The Pumphouse Amphitheatre, Auckland

13/04/2016 - 23/04/2016

Production Details

A western with swords!


One last hidden valley remains untouched by the Thirty Years war. All the men have been killed. Only women are left. An army is coming. Six desperate women will fight to find the buried treasure of Count Carignano before that army reaches them. Only one will see the dawn. All are armed, all dangerous, all Women with Swords. 

BACKGROUND: While directing the AUSS 2014 production of Pericles, Geoff Allen heard an actress watching a sword fight lament, ‘I wish we could do that.’ He then wrote his most exotic and edgy play – Women with Swords – so that six women night after night could hack each other to pieces if they wanted to.

“I wanted to do a play very different to my other work: Set in a time when superstition, religion and war pushed ordinary women to the edge. I chose the Thirty Years war and based it on two iconic sixties films – The Last Valley and The Good the Bad and the Ugly.”

Six women to love or hate – but will your favourite be the one that survives to dawn?

The Pumphouse Amphitheatre
13 – 23 April 2016
Bookings: www.pumphouse.co.nz | 09 489 8360 

(From The author of Sister Anzac at Q theatre in 2016.) 

CAST: Erica Kroger. Natasha Ross, Katherine Hair, Kat Glass, Gerry Jaynes, Emily Mckenzie & Daniel Fernandez.

Fight Choreography: Dave Arrow

Producer: Katherine Hair 

Theatre ,

The eventual payoff borders on adequate

Review by Nik Smythe 14th Apr 2016

In my experience, playwright/director Geoff Allen has a knack for utilising recognisable themes and tropes to present an original, if perhaps not entirely unique, perspective on whatever mad idea he’s come up with this time.  This ‘this time’ concerns half a dozen intrepid women staking their respective claims to victory in the male-dominated culture of war-torn seventeenth century Italy.  Best just to go with it, really. 

Playing upon the appropriately archaic all-wood stage of the Pumphouse amphitheatre, an uncredited harpist sets a pertinently renaissance-esque scene with tranquil, ambient house and intro music.  A gypsy-like woman performs pagan rites, sprinkling herbal concoctions and reading runes.  A regal woman enters with her humbly clad servant girl, and they begin to discuss options with regard to their current predicament. 

Story-wise, some effort is required to properly engage with the performance and understand what is happening.  Essentially the plot is simple enough:  Left to defend their home in the face of imminent invasion by a crusading army, the women conspire and squabble to unravel cryptic clues planted by the late Count, purporting to lead to a cache of hidden treasure.  Ostensibly conspiring to work together to find it, much conniving, bitterness and spiteful recrimination ensues.  

This basic theme is surrounded and penetrated by at least one secret per character, resulting in a tangled series of twists and confrontations, leading to what clearly aims to be an intensely dramatic showdown.  As the said secrets and twists are predominantly made apparent to anyone paying attention in the audience before their revelation within the narrative, it is evident the dramatic tension is intended to be found within the characters’ relationships and inner journeys. 

Erica Kroger carries the regal haughtiness of the opportunistic Contessa with aplomb, although her Italian accent can be distractingly irregular.  Natasha Ross’s is more consistent, her healer/soothsayer Vigdis expressing equal quantities of faith and cynicism.  As the hopeful and at times histrionic maid Gioconda, Katherine Hair tries Italian a couple of times then seems to abandon it altogether.

The steadiest accents are provided by Kat Glass’s raunchy French mercenary Sabine, and lone male Daniel Fernandez’s amusingly pathetic drunken soldier Soleil.  The remaining cast – Gerry Jaynes’ Adalheid the alleged virgin nun and Emily McKenzie’s Agnes, widow of the Count’s only son – don’t apply European accents at all, which is ultimately less off-putting than an inauthentic approximation.

Vernacular issues aside, the cast are quite capable of delivering volume and clarity in the open-air setting, challenged as they are by aircraft flying overhead and a particularly outspoken cricket heckling from the back row.

In terms of character casting the players are generally well-appointed, aided greatly from the outset by the excellent period costume design of Annamarie Dixon, lending considerable authenticity to the various roles. 

The swords themselves are equally impressive, in both appearance and resonance as they clash together.  Dave Arrow’s fight choreography includes momentary thrills, particularly as we realise how solid these weapons really are, though for the most part the fighting action is quite stagey, probably for the same reason. 

A handful of quite effective moments notwithstanding, Allen’s direction lacks overall clarity.  As a result the performances fall short of the kind of visceral impact that such a bold and violent tale requires.  Following the somewhat clumsy, seemingly under-rehearsed opening scene, the tension does build as the stakes mount up and, though muted by sections of forced exposition, the eventual payoff borders on adequate.  It’s logical to suppose that with a stronger beginning and tighter direction, the ensuing drama could build to a wholly more satisfying conclusion. 

While dramatically the sum total of the myriad elements of this ambitious premiere production could certainly be improved with further development and distillation, it’s fair to say we’re left with plenty to consider regarding ambition, family and camaraderie, philosophy, gender politics and politics in general as well as good old ‘what’s it all about anyway?’. 


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