Young & Hungry Festival of New Theatre (Wellington) 2011

BATS Theatre, Wellington

22/07/2011 - 06/08/2011

Production Details

Young and Hungry Arts Trust is celebrating its 17th Birthday with another sweet-as festival season at BATS Theatre. This year’s programme features new works by returning Young and Hungry playwrights, Thomas Sainsbury and Whiti Hereaka, and first-time playwright Aaron Alexander.

The 17th Festival of New Theatre season is a marathon of absurd, passionate and apocalyptic adventures featuring class clowns, chat room avatars and a city full of zombies. Hot local directors team up with the best new talent to bring these plays to life. See all three in one night or spread your viewing throughout the Festival.  

For Johnny 
Written by Whiti Hereaka
Directed by Eleanor Bishop

A beautifully moving coming-of-age drama about six young people dealing with love, life and loss. Set during the final year of high school, friendships will be tested as the fleeting nature of life becomes an abrupt reality.

Hearts Encoded
Written by Aaron Alexander
Directed by Rachel Lenart

at 8.00pm
Enter the world of online social groups where avatars, virtual drinks and search engine statistics are the norm. The line between appearance and reality is blurred and a change of identity is always just a click away.

Written by Thomas Sainsbury 
Directed by Robin Kerr

An apocalyptic zombie adventure not for the faint of heart. The continued existence of New Zealanders is under threat by a blood-thirsty mob of the undead. Limbs fly as the remaining humans fight for survival, proving the zombies aren’t the only ones with a taste for dismemberment – hold on to your seat and hope you make it out alive!

BATS Theatre
, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington
22 July – 6 August 2011
Single Ticket: $16 Adult and $14 Concession
Full Season Pass: $42 Adult and $30 Concession 

For Johnny
JOHNNY : Te Aihe Butler
MILLIE : Olivia Mahood
MATT: Oliver Humphries
LUCY: Paula Collins
GRUNT : Jesse Tuke
KAT: Rose Guise
SET DESIGN & PROPS: Violet Wilson
LIGHTING: Rachel Upchurch
SOUND DESIGN: Emily Berryman

Hearts Encoded
CHORUS: Will Collin
SERAPHIM_90 : Ngakopa Volkerling
DFAULT: Victoria McCullouch
MOOT: Chris Swney
DOGWORM: Annalise Boler
STAGE MANAGER: Bronwyn Cheyne
SET DESIGN & PROPS: Jessica Sweden
LIGHTING: Kate Norquay
COSTUME DESIGN: Hana Lyall-Ashford
SOUND DESIGN: Nic Lane and Emily Berryman

HOPE: Hannah Botha
EDDIE: Andrew Clarke
PIP: Jaya Robertson
MADELEINE: Hannah Banks
PATRICIA: Vanessa Kumar
JARVIS: Harry Moore
NURSE RUMI: Charlotte Pleasants
DR STEIBEL: Vanessa Kumar
TRISTRAM: Adam Goodall
COMPANY: Zayaan Ansari, Ben Richards, Robbie Ferguson
COMPANY: Bethany Miller, TJ Misa, Kesava Beaney
COMPANY: Sarah Hollingsworth, Lewis McLeod

SET DESIGN & PROPS: Olivia Blaza-Forest
COSTUME DESIGN: Jody Burrell    

50mins each play

Coming of age and (un)death

Review by Lynn Freeman & Adam Burgess 28th Jul 2011

Even those of us who were relatively young when Young & Hungry started are getting on, but still this annual festival delights and often surprises. There are recurrent themes too, especially ‘coming of age’ stories where friendships are tested and the young actors experience painful life lessons. That’s true this year too.

For Johnny is firmly in the ‘coming of age’ category, and it works an absolute treat, thanks to a clever time-travelling script by Whiti Hereaka, slick direction by Eleanor Bishop, and great performances by the young cast. You can see the actors relate to both the situation they are put in and the language they are given to express the hopes, dreams, disappointments and grief of their characters.

The Johnny of the title is a charismatic young Lothario who is the natural leader of his group of childhood friends, who adore and forgive him. We met his friends at the start of the play mourning his sudden death and gradually we learn more about them and him as the play moves between the past and present. 

Hearts Encoded was more of a mystery, I was enlightened by Adam who has frequented the virtual worlds of multi player games, then it clicked into place. He is the target market, so that’s all good. First I found the avatars annoying, then intriguing, and by the end had huge respect for writer Aaron Alexander for trying something so completely different.

Rachel Lenart was more than up to the challenges of creating a virtual place with characters representing real people in the ‘meat world’. Her cast made us care for them, living in this crazy convergence of fact and fiction.

Disorder jumps on the zombie bandwagon, with Thomas Sainsbury turning Wellington into a hellhole where a virus rapidly turns the fine people of this fair city into flesh gorging mindless living dead. I expected more from Sainsbury. Disorder rapidly becomes dull and predictable, peopled with stereotypes and bringing nothing new to the genre.

