BATS Theatre (Out-Of-Site) Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington

05/02/2014 - 11/02/2014

Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science & History, Main Street - the Dark Room, Palmerston North

03/02/2014 - 04/02/2014

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

18/02/2014 - 22/02/2014

NZ Fringe Festival 2014

Production Details

A story of extinction and survival, with dry ice (maybe).

Winner: Best Performance Melbourne Fringe 2013

Winner: Tiki Tour Ready Award, supported by New Zealand Fringe 2013

‘A rare and moving feat of theatrical storytelling’ – Cameron Woodhead, The Age

‘Pitch perfect performances…funny as they are heartbreaking’ – Anne-Marie Peard,

On an unseasonably cold September day in 1936, the last known Tasmanian tiger died in captivity at Hobart Zoo. Nearly 80 years after the disappearance of a species, Justine Campbell and Sarah Hamilton tell this story. On the brink of the sixth mass extinction of species on earth, They Saw a Thylacine bears witness.

They Saw a Thylacine will be performed at BATS Theatre as part of the NZ Fringe Festival in 2014. The production is supported by the Tiki Tour Ready award, which was awarded to They Saw a Thylacine at the 2013 Melbourne Fringe. During February 2014, Sarah and Justine will also perform They Saw a Thylacine at The Darkroom in Palmerston North, Splore Festival and The Basement in Auckland.

Sarah Hamilton says “Growing up in Tasmania, I hoped from a young age that the Thylacine was hiding somewhere in the mountains. My Grandpa found a Thylacine on a beach when he was 3, so anything was possible.”

This is Sarah and Justine’s second collaboration. They made A Donkey and a Parrot for Melbourne Fringe in 2011. In 2012 the show toured Adelaide Fringe (Tuxedo Cat); and Edinburgh Festival Fringe (Gilded Balloon), receiving critical acclaim.

Justine Campbell (co-creator) is a graduate of the VCA Directing Program. She recently directed Pearl Versus the World for Jigsaw. In 2010 she wrote and directed Back from the Dead Red for Melbourne Fringe. Justine was awarded the 2010 Victorian Green Room Award for Best Independent Female Performer for her role as Lady Jane in The Fate of Franklin (Four Larks).

Sarah Hamilton (co-creator) studied Acting at the University of Ballarat Arts Academy. Sarah was supported in the development of A Donkey and a Parrot by the Melbourne Fringe’s Outside Eye program. She worked under the mentorship of Ansuya Nathan. Theatre credits include Oasis, Oasis at fortyfivedownstairs and The Killing Fever at La Mama, both written and directed by Adam Cass (I Love You, Bro).

Venue: BATS Theatre, on the corner of Cuba and Dixon Streets.
Dates: 5-11 February, 2013 (except Thursday)
Book online  or call (04) 802 4175

Venue: Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland CBD
Dates & Times: 18-22 February 2014, 9pm
Prices:  $20 | $24

Theatre ,

They also came and conquered

Review by Matt Baker 20th Feb 2014

Completing the New Zealand tour of their award-winning fringe show, writers and performers Justine Campbell and Sarah Hamilton have brought a unique play based on fundamental storytelling to Auckland’s Basement Theatre. The disconsolation of extinction and the mystery of its validity is a major part of the interest in the Tasmanian Tiger, and is aptly utilised as the context of this authentically Australian story. 

The text is essentially an epic poem and could easily sit on its own as a published work, at home in a museum or art library. Couplets followed by poignant one-liners prevent any sense of boredom through repetition and give the performers plenty of dexterity for their delivery. The pace is set at a breakneck speed and never relents. [More]


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Powerful performance of a moving story

Review by Heidi North 19th Feb 2014

Australians Sarah Hamilton and Justine Campbell bring to Auckland their Melbourne Fringe award-winning play They Saw A Thyacine, a rich piece highlighting the plight of the now extinct Tasmanian tiger. But it’s so much more than that.

It’s both funny and heart breaking; a searing reminder of how and why some animals become extinct and how much has not changed in the last 80 years. If this makes it sound depressing, or soap-boxy, it’s not. It’s too clever for that. 

Above all, it’s a cracking good story told by two skilful actors.  

Set in 1935, in the midst of the Australian Great Depression, the thylacine was a prized commodity – dead or alive. Hamilton and Campbell are simply dressed in thin slips and confined to a cage, highlighting their own powerless as women of the time, and echoing the plight of a trapped thylacine.

One woman is a female tracker (not killer), pursuing a thyacline; the other the daughter of a zookeeper trying her best to keep a thyacline alive. Both actresses give masterful performances, taking on other characters (particularly brash and patronising Bruce and leery-eyed Fred) with wonderfully comic effect as required.  

The taut script reads more like a prose poem than realism, and this lyrical quality is what carries the piece. It’s clearly a piece of writing where the creases have been ironed out, leaving only the excellent bones. The women barely move, yet they don’t need to. The play starts with a bang, and cracks along at such a pace it’s sad when they depart their cage and you wonder how 45 minutes has passed.

They Saw A Thylacine is a powerful piece. A moving story that evokes a world so much bigger than the tiny cage it’s told from. 


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Free-flowing poetic language

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 07th Feb 2014

With either a bit of luck or some clever programming this year’s theatrical part of the Fringe has started with a comedy about a mongoose on the Isle of Man and a tragedy about the last thylacine or Tasmanian tiger.

Both plays are based on true events that occurred in the 1930s and could well have been presented in documentary form but startling theatrical imaginations have, thankfully, taken charge of the material and given the plays energy and excitement. 

One could have thought Samuel Beckett had a hand in the prize-winning Australian production of They Saw a Thylacine what with two seated women in a wire cage who barely move for 45 minutes as they alternate in telling their stories. One is a tiger tracker (for the money involved), the other, based on a real person, is a zookeeper’s daughter and taxidermist.

The stories are told at a rapid pace in a free-flowing poetic language, though some modulation of tone would provide some welcome variety. The “message” is obvious, timely and frightening but in the telling we are held throughout by the performances of Justine Campbell and Sarah Hamilton who were given a rousing reception on opening night.


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Gripping, witty and insightful

Review by John Smythe 06th Feb 2014

It starts with smoke and mirrors – the haze of stage smoke also permeates the Bats auditorium and a mirror ball pierces it with shafts of light – as 1930s big band swing jazz blares from the speakers. On stage there’s a cage within which two women lurk eating fruit, the skins and husks of which litter their prison.

Then suddenly, the dark ages: the 1930s Depression, in Tasmania. The last Thylacinus Cynocephalus (Tasmanian Tiger) in captivity is languishing in Hobart’s Beaumaris Zoo while others which may or may not be in the wild are at the mercy of trackers and trappers.

The poetic text that reveals the story of the thylacine’s demise is spoken by the two caged and largely sedentary actors – Justine Campbell and Sarah Hamilton – wearing simple beige shifts and nursing animal skulls. A human skull sits on a small table between them. Two stories emerges in parallel.

Alison, the zoo-keeper’s daughter (Campbell), relates her attempts to secure the wellbeing of Ben, the tiger – but female actually: “you’d think they’d know the difference between a penis and a pouch” (I’m paraphrasing here) – in the face of entrenched sexism and the employment of incompetents on the dole in place of qualified staff. Alison’s story is true, I’m told later.

The fictional Beatie (Hamilton) tells of her quest to track an injured tiger and tend to its leg while a trapper called Fred is also hunting what he believes is rightfully his. Unsavoury males little her story too.

The programme note tells us a bounty was placed on the fearsome-sounding tiger because, despite wild dog predation of sheep, it was scapegoated for the difficulties being faced by the wool trade. It’s a pity this information is not integrated into the text, to thematically connect the chains of predation and more clearly motivate the male human behaviour. Also I can’t help but wonder how much more dynamic the stories would be if the women recounted them in the present tense, this being a live theatre presentation.

That said, They Saw A Thylacine is gripping, witty and insightful as the performances generate vivid scenarios in our imaginations. Of course it does take a while for us to tune our ears to the strong Aussie accents – the text is delivered at a cracking pace – and there could be clearer definition between the times the women are narrating their own stories and when they are role-playing characters in each other’s. Campbell is especially strong in her character definitions so once we know who belongs to which story there is less confusion.

The flow of words is broken from time to time with sudden sighs, forward slumps and lighting changes. Early on both Alison and Beatie smear their faces with something brown and they place the animal skulls on their heads for a bit. Towards the end they move out of the cage. While I have no idea what these abstractions denote, they serve to modulate the visual and verbal elements.  

Footnote: It was heart-warming to see the Mayor, other Councillors and the Chief Executive of Creative New Zealand at this show to welcome the visitors from Australia. I trust they will also be attending much of the homegrown content their funding has helped to support.


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Enthralling, thoughtfully crafted and passionately presented

Review by Richard Mays 05th Feb 2014

Like one of Banjo Patterson’s bush ballads, double Melbourne Fringe award-winner They Saw A Thylacine cracks along at a terrific clip. 

For this tale of tragic extinction, Australian performers Sarah Hamilton and Justine Campbell inhabit a wood and wire cage littered with fruit and rinds.

Also part of this ‘zoo exhibit’ are a couple of canine skulls and one belonging to Homo sapiens. The idea that this play is not just a documentary about the extinction of the thylacine or Tasmanian tiger, dawns early. 

Sarah as fictional tiger tracker Beatie McCullough and Justine as the historical Alison Reid, zookeeper’s daughter and taxidermist, deliver this multi-layered tale as a pacey two-handed poetry slam. 

It’s a richly compelling yarn – rhyming and non-rhyming, loaded with alliteration and onomatopoeia, but never dwelling on the imagery.

The actors remain stationary for the most part with their vocal speed and dexterity generating the necessary narrative torque.

No one in the audience wants to miss a rhythmic word as the gritty Beatie tracks down a thylacine in the Tasmanian bush, and Alison tries to secure tenure at Hobart’s Beaumaris Zoo following her father’s death.

In both instances, the women run up against an entrenched patriarchy – one that won’t give a woman who has skills and empathy either the literal or figurative ‘keys to the cage’.

Campbell does a great Aussie bloke, with wonderfully nuanced and wry renditions of Alfred the trapper, one-armed Braithwaite, and the hard-nosed zoo board boss. These men are representatives of a mind-locked patriarchy that knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

The play’s setting in 1936 during the Great Depression weighs the story with contemporary resonance, the pair capturing and relaying the sense of economic and social blight.

Back then, the rarity of the tiger made it a prized commodity, alive or dead. The reduction of this rare marsupial dog to the status of commodity echoes today’s show-me-the-money, exploit-at-all-costs ethos, and adds a further layer of tragic irony to the thylacine extinction story.

That the Western Australian government is fixated on a shark cull is a further demonstration that despite the intervening decades, those who warm the seat of power are still making the same kind of ill-conceived decisions.

Superbly related, They Saw a Thylacine is an enthralling, thoughtfully crafted and passionately presented 45-minute revelation. Based in the recent past it may be, but this poignant parable of loss is directly applicable to our own time and place.


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