BATS Theatre, Wellington

31/07/2008 - 09/08/2008

Production Details

A poignant eulogy for love set on the beautiful Kapiti Coast.
This is the premiere performance of WINTER, a play by critically acclaimed, award winning New York playwright of The Drunk Monologues – Diane Spodarek.
Fifteen years after an aborted love affair in New York, American poet Crystal and Kiwi bloke Horse agree to give it another go in a secluded bach by the sea in New Zealand.
Experiences full of mystery and intrigue occur during Crystal’s daily walks by the sea and over four seasons Crystal discovers Kapiti Coast’s more ominous side – the ghosts of Pukerua Bay and the seduction of the sea.
Why does Crystal have blood on her hands?
WINTER is a poetic journey about being the ‘other’, presenting a sharp, dark and humorous drama about love, loss and the cultural clash between the USA and Aotearoa.
Featuring Melissa Billington (La Boheme) and Nigel Edgecombe (The Last 5 Years, Les Miserables).
31 July – 9 August, 8.30pm
BATS Theatre
Bookings: 04 802 4175 or
Cost: $18/12

Melissa Billington
, Crystal
Nigel Edgecombe, Horse

David Philips, Lighting and Sound
Kazz Funky Blue, Assistant Stage Manger & Original Painting
Set design: Sally Richards
Brianne Kerr: Publicity
Marjorie McKee: Graphic Design
Photo Concept & Direction: Diane Spodarek
Vlad Tisma: Video
Tommaso Barsali, Set Construction

Original Music: "Nothing Changes" Ó Diane Spodarek. Detroit Jam Recording. Performed by Dangerous Diane & The Ghost Band: George Kerby, Lead Guitar; Ron Kopack, Rhythm guitar; Keith Buchannon, Bass Guitar, Vocals & Rhythm guitar, Dangerous Diane.

"War" sung by Edwin Starr, written by Norman Whitfield & Barrett Strong, MOTOWN, Detroit: "....War....good god ya'll....what is it good for...absolutely nothing"     

1hr 20 mins, no interval

Not dramatic or visual enough for stage

Review by Kate Blackhurst 30th Aug 2008

At one point in this duologue (I hesitate to call it a play) one of the characters says to the other, ‘Let’s be nothing together’. If this is the theme for the night, they certainly succeed, as this is a stunning example of the parts being greater than the sum.

The set, designed by Sally Richards, is good. The bach location is symbolised by crates for furniture, old armchairs, driftwood, a floor made of wooden crates, and piles of books in towers by the door. The lighting (David Philips) is odd – fading and brightening sharply and for no apparent reason. There is a curious 1950’s sit com effect when the two characters sit side by side facing the audience to discourse upon the word ‘cheers’ with brittle false smiles, again for no discernible reason. It was probably a good idea at the time of the workshop.

It is a stylised piece in which She (Melissa Billington – her name is Crystal apparently, but it is never used in the play) talks about everything and points out in tedious detail all the differences between America and New Zealand. Most of these are based around semantics (‘Why do you say bloody? Where does it come from?’), coffee (‘Coffee culture is a global conspiracy. I just want a coffee.’), and cars (‘What is it with Kiwis and their cars?’). He, (Nigel Edgecombe – similarly his name is Horse, but this is only something you would know if you read the programme) meanwhile, reads books, makes cups of tea and chops wood for the fire. It is cold.

The dialogue is awkward and stilted; it doesn’t flow and even the pauses and interruptions are unnatural. She goes out for walks along the beach – it is set in Pukerua Bay up the Kapiti Coast – and when she returns he asks her how her walk went. She makes up tales, usually involving sex, about the people she has encountered or sounds like an Orb record describing the beautiful scenery and the little fluffy clouds. She writes poetry (of course) and when she lists the books she takes out from the library – Janet Frame, Katherine Mansfield, Joyce Carol Oates and Sylvia Plath – I would have left then if I could have snuck out unobserved. The tone is clearly established.

He interprets Maori legends about the region and they have intense debates about Jung, the subconscious and the manifestation of the self, as you do in student imaginations. Apparently they met in New York many years ago and they loved each other then, but not now. People change, situations alter and now they have moved on. It is as though they are in the winter stage if the relationship – any affection has long-since died and it doesn’t look as though there is any hope of rejuvenation. As He says, ‘you can’t stop nature’.

The group of friends in New York has split up and many have died now. She left everything behind, including a daughter, to come here. She says because it’s a nuclear free zone, but that isn’t a reason enough. She is removed from all she knows and is occasionally shocked by a sense of dislocation; ‘The radio plays American music but it’s a gazillion miles away.’ She claims jetlag – after three months – and you could almost feel sorry for her sense of isolation if she stopped whining for a second. She is obsessed with sex but the whole thing is tortuous, cold and decidedly asexual – like John Osborne without the anger or Pinter without the menace, which means we’re left with the pauses and the repetitions.

She whines about everything. She dreams about being in New York and when she wakes up and finds herself in New Zealand she is disappointed. She hates the fact that everyone hates Americans and sometimes pretends she is Canadian. She complains about the metric system, the fact that cars drive on the other side of the street, grown men in courier trucks making deliveries in shorts, people walking barefoot in the street and the sudden changes in weather. He tells her ‘It takes time to adjust’. She moans that he didn’t tell her about the fault line. He suggests that if he had told everything she wouldn’t have come. I bet he regrets that now.

And then there are the unanswered questions – ‘What’s that on your hands?’, ‘Why were you in a hotel?’ She returns from her walks carrying dog leads and talks about a dog that swam out to sea – ‘dogs don’t commit suicide’. She talks of a man in red swimming trunks, which may or may not be in a plastic bag, She delivers a stone which may or may not be covered in blood, She talks of meeting a monk and turns up wearing sandals. There may or may not be clues for the audience to decipher. I gave up and started reading the titles on the spines of the books which I found more interesting.

This could make a good radio play or a short story, as there are a lot of potentially intriguing elements, that but it’s simply not dramatic or visual enough to retain interest on stage. He dances at one point (later we discover he choreographs and sculpts) which breaks up the monotony, but although this hints at something interesting, it peters out to nothing. Winter is an anti-tourism broadcast for the Kapiti Coast. It’s always cold and there’s no work apparently, full of drop outs and hippies. Billington and Edgecombe do the best they can with the material they have, but it left me uncomfortably numb.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.



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Teetering between reality and a world of dreams and fantasies

Review by Jackson Coe 12th Aug 2008

The flyer and programme notes for Winter seem to emphasise the cultural differences of the show’s two protagonists, one a Kiwi and the other an American, and the effect this has on their romantic relationship. Sure these aspects were featured, but for me they seemed rather secondary, and worked more to give the play a structure while it explored greater issues of existentialism and being. Winter may not be faultless in either script or execution, but it certainly left me chewing a few deep and challenging thoughts.

Winter opens with Crystal (played by Melissa Billington) relating a more and more far-fetched story about her walk along the beach while her other half, Horse (played by Nigel Edgecombe) becomes increasingly agitated by her obvious lack of concern for his feelings. This sets up a running motif of dreams and fantasy as well as what, for me, becomes a theme of the struggle, even impossibility, to communicate coherently and sensitively. It is in this latter point which I detect an invocation of absurdist influences such as Beckett and Ionesco. [More]


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Eulogy about love fails test

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 04th Aug 2008

Anon once said that American women like quiet men: they think they’re listening. Winter, an overlong two-hander described as ‘a eulogy for love’, puts Anon’s theory to the test.

Crystal, a New Yorker who has left her family and her adult daughter to live with Horse, a taciturn Kiwi, in a bach in Pukerua Bay, talks a great deal and it is not always clear if Horse is listening as she goes on, at first amusingly before it becomes tedious, about the language differences between the two countries.

She also talks at great length about her walks in the Reserve and along the beach where she meets, or says she does to provoke a reaction from Horse, strange men. Her litany of complaints as she tries to adjust to life here seems to drive Horse into reading the books that are stacked in two large piles on either side of the door. He does offer to chop wood for a fire but never seems to get round to it.

The play has a repetitive musical structure, nearly every scene beginning in the same way with Crystal returning from a walk and then a near monologue on the themes of the beauty of the landscape or the strange men she meets, or her dreams, or the cold or her views on the life and language of New Zealanders, her daughter, her dog – and occasionally her relationship with Horse.

One scene, the most affecting and startling, is when Horse listening on his own to some music suddenly starts to dance. As he finishes, Crystal appears and dances by herself too. Another brief scene, totally out of tune with the rest but providing a welcome change of pace and mood (brightly lit for comedy) is a spoken duet on the Kiwi use of the word ‘cheers’.

Both scenes occur early on in the play and we are soon back to Crystal’s sometimes poetic descriptions of the Kapiti coast and her sense, as director Sally Richards says, of Crystal being a stranger in an intimate relationship in a strange country.

Despite strong performances from Melissa Billington and Nigel Edgecombe they are unable to create any reality in the musical/poetic atmosphere that Winter attempts because we get to know only Crystal’s emotional life, never Horse’s. For an audience to believe in one, it must be privy to the other.


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Leaves me out in the cold

Review by John Smythe 01st Aug 2008

Ask people to associate a word with "winter" and many will say "discontent", which pretty well sums up the basic state of the two characters in this play, and my residual response to witnessing its full production premiere at BATS.

That the programme names them Crystal and Horse, but the play doesn’t reveals this in dialogue, is indicative of a text that holds, I suspect, more meaning and resonances for its writer – "Canadian-born American artist, writer and performer" Diane Spodarek – than it can ever hope to achieve for an audience receiving it via performance. But then she is also a poet and the rationale, presumably, is that while she writes from personal truth we are free to make of it what we will.

