Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

27/04/2013 - 25/05/2013

Production Details

Featuring: Paul Barrett, Grant Bridger and Lynda Milligan 

“Two grandparents and one grand piano” – Roger Hall

Collaborating for the first time with distinguished British musician and song-writer, Peter Skellern (You’re a Lady, Love is The Sweetest Thing), is Dunedin’s best loved playwright, Roger Hall.

This hilarious and insightful comedy, about the highlights of the twilight years, follows Maurice and Cath as they settle into enjoying retirement. Instead of luxuriating in the precious time they have to spend by themselves however – with the birth of their long-awaited first grandchild – they find themselves dodging dirty nappies, dealing with sleep deprivation and becoming providers of a free babysitting service.

Lynda Milligan, last seen in Fortune Theatre’s sell-out season of Calendar Girls, is delighted to be playing the role of Cath for the third time since the play’s Première. She has previously performed the role at Centrepoint in Palmerston North and Circa Theatre in Wellington.

“See it or miss something special” – Manawatu Standard

Paul Barrett, last seen in Dunedin with his one man show Tic Tic for the 2012 Otago Festival of the Arts, reprises his role as the pianist and Musical Director for this production and Grant Bridger returns to the Fortune to play the role of the slightly cantankerous grandpa Maurice. Grant last appeared at Fortune Theatre as Widow Twanky in Roger Hall’s Pantomime Aladdin in 2007.

“What an absolute treat to be working with these talented actors on this poignant and hilarious new Roger Hall play.” says director Lara Macgregor. “It truly is a celebration of the twilight years, penned ever so delicately by Roger with witty, insightful music and lyrics by Peter Skellern. The play has been met with warm praise in the North Island over the last year and now it’s Dunedin’s turn!”

“…many a smile to be had.”- Theatreview

This funny and touching play brings to light all the little pleasures, smelly surprises, and joys and woes of grandparenting.

No grandparent will want to miss it; and no would-be grandparent should.

Paul Barrett
Grant Bridger
Lynda Milligan

Writer:  Roger Hall
Music and Lyrics:  Peter Skellern
Music Director:  Paul Barrett
Director:  Lara Macgregor
Set Designer:  Matt Best
Lighting Designer:  Stephen Kilroy
Sound Designer:  Lindsay Gordon
Costume Designer:  Maryanne Wright-Smyth
Stage Manager:  Rebecca Tapp
Properties Master:  Jennifer Aitken

Hall-marks but not his best

Review by Barbara Frame 29th Apr 2013

“This is a tale about every one of us” is the first line. How true! During the interval, the bar is full of grandparent stories – older people proudly detailing their offspring’s offspring, younger ones talking about their oldies.

Having in recent years examined aspects of seniority such as old people’s homes, retirement travel and June/December romance, playwright Roger Hall has turned his attention to the smallest family members: those who can always, or at least usually, be handed back.

Maurice (Grant Bridger) and Cath (Linda Milligan, who has also played this role in Palmerston North and Wellington) have already retired when the patter of tiny feet is first announced. In story and song (with music composed by Peter Skellern), we follow the family’s growth and the path of grandparenting. In the early days there are the challenges of  nappies and assembling cots.  As the grandparents grow older they have the usual troubles with knees, deafness and general befuddlement, and by this time the littlies are old enough to be technological fixers.

Hall neatly avoids the children-on-stage problem by making the children invisible, which means they are also inaudible, but it’s a solution that works surprisingly well. Paul Barrett provides musical direction and assists on keyboard and with singing and narration.

You Can Always Hand Them Back isn’t one of its author’s best plays. It lacks his characteristic social comment, hilarity and emotional intensity – the only deeply involving scene is Maurice’s death. But it does have Hall’s trademark of utterly recognisable New Zealand characters and situations. Although neither Maurice nor Cath is presented in any great depth, they are unmistakably Kiwi, she in her clucky capability, and he in his sport-loving practicality and tendency to recoil from too much information.

Saturday night’s performance was enjoyed by a capacity audience, and the production, directed by Lara Macgregor, will run until 13 July.


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A bright musical revue

Review by Terry MacTavish 28th Apr 2013

Scorning the obvious choice of a grandparent as guest, I have invited an actor who, in the late 80s, spent six months as one of Roger Hall’s characters in his TV series, Neighbourhood Watch.  His writing succeeds, she asserts, because he knows us.  He observes us closely, and he thinks we’re funny: funny in a typically New Zealand way. He was the first playwright to make us laugh at ourselves.

I know Hall’s work well: why, I reviewed Glide Time for National Radio when it burst onto the scene in the seventies; I have absolutely no doubt he will hit the mark with this play on the trials and fleeting joys of grand-parenting. 

The Fortune – its production standards as high as they’ve ever been – will do it ample justice, and the sold-out house will adore it, beautifully coiffed silver heads thrown back in laughter before dipping to sip wine from real glass champagne flutes.  I hardly need to see it to review it.

What interests me is where the traditional Hall comedy fits into our vibrant national theatre scene today.  The Fringe Festival, with all its stimulating and challenging experimentation, is just over. Exciting young local companies are amazing us with innovative theatre: Ad Hoc is devising crazy anarchic stuff; Counterpoint, producing Toa Fraser and Lynda Chanwai-Earle, specialises in raw and shocking physical theatre; and even North East Valley is researching its own history to create wacky cabaret.  Is there still a place for Hall, our best known and most commercially successful playwright?

Lara Macgregor directs for the Fortune a breezy production that does not take itself too seriously.  Every aspect is managed with professional ease, from the sleek set (Matt Best) to the versatile costumes (Maryanne Wright-Smyth).  The simply told story is directed as a bright musical revue rather than a realistic comedy, much to its advantage. 

The pianist at the side of the stage is part of the proceedings, while the grandparents occupy a stylised set of three huge oblongs, papered in seventies orange and brown, framing a sideboard and two chairs.  In a grand feat of engineering (Peter King), one oblong splits to reveal a double bed.  Even the lighting (Stephen Kilroy) seems magically to transform Grandma’s hair from gold to silver.

The actors are perfectly at home as they talk us through the years of urging their kids to breed, then the thrill of birth, the panic and triumph of babysitting, and the grief of separation.  Often they address us directly, engendering a sense of complicity from the start: “Are any of you grandparents? Of course you are, otherwise you wouldn’t be here!”  Their miming is so proficient, as they nurse babes or push prams, that we don’t miss the presence of actual children. 

This is the third time Lynda Milligan has played Grandma Cath and she is supremely confident in the role.  Grant Bridger is a warm Grandpa Maurice, generally more laid-back than his wife, though he does a brilliant ‘aghast’ expression. They make a charmingly credible couple, finishing each other’s lines in cosy rapport, and the touching ending makes us realise the story is theirs, not the grandchildren’s, after all.

Paul Barrett is a delight as the very competent pianist who accompanies, interjects and sometimes joins them in song.  His sardonic commentary on the difficulties the grandparents face gives an edge that might otherwise be lacking.

The clever songs, by Peter Skellern, are usually jaunty, sometimes sweet, expanding the age-old themes.  The one about the swift passing of the years (“it seems like only yesterday I held her mother”) is reminiscent of Sunrise Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof. 

Sentiment is shaken off for bouncy numbers like Doing the Twice a Night Tinkle Tango (grandpa’s tinkle, not the kids’) and a little welcome tripping of the light fantastic, especially Grandma’s comically vampish I Still Got It Honey, much appreciated by the patrons.  The one that really has them hooting is My Hearing is Absolutely Fine.

Hall’s style by now is familiar to us all, but as I look round, I realise the predictability is part of the appeal to his loyal fans.  The dialogue is amusing without being hysterical, and Hall shows he can still come up with new one-liners, as well as sharp observations like the unpleasantly significant difference between ‘falling over’ and ‘having a fall’.

The programme, as well as the usual erudite information on the writers by dramaturg Alister McDonald, includes memories of the cast’s grandparents, and wise advice from senior members of staff.  (I like Lindsay Gordon’s, “Cookies for breakfast are acceptable.”) 

Most exciting, on opening night, is the unusual post-show supper, imaginatively catered by the students of Culinary Arts at Otago Polytechnic.  They have risen to the challenge of lifetime-themed food with tiny yummy courses for each stage.  Pureed peas on a spoon for babies, eggy soldiers for toddlers, then corned beef with two veg for adults, and finally prunes for the elderly, served on delicious orange cream on shortbread, sprinkled with toasted almonds.

As we leave we are handed little medicine pottles of sweets that look just like the pills rest homes hand out at night.  Scary.

So then, is Hall, who surely shaped the next generation of writers during his fifteen years teaching the Playwriting course at Otago University, still relevant to New Zealand Theatre?  Just what is that anyway?  Drama teachers are currently trying desperately to come up with a tidy description and list of features, that will make it into a genuine GENRE, so vital for answering NCEA exam questions.

Ensembleimpact, currently touring an ambitious programme showcasing the full range of our significant plays, has the answer: “It’s us: brown, white, yellow, Maori, Pakeha.  We are the stuff of New Zealand theatre.” 

It was Bruce Mason who said that the writers “need to be sure of whom they are writing for” – and as my Neighbourhood Watch guest is proclaiming again, no one knows his audiences better than Hall.  They are liberal middle class Kiwis, happy to laugh at themselves, and now aging gently along with him.  They too are New Zealanders, longing to see themselves on stage, and they are already well on the way to making this a sell-out season for the Fortune. 

So yes, Hall still holds his place, one of our foremost ‘abstract and brief chronicles of the time’.  Now I must email my lovely Southland cousins, retired farmers and devoted, indispensable grandparents, to pop up to Dunedin for this latest Hall play.  Like this opening night audience, they’ll adore it: they are his people. 


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