We Have Boys at Home

Meteor Theatre, 1 Victoria Street, Hamilton

29/05/2024 - 01/06/2024

Production Details


Written and directed by Conor Maxwell

Infinity Monkey Theatre


“C’mon babe, what’re you so scared of? He’s just a boy. We have boys at home.”

One Summer, best friends Meg (Hannah-Rose Cook) and Jay (Bronwyn Laundry) went on a road trip from Hamilton to Napier to meet Meg’s long-distance boyfriend for the first time. Over a year later, the pair reunite, and with the help of Jay’s actor friends Christian (Jam Smith) and Skye (Rachael Bloemendal), decide to stage a play about their journey, with Meg and Jay playing themselves, and Christian and Skye playing everyone else. What starts as a celebration of love across long distances goes sour as ego, interruptions, and suspicious diversions from the events of the road trip cause even more tension on an already strained friendship. ‘We Have Boys at Home’ sheds light on the chaotic and dangerous process of writing an autobiographical play. What details do you include, what do you leave out, and at the end of the process, how much of what remains is really the truth? It is a romantic comedy about a play that goes wrong.

‘We Have Boys at Home’ is the latest work by writer/director Conor Maxwell, known most recently for creating ‘The Lonely Hearts Assembly’ and ‘Junior’ (both in 2021). In this venture, he joins forces with Infinite Monkey Theatre, the team responsible for touring production ‘Wish I Was There’ (2022) and designer/producer Emily Hart-Williams to present a show that blurs the lines between fiction and reality

The Meteor Theatre Hamilton,
29th May – 1st June 2024
7pm.
Tickets are $30, and $28 concession.
Tickets are at http:/:themeteor.co.nz or the meteor.co.nz/event/we-have-boys-at-home/


Emily Hart-Williams – Producer and Graphic Designer
Tom Smith – Technical Producer

Cast:
Hannah-Rose Cook – Meg
Bronwyn Laundry – Jay
Rachael Bloemendal – Skye
Jam Smith – Christian (and Executive Producer)


Community-based theatre , Theatre ,


2 hours with a 15 min Intermission

Strong actors, a robust script, an intelligent production

Review by D.A. Taylor 31st May 2024

In the decade or so that Conor Maxwell (he/him) has been producing theatre in Kirikiriroa Hamilton, he’s gained a reputation for his accessible dramedies that frequently blend the farcical with the sober, such as The Lonely Hearts Assembly, Junior, and the semi-autobiographical God Only Knows. His latest entry, We Have Boys at Home, fits well into this space while also showcasing his advancing skills as a writer and director capable of blending the serious and the silly.

Produced by Infinite Monkey, We Have Boys at Home is a curious take on the play-within-a-play conceit that may not be apparent from the synopsis or supporting social media content.  

The pitch is this: Meg and Jay went on a four-hour road trip ‘just to meet a guy’ whom Meg had been dating long-distance for a few months. A year later, Meg decides that this adventure is worth staging as a play, in which she and Jay will perform as themselves. Meg & Jay 4 One Night Only is that play. Except the play can’t run as Meg intended; the amateurs struggle with their personalities and the veracity of Meg’s script. We Have Boys at Home encapsulates this meta-narrative, with Hannah-Rose Cook (she/her) as Meg, Bronwyn Laundry (she/her) as Jay, and supported by Jam Smith (they/it) and Rachel Bloemendal (she/her) as the multi-role and multi-tasking Christian and Skye.

Maxwell and producer Emily Hart-Williams (she/her) explained the journey to this play when I joined them at a rehearsal, a week before opening night. The germ came from Bronwyn Laundry’s poem ‘F*** Palmy North’, that appeared in local literary journal Mayhem (2018); Conor’s own work appears in the same issue. With this in his mind, Conor told me, he asked himself what if someone drove across the country just to self-sabotage a relationship. After two years of development, We Have Boys at Home emerged.

We Have Boys at Home is also a critique of autobiographical plays and what happens to the people around you when you (can) only tell part of the story. Especially in the small circles of local theatre, these plays can be a challenge to pull off, and reputations rarely come out the other side clean. Meg’s self-interests mean the Meg & Jay show is an attempt to achieve catharsis; everyone else is there to support her.

This provides steam for the meta-narrative – primarily that of Jay interrupting the show to address Meg and ask for a more complete, more honest account of their experiences. Maxwell compared it to when he was staging an early production and a local director, who was in the audience, came up to him at intermission and offered suggestions as to how Maxwell could have directed and staged the show better.

The meta-play is naturally ripe for comedy; it’s a great chance to have a laugh about amateur (or amateur-ish) acting and actors, and for those in the theatre to usually make a few indulgent in-jokes. Shows like Noises Off present a masterclass of this kind of staging, showing us what goes on both in front of and behind the curtain; The Play That Goes Wrong raises the stakes about as far as they’ll go. We Have Boys at Home has elements of this, set up as it is like a very amateur local production. Actors can be seen getting ready in full view or muttering to each other. A car is a steering wheel and five chairs wheeled across the stage.

We Have Boys at Home is not a farce, but a meta-dramedy with farcical elements, and advancing some of the themes that have appeared in Maxwell’s other works. The primary one is that youth is absurd. His young adults struggle to maintain meaningful connections with their peers. Maxwell’s plays are also often tragedies – not because tragic things happen, but that they had to happen the way they did. In this way, we avoid the grotesque or the spectacle – often used as shorthand for character development – and instead witness the slow attrition of relationships. People change. Sometimes things work out, but often they don’t; that is life. 

An exceptionally strong four-person cast makes this show sing. Opening with a comedic monologue is Hannah-Rose Cook as writer-director Meg, explaining the limitations of anything ‘long-distance’. Cook’s Meg is primarily the straight character, serious about the production she’s created, a domineering and often passive-aggressively cruel personality. But Cook’s skill is in her ability to also convey a Meg’s vulnerable and neurotic inner life that she tries so hard to mask – especially from Jay. Special mention has to go to Cook in her heartbreaking final moments on the stage, wordlessly searching the audience, alone. 

Opposite her for much of the run time is Bronwyn Laundry’s Jay. She depicts Jay at the start with sweet, puppy-eyed wonder: a friend helping stage a show. But as the night goes on, she slowly transforms, her exasperation and hurt setting in, and her resilience growing. Yet for the most part, Jay is the comedic foil to Meg’s straight face, but Laundry can deliver this while also portraying a greater degree of emotional maturity in Jay than Meg is afforded. Jay largely has her life sorted out, even if Meg’s script doesn’t give her much beyond second banana – but the difference between Jay’s version of Meg, and Meg herself, is well marked. Laundry is a delight, and deserves more opportunities like this to lead.

Supporting these roles are Jam Smith, who founded Infinite Monkey and serves as Production Manager for this show, and Rachael Bloemendal, both playing largely comic ensemble roles that will be sure to see them both picking scenery from their teeth for weeks.

Smith’s recurring role of Ryan, the long-distance boyfriend, gives Smith the most range, and showcases its skill as an actor beyond the manic buoyancy that Smith often offers. Meg’s script has Ryan as awkwardly charming, a little goofy, and earnest; Smith brings an endearing and entertaining performance as Christian-as-Ryan. But then, when the story is continued from a different perspective, Smith transforms. This Ryan has colours of the above, but is more authentic and vulnerable, less ‘performed’, and serves to highlight both Smith’s skill and the degrees of reality working in the script.

Meanwhile Bloemendal brings to each of her ensemble characters scene-stealing energy and aplomb, despite also having to hobble about the stage in a genuine moonboot. Again, Bloemendal is given good opportunity to showcase her range, with special highlights including a waitress and an overdramatic film actor, but it’s her ability to shift between absurd and endearing that makes her one to watch.

I’d argue that this is Maxwell’s most interesting and well-developed script, with the challenge of Meg and Jay’s reconciliation proving a fruitful and complex problem that it chooses to stick with. It has a certain easiness, even in the moments of discomfort, that make it engaging. It’s also a very Maxwell script, echoing with a certain internet-ready cadence and wordiness that risks dating the script in the long term. While this works in the context of Meg’s version of events, there’s room to pull back in the quote-unquote ‘unscripted parts’ of the play, else the characters risk speaking in too-similar voices. Yet the energy that this affords certainly keeps up the pace and rhythm of the play, and the show generates plenty of hard laughter throughout the night before delivering gut-punches of sincerity.  

Not a lot needs changing. Perhaps a heavier hand when it comes to differentiating between Meg & Jay and We Have Boys voices, as above, and nudging the actors accordingly.  There’s also a slightly meandering middle section that would benefit from a tighten, and I’d restructure the last five minutes, which feels like it trips over itself. But these are relatively minor edits that would help take this show successfully on the road.

The combination of strong actors, a robust script and an intelligent production makes this one of the best home-grown shows that’s been through the Meteor this year, and a testament to the strength of our local talent. I look forward to more from this team. 

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