Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

28/03/2015 - 18/04/2015

Production Details


Featuring: Jonathan Martin, Simon O’Connor, Ben Van Lier and Alexander Walker 

A Fortune Theatre Commission with the support of the Lottery World War One Commemorations, Environment And Heritage Committee 

Hidden in Dunedin’s history are generations of lies, mutiny and grave injustice 

In a brand new play that blurs lines between the real and the imaginary, playwright Philip Braithwaite searches for answers about his great uncle, Jack Braithwaite, who was in the First World War.

What he uncovers is a truth that has been locked away for nearly a century. Across several generations, spanning from Dunedin to halfway around the world, two men’s lives become inextricably bound.

Jack: Suddenly you’re scared. Then you realise something: you’ve been scared the whole bloody time and you didn’t even know it. 

Says Artistic Director, Lara Macgregor; “I couldn’t believe my luck when Philip Braithwaite, revealed his fascinating family history and that he was planning to write a play about it. We acted immediately to secure funding to commission him to write the first draft, and since then have been work-shopping and honing the play ready for its world premiere in Dunedin. Fortune Theatre is proud to be producing such a bold new New Zealand work whilst making a profound contribution to the global WW1 Centenary Celebrations.” 

Phil: I feel like Jack’s right in front of me, hanging over me. The past is like that. You turn a corner and it’s there, staring at you. 

What are the connections between fathers and sons in Dunedin’s Braithwaite family, and what was Jack’s grave injustice? 

“Even in the depths of war, my Great Uncle, Jack Braithwaite, never forgot Dunedin, and so I’m very honoured that Jack’s story will be told at the Fortune theatre, in his beloved home town,” said author Philip Braithwaite.

Roy Ward, the director, is excited to be returning to the Fortune Theatre to bring The War Play to the stage. “I’m enjoying the challenge of working on this bold new script and I can’t wait to start working with the fantastic cast in Dunedin, a city I love.”

Politics, art, family, and the nature of truth come together in The War Play – an exciting Fortune Theatre commission of one of New Zealand’s prominent award-winning playwrights.

Production Dates:  28 March – 18 April, 2015
Running Time:  Approx. 2hr 15 mins including interval. (TBC)
Venue:  Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin
Performances:  Tuesday, 6.00pm, Wednesday – Saturday, 7.30pm, Sunday, 4.00pm
(no show Monday)
Tickets:  Gala (first 5 shows) $34, Adults $42, Senior Citizens $34, Members $32, Tertiary Students $20, High School Students $15, Group discount (10 +) $34
Bookings:  Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin 
Box Office 03 477 8323 or visit 

Proudly presented by
Dunedin City Mazda


Lunchtime Bites / Thursday, 19 March meet at 12.15pm in the Dunedin Public Library, ground floor. The actors will perform an excerpt from The War Play with an opportunity to win tickets. Reading will commence at 12.30pm followed by afternoon tea. This is a FREE event.

Opening Night / Saturday, 28 March 7.30pm, Fortune Theatre.

Members’ Briefing / Sunday, 29 March meet at the Fortune bar at 3.00pm and join Fortune Theatre Artistic Director Lara Macgregor for a lively informal chat about The War Play

Forum / Tuesday, 31 March – join the cast and crew for an open question and answer session following the 6.00pm show.

Audio Describe Performance / Sunday, 12 April – an audio described performance offered in collaboration with Experience Access for visually impaired patrons and friends. Bookings essential.

About Philip Braithwaite

Philip Braithwaite has been writing plays since 1999. In 2000 he won the New Zealand Young Playwrights’ Award. Amongst his other credits are the BBC World Service/British Council International Radio Playwriting Award 2001, and the Adam NZ Play Award 2013, for his play The Mercy Clause.

Phil’s work has been produced in New Zealand, Australia and Europe, and he has collaborated with groups from the Royal Court Theatre in London, the BBC and the SEEyD theatre company. His radio plays have been produced on the BBC World Service and Radio New Zealand. He has also worked as a scriptwriting teacher at Massey University, Victoria University of Wellington, and Whitireia Polytechnic. He has provided mentorship for young playwrights at Fortune Theatre in Dunedin and in 2013-14 he was the William Evans Playwriting Fellow at the University of Otago. He is currently Writer in Residence at the Michael King Writers’ Centre in Auckland.

Jonathan Martin 
Simon O’Connor 
Ben Van Lier 
Alexander Walker 

Writer:   Philip Braithwaite
Director:   Roy Ward
Set Designer:   Peter King
Lighting Designer:   Stephen Kilroy
Sound Designer:   Matthew Morgan
Costume Designer:   Maryanne Wright-Smyth
Stage Manager:   George Wallace

Theatre ,

War’s dilemmas dramatised as naive beliefs challenged

Review by Barbara Frame 30th Mar 2015

Dunedin’s Jack Braithwaite doesn’t have to go to France in 1916, but he goes, in part at least because of beliefs about decency and truth. But, far from defending his values in the trenches, he finds himself caught up in a system where decency and truth have lost their meaning, and where he becomes a victim not of German bullets but of his own side’s callous incompetence.

Playwright Philip Braithwaite parallels his great-uncle Jack’s story with his own quest to find out what really happened in an episode of family history generally understood to be shameful, but whose details were until recently not fully known.

As well as Jack and Philip, their fathers are major characters, both conservative in attitudes and habits, and this similarity is underscored by Simon O’Connor’s playing both. He emphasises Philip’s father’s dogged irascibility, also plays some military characters. 

Jonathan Martin plays Jack, demonstrating how a well-meaning Kiwi could make the sort of mistakes that led to his war being even more hellish than most. Other fine performances come from Ben Van Lier as Phil, the writer whose determination to find the truth takes him to France and leads to family friction at home; and Alexander Walker, playing both Jack’s brother Eric and Alex Little, the Australian soldier whose influence hastens Jack’s downfall. 

Visually the production, directed by Roy Ward, is notable for Stephen Kilroy’s precise and atmospheric lighting on an effective set, designed and built by Peter King, on which Dunedin domestic interiors co-exist with French countryside and a military prison cell. 

The War Play’s depiction of war’s inhumanity is horrifying. Commissioned by the Fortune Theatre and supported by Lottery Grants Board WW100 funding, it makes a significant contribution to New Zealand artistic representations of the First World War, and it’s appropriate that its world premiere should be in Jack’s home town.


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Heart-wrenching and intensely thought provoking

Review by Brenda Harwood 30th Mar 2015

The terrible threats and dark deeds faced by New Zealand soldiers during World War 1 – from their own side as well as the enemy – are revealed in Philip Braithwaite’s heartfelt new play, The War Play.

Supported and produced by the Dunedin’s Fortune Theatre, which assisted Braithwaite with sourcing WW100 funding for the project and workshopped its early drafts, the work had its world premiere on Saturday night [March 28]. A good-sized Sunday afternoon audience were kept spellbound throughout as four superb players – Jonathan Martin, Simon O’Connor, Ben Van Lier, and Alexander Walker – brought this important and very personal new play to life under the direction of Roy Ward. 

Exploring the terrible wartime experiences of an increasingly bewildered Jack Braithwaite and his young comrades, The War Play also highlights how the perceived shame of his actions and the horror of his fate resonated in his family for generations. 

Jonathan Martin is superb in the role of the cheeky larrikin Jack, who goes to war for ‘King and Country’ and whose kind heart is ultimately his undoing. His growing bewilderment and despair as impending doom marches inexorably towards him is heart-breaking.

Ben Van Lier is equally fine as the playwright and Jack’s great-nephew, Phil Braithwaite, whose search for answers takes him half-way around the world and into a maze of darkness, official half-truths, and outright lies. It is a testing emotional journey, for both himself and his elderly father, highlighting the destructive force of a brutal military episode on a proud Dunedin family. 

In the roles of the fathers of both Phil and Jack Braithwaite, Simon O’Connor is at his wonderfully sensitive best, revealing the broken hearts under the stiff upper lips. O’Connor also tackles several military characters, including the indifferent prison camp officer whose parting words to a terrified, doomed Jack are “I warned you not to trust the officer class.” 

Alexander Walker is also impressive in multiple roles, including Jack’s brother Eric and Australian soldier Alex Little, highlighting the desperate struggles of young men far from home, trying to make sense of a senseless situation.
With multiple and rapid changes in time and place required to keep the action of The War Play flowing, set designer Peter King’s minimalist creation morphs seamlessly from cosy family lounge to front-line to dank prison cell, with the aid of superb lighting design by Stephen Kilroy.

Despite its many lighter moments, The War Play creates a sense of growing foreboding, as the forces of history gather moment towards an inevitable, nightmarish conclusion.

As a revelation of an extraordinary and terrible chapter in New Zealand’s military history, which has resonated down through the years, The War Play is both heart-wrenching and intensely thought provoking. As a deeply personal exploration of one family’s history, it is equally powerful. 

Highly recommended.


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