Te Pou Theatre, 44a Portage Road, New Lynn, Auckland

04/06/2015 - 06/06/2015

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

09/06/2015 - 13/06/2015

Production Details

“The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much, and forgetting that you are special too.” ― Ernest Hemingway, Men Without Women.

Brought to you by Altitude Productions in their debut production, comes the Auckland premiere of Treats.  

Written by the award-winning Christopher Hampton (Atonement, Dangerous Liasons) and with the multi-talented Alistair Browning in the director’s chair, comes an ever-relevant comedy of love juxtaposed. 

While her abusive, bullying and unfaithful boyfriend, Dave, is reporting in Iraq, Ann seizes the opportunity to change the locks and take up with her infinitely more considerate colleague Patrick. But Patrick proves no match against savagery and charisma when Dave comes crashing home, determined to win back his girl. 

After directing Ibsen’s the Doll’s House, writer Christopher Hampton was inspired to write Treats. “…what I wanted to explore was the plight of women trapped in violent relationships. It happens. I noticed in the 70s, it was often the people who were most radical and forward-thinking who were the most abusive to their girlfriends; even if the women weren’t exactly happy about it, they somehow found it more interesting to be in a tormented relationship.” 

30 years on from the plays conception, director Alistair Browning has taken to tackling the timeless message. “If we could get even just a handful of audience members to reconsider the dynamics of their own current and future relationships, and inspire a desire for change in these, we will have succeeded.’’ 

Featuring performances by Amber-Rose Henshall, Jeff Szusterman and Simon Ward, Treats is a hysterical take on an uncomfortable truth, removing forever the notion of owned and owner. 

Treats begins its New Zealand premiere season at the brand new Te Pou theatre from the 4th to the 6th of June and climaxing at the sensational Basement Theatre from the 9th to the 13th of  June. 

Treats is a story of the light and the dark of relationships, a serious comedy for bright young people. Who gains from romance? Who loses? Who is treating whom? 

Altitude Productions in association with The Basement presents

Te Pou Theatre, 44a Portage Road, New Lynn
4-6 June 2015, 7.30pm 

The Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Avenue, Auckland 
9-13 June 2015, 6.30pm 

Tickets: or 09 361 1000

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Review by Tim George 12th Jun 2015

A couple sit on a couch, enjoying the evening. A plain of glass shatters. And then, so does everything else.

Written by Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) and directed by Alistair Browning, Treats is a bruising comedy about three people who want (and need) different things from each other. Dave, a journalist, has just come back from assignment in Iraq, and is determined to take up with his girlfriend again. Sick of his drinking and womanising, Ann wants nothing to do with him. Dancing around the nuclear disaster which is Dave and Ann’s relationship, her new boyfriend Patrick tries to mend bridges, and sows the seeds for his destruction.


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Something to think about and discuss

Review by Nik Smythe 11th Jun 2015

A ‘trigger warning’ sign at the entrance advises of the ensuing play’s domestic violence content.  A couple of unconvincing blows between the two men in the first five minutes does little to justify the notice, but as the frustrating altercations play out the implicit (and explicit) psychological violence triggers me far more deeply than any of the wholly fake physical events.  Not unlike real life I suppose, in terms of the penetrating power of psychological abuse. Physical violence is also of course frequently all too real.

Jeff Szusterman is Dave: an arrogant, abusive arsehole returning from a journalistic assignment in the Middle East, to find his girlfriend has evicted him from their home and taken up with another man.  Amber-Rose Henshall is Anne, a frustrated woman in an unfulfilling job taking critical steps to end her long-term entrapment with a sociopathic bully.  Simon Ward is Anne’s work colleague and rebound-lover, Patrick: a weak-willed milquetoast as infuriatingly pathetic as Dave is unconscionably aggressive.

As directed by Alistair Browning, the cast soon warms into their respective roles to present a recognisable portrait of three self-centred thirty-something urbanites in a ‘love’ triangle, and their dysfunctional attempts to relate to one another.  For all their competent performance however, there’s precious little to like about any of these people, undermining any possibility for emotional investment.  At best, Treats offers something to think about and discuss. 

Dave holds all the cards pretty much from start to finish, constantly undermining Anne’s fortitude in her bid to send him packing.  Patrick is less than no help, essentially encouraging Dave’s onslaught with his irrational diplomacy.  Anne’s preferable course of action seems blindingly apparent to the outside observer, yet to our dismay she is continually swayed by Dave’s articulate drivel.  Again, echoes of reality, followed through in the utterly non-redemptive conclusion.

For what it’s worth, Christopher Hampton’s script is laced with plenty of humour and some observational wisdom.  Dave in particular possesses a remarkably eloquent turn of phrase, with his journalist’s penchant for adjectives and analogies.  But any validity to his insights is completely overshadowed by the obvious fact that he’s a purposely unpleasant, self-entitled prick whose entire MO is to amuse and/or gratify himself in spite of, or rather preferably at the expense of, others. 

The large living room/dining area set, not specifically credited, is an appropriate scene for what is effectively a kind of modern-day drawing-room drama.  Overall the production design is utilitarian, with selected characters’ favourite music tracks and Callum Blackmore’s original low-fi electronica scene-change compositions offering the closest approximation to an emotional connection.


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Sophisticated, elegant, thought-provoking, disturbing

Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 10th Jun 2015

Other commitments conspired to ensure that this review took place, not on opening night as hoped, but on the final night of a short three performance season before the play moves to the city to The Basement for a further five performances. You still have the opportunity to catch it there, and I seriously advise that you do. [And technological issues conspired to delay its publication until now – apologies – ED]

Seeing a show at a new theatre venue is always incredibly exciting. I’d been hearing about Te Pou, The Auckland home of Mâori Theatre, for some months and there has been a sense of quiet excitement building towards the opening so when the opportunity arose to review Altitude Productions aptly entitled Treats, it was an offer I simply couldn’t refuse.

Te Pou* was founded by Ruia Taitea Creative, who have built this space based on the kaupapa Mâori fundamentals of aroha, manaakitanga and Whânau. Their website makes it clear that you do not need to be Mâori to work at Te Pou but that any group or individual interested in growing art based on these principles can come and work in the space. The theatre’s Facebook page adds an informative proverb to the mix with ‘ruia taitea, kia tû ko taikaka anake’ which, translated, means ‘strip away the sap-wood, so that only the heart-wood remains’. What a perfect way to define the process of creating a performance or a profoundly affecting work of art. ‘Big ups’ to Ruia Taitea Creative, which means ‘bloody good show’ for the care they’ve taken to get their kaupapa absolutely right! 

Director of Treats, Alistair Browning, is the consummate professional with a career noted equally for its first-rate body of work in all performance mediums and for its longevity. You don’t survive for any time in this pitiless industry if you’re not both tenacious and talented and Browning scores off the scale on each of these norms.

Good directors choose good plays and don’t back away from challenges and it would seem that Browning has more than willingly leapt into the breach to tackle this work despite its somewhat chequered performance history. My research suggests that, despite its initial popularity, a number of directors have subsequently missed the point of Hampton’s extraordinary play and, as a result, it has drifted into a strange netherworld of disparagement which is totally undeserved. Lizzie Loverage in Curtain Up says of Laurence Boswell’s 2007 revival with Billie Piper as Ann “Treatsdoes little more, albeit very eloquently, than chronicle the shifting relationships as Ann chooses, falters, and seems drawn back into a decision to be bruised by Dave.”

The iconic Michael Billington, Guardian critic seemingly forever, felt the same. He said of the same production “my problem in 1976 was that I couldn’t believe in Ann’s restricted possibilities: why, in the age of women’s lib, was she forced to choose between an amiable wimp and a destructive neurotic? And, by updating the action to the present, Hampton makes her dilemma even less credible.” I have to say that I vehemently disagree and Browning’s production, I believe, amply proves my point!

Written in 1976, Treats followed a period during which Hampton had worked on a new translation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. This classic play, also often misunderstood, can be seen as the first of many works highlighting issues relating to the equality of women and their role in relationships, family and society. Ibsen is a master at signposting and if you pick up the signals in his texts and treat them justly you can’t really go wrong. An example is the tarantella Nora dances at the party upstairs. It’s a wild, upbeat dance that replicates the hysteria caused by the bite of the tarantula spider. As such, it also replicates Nora’s emotional state and if the actress doesn’t at least attempt the dance in the manner Ibsen suggests, she will always have difficulty finding the next, and most difficult, step into the narrative.

Hampton embeds similar signals in Treats and Browning and his exemplary team identify them all and, as a result, score point after psychological point until the climax is reached. Not an exhausted, submissive state but one heightened by the sexual tension inherent in all their behaviours. It’s exciting stuff.   

It seems timely, or fortuitous, that Browning should choose 2015 to produce this play, a year when Auckland Theatre Company has produced its own version of the Ibsen classic, in this case a new script by the talented Emily Perkins. Perkins follows the original, while Hampton creates an entirely new counter narrative, not around a woman who leaves an abusive relationship but one who, in Browning’s production, willingly stays.

Hampton, having spent a considerable time with a character as extraordinary as Nora Helmer, became interested that, a century later, women were still locked into unhappy relationships and, for one reason or another, seemed unable to leave.  This was the genesis of his concept for Treats where the central character stays with the detestable man who has caused her so much grief.  Of an interview with Hampton in March of 2007 Billington writes “Hampton stoutly rebuts my argument that updating the play makes the heroine’s surrender to an abusive relationship even more improbable than it seemed in 1976. ‘What I wanted to explore’, Hampton says, ‘was the plight of women trapped in violent relationships. It happens. I noticed in the 70s, it was often the people who were most radical and forward-thinking who were the most abusive to their girlfriends; even if the women weren’t exactly happy about it, they somehow found it more interesting to be in a tormented relationship.”

Essential to understanding Browning’s vision for this new production is the man himself.  Urbane, sophisticated and cultured, Browning sits comfortably next to Hampton whose artistry and knowledge also cannot be questioned. His production is thoughtful, professional and articulate and realises Hamptons vision while leaving next to nothing to chance.

If casting is the key to success then Browning has picked the perfect team, not just onstage but off, where he has surrounded himself with a gifted team who fit the production needs like a handsomely tailored glove. His programme note tells us that he has wanted to direct Treats since he first read it, presumably many years ago. Personally, I’m glad he stayed with it and the gestation period has certainly been worth the wait. He describes Hampton’s writing as elegant, concise and timeless and his production mirrors these qualities. It’s clear he is aware of the complexities of the playwright’s humour and how this works to illuminate both character and circumstance to create a unity that is immensely satisfying. 

Browning has taken the liberty, as did Boswell in 2007, of updating the text and, in this case, setting the play here in New Zealand the day after tomorrow, “at  a time of increasing social unrest as more troops are sent to combat ISIL and New Zealand becomes a target for terrorists”. He’s not the first director to fiddle about with a text by bringing it up to date and setting it locally but he is the first in my experience to actually make it work. Greg McGee dabbled with the threat of terrorism in his 1983 play Tooth and Claw and it so terrified director Tony Taylor that he cut every reference to it from The Court Theatre’s somewhat domestic production. Browning shows no such timidity and the result is a titillating new dimension to an already disquieting play. 

A further feature of this fine production is the way in which cast, crew and Browning have built such an impressive unity from what is, in effect, a number of loosely related scenes.  They do this through excellent musical links composed especially for this production by the gifted Callum Blackmore. They are exquisite and enhance the action while enriching the narrative. Scene changes are managed by the cast with fluency and ease, the lighting of Ruby Reihana Wilson provides a decorous cover for these seamless links, and the overall impression is of a deliciously integrated whole.

We enter the theatre to the evocative sounds of Amy Winehouse. Somewhat later the actors enter to the same artist crooning the Cilla Black classic ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’. It’s an excellent start. Winehouse is the perfect foil for what is to come and there is a cheeky irony in this choice of song, a sassy piece that adds poise to Hampton’s wit fashioning resonances long after the seventy-five minute performances is over. This isn’t the last time Browning will play a masterful musical card either, in fact the evening is full of them. 

The set is chic, a small, inner city apartment hermetically sealed from the rest of the world, and inhabited by people with taste even if, at the start, it does seem a tad Spartan. It’s with reason, of course, because Dave has only recently been moved out and Patrick, his replacement, isn’t a person who acquires things. Clever Mr Hampton uses this to create his own ‘who owns who’ theme by focusing on who has the rights to a leather chair, a Middle Eastern rug, and a vinyl album each of which forms the foundation of a later battlefield that these more than willing participants engage on.

Ann (Amber-Rose Henshall) lives in the apartment with Patrick (Simon Ward). They have recently become a couple and it’s clear that Patrick has moved in with her and not she with him.  Enter Dave, her ex (Jeff Szusterman), recently returned from Iraq, broke and, ironically, staying at the Hilton. He wants Ann back and the remainder of the play is spent realising this intention in similar mode to that evident in Hampton’s later effort Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Yes,the evening is one of nasty, emotional and sexual games, unbearable humiliation for Patrick and Ann, and a victory of sorts for Dave. While on the surface this may seem like a simple parable (and with a number of well-known productions such as the one I have mentioned above, this has clearly been as far as they got), Browning and his team add a bravura dimension by asking the simple question ‘who is manipulating who?’.  

For Ibsen aficionados – and I am one – the dénouement of the play is equally funny and tragic. At first I laugh at the irony, and then I stop laughing altogether. It’s chilling and really well done. Tracking back through the production all the signposts are there and this, for me, is a mark of the finest of fine work. 

Hampton’s script is as precise as an algorithm and it rips along at a merry pace. There are some wonderful, almost outrageous, scenes with the early bonding of the two men cleverly staged for maximum effect. Each actor is given an unexpected solo scene where they confront us, guards down, open, and ready for business. There are scenes of intense discomfort, beautifully embedded Hamptonian gags and even the odd contemporary throw-away Kiwi line such as ‘never a trust a politician whose name begins with K’.

There are passages reminiscent of Ibsen such as Nora’s obdurate “I’m leaving you, Torvald” scene and, unpredictably, a feeling of inordinate sadness overwhelms me as I leave the theatre and remains for the subsequent two days. It’s hard to pinpoint why, but this production has had a profound effect on me. 

There are also courageous directorial choices. For example, Browning trusts that a character simply sitting listening to music will in itself be interesting – and it is. In fact, it is riveting and always, always there is Hampton’s silver-tongued and modish text. Lines such as “you mean she never complained about me? The woman has no feelings”, Ann’s “you make a distinction do you, between women and people?”, and Dave’s penetratingly self-aware “unless they’re like me and like dancing in the ruins”. The classic “I have a friend called Napoleon Bonaparte who thinks he’s a lunatic” is simply the funniest, and most abstruse, line I have ever heard,; a throw-away quip that keeps quipping. In previous Hampton productions I have seen, the text, reminiscent of Wilde and Orton, frequently wins out over the actors but not so in this production where they exist as conspiratorial equals. The result is gut-wrenching anguish and more than a moment of torment.

Of equal quality are the performances. As Patrick, Simon Ward is a neurotic mess, ill-equipped for the horror of his journey, a man until recently living with his mother who lacks even a hint of personality; who is easy pickings for the predatory Dave. It’s a selfless performance and Ward contributes exactly what is needed to the narrative. 

As Dave, Jeff Szusterman is about as horrible as it’s possible to be even for a journalist. He’s sharp-witted, manipulative, crude and violent and, while we respect the genius of the actor playing the role, we find nothing to admire in this character at all. Dave would seem to be a prototype for Hampton’s Vicomte de Valmont, from his later adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ epistolary novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, with the one sad difference being that Dave remains alive, the victor, at the end of the play. 

Amber-Rose Henshall plays Ann, the woman at the centre of this bizarre love triangle.  She is enigmatic, plays a deliciously oblique line through much of the play – the classic beaten woman – but her smart and eloquent choices towards the end leave little doubt that it is actually she who is in control. There’s a hint of the Marquise de Merteuil, Valmond’s partner-in-crime, in Ann and the question must be asked: does Hampton revel in the sexual and emotional games played by heterosexual couples – or is it just a coincidence that these parallels exist?  Henshall’s performance is powerful, edgy and elusive and I love it to bits. There is no doubt in my mind that her decision to stay with the ghastly Dave is a calculated one and it rounds out Hampton’s – and Browning’s – vision perfectly. 

Treats is a very fine evening at the theatre. It’s a distinguished production, sophisticated and elegant, with performances of unique quality and an analytical directorial bent that pays due attention to Hampton’s physical and psychological detail. It’s intense, have no doubt, but it’s also thought-provoking, disturbing and could just be happening in any number of apartments right on your street – and right now. 

This may have been the final night at Te Pou but you will have five more opportunities to catch this outstanding production at The Basement this week.

*My final advice is that you take the first opportunity you can to travel out to Te Pou in Portage Road, New Lynn and to experience the wonderful hospitality of Auckland’s newest theatre venue. You’ll love it!

Te Pou adds an interesting new texture to New Lynn and, an important factor in theatre-going in 2015, it boasts ample off-street parking at the back of the building. It also has an attractive and spacious foyer, a striking range of beverages and a unique menu of classic Kiwi snacks. The auditorium is attractively appointed, is intimate, allows for excellent sight lines and there is an emphasis on quality audience comfort.    


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