BATS Theatre, The Random Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

20/04/2021 - 01/05/2021

Production Details

TRANSMISSION is an original, multi-media theatre show, drawn from over 20 hours of verbatim interviews recorded since April 2020 with NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson and leading epidemiologist Michael Baker around the decision to lockdown NZ in response to Covid-19 and its targeted elimination. It is a behind the scenes glimpse into how they were thinking and feeling at the time — and into the life events that have shaped them as leaders.

“Everything was moving so so fast. I felt like I was preparing people for war. In a way, I guess we were.” – NZ Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern

From the creators of VERBATIM (1993), PORTRAITS (1997), FLOWERS FROM MY MOTHER’S GARDEN (1998), BIOGRAPHY OF MY SKIN (2009), a verbatim show about “going early and going hard”.

Creative Team
Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie stand at the forefront of international verbatim theatre with their plays, VERBATIM (1993), PORTRAITS (1997), FLOWERS FROM MY MOTHER’S GARDEN (1998), BIOGRAPHY OF MY SKIN (2009). Reviewer Laurie Atkinson said of BIOGRAPHY, “Received with rapturous applause… the conventions of theatre were turned inside out with Stoppardian-like skill.” Miranda’s show VERBATIM which premiered at BATS Theatre in 1993 was acclaimed internationally. Michael Billington in THE GUARDIAN called it “a remarkable show about violence”. Miranda and Stuart are also filmmakers. Their latest film THE CHANGEOVER (2017) starring Tim Spall was called “a perfect genre film” by; and celebrated as “bringing YA fantasy magically to life” by the LA TIMES.

With support from Creative New Zealand

BATS Theatre, The Random Stage
20 April – 1 May 2021
Tues 20 April, 8pm (Full)
Wed 21 – Fri 23 April, 6.30pm
Sat 24 April, 4pm & 8pm
Tues 27 – Fri 30 April, 6.30pm
Sat 1 May, 4pm & 8pm
The Difference $40
Full Price $25
Group 6+ $22
Concession Price $20


TRANSMISSION  opened on Tuesday, 20 April to a sold out crowd a sold out season. For those of you that missed out we have some GOOD news!
We are releasing a new show!
Sunday, 2 May at 4pm
Tickets Here.

Aaaaaand we have a livestream for those of you that can’t make it in person.
Going live at 6.30pm on Tuesday, 27th April

Tickets to Livestream Here.
On-Demand Tickets will be available from next Wednesday, 28th April and will be available to watch for two weeks.

The Random Stage is fully wheelchair accessible; please contact the BATS Box Office by 4.30pm on the show day if you have accessibility requirements so that the appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS.

Jacinda Ardern — Sophie Hambleton
Grant Robertson — Tom Knowles
Michael Baker — Tim Spite
Moira Sa’imoa — Lahleina Feaunati
Mei Heron — Michelle Ang

Interviewers — Stuart McKenzie & Miranda Harcourt
Writer — Stuart McKenzie
Co-directors — Miranda Harcourt & Stuart McKenzie 
Harcourt McKenzie Partnership — Producer

Original music — Andrew Thomas
Set designer — Mark McEntyre
AV designer — Robert Larsen
Lighting designer — Wendy Clease
Graphic design — EightyOne
Original Photography — Luke Pilkington-Chin, Peter Black, Mark Smith
Production Manager — Karena Letham
Stage manager — Tyler Clarke
Operator — Bekky Boyce

With the support of Creative NZ 
Presented with the support of BATS’ Co-pro 2021

Verbatim , Theatre ,

1 hr 30 min

Tells the story of the humanity behind the Covid headlines

Review by Adam Goodall 23rd Apr 2021

A new play about the lead-up to the first lockdown, built from interviews with Jacinda Ardern, Grant Robertson and Michael Baker, is a window into the unfathomable responsibility of political power.

