Maidment Theatre, Auckland

06/09/2014 - 27/09/2014

Production Details


Greed, deception, and family drama are at the heart of Auckland Theatre Company’s next production; the world premiere of Arthur Meek’s Trees Beneath The Lake.   

Playing at Auckland’s Maidment Theatre from 4 to 27 September and starring well-known actors Michael Hurst, Theresa Healey and Catherine Wilkin, Trees Beneath The Lake is set in present day Central Otago as financial wizard William Campbell (Hurst) returns to his family home to salvage his golden reputation.   

Under scrutiny by the Financial Markets Authority, William is forced to enact an audacious plan to save his marriage, fortune and reputation. But as the family reconvenes to fight for their future, a devastating new light is shone on their past.   

Heralded as one of the most exciting new voices in New Zealand theatre, Arthur wrote much of the play while in New York as part of the Harriet Friedlander New York Residency and said that being in the capital of the world financial markets had an influence on the work.   

“As soon as I got to New York all my characters made a whole new sense – what they wanted and what they were going to get became clear.   

“Everyone in this play is trying to navigate the massive gulf between their reality and their ambitions and no one does that with more cunning than people who live in New York.”   

Trees Beneath The Lake is set in Lowburn, Central Otago. It was there, when William was young, that the Campbells lost their battle to save the family orchard from being flooded in the creation of the Clyde Dam.   

“Central Otago is famously beautiful but once you spend time there you realise it’s also deceptively brutal. Everyone who’s ever lived there comes face to face with its promise of great riches and the practical difficulty of trying to extract them.”  

He adds that while the family still resents the government for pushing them off their land, “what the play’s about is that while we’re distracting ourselves getting worked up about the bloody government, we miss the fact that the biggest threat for most of us, might well be the person we love and trust most in the world.  

“William is an ‘every son’ and he’ll do anything to maintain his mother’s good impression of him, except change his ways. He finds it easier to conceal his misdeeds than to stop doing them.”  

Arthur said he is excited to be working with the cast to bring Trees Beneath The Lake to life. “My job I to put words in people’s mouths. Being in the room and seeing the script jump off the page and into the actors is the great joy of my life, and more than makes up for all the time I have to spend beavering away by myself.”  

Trees Beneath The Lake follows Arthur’s ATC 2011 main bill debut with his play On The Upside Down of the World which has toured to arts festivals around New Zealand and is currently featuring at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  

ATC artistic director Colin McColl said Arthur Meek was one of the bright stars of New Zealand playwriting. “This smart, powerful and compelling new work we’ve commissioned from him questions what happens to the inhabitants of a small nation who risk everything to dream big.”  

Directed by Simon Bennett, the cast for Trees Beneath The Lake also includes Brooke Williams as William’s lawyer Ruth Laughton, Peter Hayden and newcomer Leighton Stichbury. 

4-27 September
4 & 5 Sept, Previews
6 Sept, Opening Night
BOOK: 09 308 2383 or

William Campbell – Michael Hurst
Jennifer Campbell – Theresa Healey
Nieve Campbell – Catherine Wilkin
Ruth Laughton – Brooke Williams
Tom Mayhew – Peter Hayden
Ross Campbell – Leighton Stichbury  

Playwright – Arthur Meek
Direction – Simon Bennett
Dramaturg – Philippa Campbell
Sound Design – Jason Smith
Set Design – Tracey Collins
Costume Design – Sara Taylor
Lighting Design – Phillip Dexter MSc
Composer — Jason Smith

Technical & Production Manager — Paul Nicoll
Company Manager — Fern Christie-Birchall
Stage Manager — Gabrielle Vincent
Assistant Stage Manager (Intern) — Youra Hwang
Technical Operator — Rachel Marlow
Publicist — Sally Woodfield
Props Master — Natasha Pearl 
Set Construction — 2constru

Big themes, big drama, big laughs

Review by James Wenley 08th Sep 2014

Thirty years ago the Campbell family lost a fierce fight against the Clutha Dam development in Central Otago, and their family home and orchards were flooded in the name of progress. It bred a family legacy and a steely mistrust of the government. Now the family have reunited on the shores of Lake Dunstan for a new battle: millionaire William Campbell’s Investment Company, under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office, has collapsed. People are calling him a crook. He wants to clear his name and his reputation.

Trees Beneath the Lake has the bearing of a significant state-of-the-nation drama. It’s not overtly political (and it’s just as much a state-of-the-family) but it articulates a response to the turbulent few years of this country’s history. The GFC and the collapse of many financial companies and the loss of nest eggs for many New Zealanders, but perhaps also the attitude that comes with having an exchange trader as a prime minister, all reflected through the deceptive blue of a man-made Otago lake. Arthur Meek’s play, partly written in New York on the Harriet Friedlander residency, takes stock of where we are. [More]


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Rural take on dodgy deals

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 08th Sep 2014

Family farm a claustrophobic setting for look at fraud and the world of high finance. 

