Centrepoint, Palmerston North

14/04/2012 - 26/05/2012

Production Details

You Can Always Hand Them Back, A show about grandparents. 

You Can Always Hand Them Back covers the different stages of being a grandparent:  the long-awaited joyful arrival of the first grandchild; Grandpa taking the baby out in the pram; becoming providers of the free babysitting service; and having the little darlings stay over for the night. 

You Can Always Hand Them Back is an hilarious but insightful comedy about the highlight of the twilight years – doing it all over again in the baby trenches, grandparents dodge dirty nappies and deal with sleep deprivation and portable cribs. This show brings to light all the little pleasures and smelly surprises of the joys of grandparenting.

You Can Always Hand Them Back is an hilarious but insightful comedy about the highlight of the twilight years – doing it all over again in the baby trenches, grandparents dodge dirty nappies and deal with sleep deprivation and portable cribs. This show brings to light all the little pleasures and smelly surprises of the joys of grandparenting.

You Can Always Hand Them Back
Centrepoint Theatre
Dates:  14th April – 26th May

Show Times:
Wednesday 6.30pm, Thursday – Saturday 8pm, Sunday 5pm.

$37 Adults, $25 Seniors, $27 Under 30s,
$25 Community Service Card Holders, $15 Students, $65 Dinner & Show.

Special Performances:
$15 Tuesday – Tuesday 17th April, 6.30pm.
Bookings for $15 Tuesday open at 9am Monday 16th April.

Phone 06 354 5740, online at, email, or visit280 Church Street.

Principal Co-sponsors: Property Brokers & Fitzherbert Rowe Lawyers
Show Sponsored by Ezibuy. 

Starring George Henare, Lynda Milligan and Paul Barrett 

Left wishing for something a little more profound

Review by Richard Mays 16th Apr 2012

This musical play almost comes with its own built-in caution. “No one’s interested in other people’s grandchildren,” is an early line from George Henare’s Maurice to his wife Cath, performed by Lynda Milligan, in Roger Hall’s You Can Always Hand Them Back.

Consider yourself warned. Now it’s up to the story-tellers – the playwright and librettist, production team and actors to create that interest.

It really boils down to there possibly being two kinds of people in the audience: those who might be interested in other people’s grandchildren and those who might not; alternatively: those who are interested in catching grandparentinitis and those who are not.

Hall has taken a bit of a risk with this parlour musical – a risk with style rather than content.

Content-wise, You Can Always Hand Them Back is vintage Hall, this time dealing with middle class angst and perceptions at the ‘golden oldie’ end of life. It is almost a combination of Hall’s 2008 plays Who Needs Sleep Anyway? and Who Wants To Be 100?, plus singing,and is as familiar and comfortable as an old fluffy slipper.

Now, I am not a grandparent, but I could be, and there were enough people in the audience whose reactions made it plain they ‘got it’ – the expectations, the bewilderment, the heart-warming humour and sentimentality. There are puns and some clever one-liners, as well as the more obvious obliged-to-laugh gags with their set ups and punch-lines. 

Style-wise, YCAHTB is a mash-up of domestic drama, sit-com, social comment, music-hall, with a dash of burlesque. Skellern’s mostly whimsically framed songs are accompanied by Paul Barrett on Maurice and Cath’s own living-room upright piano.

An ever-present fly-on-the-wall observer, underscoring and punctuating scenes and situations, from time to time Barrett’s unnamed persona buzzes about the room, interposing himself chorus-like directly into proceedings.

What with breaking into song about their charismatic (or not) grandkids (some bordering on the mawkish), babysitting woes, hearing aids, technophobia, a bit of raunch, and a delightful a cappella Christmas song, the three performers are always conscious of themselves as story-tellers, dipping in and out of their golden oldie archetypes to sing, make asides or address the audience.

But what would the production have been like if it had been more stylised; if didn’t take place on a conventional living-room/bedroom combo set complete with the trappings of comfortable middle-class existence? Possibly more interesting.

It’s not that the singing or performances are inadequate; it is slick enough. It is certainly the kind of show that demands performers who have high levels of experience, versatility and skill, with Milligan and Henare making the most of the material and arrangements. And watching Henare’s transition into fragility is like being present at a masterclass in physical and vocal ageing. It’s just that the scenario maintains a tightly restricted focus that lacks much emotional dimension or depth. 

We learn little about Maurice and Cath other than their status as grandparents, and the comparatively minor confustications of ageing in an increasingly fast-moving and alien world.   

This family undergoes no real crises. One son moves his family offshore for a while, and there’s some niggle between Kath and her English daughter-in-law, but there’s no having to deal with relatively common social occurrences like divorce, broken family, abusive partner, family skeleton, accident, loss of a child, ADD or similar that could provoke dramatic edge.

There is the broadly telegraphed hint that their youngest grandson may be gay, and towards the end there’s a brief reflection on mortality. Otherwise it’s steady as she goes as the sun sinks slowly into the golden west, with nicely rounded outcomes.

What it means for a musical is there are no high moments to celebrate, console or empathise with in song. I found myself wishing that Hall’s first collaboration with Skellern, Kingsford-Brown’s first show as Centrepoint’s artistic director, and Henare’s first appearance at the theatre might have added up to something a little more profound.  


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Good value

Review by John C Ross 16th Apr 2012

Getting old is not a lot of laughs, and those there are can be fairly wry. As for getting seriously old, creeping Lear-like towards death … ah well.  

The upside of it, generally, can be enjoying the company of your grandchildren, in manageable-sized chunks of time. But if you’ve taken on baby-sitting, pushchair-pushing, or, later, child-minding for, maybe, days on end, it can be a scary responsibility, for each chunk. And there’s a fine line between happily being useful as part of the team, and being ruthlessly used (and then shut out).

Such are the two sides of this latest effort by Roger Hall, with the first half more concerned with the tricky functional roles of grandparenting, the second more with ageing. And it’s vintage Hall. He is, still, a sharp-eyed and adroitly articulate chronicler of aspects of urban middle class Kiwi lives, who gets things pretty much right. And manifestly, he had to move on somewhere from Who Wants To Be 100?, and this is it. 

Genre-wise, it’s more a drama, with humour and wit here and there, plus occasional music and singing, than an orthodox comedy. It deals with just one couple, in the second half of their lives, going on from worrying like hell about whether their son and daughter will get around to matching and hatching at all, to coping with the consequences. At times it moves along rather slowly, but that’s like life – getting through a day can take an awfully long time, and then it’s over, gone – and looking back, as one of the songs more-or-less says, it is strange how whole phases of life seem to have passed on so quickly. Children grow up, move away.

At the start, there is the domestic interior, in the couple’s house, and then in comes the pianist, who plays for a while, then sings, introducing the characters, the theme, the context. He will thereafter contribute bits of continuity, as expositor, and meta-theatrical interchanges with the characters/actors, and for one song, late on, come to centre-stage and join them. The two characters on first entry are old then, through remembering, shift to their younger selves, twenty to thirty years earlier, with the wife on the phone desperately urging her daughter to get the knot tied before the battery in her biological clock runs right down. The grandchildren, when on stage are invisible, which again makes for one-side-of-a-conversation business.

In this production, which counts as the World Premiere (!), the pianist/expositor role is carried with panache by Paul Barrett, who becomes a congenial presence, mostly in an intermediate position between the characters and the audience.

Securing an actor as distinguished and versatile as George Henare to play the grandfather is wonderful, and he makes the part his own, singing as well as he’s acting, with nothing overdone. (This is, implicitly, a Pakeha grandfather? Does it matter?)

Lynda Milligan, playing the grandmother, is another new presence at Centrepoint, as an actor who has had an impressive career, so far, at Christchurch’s Court Theatre. She handles the fluctuating emotions and the ageing equally surely, and, again, sings well.

This production counts as Jeff Kingsford-Brown’s first directing since he became the new Artistic Director at Centrepoint, and he has coped well, notably with the alternations between straight dramatic action and meta-theatrical twists, made easier, doubtless, with a gifted cast. One wonders whether there is scope for tweaking the pace slightly in one or two places.

Daniel Williams’ set, with some change to the dressing, serves equally well for the interiors of the couple’s house and of their retirement villa (and, briefly, of a hospital cubicle), with an absence of interior walls or doors.

The play is not perhaps Roger Hall at his very best, but it is still really good value. 


Editor April 18th, 2012

From the Centrepoint website:

"Cath performs one of the best bump and grind songs likely to be ever seen".....

Reviewed by Joan Ford 
Feilding Herald

The most difficult thing about this show is the honesty. At times brutally honest. The fact is, if we are lucky enough, we will grow old and the body may not follow the commands from the brain, yet it does beat the alternative.

The best thing is watching this delightful musical romp going through the pleasure and pitfalls of growing old and being a grandparent. This show will have you laughing out loud at the inevitability of it all. It will also give you a timely reminder to enjoy the times you will have with your family, nothing else is important.  Roger Hall's new play is having its World Premiere at Centrepoint.

The superb Paul Barrett appears first and will remain on stage throughout with his piano accompaniment as he first introduces the story that will have the audience witness the antics and anguish of Maurice (George Henare) and Cath (Lynda Milligan).

Cath is anxious to become a grandparent while they are still fit and healthy. As a mother she holds nothing back to encourage her daughter to get cracking, get married and start a family. She is shrewd enough to know that she cannot have the same sway with her English daughter-in-law. Throughout the play, the audience realise that Cath and Maurice love each other very much. They look back on their lives and all the wonderful times and hardships they have shared together. The music and lyrics were delightful. It was very easy to shed a tear at times, whilst nearly choke with laughter at others. The wonder of holding a small grand-daughter in her arms, was it only just the other day that she had held this new-borns mother in her arms? There is the delight of the first overnight stay and pushing the pram in the park. The novelty wears off as three more grandchildren arrive through to the all frantic and punishingly hard work it becomes looking for ways to amuse grandchildren when it comes to school holidays.

You will be grateful for the interval to recover your breathe after Cath performs one of the best bump and grind songs likely to be ever seen.

This is a first for Centrepoint to have the astonishing talents of Henare and Milligan treading the boards of their theatre. They are consummate performers and it is such a treat as they take you through the journey of what it is to be a grandparent.

Comedy captures life in a different and emotive way

Reviewed by Lee Matthews
Manawatu Standard

Expect to cry at this comedy - I hadn't expected to be so moved. Cath (Lynda Milligan) and Maurice (George Henare) are busy retirees. The kids have left home, the nest is empty and they're enjoying life, still in love after all these years.  But it's a bit quiet. Lonely, if they're honest.

Cath's an eager grandma-in-waiting, hanging out for either daughter Annable ("such a beautiful name, of course she calls herself Anna now") to take time from her law work to have a baby, or for son Mark's wife Julia ("she's English, but she's......very nice, really"). It's not so much about the kids becoming parents; it's about Cath becoming a grandma. Get ON with it kids! Cath doesn't want to be 93 before she hears the patter of little feet. It happens, and life changes. Maurice, proud as punch, is a little reluctant and gruff in case anybody notices how much he loves the kids. And the babies visit, and the grandparents babysit, and it all builds into that mysterious relationship called love, with all its poignant, painful pleasures. Playwright Roger Hall is a father and grandfather. He's been in these situations. He's driven across town to collect the forgotten teddy, coming back in triumph to find everyone asleep. 

Mark and Julia live in England for a while. Such a hole in the grandparents' lives, such a silence. Skype? What's that? They're ageing gently; bewildered by change, bits of their bodies getting arthritic and sore. Being slowed down. Frustrating. They hate it. But life goes on. Watching Milligan and Henare is like eavesdropping on 50 years of marriage. Did I really do this to my parents? Of course I did. Will my kids do these things to me? Absolutely, they will. They catch the human condition exactly; pain and pleasure, love and loneliness; and the desperate necessity of being needed and useful. Otherwise, what's the point? 

The songs carry the emotions. Grandparents' Aerobics had the audience rocking with laughter. Peter Skellern's lyrics (played magnificently on piano by Paul Barrett, that man is a show in himself and his pointed comments from behind the piano add so much to the moment) haunt the heart afterwards - "bursting like light through the door". Imagine the darkness without it.

Art mimics life. Great art captures life, shows it to us in a different way. That's what this show does. See it, or miss something special.

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