It felt pretty surreal to be sitting in a packed theatre for the opening night of Transmission, Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie’s new play about the lead-up to New Zealand’s first national lockdown, back in March last year. That’s partly because of the obvious: there are so few places in the world right now where 80-odd people can gather in a small room to watch a live performance without risking a super-spreader event. Even before the lights went down, Transmission was a testament to the government’s Covid-19 response.

But it was also surreal for me, personally, because the lockdown this show is about was not my lockdown. I’ve been in London for the last 12 months, weathering the British government’s blundering, corrupt response. My partner and I celebrated Christmas on FaceTime, attended funerals via livestream. We were able to get back to New Zealand last month, but even after we’d confirmed our return we knew that at any point we might end up trapped in the UK for reasons that were out of our hands: cancelled flights, travel bans, MIQ slots snapped up like tickets to My Chemical Romance.

I (and everyone else in the UK) spent those 12 months watching New Zealand’s pandemic response with a mix of envy and frustration, knowing this was the kind of leadership we wanted but could not have. Transmission picks up on that global obsession, asking its own questions about what it means to be a leader in a time of crisis. [More


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Holding Leaders to Account

Review by James Wenley 23rd Apr 2021

April 20, 2021:

While the 1918 Influenza pandemic shattered families and social life, ultimately infecting 1/3 of the world’s population and counting a higher death toll than WWI, the influence on the period’s arts and culture is less overtly visible. “Artists struggled to visualise” the impact of pandemic – one reason that the 1918 pandemic had faded in the world’s historical memory. However, critics have pointed towards the absurdism of the Dada movement and the minimalist design from the Bauhaus School as artistic responses emerging from the pandemic.

With Covid-19 having shifted our consumption of art, at least temporarily, the question is what kind of long term effect this 21st century pandemic will have on the content and form of our art.

How, for example, do you make theatre about the pandemic? [More


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You could not watch this show and come away unmoved

Review by Simon Sweetman 23rd Apr 2021

Last night I attended the world premiere of TRANSMISSION.  It’s a new play by Stuart McKenzie and Miranda Harcourt. It stars Sophie Hambleton, Tom Knowles and Tim Spite – between them they give voice to works spoken by Jacinda Ardern, Grant Robertson and Michael Baker. The words come – verbatim – from interviews Miranda and Stuart conducted right through our lockdown. The result is a piece of art which captures the mood and the history, looks at the science and the politics that drove the decisions; factors in the emotion and even gives us back-story, behind-the-scenes anecdotes around decision-making or just the mood of a particular day.
This review originally appeared (in slightly different form) on my Substack – Sounds Good! 

TRANSMISSION plays at Wellington’s BATS Theatre until May 1 – and its entire season is already sold out. Not a ticket left before the first show. Such was the build and anticipation – an expert social media campaign, the reputation of all involved and the fact that this is New Zealand Theatre’s most relatable storyline (we were all in it together, recent history re-contextualised) all combined – so as much as this is a ‘review’ and absolutely a recommendation, this is also not really a proper review. I can tell you that it’s a must-see but then unless you already have tickets for its short season you can’t exactly get to it.

But I can tell you that the opening night was amazing – of course there was a standing ovation. But the first person to stand was our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. She’s very much the star of the show – and Sophie Hambleton is absolutely incredible when delivering her words. She acknowledges in the show’s very funny prelude (where the actors bicker amidst the rubble of the fourth wall about who is best positioned to play which particular person) that she neither looks nor sounds like Jacinda. But that’s not quite right. Because when she delivers the lines, particularly the behind-the-scenes stories of vulnerability, of frustration, and then of preparing the country for a type of new war backing herself that being armed with conviction and the right advise would be the things to see us through it, we are transported to Jacinda’s pattern of patter. The rhythms of the speech, pauses, the empathy. And when you hear someone’s empathy and feel their rhythm you see them.

