action, or just sits and watches, unmoved. I didn’t actually realise who he was supposed to be until quite near the end when he’s kneeling behind the couch, looming over Britney and Malcolm’s shoulders. The small label in his hat should perhaps have been across his back or forehead to make it more obvious – at first I couldn’t figure out if he was just a shy fourth flatmate or even a stage-hand waiting around on the stage for the next scene change, fidgeting with the props. Mr ‘Debt’ isn’t listed in the programme. Hmmm…

Admission on opening night was free/donation, but it says in the gig guides that it’s $20/$15 so I’m not sure which applies to the remaining nights (feel free to add a comment after this review if you are in the know).

The Needies is not for everyone. It’s likely to make you feel uncomfortable, possibly disgusted, even ill, and to make you laugh. It might also make you think twice about that next ‘harmless treat’ you indulge in.


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Unable to suspend disbelief

Review by Sian Robertson 16th Mar 2009

Three flatmates each with an insatiable addiction: Malcolm (Roberto Nascimento) is an infomercial-watching shopaholic with more maxed credit cards than sense, Britney (Claire van Beek)’s sole ambition is to pop out babies at a rate of knots (if she can get two on the go at once, so much the better) and Rupert (Blake Fraser) balks at his doctor’s suggestion that he try and spend at least two hours a day not eating.

The Needies rubs your nose in the fact that the dominant way of life is one of compulsive consumerism, non-existent attention spans, and economics based around debt management, all crammed under the much-abused banner of ‘freedom of choice’. Most westerner’s recoil from the idea of living sustainably, equating it with becoming an ascetic monk, as if that and unchecked indulgence are the only two options.

The Needies highlights how grotesque and utterly absurd is the lifestyle of economic gluttony that hundreds of millions of people deem their purpose in life and their natural right. Even though we are slowly starting to admit that globally, we’re living beyond our means, we go to such lengths to avoid making the inevitable changes, don’t we?

The three main characters in this play have inadvertently planned their own obsolescence. It’s obvious their lifestyles are insupportable – something’s got to give. But in the meantime, they’ll try anything to keep their habits afloat!  

On opening night Cross Street Studios is filled to capacity and then some (extra seating had to be squeezed in for late arrivals). The venue can’t be accused of rampant consumerism, but it is my hope that one day they’ll invest in some humble cushions for the hard chairs.

The first Thomas Sainsbury play I’ve seen that wasn’t directed by him, I wonder whether it lost something in the translation. His dialogue tends to be unadorned, and though naturalistic and logical within the absurdist Sainsbury universe, his characters are exaggerated to comedic ends, their flaws highlighted with a fluorescent marker. The actors have their work cut out for them. As usual there are no heroes.

Some of the lines are too rushed to make out, and at other times the acting comes across as perfunctory. The result is that it feels half-baked, which could be a problem with the directing (Ashley Hawkes), or the script editing, or under-rehearsing, or a combination.

What snagged my attention the most was the inconsistent delivery, and this applies to all three actors to varying degrees. They don’t seem to have a solid feel for the characters they are portraying. There are scenarios that are too hastily brushed over when they could have been brewed a bit longer to release the humour. It’s a work in progress and perhaps by the last night it’ll have come to life more. There’s plenty here to work with in terms of original characters and a sound and challenging premise.

The most solid performer is Blake Fraser, whose Rupert is the only character I sympathised with, and whose minor characters are all satisfactorily formed.

What I usually find appealing about Sainsbury’s plays is that you either like his characters or love to be repulsed by them (more often the latter), but here, with the exception of Rupert, I wasn’t able to suspend disbelief.

For example, Malcolm is undeniably fiendish about spending and a total arsehole to the call centre operators when they tell him his credit has been denied, but his interaction with his two flatmates is unconvincing. Roberto Nascimento is very good at dying (both times!), though. Britney is sickeningly obsessed with cute things, and on the other hand she’s hard as nails about getting her own way, but I didn’t feel that Claire van Beek fully explored either of these two extremes.

With such distasteful subject matter there’s no middle ground – no room for holding back. It has to shock you into spasms of hilarity, otherwise it seems gratuitous.


Editor March 21st, 2009

This has opened up a new Forum topic: Fringe Festivals: a testing ground or showcase?

J2 March 20th, 2009

I can feel a debate coming on!! While a premiere of a homegrown work is a historical event and should be recorded, it should be noted the context of the event. The Auckland Fringe (to my knowledge; can't be *&^'d scrolling through 6 pages of shows to check by the way) hasn't had a show under $20 a ticket in its debut season. Good luck finding that during every other week in your calendar. Most shows were in their debut during the fringe, and that is what the fringe is and should be about; chucking it together and getting it up and running; it is a testing ground. Furthering the critique of a show during the fringe and comparing it to deadly theatre is like drinking a $10 bottle of wine and saying it'll destroy the New Zealand wine industry. (Because the show was only $10!!! thats right $10!!!) I'm sorry, but smell the coffee beans refresh the palate and be prepared for anything.

John Smythe March 20th, 2009

Excellent Ashley – everyone is vindicated. 

With such short seasons for Fringe shows it would be a shame if most people booked for later shows.  One of my criteria for ‘professional’ status is that the show is ready on opening night. If it needs to run in, then low-price previews are in order. But from the time full prices are charged, audiences should get what they have paid for.  

A world premiere of a homegrown work is always a special historical event and critics will always want to mark the occasion. It is therefore incumbent on companies to rise to that occasion.  

Ashley Hawkes March 20th, 2009

Wow such passion in these comments, good shit. Anthony to answer your question -No, you did not see the same play. The Needies was very much a work in progress on opening night. The marketing material would've led one to believe otherwise but due to a number of factors -it was quite simply a bad run. Of a good play.

To be honest, if I was sitting in Sian's Uncomfortable Chair, I could very well have written a worse review myself. And from my Directors Chair I seriously considered giving every member of the audience their money back.

I had failed to get the actors to a confident performance level  by opening night. We got into the swing of things on the 2nd night and were at-pace by final night. For the 85 people that sat through the first run, that's 85 hours our bums will never get back. For the person that emailed me after the second night to thank me for bringing him back to the theatre, the first night was probably the reason you left in the first place! 

This just goes to show how much a Fringe show can vary from night to night. Personally I try to book on the 3rd-6th night of a run if I'm seeing a play by an inexperienced company. Experience is pretty much the only thing that can up the levels of performance consistancy. One of the things that bugged me about the Fringe programme was that is was quite difficult to tell who was involved in each event ie writers, actors, directors? I certainly didn't recognise many of the production company names so choosing what I wanted to see was always going to be a gamble.

I'm interested in experimenting with having the audience pay at the end of the show so as they can (anonymously) pay whatever suits their means and what they feel the play deserves. Has anyone tried this before?? 

J: email me your address and I will drop your $10 round. Honestly. I actually want to.

Ashley Hawkes

John Smythe March 19th, 2009

Given Sian Robertson’s comprehensive review (above), and her thorough knowledge and great appreciation of Sainsbury’s previous work, it would be a shame if the makers of this production didn’t ask themselves if they fell short of realising The Needies’ potential. Complacency would be enormously counter-productive.

Was it booked out before it opened or did word-of-mouth see it ‘sold out’? Does the co-op feel things improved – over all and in detail – during the short season? And given there were only four performances, is a return season in the offing? (How can anyone cover their costs let alone get paid from a 4-night season? And wouldn’t leaving it at that make Sainsbury’s royalties a derisory return on his creative investment?)

J March 19th, 2009

Now, you see Stephen, this is exactly what I didn't want to happen.
I don't want to get into an argument over petty personal assumptions.

I have my reasons for disliking the show, which I have clearly stated and you have your reasons for liking it.
I am only interested in understanding the 'WHY'. WHY did I not enjoy it? WHY did you love it?

I promise you, my comments are not personal or bitter and I have never had anything but praise for 'Tom's' plays in the past.
Thomas Sainsbury is one of (if not the) most talented and exciting young playwrights New Zealand has ever seen. These are not my 'personal' feelings, but rather my professional and academic conclusion.
Personal has nothing to do with it.
Hence the pseudonym. With this nom-de-web I am able to say what I feel is the honest truth, without fear of personal attack... or so I thought.

