The Orderly

Auckland Museum, Auckland

06/09/2006 - 27/09/2006

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, The Edge, Auckland

12/05/2008 - 18/05/2008

BATS Theatre, Wellington

02/03/2007 - 10/03/2007

NZ Fringe Festival 2007

Production Details

Written & performed by Mike Downey
Produced & directed by Anders Falstie-Jensen


After a critical and box office success with A Night of French Mayhem at The Herald Theatre The Rebel Alliance is delighted to announce the return of its solo show The Orderly at Auckland Museum as part of the current Viking Exhibition. On every Wednesday in September museum patrons will have the opportunity to see first the exhibition and then the show.

The Auckland Museum season will give audiences a chance to see The Orderly once more before it heads to Wellington. Surrounded by rare Viking artefacts brought around the world from Scandinavia there could hardly be a better way of setting the atmosphere for September season of The Orderly.

For the director of The Orderly, Anders Falstie-Jensen, it is very special to have the show as part of the Viking Exhibition. Anders has lived in New Zealand for five years but is born in Denmark and the exhibition gives a unique insight into the Scandinavian culture he is part of.

Earlier this year The Rebel Alliance made their debut at The Aotea Centre’s Herald Theatre with The Orderly. It was a short season of only 5 shows; written and performed by an unknown actor; directed by an unknown director and produced by a new company. All odds were against The Rebel Alliance and it could easily have become yet another show to come and go. But a front page on Canvas magazine and a grand battle on Aotea Sq between Viking and Roman re-enactors changed all that, announcing the arrival of The Rebel Alliance in a way that was impossible to ignore. The Orderly paved the way for The Rebel Alliance’s second production A Night of French Mayhem, which was a critical and box office success.

The Orderly is based on the life of the now deceased Peter Russell, who playwright and solo performer, Mike Downey, met when he worked as an orderly at North Shore Hospital. Peter, a small and frail man, was an orderly during the week and fought as a Viking in the weekends as a member of a historical re-enactment group. Peter and Mike met in one of life’s random encounters and shows that no matter how insignificant your job may seem there is no way of knowing whether you make an impression on someone to the extent that a play will be written about you. Look behind you, an upcoming playwright might be looking at you, as you read these words, seeing the basis of his future play take shape.

Mike Downey will face a daunting challenge as he takes on all the parts of the play, ranging from the gorgeous nurse Bridget to a semi nude Viking berserker in The Orderly’s mix of the world of the hospital with that of an ancient battlefield, immortalised in the epic poem The Battle of Maldon. In a blend of laughter and sadness The Orderly takes the audience on a journey across bloody battlefields and empty hospital wards that is far from Shortland Street‘s world of spunky doctors and illicit affairs.

The Play

“Mind must be the firmer, heart the more fierce, courage the greater, as our strength diminishes” – These words, spoken 1000 years ago by a dying Saxon warrior still carry meaning for the orderly, Peter – an eccentric little man who is harassed in his minimum wage job and seeks solace in his historic recreation society and the heroic world of the Anglo-Saxon poem The Battle of Maldon. Set on what may be his last day at the hospital, The Orderly weaves together the stories of Peter’s mundane world with that of a heroic last stand at The Battle of Maldon, a ferocious battle between Saxon defenders and Viking invaders.

The Orderly blends laughter with sadness in an underdog story of one of life’s foot soldiers, whose days in this world are coming to an end.

NZ Fringe Festival 2007

March 2 -10 @ 8pm (no show Mon and Tue)
Full $18 Concession $12 Addict $10
BATS (04) 802 4175 or

Original set design: Rachael Walker
Original lighting design: Bonnie Burrill
BATS lighting design: Rob McDonald
Soundscape by: Jared Neems 

Theatre , Solo ,

55 mins

Consummate skill in finely balanced production

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 22nd May 2008

Michael Downey’s one-man play is an illuminating study in contrast, in which the prosaic reality of a modern hospital is juxtaposed with the glorious heroism of Saxon warriors defending their homeland against marauding Vikings.

The two worlds are brought together by a middle-aged hospital orderly who lures us into the bizarre sub-culture of medieval battle re-enactments while delivering a droll commentary on the quotidian details of his work-day routines. [More]


Make a comment

Comedy lacks emotional punch

Review by Eleanor Bishop 10th Mar 2007

The Orderly is a one man show about a real life orderly in Auckland hospital whose secret weekend delight is participating in historical re-enactments of famous battles. Peter (Michael Downey) chats to the audience as he makes the bed for a new patient. Downey plays the other characters in the story too, the friendly nurse Donna, another orderly Troy (who is after his job), and the security guard who is sent to look for Peter after he’s been more than three hours supposedly changing a bed, but actually telling us all about the famous battles he participates in.

