Where Are You My Only One?

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

05/09/2009 - 04/10/2009

Production Details


Yulia is a secretary from the heart of Moscow, with a mother who would try the patience of a saint. Bob is a lonely Waikato dairy farmer whose wife has left him for another bloke. When Yulia joins a Russian ‘Mail Order Bride’ agency these two courageous souls meet.
An unconventional love story, Where Are You My Only One? explores love between strangers, the courage to love again despite past failings and the endless pursuit of happiness.
"I was inspired by a number of things," says playwright Vanessa Rhodes. "There was a lot in the media about so called ‘mail order brides’ and I was intrigued to find out what lay behind these often negative stereotypes. I did a lot of research, interviewed a number of people who had left Russia for a variety of reasons following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and a few ‘Kiwi blokes’ and dairy farmers, and I began to imagine two unlikely souls ‘finding’ each other and their two worlds colliding."

Originally written by Rhodes as a short play for Silo Theatre’s 2003 To Russia With Love season, Circa Theatre is proud to present the world premiere of this full-length production.

"Utterly charming . . . an elegantly drawn scenario of the heart . . .*a poignant and layered exploration of the role courage plays in contemporary love" – The New Zealand Herald

"A sweet examination of love the second time round" – Sunday Star Times

The Sovereign Season of:
Where Are You, My Only One?
5 September – 4 October
Tuesday to Saturday 7.30pm and Sunday 4.30pm
Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St
Bookings: 04 801 7992 or www.circa.co.nz
Cost: Adults $38 / Over 65 $30 / Under 25 $20 / Groups 6+ $32ea


Donna Akersten:  LUDMILA
Andrea Tutt:  YULIA
Gavin Rutherford:  ROBERT 'BOB' McLEAN

Set Design by John Hodgkins
Lighting Design by Jennifer Lal
Costume Design by Paul Jenden

Stage Manager/ Operator:  Isaac Heron
Choreography:  Paul Jenden
Soundscape:  Ben Sinclair, Susan Wilson, Isaac Heron
Original Music:  Andrew McMillan
Set Construction:  John Hodgkins, Iain Cooper
Publicity:  Brianne Kerr
Graphic Design:  Rose Miller, Toolbox Creative
Photography:  Stephen A'Court
House Manager:  Suzanne Blackburn
Box Office:  Linda Wilson  

Deeply disappointing

Review by Uther Dean 24th Sep 2009

Where Are You, My Only One? is a new New Zealand work. Written by Vanessa Rhodes, it is, at the end of the day, a love story. Robert ‘Bob’ McLean (Gavin Rutherford), a simple farmer living near Hamilton meets, through what seems to be a slightly less sinister kind of mail-order bride business, Yulia (Andrea Tutt), a Russian single mother searching for a place in the world and a man to fill the hole in her heart. Yulia lives with her cantankerous and fiercely patriotic mother Ludmila (Donna Akersten). Yulia and Bob exchange letters, phone calls and packages and the connection between them grows. They hit somewhat of a road bump when Bob buys Yulia a ticket to New Zealand and she is torn between her family—as her son is called into the army and her mother emotionally blackmails her with the hurt of the past—and her heart.

And, well, that’s kind of it.

Only One manages, with lots of effort, to distend that plot out to one hour and twenty minutes and, really, its ability to make it last that long (and feel much longer than that) is the only real thing I can praise about this production.

This is what they call the deadly theatre. Empty, boring and ugly. The script is an exercise in wheel-spinning intercut with some highly questionable, and probably unintentional, messages about gender and politics. The direction is lazy, trudging murderously along, threatening to send the audience to sleep at any moment. The acting is serviceable, though the accents frequently slip to a ridicioulous comic degree, and Rutherford is simply rehashing the same nice simple harmless country bumpkin performance he has been wheeling out for the past year or so. Each design element on its own is fine if deeply unremarkable. But they clash. Horribly. Jennifer Lal’s coloured lights make John Hodgkins’ curved set garish, and Paul Jenden’s costumes stand out mainly due to how little they match anything around them.

Overall there seems to have been no thought into what this production might be like to watch. It is awkwardly staged, the actors seem unfamiliar with the set that encroaches onto their space and leaves little room for the dances that occur in what I suppose were intended to be ‘dream sequences’, but thought they had the potential to be a welcome break from the monotony of the main storyline. Their staging is just lazy and uninspired, with no real attempt to understand what function they might serve in the script or even to make them at all interesting or enjoyable to watch.

Where Are You, My Only One? is a failure. A damp squip, puttering out to a cloud of indifference. As I sat in my seat, one thought kept hitting me, over and over, like a Newton’s Cradle made of fists. ‘These people just don’t care.’ There was no feeling in this production. No love. No need. No inspiration. It was simply hollow and empty.

