WINDING UP (ATC on tour)
06/03/2023 - 11/03/2023
Sir Roger Hall - playwright
Colin McColl - director
Auckland Theatre Company
The latest play from New Zealand’s most successful playwright and the ‘Godfather of New Zealand Theatre’ Sir Roger Hall is opening in Dunedin and Invercargill in 2023.
Summerset Retirement Villages present Winding Up by Roger Hall at the Mayfair Theatre in Dunedin 6-11 March and the Civic Theatre in Invercargill on 12 March.
The comedy revisits Roger Hall’s signature brilliance in comic playwriting, with the two beloved characters who were at the heart of his smash-hit play Conjugal Rites returning to the stage.
Now in their seventies, Barry and Gen are coping with failing health, the deaths of friends, estranged family, the need to downsize, and (God help everyone) planning their funerals.
As in the Auckland production, these fiercely OK Boomers are played by two of the country’s most celebrated comic actors, Mark Hadlow ONZM (MAMiL, The Hobbit trilogy) and Alison Quigan QSM (A Shortcut to Happiness, Calendar Girls, Shortland Street).
Director Colin McColl says, “Alison and Mark are great friends and have known each other since their drama school days. They are each superb actors in their own right but put them together and it’s comic dynamite. They have years of experience with Roger Hall’s work and an innate understanding of how his characters are comical but honest. I’m looking forward to bringing the production to the South Island.”
Alison Quigan’s theatrical experience spans more than 45 years. In that time, she has acted in and directed more than 150 plays, including 15 Roger Halls, and written 13 original works. She is perhaps best known for her work on Shortland Street, playing Yvonne Jeffries from 2004 to 2010, with other acclaimed roles including Cathy in Mum’s Choir and Mattie Fae in August: Osage County. From 2013- 2022, Quigan was the Performing Arts Manager of the Mangere Arts Centre | Ngā Tohu o Uenuku where she worked to support new work with emerging practitioners in South Auckland. She was awarded a Queen’s Service Medal for Services to Theatre in 2001.
Award-winning actor Mark Hadlow is one of New Zealand’s most prominent performers. Lauded widely for his physical comedy, Hadlow’s critically acclaimed one-man show MAMiL has played to sell-out theatres throughout New Zealand. He has performed in more than 150 plays, from musical theatre to Shakespeare, and appeared in dozens of films and TV series, including Mortal Engines, The Hobbit trilogy, Meet the Feebles, and King Kong. Hadlow was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to the Arts in 2017.
Winding Up showcases Hall in classic form, with his inimitable wit and knowing insight to the fore.
This production of Winding Up was originally produced by Auckland Theatre Company at the ASB Waterfront Theatre in February 2020.
Summerset Retirement Villages presents Winding Up by Roger Hall
Monday 6th – Saturday 11th March at 7pm
100 King Edward Street, South Dunedin
7pm, Monday 13 March
88 Tay Street, Invercargill
Early bird $40*
Group of 10+ $40 pp*
* Service fees and criteria may apply, see ticketing website for detail
Sir Roger Hall, New Zealand’s best known and prolific dramatist, has more than 40 plays to his credit. Hall produced his first stage play Glide Time in 1976, closely followed by Middle Age Spread, which was a smash hit throughout New Zealand and also the West End, where it ran for 15 months and won the Comedy of the Year Award.
Many successful plays and productions have followed, including musicals, pantomimes, radio dramas, books and plays for children. Hall has written more than 70 sitcom episodes for TV, from Gliding On to Spin Doctors. His more recent plays include Who Wants to be 100? (Anyone Who’s 99), Four Flat Whites in Italy, A Shortcut to Happiness, Book Ends, You Can Always Hand Them Back and Last Legs. Conjugal Rites went on to become a popular British TV series in the 1990s.
In the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours, Hall was made a Knight Companion of the NZ Order of Merit, adding to the list of other literary awards, including an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Victoria University and the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in 2015.
Barry: Mark Hadlow
Gen: Alison Quigan
Set Design: John Parker
Costume Design: Debbie Thearle
Lighting & Sound Design: Sean Lynch
Theatre , Comedy ,
From the good life to funeral plans
Review by Barbara Frame 10th Mar 2023
Life has been good to Barry and Gen. Now retired, the former dentist and lawyer live in a luxury apartment; they have interests, friends and an excellent supply of wine. Bookshelves hold books that appear more artfully arranged than actually read. A European river cruise is planned, and as the play opens Gen is on the phone negotiating travel insurance….
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
A comic two-hander with ideal pairing
Review by Alister McDonald 07th Mar 2023
Sex and death are frequently coupled in tragedy. In Winding Up Roger Hall shows that the pairing has comic potential.
By my reckoning Roger Hall is the second-oldest English-language comic dramatist still writing and having their new plays receive mainstage productions by major theatre companies. He is only beaten by Alan Bennett, whose 2018 play for the Royal National Theatre, Allelujah, written when he was 84, is about to be seen here in a screen version, not scripted by Bennett. (Alan Ayckbourn, who is the same age as Hall, is still writing but has not had a new play in the West End for 20 years.) Winding Up was written when Hall was 80 and premiered in early 2020. It is now finally receiving a COVID-delayed Dunedin presentation in a Summerset-sponsored touring version of the original Auckland Theatre Company production. This is the first commercial presentation of a full-length comedy in Dunedin since 2020.
Sequels are not a common feature of the contemporary stage but Roger Hall has written five plays with sequels in the course of his career – Glide Time / Market Forces, Middle Age Spread / Spreading Out, The Share Club / After the Crash, C’Mon Black / You Gotta Be Joking and now Conjugal Rites / Winding Up. Conjugal Rites is the only one of his hit plays not to have debuted in a metropolitan theatre, with the premiere production in early 1990 taking place at Palmerston North’s Centrepoint Theatre. It went on to form the basis of two series of sit-coms on the ITV network in Britain, with Hall’s career-best audiences for them topping 10.5 million. In Dunedin the original Fortune Theatre production of the play attracted the Company’s greatest-ever audience (7,028, with just over 2,000 of those seats sold for the touring season to Invercargill). The Fortune subsequently revived it twice and with 8,995 seats sold it was the fourth most-attended play by Dunedin spectators in the Company’s lifetime (the three ahead of it being Hall’s Love off the Shelf, Cinderella and Middle Age Spread.)
For the last twenty years since Spreading Out the major thematic concerns of most of Hall’s plays have been around old age and death, signalled by such titles as Who Wants to be 100?, Book Ends and Last Legs. The related theme of grandparenting, first present as an impending prospect in Middle Age Spread following the climactic revelation of a teen pregnancy, became the focus of Hall’s final musical You Can Always Hand Them Back.
Death, briefly alluded to in 1981’s bleak 50/50, in fact first rears its head prominently in Roger Hall’s work in Conjugal Rites, with its off-stage funerals of Gen’s gambling addict father and Barry’s friend Leo. Conjugal Rites is also the play in which characters begin to contemplate aging, in part because of issues around (off-stage) elderly parents. The play’s major sociological interest, however, lies in its presentation of the changing economic (and hence power) relations within marriages in this country from the 1980s on, as New Zealand women have become, on average, better educated than their spouses and consequently, as in Jen’s case, able to bring in higher incomes. Barry and Gen are celebrating 21 years of married life in Conjugal Rites with the play set in their bedroom. They are sexually active, despite Barry’s bad back, and in the course of the play both embark on short-lived affairs. But, like Colin and Elizabeth in Middle Age Spread, it is clear by the final curtain that Barry and Gen are going to continue stacking the dishwasher together until death do them part.
