BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

08/04/2015 - 18/04/2015

Production Details

WHERE THERE’S A WILL there’s a ploy, a play, a way to go. 
But who plays away, who plays up, who plays it down?  
“Life’s not a rehearsal,” someone said, “it’s an audition.” Was that Will? 

David Lawrence directs Neenah Dekkers-Reihana, John Marwick and John Smythe in this quirky ‘play before a play’ – a finalist for the 2015 Adam NZ Play Award. 


Internationally successful expatriate Kiwi actor James Moody (John Marwick) has had enough of playing Tolkien characters for Sir PJ and manifesting fantasy creatures for JC and others (all highly confidential, of course). He feels the need to ‘come home’, to live theatre, Shakespeare, New Zealand. But will this project fill the bill?

Retired school teacher Barry Scanlan (John Smythe) dreamed of being a professional actor once but opted for teaching instead. Over the decades he has seen many high school students through Shakespeare Globe Centre NZ’s annual Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival, some going on to careers in theatre. Could this project be his chance to finally realise his dream?

MTA (directing) student Dita Fox (Neenah Dekkers-Reihana) knows what she wants and needs but can she find it with James or Barry? And where is she? What’s she up to with her idiosyncratic process?

With the help of Shakespeare’s word power, imagination and perceptions of humanity, this gentle, funny and touching story, set around an unlikely theatre audition, explores the importance of human connection.

BATS Theatre – The Propeller Stage
Wednesday 8 April – Saturday 18 April
1 hr 25 min (no interval)
Ticket Prices: Full $18.00 | Concession $14.00 | Group 6+ $13.00 
To book: http://bats.co.nz/ticket-form/ | email: book@bats.co.nz | Ph: 04 802 4175

Theatre ,

1hr 25mins, no interval

Never less than entertaining

Review by Elspeth Sandys 10th Apr 2015

Shakespeare had more than a passing interest in fathers and daughters – think King Lear, The Tempest, The Winter’s Tale, Titus Andronicus. On the evidence of John Smythe’s play, Where There’s a Will, he too knows a bit about the subject!

Skillfully weaving scenes from the aforementioned plays with an unfolding contemporary story, Smythe invites his audience to consider the nature of theatricality (the play is cleverly directed by David Lawrence) and the ways in which the artifice of theatre can be employed to reveal the truth. 

Smythe himself takes one of the two male leads; the other is played by veteran actor John Marwick. After a slow start the play gets into gear, rollicking along with scenes from Shakespeare interspersed with the unfolding of the relationship between the two men: one a highly successful international actor (Marwick), the other a wannabe who has spent his professional life teaching.

In the background, but very much in control of events, is the stage manager/director affectingly played by Neenah Dekkers-Reihana. 

Exactly where this play fits in Shakespeare’s lexicon of genres is hard to say. Tragic moments collapse into farce, comedy abounds, and there is an ending straight out of romance drama with Dekkers-Reihana acting as the deus ex machina. 

Marwick and Smythe play well together: Smythe’s comic timing is exemplary. The play would benefit by cuts to some of the Shakespearean extracts, but at just under 90 minutes it is never less than entertaining.


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Plenty of topical jokes in serious comedy

Review by Laurie Atkinson 09th Apr 2015

John Smythe’s serious comedy Where There’s a Will sets off on its 90 minute voyage with a mysterious stage manager hiding as a mannequin (later to appear as the live statue in The Winter’s Tale) in a rehearsal room where two old actors are about to audition. 