As directed by Sally Richards, Melissa Billington’s Crystal and Nigel Edgecombe’s Horse and their strange relationship certainly come over as real, although the dramatisation is not quite naturalistic. While it is artfully contrived and stylised just enough to signal we should not expect the depth and detail of everyday co-habitation (e.g. some insight into how they make ends meet), it does not commit to alternative performance conventions to the extent, for example, of Spodarek’s Fringe 06 solo show The Drunk Monologues.

There is one scene where the characters suddenly smile brightly, face front and riff on the word "Cheers" like some kind of Pleasantville parody of middle class life. But this comes from nowhere and goes nowhere.

The set (designed by Richards) comprises a floor of raw wooden pallets with towers of books guarding the centre-back doorway and two armchairs and a coffee table in the foreground. With lighting and sound by David Phillips it effectively evokes a Kapiti Coast alternative lifestyle.

Winter comprises a series of scenes that each start with a roughly-dressed Horse reading a book (the first title is Doomsday) and a smartly black-clad Crystal arriving from outside, a red dog leash in one hand. His "How was your walk?" prompts her to share what’s happened that day, which has invariably involved a quasi sexual encounter with a man … or not. He and we are left to guess whether any sexual activity, quasi or total, took place or is she just a fantasist? Perhaps she wants to generate jealously on his part and provoke him to the sexual action she seems to want with him. But he is withholding, apparently wanting it to happen more naturally; more impulsively, if at all. She says, again, how cold she is; he offers to chop wood for a fire …

It emerges they once had a relationship in New York. He (a Kiwi) has returned home to Pukerua Bay and she, 15 years later, has followed, leaving her adult daughter behind (He: Why? She: Nuclear Free Zone). A "second chance" is mentioned. Without a work visa she’s drifting, not earning, visiting the city quite often from what she says, taking her walks, writing poetry (she won a Best Poet award on the Lower East Side once) …

He seems to do nothing but read, except for one private moment – well into the play – where he dances. Later it turns out he is/was a dancer and he mentions "working on a new piece" but that, like so much else that is mentioned/ established/ set up, leads to nothing of consequence. His most animated moment is recalling an encounter with John Cage in New York, back in the good old Red Mole days. They were going to make a show together but that, too, came to nothing …

Horse also swigs hard liquor straight from the bottle, in apparent contradiction of an understanding they seem to have that they are "not drinking", and it may be as a consequence of that his choice of book in one scene is The Liver Cleansing Diet – which one audience member found hugely amusing on opening night.

Crystal’s other source of discontent (apart from sexual frustration, or perhaps deflecting from it) is the way Kiwis use language – e.g. bloody, cuppa, flat white, shag, take out … Despite being a poet who might find such vernacular fascinating, she complains ("In the States we say …") perhaps to provoke him. But he still doesn’t bite. She gets him, at last, using Starbucks as her weapon, which is about as close as we get to a structured sequence that produces a result.

Crystal also rants about all the American music on the radio, "Even Kiwi bands …" (the play was written in the winter of 2005, by the way). She does, however, like the Mâori mythology around Pukerua and the bay …

There is mention of: a dog that swam out to sea and disappeared (He: Dogs don’t commit suicide; She: We underestimate the feelings of other species"); her cousin who committed suicide; her son who died, which he didn’t know about … There is a painting of a woman playing a cello (credit: Kazz Funky Blue) which gets moved about a bit but is never mentioned …

At one point he asks her "What’s that on your hands?" which appear to be red-stained, but he doesn’t pursue it. Later she brings in a plastic bag that seems to have something bloody in it. What it turns out to be may or may not relate to a anecdote about a young man in red shorts … But this, too, it turns out to be totally inconsequential despite the tantalising question in a media release: "Why does Crystal have blood on her hands?"

Whether or not the things have deep meaning for the writer – and the director and actors after their rehearsal period – their places in the play remain a mystery to me. Before I buy the ‘it leaves me free to create my own interpretation’ line, I need to believe the play and production do hold secrets that will be revealed if I pay due attention at intuitive, emotional and intellectual levels.

The faith and focus Billington and Edgecombe bring to their roles initially engender a trust that the whole will indeed add up to more than the sum of its parts. But it doesn’t. We find out about their back-stories, we’re titillated by her tales as we observe their strangely disassociated relationship in the present, we wonder where it will lead … But given the unchanging nature of their relationship over (so the programme informs us) four seasons, and 80 minutes playing time, I can only ask: Why would she want to stay with him? Why would he want her to? Why does it matter? Which – to use a capitalist metaphor that would horrify Horse – is a poor return for the time and attention I have invested.

In her programme note the director connects with "the idea of being a stranger in an intimate relationship". But in the end this randomly mixed collection of promising ingredients renders me estranged from these people, their relationship and their lives. And because Winter leaves me out in the cold, it makes me discontented.


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