The play moves between the reality of the hospital room, and the fields of a Saxon battle, with Downey playing both squadron leaders, the change shown with lighting and sound effects.

It’s a sad tale of a man who lost his voice in a cock-up during a simple operation to remove a small lump on his neck; who is forced to speak in a raspy croak, and endure ridicule from other employees about his weekend hobbies. He can’t even play the ‘big’ characters in the battles now, due to lack of a strong voice. Despite all this, Peter has a wicked sense of humour and an appreciation of the things he has. He dreams of a life beyond the four walls of the hospital, a life of excitement and adventure, which he finds in the historical battles. Ultimately, it’s a life that’s left unfulfilled.

Plenty of comedy mileage is pulled from the ridiculous notion of a load of full grown 21st century adults pretending to be Saxon warriors at the Ngarawahia A&P show. Whilst the play is well written and the direction strong, it lacks an emotional punch, or a story arc to draw us in. The show is redeemed by the fact that Downey is a talented, versatile performer and his characterisations of Peter and the other characters in the hospital are well drawn, and extremely funny.


Make a comment

Heroic performance

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 05th Mar 2007

With the well-mounted production of the solo play The Orderly the Fringe Festival has been given another welcome injection of professionalism by Anders Falstie-Jansen’s sleek direction and by Michael Downey’s excellent performance of the play’s heroic anti-hero Peter Russell.

Russell is an orderly in an Auckland hospital during the week but during the weekends he is off enjoying the carnage and ‘the noble art of civilized massacre’ at places like the Ngaruawahia A&P Show where he reenacts ancient battles such as the Battle of Maldon when the Saxons fought the Vikings in 991.

Based on a real character, Peter Russell, who died in 2003, The Orderly pays tribute to his memory but it never really gets to grips with why he was so enamoured of the bloody past except as an escape from and a contrast with the pettiness of his skirmishes with his superiors and co-workers in the hospital. The ending too is enigmatic when it appears that his heroism is entirely in his imagination and he cannot act in the real world as quickly as he believes – and we believe – he would on an ancient battlefield.

However, it is Michael Downey’s performance that holds one’s attention as he presents us with the husky voiced (a botched operation) orderly coping with a superior doctor, a friendly nurse, and a rival for his job, as well as various bloodthirsty warriors slugging it out on distant battlefields in extracts from the ancient poem, The Battle of Maldon. Downey heroically saves the evening.
Go to Home page to see other recent Reviews, Comments, Forum postings and News.  


Make a comment

Winning characterisations and versatile switches

Review by John Smythe 03rd Mar 2007

As an exercise in making us realise there is more to most people than meets the eye, or ear, in their daily working lives, The Orderly succeeds. Conversely if you have ever wondered who gets involved in weekend re-enactments of ancient battles – Saxons v Vikings and the like, at an A&P show or similar – this play offers some insight.

Based on a real case study, it profiles Peter, a stooped hospital orderly with damaged vocal chords who tries to be a law unto himself at work, while telling us all about his hobby pastimes as part of Saxon re-enactment group: they ‘die’ to keep history alive.

I think the idea is to compare the heroic battles of old with the petty battles and status games that prevail in such an institution. Despite Peter’s charm, however, I have to say I’m on the side of his frustrated boss who, at the other end of the walkie talkie, is trying to locate his employee and ensure the essential jobs get done.

Strangely for a company that calls itself The Rebel Alliance, the dramaturgy is unadventurous. A great deal is told, albeit with much comic phrasing and juxtaposition; a bit is shown but we get precious little opportunity to share any experience to the point of empathy.

Personally I’m not attracted to the idea of romanticising gory battles of history based on ethnic hatred and greed for land and power, even as a way of venting one’s own pent up feelings through play, so my interest in that dimension remains objective and bemused. And an ultra-slow-mo sword fight needs to run at twice the speed to be even slightly dramatic.

What carries the show is writer / actor Michael Downey’s winning characterisation of Peter and his versatile switches into other characters: a Saxon warrior, Nurse Honor (a she, I think, but at the time I thought he was gay), the malevolent Troy who is after his job, the smooth Dr Smith … On this level, I am amused.

Directed by Anders Falstie Jensen, the pacing is good and the transitions are instantly achieved, often with simple lighting changes (designed and operated by Rob McDonald).

Something jars for me at the end, though, where he gets a call to grab an essential piece of equipment because his special patient friend, Janet, has had a cardiac incident. Instead of jumping to it he goes into fatalistic mode and asks us to wallow in sentiment with him. If the point is to prove he is finally nothing like a warrior, deep inside where it counts, it works.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings, and News.


Steph Walker March 4th, 2007

I just want to commend the company's use of a YouTube Trailer in their marketing - it was very well done, definitely made me want to see it! I hope it paid off in terms of audience.

John Smythe March 3rd, 2007

I mean it did not move me one way or another so I'm advancing a theory of why that might be. On further reflection, the fact that I am not indifferent to that stuff in the real/fantasy world but I felt un-challenged by its inclusion in this production may also be worth considering. It is, of course, a preposterous notion that critics must share the likes and dislikes of the characters in a play before they may review it. Of course we should not have blind spots when it comes to human behaviour and experience. The key question is, does the content engage us in any way at all?

Brando March 3rd, 2007

"Personally I'm not attracted to the idea of romanticising gory battles of history based on ethnic hatred and greed for land and power". I am not sure where you were going with this statement. Are you trying to say here that you may not have been the best choice of reviewer for such a play due to your general distaste for the content?

Make a comment

Saxon Games

Review by Nik Smythe 09th Sep 2006

Arriving at the Auckland museum around sundown and buying a glass of pretty decent wine to be enjoyed as we peruse concise displays of artefacts from myriad civilisations, including the specialised Viking Exhibition currently running at Auckland Museum until 8th October, is one of the most enjoyable beginnings to a night at the theatre I have ever experienced.  Full credit to Jo Lees, Live Programmes Coordinator for the Auckland Museum, for coming up with that idea after seeing this sweetly dark one-act, one-man play’s original season at the Herald earlier this year. 

Some of the audience may be non-plussed by the form and content of this almost (but not quite) poetic homily.  While it definitely has a beginning, middle and end, The Orderly is not so much a linear narrative as a kind of portrait of a somewhat unlikely protagonist.

The audience are seated, the lights come up and we meet Peter, a hunchbacked hospital orderly, resetting a vacated bed and chatting croakily in our direction as though we’re some kind of theatre audience gathered in the small hospital room.  Playwright/actor Michael Downey’s inspiration for this play came from meeting the real Peter when he also worked as an orderly at the North Shore hospital.

At once, Downey shows us a man who is equally gruff and kind, explaining to us that his unnerving Gollum-like voice is the result of a botched throat operation in this very same hospital.  He isn’t exactly forgiving in tone when expressing such tragedies, but at the same time Pete’s attitude is not despairing.  Cynical perhaps, but underscored with playful optimism.

The root of this is quickly revealed to be Peter’s passion for history; in particular his involvement with the Sons of Woden, a Saxon regiment on the historical re-enactment circuit.  He is eager to brag about his exploits and his collections of armour and weapons, and keen to educate us in the great and bloody battles of ancient Europe.  Clearly a Saxon enthusiast, Peter unveils the poignant tale of Earl Byrhtnoth and his heroic defeat in the Battle of Malden, mincing no words (although he never uses language more vulgar than ‘bloody’) in his disgust at the Viking’s unsporting trickery.

Peter interacts with a handful of other hospital staff members – friends, enemies and nemeses – and while some are more stereotypes than fully fleshed characters, it certainly highlights Downey’s technical skill with character distinction. My favourite character was Troy, the scary simpleton from Radiology who has his eye on Pete’s job.

The dramatic battle scenes are augmented nicely by Rob McDonald’s lighting and Jared Neems’ sound design.  And I have never seen such obvious yet perfect product placement as when Pete tells us that he got his armour from the Medieval Shop on Auckland’s Symonds Street – "They have heaps of good stuff there".  True.

The play as a whole is a technically proficient and skilfully presented work which ought to be  accessible to a fairly wide demograph.  I can’t help feeling that further deconstruction and distilment of the script and direction could result in a deeply humanistic portrait such as Beckett or Pinter might have produced.  But that would be for a more culturally sophisticated market, not necessarily for Pete and his peers.

The combined elements of The Orderly equal a nicely layered, convincingly solid performance.  Is there a significant message here?  There are issues about relationships, honour, dedication (such as Peter’s anger at his team mates with children, who prioritise their families over parading around play-acting as medieval warriors); but to me the most compelling element is Downey’s personal inspiration, to immortalise this man by whom his heart was clearly touched.  As producer/director Anders Falstie puts it: ‘…no matter how insignificant you may seem, there is just no way of knowing whether someone will write a play about you.’


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council
Waiematā Local Board logo