The Tutor

The Forge at The Court Theatre, Christchurch

13/03/2009 - 11/04/2009

Production Details

Sharp kiwi satire

The debut production of The Eureka Trust 2009 Forge Season is an intelligent contemporary kiwi comedy: Dave Armstrong’s THE TUTOR.

This critically-acclaimed play from the writer of Niu Sila, Seven Periods With Mr Gormsby and Bro’ Town depicts the collision of personalities and politics when a self-made millionaire hires a washed-out, Daihatsu-driving hippy to save his rebellious teenage son’s math grades. The result is a comedy of (bad) manners with heart.

Playing the role of stereotypical JAFA John Sellars – an entrepreneur whose hard living and fast-talking has definitely rubbed off on his son – is TV and radio personality Phil Vaughan. Vaughan describes himself as a "relative newcomer" to the stage but has thoroughly enjoyed the process. "For most of my career I’ve just been me," says the Big Wednesday host, "it’s great to spend your day being someone else – when I get home I sit down and think, ‘so when do I start work?’"

Vaughan describes Sellars as "the typical kiwi bloke – he talks in circles, suppresses his emotions, but lets a lot of it out once he’s had a few drinks." Vaughan found plenty of inspiration for his wheeling-and-dealing character "from people I met in the TV game – where there are lots of guys like [Sellars]."

Markus Hoetjes plays John’s son Nathan: a fifteen year-old whose lack of mathematical skills are more than compensated for by his smart mouth and ability to make deals. Rounding out the cast is Jon Pheloung as the titular "PC-lefty teacher" who finds himself both repulsed and enticed by the Sellars’ world of wealth and excess. Vaughan has nothing but praise for his co-stars: "By day two we were completely comfortable with each other – it’s fantastic to be working with such a great team."

Associate Artistic Director and director of THE TUTOR, Lara Macgregor is quick to applaud the cast’s abilities and the strength of the script. "While THE TUTOR is a satire, there is much depth to it. At its heart of the story is a father’s love for his son." Macgregor feels that "the core of the play gives more weight to the piece than most comedies. The actors keep their characters grounded in reality even as they deliver Armstrong’s hilarious lines."

Set in an affluent suburb of Auckland – a location Macgregor feels "fits the play perfectly" – Julian Southgate‘s set design creates a waterfront view, functional bar (and even a functional spa pool) in the intimate settings of The Forge.

Providing the soundtrack for THE TUTOR is local DJ Benet Hitchcock – known in the Christchurch music scene as DJ Dr Hitchcock. "I approached it as if each character had their own music collection, and as the play progresses these individual styles start mixing together," says Hitchcock. Macgregor feels Hitchcock’s contribution "brought a fresh new energy to the process" and that the final result is "a cross-pollination of mediums." Hitchcock will also be providing music at the opening night after-party.

Universally enjoyed by critics and audiences, tackling politics, education and parenthood in one fell swoop and featuring a top-grade cast; THE TUTOR is setting the bar high with the opening production of the Eureka Trust 2009 Forge Season.

Additional information:
THE TUTOR was commissioned by Circa Theatre and premiered at Circa Studio on 27 October 2005. It won a 2005 Chapman Tripp Theatre Award for best new New Zealand play and was performed by the Auckland Theatre Company in 2007. 

13 March – 11 April 2009
Venue:  The Forge, The Court Theatre, Christchurch

Performance times:  6:30pm Monday / Thursday; 8pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (no show Sundays).
Tickets:  Adults $30, Senior Citizens $25, Tertiary Students $20 Group discount (10+) $20
Bookings:  The Court Theatre, 20 Worcester Boulevard; 963 0870 or

John Sellars:  Phil Vaughan
Richard Holton:  Jon Pheloung
Nathan Sellars:  Markus Hoetjes

Set Design & Construction / Properties:  Julian Southgate
Sound/Lighting Design:  Geoff Nunn
DJ:  Benet Hitchcock
Operator:  Ben Sanke
Costume Design & Construction:  Beryl Hampson
Rehearsal Stage Manager:  Annabel Butler
Production Manager:  Peter McInnes 

1hr 35 mins, no interval

A very polished and refreshingly vigorous home-grown comedy

Review by Lindsay Clark 14th Mar 2009

Wham! The opening item in the 2009 season at The Forge packs a powerful theatrical wallop. This production moved the opening night audience to a roaring standing ovation, the honest approbation of a Kiwi satire presented with panache and with characters who could be liked as well as laughed at.

Director Lara Macgregor (Associate Artistic Director at The Court) heads a lively team to flesh out a punchy script from a master hand. The result is a fast moving, laugh a minute ride through a very short hour and a half, though the plot – driven by three wildly differing characters – has weight as well as slickness.

John Sellars is a self made millionaire, whose hard nosed business deals are matched by hard living and not too much of that woolly relationship stuff. With a looming custodial hearing threatening his sole charge of only son Nathan, he is set on gilding his image as a good parent, one who can be trusted to encourage academic success.

The boy has been expelled three times and is the reluctant learner from hell, but Dad is used to solving bigger crises with his golden cheque book and hires someone to take care of raising at least the maths results.

Enter the tutor, Richard Holton, with democratic principles, genuine enthusiasm for his subject and an intuitive way of managing the rebel – after a while. He is an under rewarded, over-principled teacher in an ‘unfashionable’ school but his winning over of Nathan is stylish.

The three way tussles en route are tightly staged, energetic and rich in comic situations. They bombard us with unexpected alliances and insights for while the characters find nothing funny about things, we are in the privileged position of delighted observers as they ‘tutor’ each other.

The initial characters are familiar ‘types’ perhaps but there is nothing cardboard about writing or performance. Obstreperous, outrageous yet ultimately vulnerable, Sellars is given the full treatment by Phil Vaughan, a newcomer to the stages at The Court. His is probably the role most demanding in its range, managed with impressive conviction.

As his son, Nathan, Markus Hoetjes makes the most of the testosterone-driven tearaway whose behavior is both awful and understandable.

In the go-between position, Jon Pheloung’s tutor conveys the uneasy position of moral high ground as well as the teacherly traits we might anticipate.

In one moment to relish near the end of the play they are all three poised in an equilateral triangle – all winners.

All this plays out on Julian Southgate’s clever set, representing a plush apartment where a sophisticated sculpture nevertheless becomes a coat rack and homework is still done on the floor. Costume (Beryl Hampson), sound and lighting design (Geoff Nunn) and above all the contribution of DJ Benet Hitchcock confirm that this is a very polished and refreshingly vigorous home-grown comedy.

Congruent as a well executed triangle can be.


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