04/09/2018 - 15/09/2018
12/02/2020 - 07/03/2020
A WHIRLWIND OF THEATRICAL DELIGHT
Wonderful premieres at BATS Theatre
Armstrong Creative is delighted to announce the premiere season of Wonderful by Dean Parker at BATS Theatre as part of the inaugural New Zealand Theatre Month.
Directed by Conrad Newport (Niu Sila, Gifted, Rita and Douglas) and starring Andrew Laing (Gifted, Australasian tours of Blood Brothers and The New Rocky Horror Show), Wonderful focuses on a teacher who inspired his pupils to become creative individuals.
Brother Vianney has a calling.
To educate the boys in his classroom and to help them become good, caring Catholic citizens.
His teaching methods are in no way sympathetic to a narrow-minded New Zealand society obsessed by rugby and racing. A larger-than-life presence, Brother Vianney calls upon his show business background and treats his class to the quirky insights and life lessons that he has discovered from watching the popular films and romantic musicals of the 1950s.
Acclaimed playwright Dean Parker (Polo, Midnight In Moscow, The Tigers of Wrath), who also wrote the screenplay for comic classic movie Came a Hot Friday, based the play’s character on a number of Marist brothers who taught him in his youth, and who had a lasting impact upon him.
“I’d been thinking about them off and on for years,” explains Parker. “They existed to do God’s work, which in some cases meant putting on the school’s musical. In that community of sports-mad men, some of them clearly berserk, these teachers stood out—especially in retrospect.”
Director Conrad Newport says Wonderful is an incredibly funny and moving story. “Brother Vianney’s total passion for musicals and romantic movies creates a fabulous world for him to provide an education to his students. Wonderful is about experiencing through adult eyes the thrill of that one great teacher you wished you had.”
Fall in love with Brother Vianney in this undeniably theatrical whirlwind of an education filled with extraordinary wisdom, plenty of laughter, some great show songs and heartbreaking pathos.
BATS Theatre The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
Tuesday 4 – Saturday 15 September 2018
Full Price $22 | Concession Price $16 | Group 6+ $15
firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 04 802 4175
“It’s quite rare that you see a performance and writing and direction work together so seamlessly. Andrew Laing is masterful.” James Cain, Was it Good
Following a hugely successful premiere season at BATS Theatre in 2018, Armstrong Creative is delighted to announce that Wonderful by Dean Parker is coming to Circa Two.
Actor Andrew Laing gives a virtuoso performance and was nominated for Best Actor for this role at the Wellington Theatre Awards in 2018.
“A multi-layered and extremely absorbing ‘dance’ that needs to be experienced. You won’t regret it,”John Smythe, Theatreview
CIRCA TWO, 1 Taranaki St, Wellington Waterfront
Wednesday 12 February to Saturday 7 March 2020
Tuesday – Saturday at 7.30pm Sunday at 4.00pm
Ticket Prices: Adults $52, Concessions $42, Friends Of Circa $38
Groups (6+) $45 (20+) $42, Under 25s $25
Bookings at www.circa.co.nz Phone 801 7992
Theatre , Solo ,
A gestalt of three exceptional talents
Review by Patrick Davies 14th Feb 2020
Dean Parker’s Wonderful is a combination of virtuoso performances. The framing of this solo show is simple: we are Marist Brother Vianney’s 1959 Standard 5 class (which, if memory serves, is full of 9yr olds). We never quite get to whatever subject is to be our lesson for Br Vianney is wont to talk about his favourite passion – films and musicals in particular – replete with excerpts.
Having been educated within the catholic school system I remember back to the times of being taught by similar Brothers (though perhaps not as theatrical, then again…) and other teachers whom we had pleasure in keeping off-topic.
As with any class, roll call is first, and if were weren’t sure if this was a catholic school to begin with we are left in no doubt by the almost comical length of ‘dooley’ names – indeed there is a boy called Dooley who gets a wry knowing smile from both actor and Brother. I am reminded of Rowan Atksinon’s Roll Call skit.
Throughout we are heavily reminded of the need to support catholics above others: “When you are in your government job make sure you only employ catholic boys.” The level of indoctrination in both religion and partisanship, and the ease with which it is delivered and expected, is frighteningly high and accurate. These young minds being bent (pun intended) to the will of the church is on par with our stereotypes of fanaticism about eastern religions. We can see it in Br Vianney – his wish to see ‘Our Lady’, to have a vision, comes from his own indoctrination and the effects of this on his soul prior to his ‘calling’.
And here we come to the meat of the play. It is 9th of August, an anniversary. It unfolds that Br Vianney (his dead name is totally absent from the proceedings, that life has been white-washed in more ways than one) was in love with a friend, Quentin, with whom he worked in Sydney. He was a young man working in the astonishing theatre spectacles for J C Williamson, on tours, rising through the ranks to become a chorus performer who discovers his love of song and the love of his life.
We hear of how they lived and loved together, the coded phrases sailing over the students’ heads, but not ours. The devastating visit to see Quentin’s mother where she dominates her son into abandoning Br Vianney, and Quentin’s subsequent suicide after one last night together. Br Vianney reminds us that suicide is the worst, most unforgivable sin – the utter shunning of god’s gift.
And of course Quentin is in hell. Br V (we always truncated our Brothers to an initial) asks the boys to hold their finger in a candle flame (“a small candle, like a devotional one”), to see if you can hold it there, and how that pain, in hell, is what is happening all over your body, for eternity. “Eternity boys!” He’s tried it. He’s felt it. He envisions where Quentin is and where he will be forever. Remember, what he has done is “high on the list of grave sins” (Waugh). His eternal soul is damned. [Alert ends]
This points to his choice to be named after John-Baptiste-Marie-Vianney. Every Brother leaves their old life behind and takes the name of a saint. Interesting that we never question religious institutions doing this, especially for legal documents, yet differently gendered people have so much difficulty: another example of the subtle and privileged infiltration of religion into our social structures. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney led a saintly life, involving “mortification, persevering ministry in the sacrament of confession, and ardent devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary”. The latter aspects shared by both Vianneys in abundance.
At the fulcrum of this decision is Br V’s tale of the man who fell off a horse. He was destined for hell, and as he fell he asked god for forgiveness, was granted it, and “twixt stirrup and ground” found salvation and entered into heaven. By taking on his vocation, our Br V hopes to escape hell and his current hell – survivor guilt.
Parker’s script folds all these aspects through the play with stunning ease and a mastery of writing for solo performance. There are moments of fantasy portrayed but Parker grounds us in our world of the classroom when needed, reminding us of the young boys who are at turns thrilled and admonished by Br V. What begins as Br V’s whimsy and delight which we share, slowly turns into a prison.
It’s theatre, we know something is on the horizon. This is like watching a thunderous tempest slowly approach an unknowing man who blithely looks the other way and smiles like a fool. When the storm breaks the tension has been wound and released, wound and released, so that the final downpour is devastating as it is cathartic.
Each element of Br V’s, J-B-M Vianney’s and Quinten’s story is reflected in the choice of films and songs that make up most of the narrative. Rear Window, The King and I, Oklahoma, South Pacific, The Song of Bernadette become parables to Br V; the list of love songs is mostly from Rodgers and Hammerstein. These two running narrative devices – the movies, the escapism of fantasy (in which I’d include religion) and the songs, and the development of Br V and Quinten’s relationship – sit with and against each other until we see them clearly for what they are: seemingly simple, devilishly clever, incredible choices.
Keep an eye out for the coded language – there is so much of it. There are also some pretty neat modern language references that clue us in. Feeney (I believe that is the boy) has smuggled in some smut from a cigarette packet, he is admonished and threatened with a visit to another Brother (his strap a worse punishment than Br V’s). He is asked if he wants ‘to infect the other boys’ with his behaviour. This and other lines point to what I feel Parker is after. While homosexuality was a sin and an infection that Br V shares (“Boys, do you know of Father Damien and the lepers?”), we don’t say the same thing of religion. While Br V is trapped by his sexual identity, he is also a prisoner of his religious indoctrination. And he knows it.
Director Conrad Newport and Actor Andrew Laing take all of this on board with confidence and a deft touch. Newport is known for shepherding new work and I imagine he and Parker have worked together to refine the script to production, which was first seen at BATS in 2018, though I don’t know if further work has been done. So seamlessly and naturally does the performance flow that Newport’s direction is hard to spot. But it’s there, like a conductor, seeing to tempo, choreography, pacing. The set (Newport) is sparse (read ready to tour) and accented well by Tony Black’s lighting design (from Bonnie Judkins original design) with excellent operation by Haami Hawkins. Wood and grey, wooden ruler and pencil box – they remind me of my own experiences and going by the pre-show chatter, I’m not the only one.
Andrew Laing is phenomenal, it’s as simple as that. The range of emotions and energy that bounce through the script require him to be on point for 80 minutes, which he achieves almost effortlessly. From show tune to hideous memory; from a sense of impending doom to devastating heartache for what might have been (did he trigger the suicide?) while engaging the audience as a class of young boys, Laing moves us through the story keeping us with him all the way. Br V’s spiral towards what he most wants to avoid is searingly marked out in clear steps without any tipping of the hand.
And this is why I call this a solo show of virtuosos. An actor in his prime, playing a show made by a superior craftsman and directed so superbly as to make it look easy. A gestalt of three talents, combining to be as one. “A man who needs your love, can be wonderful” and this show is.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
What’s Good Wellington? #1
Review by James Wenley 12th Sep 2018
I knew that if I was going to do New Zealand Theatre Month properly, I needed to travel beyond just the theatre of Tāmaki Makaurau.
So last week I flew to the capital for one night. Fortunately, I did not have to choose between the Cookie Time or the Cassava chips, but was able to fit in Wonderful at BATS and Modern Girls in Bed at Circa Theatre.
The plays – in content and writing – present generational contrasts in New Zealand theatre.
Wonderful, directed by Conrad Newport, is written by New Zealand playwrighting stalwart Dean Parker, whose first play for the stage, Smack, opened in 1974 and was heralded by Bruce Mason as a “major breakthrough in New Zealand drama”. Parker has a reputation as our most politically orientated playwright against contemporaries who have otherwise struck for broad appeal. Recent titles give a sense of Parker’s interests such as Baghdad, Baby! (2005) and spy thriller Midnight in Moscow (2011). He also adapted Nicky Hager’s expose of the National party under Brash in the The Hollow Men (2007) for the stage (our current Deputy Prime Minister was visibly beaming in the audience the night I attended the play’s Auckland season). Parker’s latest work, Wonderful, (which the programme reveals has in fact been gestating since Parker saw a play called The Christian Brothers by Ron Blair in the 1970s) is a solo show about a Marist Brother teaching a class of school students in Napier in 1959. [More]
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
Multi-layered and extremely absorbing
Review by John Smythe 05th Sep 2018
In a programme note Dean Parker says seeing Australian playwright Ron Blair’s The Christian Brothers in the mid 1970s was the genesis for Wonderful. His initial response was “I could have written that” but Blair had got in first so that was that. Except Parker kept thinking about the priests and brothers who had taught him at school – a particular Marist Brother in Napier especially …
Although both are solo plays set in 1950s Catholic school classrooms, they offer extremely different experiences. While Blair’s un-named Brother is faith-challenged and his inner conflict is ‘made flesh’ in the way he wields his leather strap, Parker’s Brother Vianney finds solace and joy in stage and screen musicals.
Instead of moving through fear and loathing to compassion, we enjoy being infected by the easily-distracted teacher’s passion as we gradually become affected by a deeper understanding that also engenders compassion.
Andrew Laing is a wonderfully nuanced Brother Vianney. In a reverie he recalls ‘Shall We Dance’ from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I and channels Yul Brunner and Deborah Kerr’s triumphant dance finale before calling a roll that brilliantly names almost every Irish Catholic family in Christendom. Futures are foreseen, the Catholics v Protestants (Masons especially) agenda is set and the simple question of who saw what at “the flicks” last weekend launches us into his recurring raptures.
The Song of Bernadette brings hope for the academically challenged. Grace Kelly, who has become a real life princess, is contrasted with Kim Novak in a bathing costume on a cigarette card en route to a riveting recounting of Hitchcock’s Rear Window (not a musical). Annie Get Your Gun, High Society and The King and I are referenced and musically sampled amid deceptively discursive mentions of Mark Twain’s views of Napier, King Henry VIII, Guy Fawkes, Saint Jean-Marie Vianney the Cure of Ars and the other Brothers’ obsession with rugby.
Gradually surfacing though this highly entertaining medley of cultural imperatives and fond memories is our growing awareness that ‘Brother Vianney’ had a very different life before he answered his calling; a life that recalls the heyday of J C Williamsons touring shows and … [spoiler averted].
Suffice to say songs like Irving Berlin’s ‘They Say that Falling in Love is Wonderful’ and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Hello Young Lovers’ achieve deep significance. There is a special poignancy in such verses as:
Be brave young lovers and follow your star
Be brave and faithful and true
Cling very close to each other tonight
I’ve been in love like you.
This particular Brother’s story provokes us to ponder the ‘calling’ that brings young men into priesthood: are they being “brave and faithful and true” or timidly hiding away in fear and shame? We hear lots about abuse perpetrated by priests and the institution that attracts and protects them, but what about the wider society that has robbed them of happiness in the first place and condemned them to a vocation that cons them into glorifying suffering as their ticket to a happy hereafter?
As written by Dean Parker, directed by Conrad Newport and superbly performed by Andrew Laing, Wonderful is a multi-layered and extremely absorbing ‘dance’ that needs to be experienced. You won’t regret it.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer