10/11/2022 - 13/11/2022
17/02/2023 - 19/02/2023
17/03/2023 - 19/03/2023
Playwright & Director: Richard Huber
Lighting Design: Meko Ng
Sahara BreeZe Productions
SBZ Productions is delighted to announce the premiere of NZ playwright Richard Huber’s latest play Wonderful which is the second in a planned trilogy of plays, the first being the nationally acclaimed 1930s screwball comedy Glorious.
Wonderful is the story of the divine Lady Hermione and her loyal butler Roberts, as they grapple with the important issues of modern life – biscuits, trousers, sausages, Art and what to do about Penelope.
Set in England, during the witty and just a little bit notorious roaring 20s, its characters cast aside the darkness, despair and bad poetry from the Great War and fall headlong into the brave new world of martinis, monocles, romance, and fountains; the starlight glittering on the water like diamonds.
One part drawing-room farce, two measures of Love and a splash of the comedy of manners, it asks the age-old question of all great love stories: What is the price of following your heart and are you willing to pay it? Where does Uncle Dickie keep the biscuits, and what did the actress actually say to the bishop?
Wonderful will run at the Playhouse Theatre, Dunedin:
7.30pm-9.30pm 10-12 November 2022
and 2.30pm-4.30pm on 13 November 2022.
Wonderful is described by Theatreview (Dunedin season) as “diabolical cleverness,” and “a cracking conversational duel.” Husband and wife acting duo Blaise and Sarah Barham “inhabit their roles with ease,” says Theatreview, “with the polished rapport that comes of working so closely together.” Both were nominated as Most Outstanding Performers for Two at Dunedin Fringe 2020.
Te Auaha – Tapere Nui. 65 Dixon Street, Te Aro, Wellington 6011.
17-19 February 2023 at 7.30pm
+ 18 Feb at 3pm.
Ticket Price: $20
Dunedin Fringe Festival 2023
Allen Hall Theatre, University of Otago
TICKETS $10 – $20
Comedy , Theatre ,
In the grand tradition of Theatre of the Absurd
Review by Judith Laube 18th Mar 2023
Allen Hall Theatre is a welcoming place where the audience crosses the stage to tiered seating and everyone has a fine view of the acting space. It makes the audience part of the performance which is apt for this production where we will later be addressed directly by the actors.
It doesn’t take long to examine the set: a small drinks trolley in the distance and a cane chair. The floor has a rectangular painted outline with single and double crosses at intervals. Presumably their function will become clear later. The audience is small but hopeful and the production has already had glowing reviews since its first performances in 2022.
Playwright and director Richard Huber has concentrated his focus on words and the script is very long and circular in the grand tradition of the Theatre of the Absurd. The two actors, Sarah Barham as Hermione and Blaise Barham as Roberts, had a mighty lot of lines to learn and most of these are delivered rapidly and accurately. Enunciation is excellent and you can hear every word. Movement is restricted to the delineated area and Hermione spends much of the time lounging in her chair while Roberts stands in butleresque attendance enlivened by occasional frenzies of dusting invisible objects with a real feather duster.
Their rapid fire conversation bounces from past to present and back with each relating personal stories as well as referring to shared experiences. The conversational segments are punctuated by dimmed lights or a blackout and there are occasional dramatic lighting changes in response to what the actors are saying. I find myself craving movement to synchronise with the lighting and sound effects. It transpires that the X marks are for the actors to stand on. Why? It doesn’t pay to ask why – there will be no answer.
We are conditioned to expect a linear narrative and for a play to be about something which will be revealed. Wrong genre for that. The audience can come up with suggestions: love, death, class struggle, war but these will largely reflect our own backgrounds and concerns.
The play is full of references to literary and popular culture. There were some sniggers from the audience but timing was not quite right on this particular night and I think there should be many more laughs. It is very difficult to remount a production and then tour it with some long gaps in between performances. This was the first night after a lengthy break and I expect that will quickly correct itself. This is an ambitious and demanding performance which should provoke discussion and stimulate the mind.
Theatre of the Absurd is such a wonderful genre when it hits the spot.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Subtly absurdist perceptive satire full of things to leave us wondering
Review by John Smythe 18th Feb 2023
The opening night of NZ Fringe is honoured with two exceptional productions from Dunedin, both staged at Te Auaha, Tapere Nui. Wonderful* is followed by Dark Radio (review to follow too). My tip is to book for both then read the reviews.
It’s 14 years since Richard Huber’s Glorious graced Dunedin’s late-lamented Fortune Theatre. My comment attached to Terry MacTavish’s glowing review, regarding the American setting of this ‘Screwball Comedy’ set in The Great Depression, excited a great deal of spirited debate for which I remain very grateful. (It’s always dangerous to comment on a production one hasn’t actually seen.)
Now Huber brings us Wonderful, set around the same era, the mid-to-late 1920s, but on a large English country estate. It is billed as “One part drawing room farce, two measures of Love and a splash of the comedy.” I’d also call it a perceptive satire of English class-conscious manners and mores, and subtly absurdist in its metatheatrical self-awareness.
Masquerading as whimsical conversation between a bored socialite, Hermione (Sarah Barham) and her alternately bemused and benign butler, Roberts (Blaise Barham), the play draws us in with curiosity about the exact nature of their relationship. Is it ‘real’ or role-playing, how long they have known each other and how have things changed – or not – since the so-called Great War-to-end-all-wars.
Hermione scoffs at the very mention of the War: “It was dirty and smelly and there weren’t enough lunch breaks.” She’s more preoccupied with whether or not to marry Freddie, among the many admirers apparently begging for her hand, and yet the feelings she and Roberts have for each other, albeit in a love-hate sort of way, become more apparent throughout the play.
Among the many people and incidents that flow in and out of their shared consciousness, with fluent eloquence, is what is described at one point as “the bacchanalia in the fountain” involving Hermione and Freddie and observed from a bedroom window by Lady Violet and Roberts. Then there’s the question of who fathered Lady Violet’s child.
It can get rather tawdry in an immaculately civilised English way, replete with repeat Martinis. From her closeted from reality position of so-called privilege, Hermione is fascinated by such things as Freudian psychology – egos and penises – and dreams of escaping with Roberts to become “lesbians in Berlin”.
Yet self-awareness surfaces when she describes her character, in the play she wants to write, as “a stupid, vain, shallow creature.” They bicker, however, about how Roberts’ character may be written, provoking consideration of the difference between oneself and one’s character in a play. There are clearly cross-overs between the imagined play and the play we are seeing.
Because the chit-chat is mostly about her, and his role is largely to react rather than initiate action, Roberts becomes an intriguing enigma. He wants to tell the audience his story – or is it the fountain he’s addressing? When he does get to tell it, what begins as a love idyll becomes something else entirely – and here’s where some of our questions are answered while others arise.
Yes, there is more to this story than initially meets our eyes and ears. The title comes from their determination to move on from what’s past and see good times ahead, hence “wonderful” is an oft-used adjective. But there is pathos embedded in the ‘keep calm and carry on’ ethos. And dismay, if not anger, to be felt at an entrenched English class system that can supersede the power of love.
Both actors are compelling. Sarah Barham’s insufferable Hermione is too real to be dismissed and finally commands compassion. Blaise Barnham’s existentially lost and therefore somewhat comedic Roberts turns out to be steeped in tragedy. They serve the great skill in Huber’s writing with sensitivity and panache – and Huber’s tight directing trusts his story to reveal itself and us to hang in until the literally bitter end.
Some may find Meko Ng’s lighting effects, operated by Jordan Wichman, a bit intrusive and unnecessary but they do highlight the transitions from present action to remembered and imagined moments. And the stabs of jaunty ’20s effectively set the scene and mood.
Wonderful is certainly full of things to leave us wondering.
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*Not to be confused with Dean Parker’s Wonderful.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Smart riffs and polished rapport
Review by Terry MacTavish 11th Nov 2022
Armistice Day, first celebrated 11.11.1918, with high, high hopes of peace and prosperity ahead. O Brave New World. The 1920s will be…wonderful! The end of the old class system, of masters – or mistresses – and men. An end, surely, to the madness of war. Jazz. Psychoanalysis. Drawing room comedies that satirise the corrupt Old World. It will be wonderful.
Dunedin’s own respected playwright Richard Huber, who describes Wonderful as ‘one part drawing room farce and two parts love with a decent splash of comedy of manners’, shows his affection for the genre by mercilessly mocking it. It is all very meta too – characters interrupt themselves to say, “I am really enjoying this scene,’ or ‘My character didn’t like it when your character broke in’.