In Winding Up that parting is drawing ever nearer as we learn within minutes of the curtain rising that Barry has been diagnosed with leukemia. Set some 30 years after Conjugal Rites, the couple, now in their 70s and elderly parents themselves, have downsized to an apartment (we see the living room), the (still off-stage) children having long left home. One (son Philip) is now in London, an illustration of the post-Rogernomics and Ruthanasia diaspora of young, educated but student-loan debt-laden middle-class New Zealanders. Barry and Gen (who is now retired from family law) resolved in Conjugal Rites to stay together for the sake of their children but now have to face the unhappy consequences of some of the next generation’s marriage splits. Although Gen babysits for Gillian, they find that in Philip’s case grandchildren can be alienated from their grandparents and that relations with older second spouses can be more problematic than with their younger predecessors.
With increased longevity in the West comes the possibility for many of extended sex lives. In Winding Up Barry still fancies his chances with other women (but never actually gets the chance to put his sex appeal to the test) while Gen says she will not be returning to the ‘meet market’ should Barry die first because she does not want to go through the experience of losing a loved spouse a second time. While there is still sexual attraction between them, this now becomes the source of sequences of comic frustration, with aging bodies and contemporary technology getting in the way of successful coitus.
What everyone remembers from Conjugal Rites is the lovemaking scene in which the two characters don’t touch but simply voice their thoughts, ending with Barry’s bring the house down line as he climaxes, “I’ve forgotten to pay my [still new at the time] GST!” On the page, the parallel scene in Winding Up, though the similarity is downplayed in this production, takes place at the funeral of Gen’s brother-in-law, where Barry and Gen voice their thoughts about such matters as the vocal soloist and the celebrant’s remarks. It is this sequence which sets in train recurring arrangements for the final scene which presents an elegant solution to the funeral-linked issues that the characters raise.
Hall’s plays are always precisely located in time by their middle-class consumerist markers. An ensuite, TV remote, boxer shorts and slighting reference to nouveau cuisine put Conjugal Rites firmly in the late 1980s. In Winding Up we are in a contemporary world of Uber-eats, Dry July, Airbnb, decluttering and, pointedly just pre-COVID, international cruises. Cordless landline phones have been supplanted by the ubiquitous cellphone and with an Apple alarm watch Barry and Gen find themselves at the comic limit of their technological grasp.
Fans of his work can be assured that in the intervening 30 years since Conjugal Rites Hall has not lost his knack for judging the right placement of reversals and the moments of pathos. Some of the jokes in Winding Up may be oldies but goodies but there are still plenty of fresh, well-turned lines and satiric observations.
If a comic two-hander of this kind is to work with maximum impact it needs a cast both of whom are on the same theatrical page and in Mark Hadlow and Alison Quigan (director in 1990 of the Conjugal Rites premiere production) it would seem to have an ideal pairing. They both relish generating audience laughter and in mining all the laughs going seize their verbal and physical comic opportunities with both hands. What emerges from the playing as the comedy proceeds is a genuine affection between the couple, with mutual support and lasting love enabling them to face the impending end of the relationship. The performers have revisited the characters intermittently on tour as COVID has permitted over the last three years (and Mark Hadlow has also played Barry in a different production at the Court Theatre in 2021) and the performances are consequently now well played in.
Colin McColl’s experienced directorial hand ensures the action flows smoothly and effectively through the play’s succession of short sequences. Smooth transitions also cover most of the inevitable costume changes between scenes with some particularly effective music choices, especially in the latter stages of the second act.
As would be expected, the production values are all of an acceptable professional level for a short-stop touring presentation. Unfortunately, because of the absence of a programme (the second time in a week when I have not been able to obtain one at a professional production, not a positive trend) I cannot credit the work of set, costume or technical design to the individuals responsible.**
By the end of its week-long season at the medium-scale Mayfair Theatre a good fraction of those who enjoyed Gen and Barry’s earlier outings at the Fortune will have also caught up with their current situation. Never mind Dry July, it has been a much longer time between comic drinks for mainstream Dunedin theatre-goers but this production has thankfully broken the drought.
Alister McDonald has had previous commentaries on Roger Hall’s work published in Centrestage Australia 1, no. 2 (1987), Playmarket News 12 (Autumn 1996) and Playmarket 40 (Wellington, 2013).
** Note: Set Design: John Parker; Costume Design: Debbie Thearle; Lighting & Sound Design: Sean Lynch
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer