Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

16/11/2016 - 25/11/2016

Production Details

No Time Like The Tumultuous, Awful Present or:
Happy 5th Birthday Last Tapes and The Actors’ Program!

The Actors’ Program and Last Tapes Theatre Company present the Auckland premiere of Vernon God Little at the Basement Theatre, November 16-25. And what better way to end the year than a biting black comedy about American gun violence? Think South Park meets Bowling for Columbine. It’s a play for everyone who’d prefer to watch Trump singing ‘(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life’ to hearing what he’s actually saying. It’s absurd and unsettling, but no more so than the real world. It’s challenging and entertaining and madcap and heartfelt. It’s pure theatre, just like the presidential elections.

It’s a special year for both companies – we’re both turning five! In five short years both Last Tapes and The Actors’ Program (TAP) have well and truly hit their stride, with TAP launching the careers of many young performers including Daniel Watterson (Dirty Laundry), Arlo Gibson (Step Dave), Zoe Robbins (Power Rangers, The Shannara Chronicles), Holly Shervey and Jess Sayer (Auckward Love), and Eve Palmer (The Adam & Eve Show); and of course Last Tapes are rounding out a spectacular year with the completion of their ‘First Steps’ season, championing new writers and debut stage works. The gamble to work with newbies brought Last Tapes huge acclaim, with productions such as Valerie and Mating in Captivity achieving critical success, and they plan to continue that success with this showcase of TAP’s newest acting talent.

“Vernon… is like Holden Caulfield on Ritalin” – The Independent 

So, with all these positive vibes in the air, what better time than now to bring Vernon God Little to the Auckland stage? Written in 2001 by celebrated playwright Tanya Ronder as an adaptation of DBC Pierre’s Booker Prize-winning novel, it’s almost stupidly relevant to the current bizarre state of contemporary politics and culture. In Pierre’s own words “I’m not a satirist. Reality has surpassed satire”.

“Vernon is a brilliant comic creation: hapless, unlucky, cynical, often tragic” – The Guardian 

The production is particularly precious to director Leon Wadham (known for his role in Go Girls), who worked on the NZ premiere of the work in 2010 with Long Cloud Theatre Company under Sophie Roberts and Willem Wassenaar. Fresh from a 2015 directing internship with Roberts and Silo Theatre Company, Wadham is looking to bring the chaotic mania of Pierre’s novel to life with an invigorated troupe of new actors. Wadham say’s “Vernon… is like South Park meets Bowling for Columbine. It has its finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the world right now, just turned up to ‘eleven’. It’s a delight”. 

The Actors’ Program and Last Tapes are optimistic about emerging talent in NZ performing arts, and encourage mentoring to grow a world-class theatre industry. This means working with exciting, fresh new talent, but also bringing in the best in the business to help out. Fittingly, the creative team for Vernon God Little includes Andrew Foster – board member of Wellington’s Circa Theatre and celebrated theatre maker in his own right; Lara Macgregor – ex-Artistic Director of Dunedin’s Fortune Theatre; and Paul McLaney – one of New Zealand’s most influential musicians. Together with the Basement Theatre, the home of the most exciting emerging voices in Auckland theatre, Last Tapes and The Actors’ Program will be celebrating turning the big zero-five with a show that’s as mad as the present, and a production full of future promise.

Vernon God Little
Basement Theatre,
16-25 November 2016

Anya Banerjee: Ella, Judge Nancy
Beth Alexander: Judge Helen, Pelayo's Wife, Media Court Officer, Kid in Braces
Bianca Paine: Border Guard, Team Leader, Lally's Mom, Camera Man, Lori
Bronwyn Ensor: Mom
Dominique Bela: Prosecutor, Eileena
Dylan Toussaint: Sheriff P, Con One, Acapulco Clerk, Beau Gurie 
Emily Brill-Holland: Ms Knuckles, Leona, Driver
Genevieve Kent: Taylor, Charlotte, May May, Pastor Gibbons
Hamish Annan: Brad, Brian, Mr Deutschman
Isaac Cleland: Pelayo, Mr Keeter, Court Officer, Jonesy
Jarred Blakiston: Lally
Jessi Williams: Vaine, Bartender, Foreman
Karen Ellett: Lasalle, Heavy, Little Old Lady
Sebastian Holland-Dudding: Vernon Gregory Little
Simon Mead: Dr Goosens, Todd, Con Two, Max
Sophia Johnson: Touissant, Pam, Chrissie, Stephy

Creative team
Leon Wadham: Director
Rachel Marlow: Lighting design
Andrew Foster: Set design
Paul McLaney: Musical direction/sound design
Alison Reid: Costume design
Lara Macgregor: Directorial assistance
Kirstie O'Sullivan: Voice coach
Production team
Jordan Keyzer: Stage manager
Natasha Lay: Rehearsal SM cover
Michele Hine: Executive producer
Robin Kelly: Production manager
Nicky Vella: Production team
Cherie Moore: Production team
Rebekah Guy: Production team
Natalie Beran: Production team
Ronnie Livingstone: Technical manager
Gabrielle Vincent: Programming manager 
Marketing and publicity
Sacha Stejko: Marketing photographer
Adam Baines: Rehearsal photographer  

Theatre ,

American Idiot

Review by Rachael Longshaw-Park 23rd Nov 2016

Vernon God Little is a controversial play for a controversial time. In the wake of Trump’s America raising its ugly head, now is almost too easy a time to dissect American culture for all its faults. Director Leon Wadham has taken that chance with the graduating class of The Actor’s Program who tell the tragically satirical story of Vernon Little and American dysfunction.