Tom Knowles has Grant Robertson’s voice down. So much so that if, in that character, he hasn’t spoken for a time, when the drought eases and Grant’s flow re-emerges, slightly hunched over and ready to amuse himself always, the audience howls with laughter. Among the audience and sometimes leading the charge in the laughter stakes is of course the real Grant Robertson.

It always seems cruel to single out one performer or performance – particularly in a play where the roles all work in support of each other and the performers skillfully integrate on-set tech changes and furniture moves, but as superb as Hambleton and Knowles are the real star of the show on a technical level is Tim Spite. He impersonates both the show’s writer Stuart McKenzie (presented here as the interviewer gathering the source material) and epidemiologist Michael Baker. His ability to conjure mannerisms, to integrate them with voice, is so specific, so winning, that he has one line early on pretending to be Miranda Harcourt. He accents it with a tiny pinched-nose, eyes-closed smile. The full house erupts, it’s so instantly recognisable.

As Baker he manages to supply us with a nearly dizzying amount of information, but also brings the humour and heart into the situation of an academic mind thrust into full public life and duty. A breakdown during a TV news interview is particularly affecting – especially when the news reporter (Mei Heron) was later interviewed about the incident and her words are presented via an actor (Michelle Ang) on a video screen.

Real lives. Reeling. And live.

So, in and around the action of Covid happening and the country going into lockdown we learn about the emotional and clerical journey – how much went into those decisions. It’s frequently very funny, thanks to McKenzie’s extraordinary facility with language, and the cast’s great skill at communicating that. Add in the knowledge that these are real words by real people and it makes for such a strangely specific and ultimately uplifting tale.

TRANSMISSION’S unspoken final act is that the play gets to take place. We are ‘free’ to see it. We are there in our mini-droves, for the next two weeks there won’t be an empty seat and it’s unlikely there’ll be a dry eye. That’s the play’s power-punch coda.

While I was watching it I wanted to see it again! As it was playing out I checked my watch a few times, not out of any boredom, quite the opposite – I knew it had a 90 minute run time with no interval before I went in. So as the words spilled from the stage and the laughs were punctuated only by sneaking a peak at when the real (and very honourable) PM and her Deputy were first to laugh or were sharing a knowing chuckle of self-reflection, their personal stories so beautifully woven into the text, I also would take a quick look at the time – because I wanted it to hang still – it was that thing where, child-like, I didn’t want it to be over. I was both enjoying it in the moment and being cautious in my hopes that the moment wasn’t moving too quickly. Michael Baker’s words and mindset made so funny by Tim Spite. And then me elated that the play had only been running for some 20 minutes. Grant Robertson’s homespun and heartfelt and hard-fought exuberance so brilliantly captured by Tom Knowles. And then, even better, it’s not even halfway through! Sophie Hambleton living the words of Jacinda Ardern, so deeply invested in conveying the empathy of the various tough situations – can you imagine what it was like to be sitting at that table and pondering that set of questions? – well, now we can. Somewhat. Plus, also, there’s still half an hour to go thrillingly!

This was the feeling – one unlike any I’ve had watching theatre over the last quarter century. This is what happens when skilled writers, directors and actors combine. This is what happens when the source material is of value and impact to everyone in the room. You could not watch this show and come away unmoved. You had to learn something. About character. Grit. Heart. The battle between correct medical advice and then selling that as a wisdom to be communicated in a message to an entire country. The ethics of journalism. The philosophy of community – actual community. The meanings behind and in and around all of this. And more. So much more.

This is why I’m obviously still thinking about TRANSMISSION. And will for days. And weeks.

I need to mention that the still photography is heartbreaking and beautiful. Montages of real people in real situations plays as the backdrop to many of the monologues. I immediately spotted Peter Black’s work because he is my favourite living photographer. But as well as Peter we were treated to photos by Mark Smith, Luke Pilkington-Chin, Kevin Stent and various Dominion Post photographers.

The people from the NZ Festival – the decision makers that pick and book and plug the gigs – were there. So one hope is that they’ll celebrate this show by programming it for the next festival. There will of course be other seasons. This show could be played on any stage in the country – small community theatres and the biggest stages we can find. But for its launch into the world it was so perfect at Wellington’s BATS.

A bigger and better stage would be to see it filmed – so it could be shown worldwide. But I don’t mean adapted into a film – I mean filmed as it is. I believe in it as a Netflix show; film the stage play and send it out to the world. Our example should be studied forever. This example of art will be of equal interest to writers, filmmakers, dramaturgs, actors and fans of great art.

This was the thing. Sitting there. Knowing I was lucky. Lucky to be alive. Lucky to have lived in a place where the Government of the day had my back. Was doing their very best to react to information and news and do what was best for everyone in the most manageable, efficient way; being open to criticism 24/7 by citizen journalists and social media’s vast wasteland of trends replacing rules. And succeeding.

But also the thing was sitting there. Knowing I was lucky. Lucky to be in this audience watching this very performance. Lucky to know that there are people out there like Stuart and Miranda. Tom and Sophie and Tim. The incredible support cast (Michelle Ang, Lahleina Feaunati) and technical crew (Andrew and Rufus Thomas with the original music, set designer Mark McEntrye, lighting designer Wendy Clease, AV designer Robert Larsen, graphic design by EightOne and Andre Caraco, production manager Karena Ketham, stage manager Tyler Clarke and operator Bekky Boyce).

And saved by people like Jacinda Ardern, Grant Roberston and Michael Baker. Well, this play shows – through their very words – that there’s actually no one like them.

Originally published on onthetracks.


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Brings together talented cast to present our lockdown story

Review by Sonya Stewart 21st Apr 2021

It’s surreal to watch a story based on something you were a part of. Most of the opening night’s crowd were part of the team of 5 million, that watched and waited anxiously in the lead up to and execution of the level 4 lockdown. You don’t often get that personal connection to the performance as an audience member.

Based on 20 hours of interviews with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson and leading epidemiologist Michael Baker, these are their words, verbatim. [More]


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Gripping, amusing, insightful, unexpected, moving – and needs to go viral

Review by John Smythe 21st Apr 2021

It takes a special combo of creative minds to even think of making a theatre work like Transmission – about New Zealand’s response to Covid-19 from political, scientific, journalistic and very personal perspectives – let alone bring it to fruition within the most unpredictable year any of us are likely to live through. And it’s not over yet!

Stuart McKenzie and Miranda Harcourt had just had an extremely nerve-wracking experience getting home from London before Lockdown, dramatically detailed in their Directors’ Notes. Self-isolating back in Wellington, they became “consumed like everybody else with the swirling debate in the Media and Social Media about how best to defend against the virus.”

The most obvious choice would have been to tell The Jacinda and Ashley* Story, given the fame and fandom thrust upon them by their daily press conferences. Instead, the Harcourt McKenzie Partnership chose to build their “case study in how Politics and Science can interact [through] the words of three powerful dreamers”: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Deputy PM and Minister of Finance Grant Robertson, and Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker. While all three regard the well-being of communities and environments as the major objectives of their vocations, the process of achieving that holistically within a pandemic had clear dramatic potential, given the conflicting imperatives of science, economics and politics.

Thanks to the fearless generosity and trust of Jacinda, Grant and Michael (we get to know them so well it seems right to be on first name terms), Stuart and Miranda began recording interviews in April 2020, having no idea how it would play out. In their quest to “glimpse the humanity behind the headlines” they also interviewed TV journalist Mei Heron and Moira Sa’imoa, the daughter of a high-born Samoan woman who died during Level 4 Lockdown.  

Although the end goal of ‘elimination’ cannot be said to have been achieved, there came a time when Stuart fashioned the verbatim material into a structured script, and he and Miranda took it into rehearsal with actors Sophie Hambleton, Tom Knowles and Tim Spite, in collaboration with their high-quality team of designers and crew. The result is gripping, amusing, insightful, unexpected and moving.

An existential quote from Aristotle segues into an actors’ squabble about who gets to play Jacinda Ardern – a comedy sketch, really, which entertainingly goes on to orientate us to the verbatim nature of what will follow and own up to Stuart’s dramaturgical interventions. Everything the actors say in character – unerringly capturing their vocal and physical qualities, and evoking their inner feelings – is verbatim.  

As a wonderful antidote to the gravity of what we know is to come, Tim Spite’s impeccably rendered Michael Baker muses on the infectiousness of laughter; how it, like anger and anxiety, is socially contagious. This is the first of many insights into the Professor’s compendious knowledge, wise extrapolations and profound humanity.

Of course it is Sophie Hambleton who totally embodies Jacinda’s extraordinary capacity to stay grounded in reality as she navigates the most extreme experience of her working life with fortitude, political acumen and what becomes her world-renowned ability to enrol the whole nation in accepting the hard calls she has to make.

Tom Knowles endearingly captures Grant Robertson’s essential blend of integrity and humour as Jacinda’s right-hand-man, charting a route to economic wellbeing that contradicts most orthodoxies – and works.

But it takes a while for the stars to align. Michael is a lone voice calling for lockdown before we suffer the same fate as Italy. His difference of opinion with microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles, andMei Heron’s account of her interview with him (manifested in Michelle Ang’s deep-felt recorded performance), mark the crisis point that could well have seen us take a very different turn. Jacinda’s perspective clarifies the need to meld the absolutes of science with the political need to align five thousand people to the ‘hard call’ if it is to succeed.

The build-up to the 21 March address to the nation, declaring Lockdown, is more dramatised than related. The need for Alert Levels brings powerful focus to the difference between moving up the levels to Lockdown as opposed to starting at Level 4 then easing off as and when it is safe to do so.

All three – Michael, Jacinda and Grant – are remarkably candid in sharing the formative experiences of childhood and adolescence that underpin who they are today. Even the common denominator of Christian upbringings and parental influences prove very different in each of their lives. Waves of empathy harmonise with perceptive laugh-inducing humour.  

Michelle Ang’s on-screen Mei Heron offers important insights into the professional positions taken by members of the Fourth Estate and the way doing her job affects her personal life. Moira Sa’imoa’s selfless story of how her family coped with being unable to have a funeral for her mother in Level 4 is brought gently to the stage by Lahleina Feaunati, who leads the cast in a beautiful song. While we haven’t had the opportunity to get to know Moira before this moment, our objective appreciation of her experience and concern for the wider community is salutary.

The verbatim sequences are intercut with the odd news clip and a shocking montage of Trump insisting the virus “will go away” – a salutary reminder of how others have mismanaged the same pandemic. And a précis of Greek historian Thucydides’ account of the Plague of Athens (in 430 BCE) reminds us how much has changed and how much has not.

What we can learn from the Covid-19 experience and its implications for the way we live now are canvassed. Despite this being a story that has not yet finished, Jacinda and Grant’s recollection of how liberating it was to go out to a Cuba Street café brings the play to an upbeat end.

It’s Grant who tells us, early on, that Jacinda likes to have a theme song to help her through each day. Elton John’s ‘I’m Still Standing’ is mentioned but what we are treated to is The Mountain Goat’s ‘This Year’ with the paradoxical chorus line: “I am going to make it through this year / If it kills me.” Finally, to top Transmission’s 100 captivating minutes (given the rights to perform ‘I’m Still Standing’ are not available), the cast closes the show with David Kilgour’s ‘Today is Gonna be Mine’ – where “everything will rhyme”.

It would have been tempting fate to end with ‘There is no Transmission in New Zealand’ (after Blam Blam Blam). Besides, given the premiere season is sold out, this Transmission needs to go viral throughout the country.

[As a special bonus on opening night, all five ‘verbatimised’ people were in the audience and stayed on to socialise afterwards.]
 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
*Dr Ashley Bloomfield, Director General of Health 


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