James Moody, star of the Royal Shakespeare Company, sci-fi blockbusters and the Tolkien sagas, is now back home in Wellington in search of artistic fulfilment. Barry Scanlan is a theatre lover, an amateur actor, and (inevitably) a retired school teacher. They quickly realise, they are like the two tramps in Waiting for Godot, waiting for a director to turn up. [More]


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Vulnerability and bravery

Review by Charlotte Simmonds 09th Apr 2015

Because Wellington is so small, and because Theatreview is primarily for an audience of theatre practitioners, (as opposed to, say, the Dom Post, where a review is more likely to be read by a member of the general public wondering what to do this weekend), it is worth talking about this. It is worth clearing the air with it. John Smythe must be the most prolific reviewer in Wellington and may even have seen more plays than anyone in the city, but is not often directly involved in productions himself. For many people, this alone would be a reason to see the play, and while part of that would be curiosity, I have no doubt that another motivating factor would be the desire to see whether his work can match his own standards, and that of course has the potential to open up a huge area of debate about the role of the reviewer and whether you can make theatre and critique it at the same time, whether creating the work makes you more transparent, more vulnerable, more plausible and trustworthy as a reviewer, or whether it proves that you had no right to be reviewing at all, and the purpose of reviews in general.

Yes, it does make you more vulnerable. When you write reviews, you are claiming that your opinion is somehow worth something, worth something that the opinion of someone who is not writing reviews is not worth. When you then switch roles and create theatre yourself, you are taking off the high-value opinion you have dressed yourself in and saying, “Okay, my turn. Here I am alone. What am I worth?”

In my high-value opinion (now that it is recorded on Theatreview and not drifting away with the nicotine smoke and vapours out the front of BATS), this is an enormous, even tremendous, act of bravery, one that I’m not so sure I could carry out myself.

Interestingly, vulnerability and bravery are often the main approach to shows directed by David Lawrence, and are also primary themes of the actual script.

John Smythe, also the playwright, plays the fallible-yet-endearing Barry Scanlan, a retired secondary school drama and/or English teacher, who is thrilled to be auditioning for an MA student’s big project, hoping it will be his lucky break. John Marwick plays James Moody, a local actor who has made it big overseas and has returned to escape some tabloid scandal, while attempting to hold onto his last scraps of dignity.

The two spend most of the play trapped together in a rehearsal room, or possibly a props cupboard, while waiting for the mysterious director to appear and audition them, and yes, it’s supposed to remind you of very many famous plays. Overtly, the play revolves around Shakespeare. Covertly, it is Absurdist all the way through, with a faint trace of plot. The actor and aspiring actor spend a lot of time running father-daughter snippets from Shakespeare plays, all of which are intended to bring the two closer together or to shed some light on their situation, but the two clowns (think any famous pair of clowns from any famous play) just don’t get what’s going on.

This felt tense and awkward for a long time, because as the audience, I wasn’t at all sure whether the plot was supposed to be so obvious or whether the grand reveal was meant to be a grand reveal for the audience too. I was greatly relieved when the character played by Neenah Dekkers-Reihana finally mentioned that an audience would have cottoned on ages ago, which of course, we all had – about twenty minutes into the play. It ends with all characters, who have spent the play judging characters from Shakespeare, no longer having anything left to hide and being forced to be bravely honest with each other and apply those same judgements to themselves.

The strangely-acted Shakespeare segments are not the most efficient way of telling a story and may be pretty hard on audience members who do not know at least half the Shakespeare canon back to front. I am a mere Shakespeare appreciator. Shadowed by people like David Lawrence and John Smythe, I never even claim to know Shakespeare plays at all, and I started reading them with my mum when I was eight.

The basic rehearsal room set by Harriet Denby is truly lovely – both familiar and stylised at the same time. The lighting cues (operated by Carolyn Dekkers, design not credited in the programme) always elicited a good string of laughter.

Being performed in Wellington as it is, the key point of this show is really that John Smythe here puts on a mask, and in doing so, takes one off and reveals himself, as we’ve all heard said about masks a thousand times before. It’s hard to see this play purely objectively without being a total stranger to Wellington. For this play to live or die on its own merit alone, it would have to be performed elsewhere, and it’s precisely the nature of the script that would make that so difficult. Certainly it lends itself to adaptation quite easily, but then it becomes the same scenario again in another city.

It’s a play for local theatre practitioners, by someone who is not only a reviewer or occasional actor, but now fully a theatre practitioner himself. It’s insular, but there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. We make so much theatre here that ends up being just for ourselves, even if we would rather not have it that way. This play is merely explicitly so. Even if the play had no other point than that Wellington’s most prolific reviewer de-masks and takes off his clothes, that is still a point worth having, one that is potentially quite moving, but there’s a humour and self-awareness in this, too, that is celebratory. It also just says, “We make theatre because it’s fun.” (If all our financial and personal sacrifices were from our grand sense of social responsibility, we’d be working for NGOs in Africa or helping out at Strathmore School.)


Joanna Newman April 10th, 2015

I went to Where there’s a Will on opening night and thoroughly enjoyed the play.  I found it original, clever and at times funny or moving.  I cannot agree with the reviewer that “the key point of this show is really that John Smythe here puts on a mask, and in doing so, takes one off and reveals himself”.  This seems a strange interpretation of the drama on stage and to imply that the reviewer had difficulty putting aside the fact that she knew the actor/writer in other roles in life to objectively evaluate the creative work.  I also don’t agree that “It's a play for local theatre practitioners, by someone who is not only a reviewer or occasional actor, but now fully a theatre practitioner himself. It's insular . . .”.  A few points here: I’m not a local theatre practitioner and found the play satisfying and enjoyable; I believe John Smythe has written plays before so has not just graduated to become “fully a theatre practitioner himself”; and it did not seem insular (any play should seek to relate to its audience – surely an American play staged in New York which mentions New York events/places/people would not be considered insular?).  I thoroughly recommend the play!

Editor April 10th, 2015

Discovered in the Theatreview inbox this morning:

Tonight I was privileged to see a fine play written by John Smythe at Bats Theatre Welington. “Where there’s a Will” was gripping from start to finish.

With great skill the actors John Marwick, John Smythe and Neenah Dekkers-Reihana took us on a roller coaster ride through Shakespeare to tell their own story - a story jam packed with every human emotion.
Using ‘random’ props they brought scenes to life with humour, anger, pathos disgust and pleasure just to mention a few of the ways they delivered their story.

It was a Magical Mystery Tour and we went along for the ride with James Moody the actor, Barry Scanlan the teacher and the ephemeral manipulating stage manager. We had no clue where we were headed but the ride was such that we could do nothing but hold on tight and trust them to bring us home at the end. They delivered.. and then some.

As fine a piece of professional theatre as I have seen.

Florence McFarlane

Matt Baker April 9th, 2015

“It's a play for local theatre practitioners… For this play to live or die on its own merit alone, it would have to be performed elsewhere… Certainly it lends itself to adaptation quite easily… It's hard to see this play purely objectively without being a total stranger to Wellington…”

Is it just me, or does rearranging these sentences into the precursory order result in them contradicting their original context?

“If all our financial and personal sacrifices were from our grand sense of social responsibility, we'd be working for NGOs in Africa or helping out at Strathmore School.”

Surely people working for NGOs in Africa or helping out at Strathmore School enjoy it?

Charlotte Simmonds April 9th, 2015

"the vulnerability you identify in the play is present in all three characters and the circumstances"

Hi John, yes, that's what I meant when I described vulnerability as a primary theme of the script.

John Smythe April 9th, 2015

Thank you, Charlotte, for your review. When practitioners wish to take issue with reviews I suggest they use the Comments facility – that’s what it’s here for. So I must now take my own advice.  

You conclude: “It's a play for local theatre practitioners ... It's insular …” I can vouch for the fact that our guests from the Netherlands and our Mount Vic neighbours, none of whom are theatre practitioners, tuned right into the emerging human story that has nothing to do with theatre or Wellington. All in their own ways said they were moved.  

May I respectfully suggest the vulnerability you identify in the play is present in all three characters and the circumstances, motives and objectives that drive the action are revealed to be quite the opposite of insular. 

Oh and David Lawrence designed the lighting and put together the programme, omitting to credit himself in his typically modest way.

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