Wellington Theatre 2008 Wrap

Various venues, Wellington

01/01/2008 - 31/12/2008

Production Details

2008 Wellington Theatre in review

Others worthy of mention for their work in Wellington during 2008

Review by John Smythe 04th Jan 2009

Each year, as the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards nomination and voting process takes its democratic course, I console myself that no-one got a nomination that didn’t deserve it. But I remain very aware that many more who were equally deserving did not get mentioned. And sometimes I am seriously dismayed at the absence of specific names in the final cut.

Such was the quality of the individual, ensemble and production team work throughout 2008 that in most of the categories the nominee list could have been replaced – more than once in some cases – without any loss of credibility.

In fully endorsing the Chapman Tripp nominees and winners for 2008, and those covered in Lynn Freeman’s wrap up, not to mention those rightfully celebrated in the Chapman Kip Awards, nominated via a Theatreview Forum, I now feel compelled to mention just a few others.

Capital E National Theatre for Children turned in another year of consistently excellent work. Peter Wilson‘s stunning adaptation of Gavin Bishop’s Kiwi Moon, also directed by Wilson, featured superb puppet designs by Sue Hill, shadow puppets by Debz Ruffell and musical direction by that great unsung hero of Wellington theatre, Laughton Patrick (none of whom fit a CTTA category). Likewise the ensemble work of puppeteers Will Harris, Joanne Murphy, James Conway-Law and Anya Tate-Manning (exceptionally good as the Little Kiwi) deserves an accolade.

Wilson also wrote and directed the excellent Tale of a Dog with Angela Green and Thomas LaHood performing (destined to tour in 2009) and Murray Lynch directed a fine revival of Bishop’s Hinepau (original adaptation devised by Rachel House and cast) with Erina Daniels, Reihana Haronga, Regan Taylor and Miriama Ketu, which toured to 13 NZ towns (the 2005 production having toured to Australia). The animations of Francis Salole, filming of Tim Capper and puppet designs (and construction) of Rebekah Wild deserve special mention, and of course the design work throughout the year of Brian King, John Hodgkins and Glen Ashworth (sets), Stephen Gallagher and Thomas Press (sound) and Jason Morphett and Jo Kilgour (lights) continued to add greatly to Capital E’s consistently high production values.

KidStuff Theatre for Children‘s totally original Which Witch is Which by Rob Ormsby and Puss ‘n Boots, adapted by Sarah Somerville, both directed by Patrick Davies, continued the vital work of introducing kids to the joys of play-making in simple and vibrant forms.  Felix Preval, Gene Alexander, Amy Straker, Mel Dodge, Aidan Grealish and Bryony Skillington took the acting honours in either or both with great skill and style.

In my opinion the KidStuff shows connect better with children than the annual Roger Hall panto at Circa – Red Riding Hood in 2008 – directed by Susan Wilson, which nevertheless affords good actors a chance to go big and broad as well as true, and composer-cum-musical director Michael Nicholas Williams a chance to make with the happy music, and create the witty and eminently singable lyrics with Paul Jenden (who won a CTTA nomination for his costume designs). 

Deserving high acclaim, in my opinion, is Circa’s trilogy of musicals which culminated in the wickedly satirical tragi-comic election-year take on political intrigue ROME The Musical, written, directed and designed by Paul Jenden and composed by Gareth Farr, as were TROY The Musical (2006) and MONARCHY The Musical (2007). In each case Jenden emulated the likes of Shakespeare by mining history to comment on the big issues of the day (warfare, monarchic power, political intrigue) using – with Farr – the popular music genre to revitalise our interest, add to our knowledge and heighten our awareness of human drives and behaviours that persist to this day. I reiterate: they deserve to be produced around the country, indeed the world.

Jennifer Lal lit both ROME and Red Riding Hood among countless other shows, mostly at Circa, and I especially noticed her artistry in Mammals and Wait Until Dark, which also featured a stunning performance from Ban Abdul (well recognised in the Kippies).

Speaking of musicals, I rate Urinetown, which turned out to be Cathy Downes‘ swansong at Downstage, as a highlight of the year in review (it opened too late to be considered for the 2007 Chappies). Brian King‘s ingenious set, brilliantly lit by Ulli Briese, with superb costumes by Zoe Fox, marvellous musical direction from Tim Solly and fully committed performances by a large cast – George Henare, Rima Te Wiata, Jason Kennedy, Brooke Williams, Kristian Lavercombe, Amy Straker, Carmel McGlone, Julie O’Brien, Ben Fransham, Helen Moulder and Martyn Wood – all placed, paced and focused superbly, are a testament to Downes’ great talent as a director.

And The Lonesome Buckwhip’s Charity Gala was truly wicked, conceived and delivered by a seriously talented quartet: Gareth Williams, Arthur Meek, Miriama Ketu and Ben Hutchison.

Ensemble cast work, which deserves a Chappies category of it own (sponsorship anyone?), was a strong suit in many 2008 productions, including Urinetown, Paua, Te Karakia and Where We Once Belonged at Downstage; This Is Our Youth at Circa; Revenge of the Amazons, Sensible Susan and the Queen’s Merkin, Cohen Holloway’s Hypnotastic Tour 2008, Jeff Koons, LUV, The Mall and Mr Marmalade at BATS, the revival of Hotel at the Museum Hotel, and Three Spoon’s March of the Meeklings, The Storm and The Eiffel Tower Wedding Party which played at various venues.  

Other extraordinary talents unable to be honoured by category include AV Designer Andrew Brettell, e.g. in The Kreutzer, which I agree was an exceptional work of theatre art; fabulous puppet-maker Bonne Kemp for Cohen Holloway’s Hypnotastic Tour 2008; and fight choreographer Allan Henry for his gasp-inducing work in A Renaissance Man.

Individual actors not yet mentioned who deserve to be include Mia Blake in The Dentist’s Chair (her skill in using false teeth as a commedia mask was truly astonishing), Tom McCrory in The Kreutzer, Joy Vaele and Robbie Magasavia in Where We Once Belonged, Ginette McDonald in My Brilliant Divorce, Jamie McCaskill and Dena Kennedy in The Man The Lovelock Couldn’t Beat, McCaskill, Abby Marment, Eli Kent and Kate Prior in Armslength, Marment, Jack Shabolt and Oliver Cox in Rubber Turkey, Prior and Jason Ward-Kennedy in Handy Man, Prior and Aaron Cortesi in Heat, Phil Brown and Colin Garlick in Bone, Ryan O’Kane in A Streetcar Named Desire, O’Kane and Byron Coll in Mr Marmalade, Martyn Woods, Allan Henry and Rachel Foreman in This Is Our Youth, Angela Green and Donogh Rees in Metamorphosis, Laura Velvin and Cheryl Amos in Shoes, Natalie Medlock and Dan Musgrove in Blinkers and Spurs

The homegrown work produced in 2008 (and late 2007) had great breadth, depth and range. Plays and playwrights already praised in playwriting categories are The Man The Lovelock Couldn’t Beat by Dean Parker, 2b or nt 2b by Sarah Delahunty, Where We Once Belonged adapted by Dave Armstrong from the novel by Sia Figel, Grace by Sophie Dingemans, Rubber Turkey by Eli Kent, Armslength by Branwen Millar and (from Lynn’s list) Ruthie Bird and the King of Hearts by Ellie Smith, The Singularity by Miranda Manasiadis, Babycakes by Georgina Titheridge and Shoes by Jamie Burgess.

I also want to acknowledge (in no particular order) the dramaturgy of Kiwi Moon, Tale of a Dog, Hinepau and Which Witch is Which (see above); revivals of Revenge of the Amazons by Jean Betts & William Shakespeare, Bare by Toa Fraser, and Hotel devised by the original cast; The Kreutzer adapted from Tolstoy by Sara Brodie, Paua by The SEEyD Theatre Company, A Renaissance Man by Simon Vincent, Handy Man by Gavin McGibbon, Shining Armour by Philip Braithwaite, LUV and The Mall by Thomas Sainbury, Ka Mate Ka Ora by Helen Pearse Otene, Te Karakia by Albert Beltz (which has nevertheless been thoroughly revised for this year’s Auckland Festival), Heat by Lynda Chanwai-Earle, ROME The Musical by Paul Jenden & Gareth Farr, A Vote for Cynthia by Helen Moulder & Alison Holcroft, The Dentist’s Chair by Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis, Drinking Games by Damien Wilkins, Who Wants to be 100? by Roger Hall, Sensible Susan and the Queen’s Merkin by Felix Preval & Theatre Militia, Cohen Holloway’s Hypnotastic Tour 2008 by Dean Hewison and Ben Powdrell, Apollo 13: Mission Control by Kip Chapman & cast, and On The Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me As Her Young Lover by Geoff Pinfield and Arthur Meek, which is a remarkable piece of dramatisation given the form of the original book by ‘Richard Meros‘. The Young and Hungry 08 plays were also important contributions to the year: Yolk by Arthur Meek, Swan Song by Branwen Millar and RPM by Dave Armstrong.

I mention them all to show Wellington’s haul for the year was pretty good and to prompt the better-resourced theatre companies to take note: these are the talents you need to be hungry for if you want to be part of the truly creative New Zealand theatre scene, producing originals ahead of covers. Many other homegrown plays were produced at BATS and in the Fringe "on the smell of a rag that could no longer afford to be oily". Some deserved more development resourcing and higher production values than they got, and all helped to prove there is no shortage of talented playwrights here.

My accolades for directors are especially offered to those who were the first to take a new NZ play from the page and put it on the stage, and those who revived plays from the NZ repertoire. Behind those who staged the world première productions are many others who participated in development workshops. I don’t have access to those names at this point but the directors (some of who have already been honoured) who brought the above plays to the public are (in the same order): Conrad Newport, Sarah Delahunty, Colin McColl & Dave Fane, Sophie Dingemans, Eli Kent, Stephen Bain, Ellie Smith, Miranda Manasiadis, Edward Watson, Bronwyn Tweddle, Peter Wilson (x2), Murray Lynch, Patrick Davies, Rachel More & Jacqueline Coats, Oliver Driver, (no director credited for Hotel), Sara Brodie, Tim Spite, David Lawrence, Simon Vincent, Gene Alexander, Thomas Sainbury (x2), Jim Moriarty, David O’Donnell (x2), Paul Jenden, Jeff Kingsford-Brown, Justin Lewis, Murray Lynch (again), Susan Wilson, Rachel Lenart, Dean Hewison, Kip Chapman, Geoff Pinfield, Celia Nicholson, Willem Wassenaar and Leo Gene Peters.

Accolades too to those who worked on new plays which have yet to reach their full potential – for example Hail to the Thief by Phillip Braithwaite, directed by David Lawrence; Destination Death by Regan Taylor and Craig Geenty, directed by Geenty; AoTERRORoa devised with playwright Jo Randerson and director Geoff Pinfield by Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School graduands – because they too have toiled at the grass roots in ways that prepare the ground for future excellence. 

All the playwrights, producers, directors, dramaturges, performers, designers, production crew, publicists, administrators, box-office and front-of-house people who have committed themselves so thoroughly to the development, growth and production of homegrown work – often proving in the process to be the biggest sponsors of the creative heart of our industry – deserve huge praise for their vital work in validating NZ as a creative entity and distinguished identity. And the crucial role of the institutional, corporate and individual funders and sponsors who contribute their invaluable support must also be acknowledged.

When I began this piece I thought to add a few more names to those already offered, but once I started … Where should I stop? Here, I think. Comments and discussion welcome.
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[Note: Because Paul Rothwell’s Christmas Indoors directed by Paul McLaughlin, opened after the cut-off date for the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards 2008, it is not included in this wrap-up. Likewise Helen Moulder’s Cynthia’s Christmas at Circa, comprising a revised version of A Vote for Cynthia (see above) and a new incarnation of The Legend Returns, directed by Michael Wilson, who collaborated on the script with Moulder and Rose Beauchamp.]  


Uther Dean January 4th, 2009

As amusing as 'kippie' is, I move that from now the slang term for the Chapman Kips is the 'Kippers'

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Review by Lynn Freeman 31st Dec 2008

The 2008 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards will, I hope, be remembered for the number of next – generation nominees.

Most of the judges (myself included) were over-subscribed with nominees for most categories and whittling them down was agonizing. As Laurie Atkinson said on the night, we argued and cajoled and bitched and eventually, inevitably, often compromised.

The finalists and winners have been well-documented since that short list was announced last month.

But in this year’s theatre wrap, I’m going to talk about some of those who were also on my lists and missed out. I think they are fantastic and don’t want them to feel downhearted. I reduced my original list of 12 Most Original contenders down to 10 for the meeting, and just doing that had worked up a sweat.

In terms of originality, there were works of disturbing beauty like The Kreutzer and the gorgeous Adagio, or just plain disturbing – I’m thinking here of The Singularity and Blinkers. And as a welcome break from the "theatre of unease", Sensible Susan and the Queen’s Merkin, Songs of Hollow Hills and Godzone were hard to beat.

The next generation of actors, thanks largely but not entirely to Toi Whakaari and Victoria University, have much going for them. I hope there will be opportunities for them as the recession sinks its teeth into people’s recreation budgets.

Aaron Cortesi was unforgettable as the creepy Mr Marmalade and as the concerned husband in Heat. I’m not sure how new the actors in one of the best shows of the year The Storm are but Kent Seaman and Paul Waggitt were terrific, as was Dan Musgrove as the social misfit equine hobbyist in Blinkers.

In the same play, which they created together, Natalie Medlock was just as endearing, she’s rather cornered the market playing ethereal fey women this year.

Belinda Bretton was very assured playing the whore in the promenade theatre work Familiar Strangers, Kate Simmonds showed astonishing versatility in The Mall, and Renée Sheriden, in both Streetcar Named Desire and The Little Dog Laughed, showed why she’s a favourite actor of  inspirational director Willem Wassenaar.

The new generation of directors has me excited, from Brigid Costello (Eiffel Tower) and Alexander Lodge (The Storm) to experienced actors trying their hand at directing  – Miranda Manasiadis (The Singularity) and Simon Vincent (Handyman).

These two "old hands" also struck out as playwrights, as did Ellie Smith (Ruthie Bird) very successfully. We also saw impressive scripts from newcomers Georgina Titheridege (Babycakes, an audience favourite at Bats), and Jamie Burgess (Shoes).

Great to see the work of designers, new and experienced, in lighting, set and costumes. The flair and courage they showed was one of the most memorable things of the 2008 theatre year.

And I’ll finish with what is always the hardest of categories, the one that causes the most debate and heartache… Best Actor/Actress.

The seven we nominated were all brilliant and deserved to be shortlisted. The trouble is so did these guys: Irene Wood (Ruthie Bird), Gene Alexander (Shining Armour), Kate Prior (Arm’s Length), Grace Oakshott (Grace), Heather O’Carroll (Guardians), Barry Lakeman (Familiar Strangers), Bex Joyce (Sensible Susan) and Rob Lloyd (The Pillowman).

We struggled with one important category – best new New Zealand Play. I wish there had been fierce competition for this but this year there just wasn’t. The nominees were excellent, there should have been more nipping at their heels.

Everyone who contributed to theatre over the past year deserves a big hug of thanks and a lot of respect.  


Dawn Sanders January 2nd, 2009

Great to see mentions of appendees to the Chapman Tripp list. It is also worth musing on the fact that midst all the nominees (latest names included), this "young generation" featured a large number who had not only participated in Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand's University of Otago Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festivals, but many had gone on to be those chosen to attend SGCNZ's National Shakespeare Schools Productions and, in several cases, were also members of SGCNZ Young Shakespeare Companies over the years.

It certainly seems as though the continuum is well grounded and each training provider is able to develop their students more...sooner...ensuring a healthy future of theatre in this country. Congratulations to the mentions, nominations and awards of all SGCNZ's Alumni. Have a great year in 2009!

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