Disappointing. Deeply disappointing.

[A robust discussion follows this review on the Salient site – click here]
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Working Rhodes

Review by Lynn Freeman 17th Sep 2009

My parents met as penfriends. A very few lucky, lucky people have their life partner essentially fall into their lap. For most it’s a quest to find them and one that can extend far beyond their city or even their country. In Vanessa Rhodes’ play, Yulia lives in Russia and Rob farms in the Waikato.  Neither travel, so the only way they can connect is initially by internet videos, then by phone and mail.

This is a love story, with more than usual obstacles getting in the path of the two potential lovers. Fortunately dairying’s doing well so Bob can afford to send Yulia a plane ticket. Unfortunately her mother is aging and dependent and her son of age to go into the army. Bob’s good, genuine heart draws her to him. Her beauty and spirit draw him to her, and he feels a gaping loneliness five years after his wife left him for another man.

Rhodes avoids getting sloppily sentimental with her characters and the lines she gives them.  It means when something from the heart is said, it packs a punch. When Yulia uses the title line of the play, "Where Are You, My Only One?", it’s just after she’s filmed a video of herself which is, not surprisingly, stilted. Then you hear this said quietly, heartfelt and direct, and you hope as much as she does that she’ll find him.  Him being Bob, ‘broad’ and straight up, awkward and closed off. 

Canadian Andrea Tutt is every inch the elegant, smart, beautiful, tough but not hard Russian Yulia. It’s an unforgettable performance from an actor with terrific presence. The character has had a lot of hard knocks but she sparkles, and she has the imagination and courage to consider a live outside of Moscow, for her and her family. Gavin Rutherford’s specialist area is roles like Bob, men who’re sweet and shuffling, unsure and clumsy.  It’s a perfect match on stage. The first phone call is delightful, full of stumbles, misunderstandings, distractions and silences. It’s clever too because they’re seldom in scenes together, so the rapport has to be built line by line, look by look. Donna Akersten is wonderfully manipulative as Yulia’s mother, Ludmila.

There are surrealist elements to the production, some work better than others but on a small stage with a small budget, the on and off stage team, lead by director Susan Wilson, has done extremely well.

Rhodes started working on this story some years ago and you can appreciate how she’s refined it.  This is a charming and memorable production from a young writer with vast promise.
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Great eloquence in rich simplicity

Review by John Smythe 11th Sep 2009

This evocation of a second-time-around attempt to risk intimacy is not so much a story to pay sharp attention to as an experience to engage your sensibilities at a slightly subliminal level.

Vanessa Rhodes’ script just sketches in the mechanics of investigating, selecting and making contact with a potential partner across continents and oceans, first via the internet then by phone and snail mail. Her focus – lovingly massaged into three dimensions by the cast with director Susan Wilson, choreographer Paul Jenden and designers Jennifer Lal (lighting), John Hodgkins (set) and Jemden (costumes) – is on the emotional experience.  

As Yulia, the divorced Russian mother of a 17-year-old boy and daughter of a dependent mother, Andrea Tutt draws us into her very being with subtle skill, using a minimalist alchemy to take us through her states of fear, frustration, bemusement, compassion, anger, loss, hope, joy …

Her widowed mother, Ludmilla, is maddeningly realised by Donna Akersten, provoking a full range of emotions in us as we empathise with her wants and needs and with those her emotionally manipulative ways affect.

Gavin Rutherford fully inhabits the not-so-thick skin of Waikato dairy farmer Bob McLean, also drawing us into his world and his deepest feelings with truly centred minimalism. By this fifth performance the three are working together beautifully.

Where Are You, My Only One? is ideally suited to the intimacy of Circa Two, with the simple set’s dappled panels allowing the action to flow fluently from Russia to NZ, and in and out of their real and imagined states of being.

Some sequences are ambiguous, inviting us to choose whether we are sharing in her fantasy or his, or even a meeting of minds across the ether. Intriguingly it is Bob who is drawn – in her fantasy, I think, although my companions took it to be his – to immersing himself in Russian dancing, singing and vodka drinking while Yulia has yet to engage meaningfully with Kiwi heartland culture. Is this because Bob (or Rhodes) thinks we have no equivalent or is it that Bob is too involved in it to distinguish his culture while Yulia is blissfully ignorant of it?

I come away feeling I have engaged with the future hopes of the would-be lovers and seen the possibility of compatibility made real while knowing it hasn’t yet happened in reality. So what will it take? What chance do they have?

What we are invited to empathise with is the quest for courage to give this thing called love another go despite the wounds of past experiences. There is great eloquence in the rich simplicity of this play and production.
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Laughter and heartbreak in a gem of a play

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 07th Sep 2009

At last, a new play that is fresh and appealing and, unlike many recent offerings, it is not reliant on smart quips and tired theatrical practices. While Vanessa Rhodes’s Where Are You, My Only One? deals with two people searching for love it does so imaginatively and with the lightest of touches; the laughter is tinged with a sense of heartbreak.

The plot is simple enough and has been the basis of at least one Kiwi farce. Bob, a divorced and lonely 48 year-old Waikato dairy farmer, goes on-line looking for a wife. Somewhere near Moscow Yulia, a widow living in a small apartment with her domineering mother (Ludmila), also goes on-line in search of a husband. They make contact.

Can Yulia leave her mother and her absent 17 year-old son? Will Bob’s dreams be dashed? It could be pure soap but it isn’t. The clichés are avoided except for possibly a short montage illustrating Ludmila’s yearning for the secure Soviet Russia of her youth.

The need for love in the face of loneliness on Bob’s part and poverty and family pressures on Yulia’s part are presented in soliloquies, phone conversations and scenes of dancing and singing where time and space dissolve and Bob, Yulia and Ludmila come together and their hopes and dreams are given all too briefly a heightened reality.

Bob, who could so easily be played for easy laughs as a bumbling, emotionally repressed stereotypical cow cockie, is, in the very safe hands of Gavin Rutherford’s warm and engaging performance, a likeable, totally believable man who had the guts kicked out of him when his wife walked out taking their two daughters with her five years before.

Andrea Tutt as Yulia and Donna Akersten as Ludmila have the difficult task of being convincing, emotionally voluble Russians as well as often talking and singing in Russian. They succeed admirably, while more importantly creating a strong mother-daughter relationship filled with a potentially explosive mix of anger, resentment and love.

The 80 minute play has been directed with her usual cool authority by Susan Wilson and Jennifer Lal’s lighting gives life to John Hodgkins’ deliberately drab indeterminate setting of a Waikato farm and a slightly more detailed Russian apartment.

Where Are You, My Only One? is a gem.
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A light, charming love story

Review by Hannah Smith 06th Sep 2009

Boy meets girl.  Boy loses girl.  Boy finds girl again.  Sound familiar?  Only this time the boy is a divorced dairy farmer from the Waikato, the girl is a secretary who lives with her mother in Moscow, and they meet through a Russian ‘Mail Order Bride’ service. 

Where Are You My Only One? is a crowd-pleasing love story for those who have had their hearts broken before.  A "bittersweet comedy for anyone with a romantic streak," according to publicity, it is very sweet and occasionally comic. While there are moments of conflict – the course of true love never does run smooth – it is the theatrical equivalent of chick lit.

The work is a development of a short script Rhodes wrote for Silo’s To Russia With Love season in 2003 and Russia is the hook:  Yulia, a middle aged mother of one from Moscow, meets ‘Bob’ a dairy farmer from the Waikato, and as they exchange letters, phone calls and photographs we see their relationship slowly blossom.

Andrea Tutt as Yulia is the lynch pin around which the story revolves.  She gives a truthful performance that renders her love, her distress, and even her accent totally believable.  She also finds a quiet comedy in her relationship with her mother (Donna Akersten) whose performance is hampered by an accent that comes and goes in a way I found very distracting.

Gavin Rutherford is stand out as the laconic farmer ‘Bob’, gaining our sympathy and managing to get almost all the laughs with his blokish inability to articulate his thoughts and feelings. Rhodes pays homage to Chekhov here, and a lot of the action is in the subtext and the words not spoken.  In her writer’s note she says she hopes this is an ode to the Kiwi male – "some of the most romantic words are in a plain language" – and Rutherford ensures the play is very successful in this regard.

Under the slick direction of Susan Wilson the story progresses with pace and clarity, aside from one very confusing Russian dance sequence in the middle. Did Bob go to Russia and visit? Was Gavin playing someone else; if so, who? Or was it all a dream?  But the energetic and theatrical song and dance sequences (choreographed by Paul Jenden) inject welcome movement and spectacle into what could be a very static stage.

John Hodgkins’ simple set provides the backdrop to the wildly different worlds of Russia and New Zealand using minimal tricks to define the stage geography – some photographs; some flying ducks – allowing us to be in either country or both at once and transition easily between the two. 

The original music composed by Andrew McMillan and the rich and complex soundscape (Ben Sinclair, Susan Wilson, Isaac Heron) also help suggest time and place, as does Jennifer Lal’s evocative lighting design.

This is, in essence, a romantic comedy. There is nothing ground breaking happening here.  It is a light, charming love story with an unlikely pair at its heart.  This isn’t two teenagers falling in love for the first time; these are people who know what compromise means, and appreciate the quiet values of compassion and kindness. This is a pleasant evening’s entertainment that is sweet, if not particularly stimulating.
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