YOU CAN ALWAYS HAND THEM BACK

SKY CITY Theatre, Auckland

02/04/2016 - 16/04/2016

Production Details



AUCKLAND THEATRE COMPANY CELEBRATES 40 YEARS OF ‘ROGER HALLS’ 

Auckland Theatre Company (ATC) will revive a Kiwi classic by New Zealand’s most prominent and beloved playwright, Roger Hall, in April.

To celebrate Hall’s phenomenal 40-year career, You Can Always Hand Them Back, directed by Janice Finn and starring Darien Takle and Peter Hayden, will play at SKYCITY Theatre from 31 March until 16 April.

With over forty plays in his oeuvre, Hall is one of the founding fathers of New Zealand theatre. The recipient of the 2015 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement, his stage comedies such as Glide Time and Middle Aged Spread have entertained Kiwi audiences for decades.

ATC Artistic Director Colin McColl says, “Theatregoers have come to know that they are assured a good night out with lots of heart, lots of laughs and a few home truths when they go to a ‘Roger Hall’. Forty years on, he is still able to get New Zealanders to laugh at themselves.

“And we are delighted to welcome Darien and Peter back to the stage as a married couple, after their previous roles in Lysistrata as the tumultuous but loving Drakes and Stratylis.”

Written in collaboration with one of the UK’s music stars from the 70s, Peter Skellern, You Can Always Hand Them Back celebrates and cherishes two everyday family heroes – “old duffers known as Gran and Grandpa.”

Maurice and Kath finally have peace and quiet; their days now filled with rounds of golf, games of bridge and a decent glass of Sav. However, their relaxing retirement routine is soon interrupted by the arrival of four grandchildren.

From bath time mishaps to hearing aid woes, with grace and good humour (and a little song – like I Still Got it, Honey – and dance), old rhythms are given new life as they embrace the delights and demands of their bundles of joy.

Hall was introduced to Skellern by mutual friends and a musical comedy-writing match made in heaven was born. On a summer’s day in Takapuna, at Hall’s 70th birthday, the two became fast friends. Later that night Skellern sang an impromptu song for the birthday boy, saying, “I’ve known Roger all of four hours now.”

Like Hall, Skellern’s extensive career spanned well over 30 years. He shot to fame with his hit ballad You’re a Lady in 1972, which rose to number three in the UK charts and became a worldwide hit. After several more top singles, Skellern went on to write, compose and perform for the stage, film and television. In 2000, Skellern headlined at the Royal Variety Show alongside stars such as Kylie Minogue and Ronan Keating.

The pair’s show is in fine hands with director Janice Finn (Girl in Tan Boots, Four Flat Whites in Italy) who has had an extensive career acting, writing, directing and producing for the stage and TV. Musical Director and on-stage pianist Jason Te Mete (Guys and Dolls, Little Shop of Horrors, K’ Rd Strip) is one of the most sought-after musical theatre performers in the country.

For more information or to order a copy of Auckland Theatre Company’s 2016 season brochure, please visit www.atc.co.nz .

SEASON INFORMATION
Venue: SKYCITY Theatre
Dates: 31 March – 16 April
Tickets: www.atc.co.nz or (09) 309 0390


CAST
Kath: Darien Takle
Maurice: Peter Hayden
Pianist: Jason Te Mete

CREATIVE TEAM
Director: Janice Finn
Playwright Roger Hall
Composer: Peter Skellern
Musical Director: Jason Te Mete
Choreographer: Jeremy Birchall
Set Designer: Rachael Walker
Costume Designer: Lisa Holmes
AV Designer: Simon Barker 


Theatre , Musical ,


Generation Gap

Review by Nathan Joe 15th Apr 2016

The experience of watching a play clearly not designed for you can be an alienating experience. You Can Always Hand Them Back is unapologetic in this regard, directly addressing the intended audience right from the get go: “Are any of you grandparents? Of course you are or you wouldn’t be here!”

And yet, here I am: gay, Chinese and twentysomething.

Structured episodically, the story unfolds as a memory play guided by grandparents Kath (Darien Takle) and Maurice (Peter Hayden) in a neatly chronological order. Playwright Roger Hall emphasises observational comedy rather than dramatic conflict, from the news of their children’s marriages to their first babysitting request to final goodbyes. [More

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Satire on ageing a bundle of joy

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 06th Apr 2016

Roger Hall’s collaboration with British singer songwriter Peter Skellern throws up an entertaining confection celebrating the joys and hazards of grandparenting.

The production marks the 40th year of Hall’s remarkable career, one that has provocatively held a mirror to the foibles of middle New Zealand.

The play presents a gentler image of the twilight years than the brutally pessimistic satire of Who Wants to be 100? The mellowing could be attributed to Skellern’s witty ditties as they gently poke fun at the afflictions of age. Even tackling the horror of geriatric sex, Skellern offers the uplifting tone of a torch song. [More]

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Never misses a beat

Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 03rd Apr 2016

As we sit in our car, stuck at traffic lights after leaving Sky City Theatre, I realised I have a song going round and round in my head. It is ‘Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ – The Animals version with Eric Burdon’s haunting vocals. This dates me, that’s for sure, but it’s rather the point – or at least a part of it.

Why that song? Sure, I like the song and always have, but it’s more than that. It’s actually how I view a part of Roger Hall’s legacy. After all, he’s been making me laugh, cry, and ruminate on the foibles of others who are just like me for forty years. And I think his work has sometimes – perhaps often – been misunderstood.

Let’s go back to the beginning. Hall’s debut work was the immensely successful Glide Time which hit the stage running in 1976 and then morphed onto the small screen as Gliding On. It took the pulse of the nation and no-one could doubt that Roger Hall had arrived. My professional career began the same year as Hall’s but rather than hitting the ground running as Hall had, my first appearance was more reminiscent of a dull splat, a charming and urbane dull splat, but a dull splat nonetheless.  

I was slightly younger than Hall then and, oddly enough, I still am, which means that, as Hall’s raw material, acutely observed, has aged, I have aged with it – and what a joy that has been. My own practical association with Hall’s work is limited to a shoestring production of Prisoners of Mother England in 1980 but I have had the pleasure – and pain – of seeing dozens of his plays produced, for better or for worse, over the past four decades so I do feel somewhat qualified to comment and, yes, I think he has often been misunderstood, rather like a brilliant All Black first five with a stunning sidestep who is seen by the hoi polloi as being nothing more than that: a one trick pony. Sure, Hall writes what can loosely be called comedy but it’s the comedy of a Chekhov and not the farce of a Bennie Hill (though he’s quite capable of writing that too when he puts his pen to it). 

Hall’s real success comes, in my eyes, via his ability to capture sublime aural moments and to weave them into a rich, liquescent narrative in which his characters, also acutely observed, sink or swim, and we sink or swim with them. It’s evident in every word he writes that he loves all of his characters – and we know most of them. We’ve played golf with them, cried with them, lusted after them, wanted to strangle them. And because he loves them he exposes them to us warts and all.

When directors and actors get it right, it’s superb theatre, and when they don’t … it can be dire stuff. That’s not an experience exclusive to Hall of course – who hasn’t seen ghastly Goldsmith, horrible Hare or shitty Shakespeare – but it somehow seems more personal with him because, well, he’s ours, and we love him, and how bloody dare they! He’s up there with Barry Crump, Pinetree Meads, Sir Ed, Murray Ball, Wal and Dog and, of course the magnificent Fred Dagg. He’s a Kiwi icon like L&P, and he deserves to have his work respected and done right. 

It isn’t always, and the worst fault I see in productions of Hall’s work is actors and directors who stop looking too soon for what’s embedded deep in the sub-text, the stuff that, when a smart actor does smart stuff with an astute director, rips our hearts from our chests and leaves us sitting in the dark racked by silent sobs because it’s us, it absolutely, totally us, and it hurts. 

This isn’t to say that everything Hall has written is great, it’s not, but say what you like, it’s always maturely crafted and actor-friendly. It’s got more so too over time and I’d list his best as Middle-Age Spread (no-one beats Hall for snappy and marketable titles), Social Climbers with its wonderfully written roles for women, State of the Play (a rehearsed reading of which I saw at Centrepoint Theatre and which gutted me before I’d had my gender epiphany), The Share Club which was timely in a terrifying but, Hall being Hall, entirely predictable way, Market Forces, the under-rated Multiple Choice and, finally, Four Flat Whites in Italy. Each is a varied, rich and complex study of the human condition wrapped dexterously in a haze of hilarity with regular jabs of cryptic and none-too-gentle cynicism. 

Let’s not forget the wonderful collaborations either, with A.K. Grant and Philip Norman on Footrot Flats: The Musical (Hall wrote the book based on Murray Ball’s characters), Dirty Weekends, again with Philip Norman writing the music, and You Can Always Hand Them Back, the reason for writing all this stuff, where Hall wrote the book and the astonishing Peter Skellern wrote the music and the lyrics.

I fell in love with Hall’s work in 1979 at The Fortune Theatre with Middle-Age Spread where the creative team touched the core of the work and my core as well, again when I saw an excellent production of State of the Play in the early ’80s and further with Social Climbers at The Court in the ’90s where an excellent cast reconnoitred the angst of intergenerational female relationships in a confined space and managed even to turn the menopause into an art form. Not so successful was The Court Theatre’s production of Dirty Weekends, Hall and Norman’s very funny musical about gardening, which would be, in the pantheon of the most awful productions of anything I have ever seen anywhere, unchallenged right at the top.

With all that history I am looking forward to catching Auckland Theatre Company’s 40th anniversary production of Hall’s You Can Always Hand Them Back where, the advertising tells us, “Maurice and Kath’s kids have left home. The nest is finally empty and a life of gin, golf and overseas jaunts awaits. That is, until the grandchildren arrive. With grace and good humour (and a little song and dance), old rhythms are given new life as they embrace the delights and demands of bath time, babysitting and bundles of joy.”

We’re also informed that the cast includes Peter Hayden (Lysistrata, Trees Beneath the Lake, Other Desert Cities), Darien Takle (Lysistrata, Four Flat Whites in Italy) and Jason Te Mete (Guys & Dolls, Stepping Out, Little Shop of Horrors). It’s an impressive bunch and the somewhat humble bios belie the decades of excellence that Takle and Hayden can both claim. I first saw Takle in a touring production of Agincourt in 1976 and she absolutely blew me away. Hayden I first saw somewhat later at The Fortune and while his impact was more subtle, it was no less profound. We age, and these two have done so beautifully. Te Mete is, of course, a prodigious talent, more than a tad chronologically junior to his cast mates, but no less capable.

Sky City Theatre isn’t my favourite venue but Auckland Theatre Company makes our arrival as enjoyable as it might possibly be.

Rachel Walker’s clean lined set is attractive and replicates the homes of every retired elderly couple I have ever known. (Not mine, I hasten to add, as I’m still working, have a thirteen year old son and tidiness was never my forte anyway.) There are family photographs on a white back wall in the centre of which is a good sized TV screen which sees multiple clever uses throughout the two and a bit hours (with interval) of the production. The furniture is appropriate for an older couple with no financial worries to speak of and this in itself is worthy of note.

I hear a wee murmur from behind me at one point, concerned that this is a very white, heteronormative, middle class lens on life. My response – unspoken – is “and why not?” We all have the right to see ourselves and our lives presented on the stage and middle class, white heterosexuals are no different. A witty, gay friend comments as we leave that, in a few short years, we could see You Can Always Hand Them Back with a gay or lesbian couple centre stage and that the play would still work. He’s right, of course, but that’s for another day. 

From Kath’s (Darien Tackle) first confident, “Hi. I’m Kath. Are any of you grandparents?” to the end of the show, the production never misses a beat. It’s complex stuff because Hall has his actors speak direct to the audience for a lot of the time, which is great for delivering narrative, but less easy for playing a deeper, more complex, subtext or for developing relationships.

Te Mete takes over early and establishes himself as a character in his own right and not merely an accompanist, though he’s stunningly good at that too. His playing is tight and empathic, but there’s always a hint of Skellern scepticism that edges, at times, into a Sondheim-like realm that suggests a darker human understanding. I like it very much when it happens, as it enables the actors to get on with the more saccharine grand-parenty stuff without seeming too one-dimensional. 

We first meet Kath and Maurice (Peter Hayden) after their own kids – a pigeon-pair named Annabelle and Marcus – have left home. Kath wants grandchildren but Maurice not so much. The Hall battle of the sexes is alive and well but these two are not at odds over anything particularly important – except maybe the golf at Augusta on the TV.

The calm of the empty nest doesn’t last long and in a twinkling there is a wife for Marcus. She’s Julia, she’s English, a vegetarian, and Kath doesn’t like her very much. There’s also a husband for Annabelle. He’s James, and he seems to be more acceptable. In the time it takes to check the programme there are four wee rug rats to baby sit, to take for walks, bath, get to bed and sleep, and Maurice and Kath engage almost willingly in every possible permutation of the grandparenting art.

Hall engages his love of beautifully-crafted speeches and they are delivered beautifully by these fine actors but the audience doesn’t really warm up. It could be the black hole that Sky City Theatre is – it drains the emotion out of sound and it’s hard for performers to reach beyond row eight – or it could be something else. I ask myself where this is heading and frankly, at this point, I have no idea. No question the performances are top notch, the direction (Janice Finn) is flawless, and all the technical things seem to be well under control but something seems in limbo.

Can’t be the script, I tell myself, because Hall’s trademark comedy is ticking along, there’s some pretty tart social comment that we’re all enjoying – Hall has a crack at Wellington and that’s always good for a laugh – and the audience seems engaged. Not fully, but engaged all the same.

Takle and Hayden – with occasional support from Te Mete – are doing a splendid job of creating Marcus and Julia, Olly and Harriet, Annabelle and James and Leonard and Sophie. They shape the paths both kids and grandkids take and we feel, by the interval, that we know them all really well. Maurice thinks Olly is a wuss which I sense the audience doesn’t like. Nor do they like the fact that Leonard is his favourite because grandparents shouldn’t have favourites. It’s very clever acting and fine scripting. 

The first half has seen some seriously good songs interwoven into the text and they are performed with clarity and style. ‘If You’re Feeling Weak and Flabby’ is a cracker but they all pale in comparison to Takle’s ‘We’re Home Alone, Maurice Come to Bed’ torch song at the end of the Act One. It’s simply incredibly good.

In fact, the end of Part One sees the entire show kick up a gear with the discovery that Julia and Marcus are going to England to live and that they’re taking the kids with them. It’s heart breaking stuff, and the emotion certainly gets past the footlights on this occasion.

Part Two begins with a reprise of ‘They Grow Up So Quickly’ but something has changed. There’s a serious urgency and even the set has transformed. We’re now in the Hillcrest retirement village and two single beds take the place of the couches. More important, Kath and Maurice are hating it. There’s a hilarious set about deafness and hearing aids – classically outrageous Hall one-liners that has the audience in stitches – and a pay-off at the end to die for.

They discover, courtesy of Te Mete, what Skype is and connect with the family in England. Olly and Sophie visit and Olly has brought a DVD – Glee – and you don’t have to be a genius to see what Hall is setting up here. It’s gentle – and gently dangerous too. I like it very much … at least I think I do. 

Hayden sings ‘I’m Entering the Age of Bewilderment’, supposedly about living in a computer age but its more than that, and we see the slow deterioration of Maurice’s quality of life begin. He’s dragged from his bed though to go to Harriet and Olly’s school show – Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat – and Olly is the star. He’s won his Grandpa – and Olly’s narrative takes a terrific step forward at this point.

The English branch of the family comes home for good – a great job for Marcus with a government department – and there’s a collective family Christmas, illustrated by a magnificent, if less than traditional, a capella song. It’s excellent stuff.

Suddenly it’s Hall at his very, very best. The subtext becomes the text and we’re faced with the mortality of these people we’ve grown to like. It’s raw and real and the pain is everywhere. ‘It’s All Gone By So Quickly’ is reprised again and this time it’s not about kids growing up but life in a much fuller sense. Olly is cast in his next musical – Bloody Mary in South Pacific – but it’s a step too far and Kath decides not to tell Maurice.  

Maurice tries his “pull my finger” fart joke one last time and I’m reminded of Sir Ken Robinson asking how we can hope to educate young people for a future twenty years down the track when we don’t know what the world will be like at the end of next week. Hall does that to you when the productions are good, as this one is: he makes you ask yourself the tough questions. Janice Finn’s classy production features a litany of waved goodbyes and they become more and more poignant as we follow the arc of the narrative.  

Jason Te Mete is a musical star with a glittering career ahead of him. The sky is his limit. Peter Hayden is a wonderfully giving actor, rich in craft and talented in so many ways. His Maurice is rich and empathic and I love him to bits. Darien Tackle is simply fantastic. No-one sings better, moves better, acts better or changes into a higher gear with more ease than she does. There seems to be no end to her talent or her capacity to entertain us, make us laugh and move us to tears. She is the consummate artist and I salute her in every imaginable way. She’s quite brilliant.

Once the traffic lights behave in Albert Street and the car begins to move forward I feel as though all the great things that are said about Roger Hall are true and that somehow I’ve been lucky – more than lucky – to have shared this time in our theatre’s history with such a pre-eminent artist. He’s our greatest popular playwright, no question, and up there with the great Bruce Mason overall.

He’s been handed a few gongs – he’s a companion of the Queen’s Service Order, a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, he’s twice been a Burns Scholar, he has an Honorary Doctorate of Literature from Victoria University. In 2014 he was presented a Scroll of Honour from the Variety Artists Club of New Zealand for a lifetime of excellence in the performing arts and in 2015 he was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Fiction. In my opinion he’s more than deserved every one of them because behind the playwright and the awards, the accolades and the applause, there’s a very decent fellow who only ever wants to do his best for his fellow man. It’s what he does every time he sits down at a keyboard; he turns out work that is deeply anchored in humanity and compassion.  

There are curtain speeches but only Roger understands that, yes we love him – that is a given – but it is now time for all of us to go home. Roger is brief – we’ve heard from him already – he’s a taonga, a fact borne out by the enormous bunch of flowers that are presented to him.  

We’re a funny bunch, we Kiwis, as Hall never stops reminding us. And, as we so often do, we miss two classic opportunities to do the right thing during the opening night celebrations. We should have clapped Jason Te Mete when he appeared for the first time – he’s the Musical Director, after all – and we didn’t, and we should have applauded long and hard when Hall was invited to the stage, and given him the resounding standing ovation he so richly deserves. We didn’t, but I’ve just paused to put that right in my own small way. Jason – I just clapped for you for a full minute – and Roger, I’m writing this standing up, clapping and whistling through my teeth. It’s an awful sound in this small room but I’m sure you’ll understand. I’d say “pull my finger” but at our age that’s not necessarily a great idea.

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