The script is an adaptation, penned by Tanya Ronder, of the highly acclaimed book by DBC Pierre. It was famously performed at The Old Vic in 2007 and received a mixed reception. On the one hand critics appreciated the fast-paced adaptation for its differences from the original text, but others criticised Ronder for stripping away the quality of the book and resorting to an over generalisation of American culture instead of a cleverly written satire. In Auckland 2016, Wadham’s take on the script doesn’t prompt such polarising opinions. [More


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Exemplary talent

Review by Nik Smythe 23rd Nov 2016

The annual Actors’ Program graduation production showcases sixteen young actors emerging from an intensive one-year full-time training course.  Artistic Manager Michelle Hine notes it’s their 5th birthday, and “what better way to celebrate than with this rambunctious ensemble piece?” 

Rambunctious is right. It begins ostensibly as a psychological study before quickly shifting to a biting satire on the media and legal system, but then it’s a convoluted murder mystery with a twist at every turn, all framed in a rollicking character-driven allegorical semi-absurdist black comedy of errors. 

Staged in the round, Andrew Foster’s set has five entrances, one in each corner plus the main doors.  The entire room’s walls are draped with segments of advertising billboard canvases sporting logos and products so that we and the players are ensconced together within the overwhelming onslaught of corporate solicitation.  Just like life really, with the metaphor stretching to the way we’re so saturated as to become ultimately unconscious of its presence most of the time.

Adapted for the stage from a Booker Prize-winning 2003 novel, the premise centres around a high school mass murder/suicide shooting perpetrated by the title character’s best friend, for which Vernon is under investigation as a suspected accessory.  In the course of two Acts covering Vernon’s fugitive ordeal, battling the gleeful voracity of negative public opinion as manipulated by the press and lawmakers alike, more than forty-five friends, relatives, neighbours, authority figures and strangers are encountered. 

The inherent bleakness of the play’s central themes is at all times subordinate to the comedic energy. I confess I’m ultimately uncertain as to what the intended message of the two hour twenty minute odyssey actually is, albeit consistently entertaining. 

Director Leon Wadham’s casting is impressively on-point given the talent pool is entirely limited to the Actors’ Program’s class of 2016: testament also to the said ensemble’s versatile performance skills. 

Set in Texas, the predominant Southern American drawls are comparable to what you hear when watching Dallas or The Dukes of Hazzard (showing my age, I know).  Through the able guidance of voice coach Kirstie O’Sullivan, overall pronunciation is around eighty to ninety percent convincing, and special mention must go to Sophia Johnson’s brilliantly indecipherable French accent in her small but vital role as Vernon’s defence attorney. 

Sebastian Holland Dudding carries the play well in the eponymous role of Vernon Gregory Little, frequently substituting his own middle name with various adjectives such as ‘Genius’, ‘Paradigm’, ‘Dork’ and so on.  Although suspension of disbelief is required to believe he’s merely fifteen years of age, as with the characters peers, the intrinsic heightened theatrical style renders it an effective non-issue.

His doting but self-centred mother Doris (Bronwyn Ensor) struggles to be supportive, obstructed somewhat by her own blind desire and a dark secret central to Vernon’s inability to prove his innocence. 

Running the gamut of slimy con artist to odious evangelist, Jarred Blackiston’s portrayal of handsome unscrupulous hard-news television journalist Eulalio ‘Lally’ Ledesma is impressively charismatic given his total lack of any redeeming quality. 

The rest of the cast shares the remaining parts between them, playing between two and four supporting and incidental roles each.  Memorably engaging performances include, but are by no means limited to, Anya Banerjee’s sexually precocious Ella Keeter, Karen Ellet’s staunchly philosophical prison padre, and Isaac Cleland and Beth Alexander’s excitable Mexican chicken farmers. 

Meanwhile, a number of the cast take turns inhabiting the ethereal late shooter Jesus’s cowboy hat and fleece-collared DJ as Vernon consults him in times of stress, of which there are many.

No-one is perfectly innocent in this complicated tale but there are a number of essentially relatable characters including, crucially, Vernon and his Mom.  However, it falls short of any substantial emotional impact due to contrived scenarios and exaggerated production elements.  Personally, the only moment I find actually moving is when the targeted classroom’s schoolteacher Ms Knuckles (Emily Brill-Holland) provides her spurious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-ridden testimony at Vernon’s trial. 

Professionally appointed production design effectively augments the array of creditable performances, from Foster’s aforementioned set to Alison Reid’s illustrative costume design and Rachel Marlow’s felicitous lights.  The sound design and musical direction of Paul McLaney is the most noticeably inspired element, particularly the deconstructed classic country & western refrains performed by the whole cast with requisite heart and extra cheese. 

Judging by this production, the future of Auckland’s performing arts will not be wanting for exemplary talent.  Rather, the industry’s challenge is to thrive and grow so as to accommodate the increasing numbers of outstanding practitioners.


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Satirical play has spooky parallels with US election

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 23rd Nov 2016

There is an eerie prescience in the decision to stage Vernon God Little just as America succumbs to the belief that the frontman for a reality TV show will lead them to greatness.

The stage play is an adaptation by Tanya Ronder of DBC Pierre’s novel that controversially won the Man Booker prize in 2003 with an enraged satirical rant against America’s media driven obsessions, as seen through the eyes of a foul-mouthed Texan teenager who is falsely accused as accessory to a mass shooting. [More


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