We do not have an elegant drawing room, we have a black box with one chair and the outlines of fireplace, tables etc, with lighting and cheerful ragtime music, by Meko Ng and Jordan Wichman. Roberts the stalwart butler bustles round, impeccably miming his tedious routine, while supplying bored Lady Hermione with cocktails. Lady Hermione waits.
The war being concluded, surely something wonderful will happen. Perhaps Lady Hermione (Sarah Barham), relic of old-world aristocracy, is symbolic of the 20th century itself, waiting courageously to be seized on and remade. Will the human race, in the diffident person of Roberts (Blaise Barham), have the courage to seize the moment? ‘After tea and cakes and ices, have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?’
I may have got this completely wrong, of course. Huber is a writer with an exceptionally playful imagination, and enticed into his game, we are merely the unsteady shuttlecocks, tossed lightly in unexpected directions, unable to land securely anywhere. We can but try to follow as we are batted from Oscar Wilde to Samuel Beckett, and Noel Coward is outplayed by Harold Pinter.
In the Barhams, Huber has found the perfect accomplices. Their tongue-in-cheek enjoyment of the absurdities of the situation is one of the great pleasures of the play. They inhabit their roles with ease, in a cracking conversational duel. This is clearly not Blaise Barham’s first turn as a loyal humble butler, and Sarah Barham is all snooty poise and disdain as Lady Hermione, despite her obsessive interest in Roberts’ trousers.
Both are experienced enough to handle with aplomb the linguistic tour de force demanded of them. Huber’s extraordinarily complex script is tackled at break-neck speed. Certainly, there must be many repetitions of ‘red lorry, yellow lorry’ in the actors’ vocal warm-ups. The audience too has to be fiercely on the alert, holding back giggles lest the next line is missed.
There is much fun to be had in picking up on all Huber’s smart riffs, delivered by the Barhams with the polished rapport that comes of working so closely together: ‘I’m revealing my inner-’ ‘- Thigh?’ ‘No, life.’ Or ‘One of those things people are always standing on.’ ‘Principle?’ “No, ceremony.’ And all this while, with diabolical cleverness, Huber is referencing scenes from Jane Austen to Gertrude Stein, Strindberg’s Miss Julie to Star Wars and Notting Hill.
The first act involves a Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy circling of each other, while the audience picks up clues about Lady Hermione’s rather obnoxious siblings and friends, notably Freddy, one of her many suitors, with whom she gets up to unspeakably improper things in the garden fountain, witnessed by the hapless butler. Despite the popular view that the war was a leveller, Roberts seems to have returned to slot back into his menial position, much as The Admirable Crichton did.
Though the first act contains what may be my favourite line, ‘Daddy absentmindedly stroking the wax on his Wensleydale’ (a cheese from my beloved Yorkshire Dales), I am more emotionally engaged by the second act, in which we learn of their experiences in a war that is supposed to have swept away class distinctions, thus making it possible for a lady to marry a servant. (Unlikely as that seems at present, despite the witty Beatrice and Benedick banter.)
The actors are well into their stride now, and the description by Roberts, of the horrific consequences of his affair in France with a superior officer’s girlfriend, is compellingly delivered by Blaise, and utterly gripping. A comic highlight for Sarah is Lady Hermione’s whimsical plan to become a Lesbian, wear a monocle, and live in Berlin. But it is the curious incidents that occur on Home Leave that cast the longest shadows, and must be resolved if we are to reach a wonderful ending.
100 years since the 1920s, and the high hopes of a better future, ‘things always get better’, have not exactly been realised. The radio did pause this morning, at eleven minutes past the eleventh hour on the eleventh day, and maybe we all remembered the promises the war-ravaged world made to itself, and thought how much the better off we are in the 2020s.
Maybe, or maybe we thought of the monsters and the misery in the world today. War in Ukraine, repression in Iran, starvation in Africa, hate crime in Aotearoa, pandemic everywhere, sheer crazy in the U.S. of A… Assuredly not so wonderful. Hermione and Robert’s absurd story at least left us chuckling, and despite the cynicism and mockery, hopeful that after all, cliché though it may be, love is the answer.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer