The Pragmatic

Wellington Performing Arts Centre, Wellington

14/02/2009 - 22/02/2009

NZ Fringe Festival 2009

Production Details

Grubstreet Theatre Presents:
The Pragmatic – an entirely original, unperformed New Zealand play, premiering in the 2009 Wellington Fringe Festival.

Created by Grubstreet Theatre, an up and coming new Wellington Theatre Troupe headed by Harry Meech, recent winner of the 2008 Playmarket New Zealand Young Playwrights Award, The Pragmatic is a wry, and somewhat morose comedy, about life’s little routines, people’s little hang-ups, and the ways in which they try to beat some kind of sense into a chaotic world.

Steve, a down and out briefcase salesman, is stuck in a rut, and he’s not happy about it.  When he confides in Paul, his long-time barman, and only friend, he finds little comfort in his reply that ‘Everyone’s in a rut – the trick is finding a rut that you like.’  Desperate for change, and disheartened by the illogical nature of the world in which he lives, Steve reaches out to a stranger in Paul’s bar (the central location of the first act) – Sarah.  Sarah is Steve’s polar opposite – joyously languishing in her own idleness, she finds happiness in the simplest of indulgences, and does the things she likes, because she likes them.  After a series of strained encounters and fierce debates, tempered by a tense attraction between both parties, Steve finally takes some of Sarah’s advice, leading to a big sale, and a promotion for him at work.

The second Act begins 2 years later, with a Propaganda video explaining Steve’s quick rise to power within his company, followed by a world-wide expansion that has left him as the effective ruler of the world.  Now things become truly interesting, as Steve, previously tormented by his own lack of agency, finds himself the most powerful person on the planet.

This play explores mankind’s frustration with an ungovernable universe through the most simple and intimate character relationships – through friendship, attraction, love, and regret – set against social situations ranging from the most innocuous and common of a lowly corner-bar, to the private office of the ruler of the world.  This play asks what power is, how far it extends, and the many ways in which it can change a person.

The Pragmatic is innovative and experimental mainly in its drastic changes of scope.  In the early stages of the creation of this show, we decided that we wanted to create real, distinct, 3-dimensional characters that we might encounter in our day to day lives, and then put them in extreme situations that allowed us to explore the most interesting aspects of their personalities.  A kind of naturalistic (in terms of ‘theatre as a social laboratory’) play gone mad – real people in extreme situations.  This eventually developed, due to the characters we created, into a play about mankind’s desire for control and power in an uncontrollable universe, and the different ways it can affect our lives, and a show in which a character-driven plot is set against the massive scale of a world-government staring at the crossroads of Utopia or Dystopia.

The Pragmatic:
February 14th, 15th, 21st, and 22nd at 8pm each night,
Wellington Performing Arts Centre, 36 Vivian Street,
Tickets Available from Downstage (online and at the box office),
And at the door. 

The Pragmatic Cast and Crew:
Harry Meech - Director/Producer/Co-writer
Mathew Arrowsmith - Producer/Co-Writer/Paul
Christopher Butler - Co-Writer/Steve
Isobel MacKinnon - Sarah
Uther Dean - Retailer/Bar Patron/CEO/Prime Minister/Rioter

Louise Lethbridge - Stage Manager
Christie Wright - Design/Advertising/Suzie/Did epic painting of Steve
Edward Tate - Film/Animation/Tech Support

Young company flexes its muscles

Review by Cindy Williamson 16th Feb 2009

The Pragmatic, by Grubstreet Theatre troupe, is a witty parabolic take on greed and the pursuit of power. 

Billed as ‘a story about the mundane, the petty and the megalomaniacal, in two acts,’ the play follows the meteoric rise of Steve (Christopher Butler), a strident briefcase salesman given to hyperbolic rants. Steve abolishes world hunger using advanced crop maximizing techniques and becomes the world’s richest man within 2 years; however, the pragmatist soon becomes a victim of his own success when the imperialistic excesses of his ‘clandestine oligarchy’ are revealed.

The play has the unaffected charm and low-key feel of a student production – complete with rattling door – and is at times perspicaciously self-reflective.  And the production is well cast. However, much of the play’s tension rests on the somewhat contrived rhetorical jousting between Steve, an ardent careerist, and the two other main characters: Paul (Mathew Arrowsmith), a modern-day everyman, and Sarah (Isobel MacKinnon), a slacker without ambition.

The writers (Christopher Butler, Matthew Arrowsmith and Harry Meech – winner of the 2008 Playmarket New Zealand Young Playwrights Award) certainly have an ear for comedic dialogue and there are some extremely funny moments.  However, the action often becomes languid and the play could be tightened up a lot.

One gets the feeling that this young theatre company is flexing its muscles while it learns its craft; nonetheless its creative vitality and freshness are inspiring. Watch this space.


FringeFreak February 23rd, 2009

I saw these guys last year when they did such a great job with their debut as the Victorian Luncheon Society's "The Kettle of Alan and Max" - this year they've reformed as Grubstreet Theatre and are even better.

The Pragmatic has tight direction and production, great writing(again), and is very well thought out. The actors are all thoroughly believable and looked confident and at ease with their characters. Though the play was 90 minutes with no interval, they kept the ball rolling, "and the drinks flowing" all through. The video was a great device to explain a two year advance in the plot - very funny and well written. One question - was that a real painting of Steve (Christopher Butler)?

I think (and hope) we'll see bigger and better from Butler, Meech, Arrowsmith, Wright and others in the not-too-distant-future.

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