The fraudulent world of high finance has furnished plenty of high-stakes drama in recent years but the quintessentially Kiwi protagonist of Arthur Meek’s new play is a far cry from the Wolf of Wall Street.  His self-effacing cunning might earn him a modest notoriety as the Weasel of Clutha Valley.

Michael Hurst’s portrayal of a despicable conman is a finely nuanced performance, particularly when seemingly genuine attempts at human decency are revealed to be calculated moves to manipulate members of his own family. [More]


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Laughs a-plenty, tears lacking

Review by Nik Smythe 07th Sep 2014

The world-premiere of a new work by somewhere-between-emerging-and-established local playwright Arthur Meek explores issues across the spectrum of modern life, from struggling individuals to the mighty yet fragile world economy. 

Centred on a small family reuniting after a long time apart in Lowburn, Central Otago, they recall their historical battle with the government decades before over the construction of Clyde Dam, which eventually caused their apricot orchard to flood and gave the play a title.  Pervading the entire narrative – as it does all our lives whether we’re conscious of it or not – is the all-encompassing scope of global financial marketing.  

With his exemplary cast, director Simon Bennett presents a well-realised, skilfully performed, recognisably small-town Kiwi family, persevering in their typically wry manner to address the issues at hand. 

The play opens with a fourth-wall breaking pitch by one investment consultant type capitalist hotshot William Campbell (Michael Hurst), emphatically selling his commitment to the hard-earned dollars of his clients as he gambles them on high-risk stock options.  The ostensible veracity of William’s oily patter has an intense quality that is quickly diffused as he returns to his childhood home to defend himself against embezzlement charges.  

Catherine Wilkin plays matriarch and benevolent dictator Nieve Campbell, devoted mother of the prodigal William and long-suffering grandparent of the stereotypically teenaged Ross, William’s son, a comic highlight due to the expertly obnoxious performance of Leighton Stichbury in his professional debut.  Nieve’s supposedly stalwart principles include never taking a sick day off work and an intolerance to swearwords as innocuous as “freakin’’ and “hell”… at least until push comes to shove.  

Theresa Healey is William’s wife and Ross’s mother Jennifer, who from the first seems overly protective and uptight, entirely at odds with Nieve’s less conditional lifestyle. Jennifer’s personal journey possibly has the biggest arc, as she begins to review her own motives and abilities after a lifetime of being caught in the middle, toeing the line. 

Peter Hayden brings the highest percentage of tangible gravitas as lifelong family friend and neighbour Tom, retired QC.  With an obvious soft spot for Nieve, whose own husband, Ross senior, died long since under circumstances brought into question, Tom is torn between his loyalty to her brood and his wavering trust in William. 

Arriving with William is rookie lawyer Ruth (Brooke Williams), hired at no cost to represent him.  Another source of mirth, Ruth’s competence is undermined greatly by her own nervous disposition, causing her to say things she’d have been shrewder not to.  Somewhat unsure of herself, being the only true outsider in the story, Ruth is barely given the chance to prove her potential worth as the proceedings are impatiently railroaded from her grasp.  Her recent secret night of indiscretion with William doesn’t help any. 

Tracey Collins and Rachael Walker’s outstanding set design is a visual delight, with its irrationally sloping floor space compensated by remarkably level furniture. There are five or six distinct levels including bedrooms, kitchen, living space and an outdoor ramp area looking out towards us over the eponymous lake, which I suppose makes the audience the drowned trees.  That would make the tremendous gnarly old lone apricot tree our sole surviving descendant, looking down from upstage centre upon all the goings-on. 

Phillip Dexter’s lighting makes great use of the eclectic shapes the set provides, showcasing various Southern-style dawns, days, dusks and nights upon it. Meanwhile Jason Smith’s original dramatic score belies the comparatively shallow performances, weaving its ethereal magic around the dramatis personae as ensuing events cause each of their worlds to unravel irreconcilably. 

Entertaining and clever as far as it goes, Trees Beneath the Lake has plenty of scope to go far deeper emotionally.  The promotional release’s claim to being “urgent, relevant and dramatic” isn’t really delivered to the degree I infer from the statement. It falls short of its potential to be compared with the brooding intensity of Bruce Mason or Arthur Miller, the script and production echoing more of the witticism-centric stylings of Roger Hall or Neil Simon. 

I feel that a story touching on so many dark themes – fraud, infidelity, suicide and more – ought to move me to tears at some point, but it somehow fails to connect at that level.


John Smythe September 24th, 2014

The most interesting thing about Trees Beneath the Lake for me – taking the exemplary writing, performances, directing and design as a given – is the lack of redemption for William. And this is ‘bang on the money’ because people like him are irredeemable despite his ‘winning ways’. There is dramatic movement aplenty for Nieve and Jennifer, and a strong dramatic finale (Chekhov’s dictum duly honoured) …

It leaves me with plenty to consider about the psychology behind those driven to ‘succeed’ and those conditioned to believe they are ‘special’ … The more I think about it the more I realise how much it has going for it. I certainly hope other theatre companies will pick this up.

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