Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

03/11/2012 - 01/12/2012

Production Details

A POWERFUL NEW PLAY – Passionate, political, richly textured  

Award-winning playwright Dean Parker’s remarkable new play opens at Circa Two, 3 November.  Never one to shy away from controversy this latest work from him is bound to offer, at the very least, lively discussion and debate. 

Set in Beijing in 1974 – Trish and Pauline are Maoists on a New Zealand Students’ Association trip to Red China. Also on the trip is Oliver, a radical would-be writer.

Twenty years later Trish is a second term Labour MP, plotting the dumping of Labour Party leader, Mike Moore.

Fifteen years after that Pauline and Oliver meet by chance in a pub at Mangere Bridge in Auckland and look back on the choices they’ve made and the paths their lives have followed.

The Tiger’s of Wrath is an intriguing play about the strange twists of fate, about hopes and dreams, about a developing and then disintegrating relationship, about how one comes to terms with life.

In the background run two astonishing political trajectories:
The People’s Republic of China
The New Zealand Labour Party

Dean Parker’s stage plays include: Midnight in Moscow, Baghdad, Baby, and an adaptation of Nicky Hager’s expose The Hollow Men. In 2011 he was a Chapman Tripp winner of Outstanding New New Zealand Play of the Year, for Slouching Toward Bethlehem.

Parker makes no bones about his Marxism-Leninism and injecting his politics into his art.  “I would describe myself as a class-conscious writer. I’m with Lenin. I’m for the working class seizing control of the wealth it creates, for the replacement of parliament, the army, the police, the judiciary – all those deadly manacles of state control – with workers’ committees and militias, and all this done as part of a world-wide struggle.”

Featuring a talented young cast: Kate Prior, Nathan Meister, Heather O’Carroll, Neenah Dekkers-Reihana


‘The moment you say capitalism’s dead it grows new shoots.’  Act 11 – The Tigers of Wrath 

SEASON: 3 Nov-1 Dec
Performance Times: Tues – Sat 7.30pm | Sunday 4.30pm
$25 SPECIALS – Fri 2nd Nov & Sun 4th Nov
BOOKINGS: Circa Phone 801 7992 
Pre-show dinner available at Encore – phone 801 7996 

Crucial questions provoked

Review by Paul Maunder 21st Nov 2012

The three act naturalistic play remains the stuff of mainstream professional theatre. It involves people talking in the situations where people talk in real life: houses, cafes, cars etc. It requires, like the dinner party, a structure for the talk. There are characters and a plot to unfold, the latter often involving the revealing of a skeleton in the closet. 

The form requires of the actors what is required in real life: to talk, drink, walk, make phone calls and so on. Except you have to be heard in the back row, you need to know the lines, a certain charm is necessary, character embodied and feelings have to be indicated. 

It is the theatre form that arose from the 19th century middle class, a new ruling class who had to discover their identity and their culture. But the middle class has always been accompanied by the working class and that threatening companionship has become a key factor in politics, giving rise to the Communist movement, the Labour Party, to social democracy and occasionally, to revolution.

In theatre this led to the challenging of the three act form by the avant-garde and by Brecht and Boal. With the avant-garde, the talk either became absurd, or a nihilistic monologue (Becket) or in the case of Artaud and Grotowski, theatre should search behind the mask of the talk. Brecht wanted to show the economic system behind the talk and Boal requires the working class audience to take over the stage.

Walter Benjamin made the point that theatre which promoted the working class not only had to say the right things, but had to revolutionise the mode of production itself, to put in place new modes of production, so that the theatre would be owned and controlled by the working class. This led to factory performances, or performances on the street or in working men’s clubs and so on, and to a different kind of talk; cabaret or review or folk art forms – more liked by working people. John McGrath and Dario Fo investigated the latter.

This is a long prologue to a review of Dean Parker’s new play, The Tigers of Wrath, currently playing at Circa, but reviews occasionally require a theoretical framework. As a professional writer for the mainstream theatre, Parker has been prolific, and for some years many of his scripts went unproduced, or were left at the workshop stage. But he kept on working and I never ceased to admire his tenacity. And now his work is beginning to be produced more frequently. Alleluia. For Parker is a leftie and he knows his politics. And he writes about what he knows. This of course has not helped his cause, but he has persevered and latterly, the middle class audiences are more open to the talk that takes place amongst lefties, to their world view and to their issues.

There is an interesting parallelism here. In the same way that Parker has been faced with the task of getting the left onto the mainstream stage, the Labour Party has been faced with getting themselves into parliament, for their talk to take centre stage. And the dilemmas can be similar. The three act form is both required yet limiting. Parliamentary democracy (if it can be called that) is both required and limiting. And to further add to the tension by picking up on Benjamin’s point, mainstream theatre is attended by mainly white middle class people in the 40-60 age group who can afford $40-60 a ticket. Ditto, the Labour Party has to have business on side. But let us also admit that we need this tension. We can’t just have a passing piece of agit prop on the street corner or the Socialist Workers Party (which anyway, has ceased to exist).

Parker, like any longstanding politician of the left, has learnt his craft. His dialogue is witty and complex. The Tigers of Wrath is a story of disillusionment: we follow the three main characters from young student Maoists on a visit to China (early 1980s), to a future cabinet minister in Helen Clarke’s Labour government and a future investment broker plotting their paths in the early 1990s, to the losers of the current decade. There is a sort of hero (the opportunist who knows when to move), a sort of villain (the smooth talking lawyer who gets his just desserts) and a youthful spirit who wanders from Cultural Revolution to Unite organising. And there are moments of brilliance which, interestingly enough, stretch the three act form (which is already stretched by shifting through 4 decades): a long telephone monologue focused on the overthrow of Mike Moore, and a young girl’s monologue as she yearns for an equestrian experience. There is no skeleton in the closet. Parker is, in fact, heading toward some other form.

Yet despite this brilliance and this stretching, the audience left feeling a little flat. A story of disillusionment – from Mao to John Key and the tenacity of neo-liberalism – perhaps inevitably does this, and it is the story of this country. But for me, there was more to it than this, and it lay in the dilemma posed by the working class character of Pauline.

[Spoiler warning… although most of the surprises remain unrevealed – ed]

From angry, almost black-shirted anarchist lesbian who loses her girl to the future lawyer, she disappears to resurface as a down at heel cleaner in a Mangere Bridge pub. In the interim, she has tattooed love and hate on her fingers, and lost another lover, this time Maori, to the tribal capitalist resurgence. Is this symbolic of the trajectory of the activist working class?

Pauline is central to this story and crucial politically. Are working people this stuffed? Is their culture (as represented by the pub) that empty and desolate? If so, we are truly lost and heading toward Waiting for Godot, even though the Unite organiser gives us a ray of hope.  

[… ends]

Or is this rather, the story of a generation of middle class? And where lies commitment? Is the form the trap? Is opportunism within the form the trap? True of left politics in the mainstream? Big questions, not altogether presented in the play, but provoked by the play – shall I say, discovered by the play. What would happen if Parker began from that consciousness? And of course the accompanying question: would he then get performed? 

We can be grateful that Dean Parker is provoking these questions. And my point here and why I am writing this, is that they are crucial questions that need discussion in theatre circles, and, as the parallelism continues, crucial questions that the Labour Party should be discussing – overtly, in full consciousness. This is the real talk required – and on the main stage. 


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Play charts shifts in NZ society

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 05th Nov 2012

The title of the new show opening in Circa Two, The Tigers Of Wrath, along with the publicity posters convey a play with a Chinese flavour. But don’t be deceived. Although the politics of China play an integral part, especially at the beginning, and they do influence the lives of the three main characters, this is very much a NZ play, about New Zealanders and New Zealand politics.

In this richly worded and densely written play, playwright Dean Parker charts the changing mores of NZ society over a period of 35 years as we follow the intersecting lives of the three main characters, and how their changing fortunes over this period are influenced not only by their personal circumstances but by external forces.

Trish (Kate Prior) and Pauline (Heather O’Carroll) are university students on a trip to China in 1974 to observe firsthand the workings of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. They are also lovers but their relationship is fractious, not helped by meeting Oliver (Nathan Meister), another kiwi student.

[Spoiler warning …

Fifteen years later it is Herne Bay, Auckland and Pauline and Oliver are now married. She is an MP in Mike Moore’s Labour Government planning a coup to dump Moore in favour of Helen Clark.  Oliver is an immigration lawyer but about to toss this in for a job with a finance company. They have two children, both at school, Simone (Neenah Dekkers-Reihanna) and Toby who never appears.

Then 20 years after this it is the Mangere Bridge Pub, and sitting alone is Pauline, now working as a cleaner. Enter Oliver, divorced from Trish, who is a television presenter, his finance company having collapsed. They are joined by Simone, who is now working for the rights of low paid workers. [… ends]  

Although the writing in the first two acts is taut and full of emotionally charged dramatic moments (the third act needs far more developing to round the story off), there is little in the way of physical action that emanates from the dialogue.  It is therefore to the credit of the director Jane Waddell and her strong cast that they are able to create real and believable characters from the script and hold the audience’s attention.  They never allow the wordiness to weigh the production down and do much to bring out the humour, making this an interest look at aspects of the changing face of NZ society.  


Editor November 5th, 2012

Fair call. I have now added the spoiler warning I should have put in before, although it raises another question about Theatreview's right to modify a review that is published elsewhere. Hopefully people will realise that [square brackets] indicate this editor's interpolations.  

Wellington Theatre Community November 5th, 2012

Spoiling the whole plot of a show ≠ reviewing.

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A twisted strand in our socio-political DNA

Review by John Smythe 04th Nov 2012

Only in New Zealand … Anywhere else a playwright aiming to trace the history of left-wing idealism over 35 years would contemplate a fairly large cast. Most New Zealand playwrights would work it so that the necessarily small cast could play multiple roles. But in his ironically titled The Tigers of Wrath Dean Parker does it superbly with four characters; four actors playing one character each – in 1974, 1993 and 2009.

Actually, I lie. Neenah Dekkers-Reihana, whose character Simone is a few years short of being conceived in 1974, opens the play with a patriotic dance of the Cultural Revolution in Mao Zedong’s ‘Red China’, sporting a powder blue suit and brandishing a rifle. The rifle surprises me as in most of the propaganda posters of the time the weapon of choice is Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book, with farm implements and megaphones also featuring.

Her ritualistic dance is juxtaposed with the Roxy Music hit ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ in which a harsh-voiced Brian Ferry intones the loneliness of the upwardly mobile consumer reduced to loving an inflatable doll; an idea that is echoed in various forms, both witty and poignant, as the story plays out.

In a rudimentary dormitory used by the female delegates of a New Zealand university student trip to China, St Cuth’s-educated Trish (Kate Prior) needs reassurance from angry young wannabe revolutionary Pauline (Heather O’Carroll) that she still loves her. And lurking where he shouldn’t be, in his orange jeans and long blonde hair, is law student and wannabe writer Oliver (Nathan Meister), who certainly does have a way with words, if not necessarily his own.

Parker, Prior, O’Carroll and Meister, with director Jane Waddell, conspire to capture the essences of these three archetypes with total conviction. Trish’s ‘bible’ is George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Pauline’s is The Little Red Book and Oliver is still trying to write his.

I need to tread carefully now, so as not to undermine the surprise of where they end up, although the joy for me is not so much in the all-too-credible outcome as in the utter authenticity of the way the characters live within their new realities.

Circa’s ‘what’s on’ blurb reveals this much: that by 1993 Trish is a second term Labour MP (the member for New Lynn while living in Herne Bay), and she is part of the cabal that is plotting to dump leader Mike Moore (in favour of Helen Clark). And in 2009, Pauline and Oliver meet by chance in a pub at Mangere Bridge, which allows a review of what brought them to their respective states to play out quite naturally, with further surprises arising from where Trish and Simone are at.

The growth of Kate Prior’s Trish from questing student to Labour Party mover and shaker, who still needs to know she is loved, is totally convincing. Her epic phone call in Act II deserved its round of applause, although it could make its point in less time. And where she ends up in Act III, without a seat in the post-Helen era, suggests a quantum leap in meeting her need to be loved.  

Heather O’Carroll embodies Pauline’s suppressed (except when it’s not) anger with an intensity that epitomises the rebel seeking a cause. The vulnerability beneath her toughness humanises what could easily seem stereotyped in lesser hands. As for her ‘Ten Guitars’ … Well it is Karaoke Night.

It’s probably no surprise that as a lawyer Oliver passes through socially compassionate activities to areas more lucrative, except when they’re not. Nathan Meister’s finely pitched performance ensures he is as lovable initially as he is questionable later. And the trick he does with a cigarette is a bonus that resonates at many levels.

Neenah Dekkers-Rehana has a natural ability to fully inhabit each moment of Simone’s progress from horse-mad schoolgirl to … something quite different and unexpected, even though it is not unusual for those in the know.

Apart from the actors’ great skill in meeting this challenge, abetted by Sheila Horton’s eloquent costume designs, set designer Daniel Williams does an astonishing job of ringing the changes in Circa Two’s limited space. The transformations from Peking bunk room to Herne Bay home to Mangere pub are cleverly achieved, with Ulli Briese’s lighting design and John McKay’s sound and A/V design completing the creative picture.

It is because Dean Parker has committed to his vocation over so many decades that he now has the art to craft such an epic work with such economy, in a way that gives us more from less without a hint of compromise.

The Tigers of Wrath stands as a twisted strand in our socio-political DNA. I would defy anyone not to find something of themselves or their world within it. You have to see it to truly appreciate its many qualities. 


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