Theatre in this country has reached a place where incredibly exciting things are just beginning to bubble to the surface. Sainsbury is a perfect example. But now is the time when we must begin to be honest with ourselves. To remove all emotional attachments and fear of offending our peers with honest criticism and tell the truth. This is how Theatre becomes strong, by acknowledging its flaws and working to improve them. It must listen to the dissenters (however few or many) and be prepared to accept that they may have a point.

It is my belief that the size of the audience does not necessarily dictate the quality of a show. Only the effectiveness of the advertising.
I have been involved in shows which grossed millions of dollars and played to literally tens of thousands of people at sold-out theatres - and were they a success? It all depends on your definition. Financially, they were a smash. Everyone giggled along and went home at the end of the night a little older, a little fatter and a little more 'dumbed-down'. But they didn't change anyone's life. They didn't reach out and grab anyone. They didn't even try.

As I say, it comes down to one's own definition of 'Success'. That's why I quoted Peter Brook - in the hope that I could find a common language with which to explain my reading of the play. If you have read "The Empty Space" I would love to hear your take on where this performance of "The Needies" lies within Peter Brook's Theatre 'types' so I can better understand where you're coming from.

I'm sorry if I have 'personally' offended anyone.
I shall retreat back into the 'bubble' from whence I came.


Stephen Marsh March 19th, 2009

Well they say action speaks louder than words, and I'd say a sold out show who were turning people away at the door on closing night speaks more than your words hidden behind a pseudonym! An art gallery filled to the brim with theatre goers doesn't sound dead to me at all, it sounds very much alive. And alive it was. Such a fun show with some very talented people who brought to life an equally talented script.

How cowardly to hind behind a pseudonym and spout out quotes from Peter Brook! Are you the same person who feels the need to write something bad after everyone of Tom's shows? I'd hate to think that there was more than one of you out there. Sounds like you could've learnt a lot from the show. Your comments just sound personal and bitter. I don't know what bubble you live in but get over yourself. This show was great, just because you didn't enjoy why broadcast it- unless it is personal?

There wasn't even standing room at this show, what is all this talk of good and bad? It was a $10 fringe show which sold out and had the audience laughing hard in their seats. Maybe your idea of sloppy is someone else's idea of slick as it looked pretty damn slick to me. Don't spread your bitterness around unless you are prepared to put your name to it.

J March 18th, 2009

I'm very sorry if I've offended you Anthony - I have no reason to 'bring down this production', other than the fact that it wasn't very good. I stand by what I said and reported. I guess that's the great thing about theatre - or the arts in general; it's all subjective. What's good to you may be mind-blowingly, insanely, woefully bad to me.

I'm not interested in becoming involved in an argument over subjective notions of taste and preference, however I would love to know by which criteria you would determine the quality of a production. Good or Bad.
I'm not being sarcastic or snotty - I'm truly interested - personally, academically and professionally.

It's very difficult to say, in Black and White terms, whether a play was 'good' or 'bad'.
The well regarded book on theatre 'The Empty Space' by Peter Brook, identifies four main 'types' of theatre:

1.  The Deadly Theatre
2.  The Holy Theatre
3.  The Rough Theatre
4.  The Immediate Theatre

By both Brook's definition and my own reading of the play, I would deem the production of The Needies that I saw as fitting the definition of 'Deadly Theatre'. Basically - Theatre for theatre's sake.  
The show as I saw it lacked rigour. It was sloppy.

When people are paying money to watch a performance, sloppy isn't good enough.

anthony ryder March 18th, 2009

J, did we see the same show? I saw it tonight with what must have been one hundred other people who had packed in to see this show, some even standing,  laughing there heads off. I can’t take you seriously when you hide behind a pseudonym (“J”!?). It was a hilarious show and all I heard was very positive as I walked out, so I am not sure what your “need” is to try and bring this production down? There was a really fun atmosphere. It was another great Thomas script and another great Thomas production. The characters were big, bold and brave, and this is one of the best of the fringe. Thanks guys! Haven’ t laughed so much in ages. Viva la difference, aye “J”?!

J March 17th, 2009

This play troubled me. It was under-rehearsed, over-acted and poorly realised.  The advertising was almost misleading as it led one to believe that they were going to an actual play - not a workshop performance of a high school drama production.
I know that this was part of the Fringe Festival - but this kind of theatre is deadly. As I was leaving the play I litterealy overheard other people say "well, thats the last time that I'm going to see a bloody play".

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