The actors did their best with the material and the band of zombies really worked up a sweat but despite their and director Robin Kerr’s best efforts, it was to no avail.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


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Missing innovation and energy

Review by Helen Sims 25th Jul 2011

Young and Hungry is an institution in Wellington theatre. Every year three short plays are produced, designed and performed by a group of young people in a professional theatre, mentored by professional theatre practitioners. This year the shows are coming of age drama, For Johnny by Whiti Hereaka, on-line love mystery Hearts Encoded by Aaron Alexander and zombie apocalypse gore-fest Disorder by Thomas Sainsbury. 

For Johnny focuses on a group of teens, for whom high school has recently finished, coming to terms with the sudden death of their friend Johnny. They are in the lost in the wilderness, both literally and figuratively, as the play is primarily set in the bush and the group has strayed from their camp. Old tensions and grievances come to the surface as they each face their grief, confusion and myriad of choices facing them. The scenes set in the present are interspersed with flashbacks capturing each character’s relationship with the dead.

As with many high school retrospectives, the writing is clichéd and overly simplistic at points, although it does contain Hereaka’s hallmark poeticism. Around the mid-point the play begins to feel like more of a meditation on a theme, as it lacks character or plot development. The end, however, manages to be humorous and poignant. 

The cast, ably directed by Eleanor Bishop, do a great job of finding truth and depth in characters that at first seem simply representative of archetypes (the bitchy head girl, the dumb sidekick, the angry closeted lesbian, etcetera). They form a tight ensemble, and execute clever yet natural transitions between scenes.

Set and lighting design work very well together to evoke the forest using simple swathes of green material hung from the ceiling. It was a shame that the blocks used for height were covered in what looked like black trash bags. Thematically, For Johnny is pretty standard Young and Hungry fare, but it is well presented.

Hearts Encoded is a more original concept. The play is set in an on-line world, Dreamscape, which is populated by user-created avatars but tightly controlled by a shadowy authority. Butterpink Butterboo has been carrying on an intense romance with another avatar, Pope Vince Ektid. After receiving devastating news, Butterpink logs off, not to return for 749 days until she receives a message from a ‘person’ she thought was dead. She returns to Dreamscape, on the night it is being shut down by the authorities forever, to track down the sender of the message.

It’s an original setting for a mystery plot. Unfortunately, the play then employs a number of distracting devices that make it difficult to sustain interest. An intriguing concept ends up falling quite flat due to a lack of humour or pathos. Voiceovers, which seem to deliver important information, are rushed and need clearer enunciation. The action goes from being static, with characters delivering long speeches laced with philosophy 101, to scenes that take quite large jumps in the logic of the story.

Presumably to capture the look of an on-line world, characters rarely face each other when they talk and move in a controlled, highly choreographed way. There is elegance in the direction of the scenes (by Rachel Lenart), but ultimately it fails to fully knit together. The cast all look beautiful in the red, black, white and gold colour scheme, but the lack of connections means that scenes tend to drag on.

Given this is a show that questions the intimacy and honesty of ‘virtual’ connections, I needed to see more connectivity in Dreamscape to believe that a lot was at stake for the characters. Given the play is set in a digital world, I was surprised by the lack of technology employed in the show. Although I tend to think projection/AV is overused in plays, I felt like projections and AV design would have assisted in evoking this digital world. Instead the set design is quite sparse, failing to look as opulent as it is clearly intended.  

Last on the play bill is Disorder, directed by Robin Kerr. Anyone who saw last year’s Bedlam knows that Kerr can spook an audience. Although Disorder is a big cast blood fest, it ends up being more comical than scary, with little real investment in the plight of the humans trying to escape the horde of ravenous zombies that have taken over Wellington. The play starts off with a 25 year old woman agreeing to try a serum that will make her look 18 again – but the treatment has unexpected consequences …chiefly a thirst for human flesh.

The “unlikely” (but by the definitions of the genre totally typical) heroes fighting the undead are Pip and Madeleine (Jaya Robertson and Hannah Banks), a teenage lesbian couple trying to move to Auckland to be together, and Jarvis and Tristram (Harry Moore and Adam Goodall), two teenage nerds. Jarvis takes a leaf out of Lord of the Flies in his approach to dealing with the apocalypse. 

A copious amount of blood is used and the zombies look awesomely gory, but I wanted them to get a lot closer to the audience, and perhaps even get amongst us to really up the ante. The possibilities Bats offers for zombies to come bursting in from a number of doors was not used. Many scene transitions are drawn out by the cast moving around plastic screens and I felt like this play would have benefited from continuous fast paced action so we really get a sense that the humans are being pursued by zombies. Disorder is fun, but needs a bit more work to achieve its potential.

The Young and Hungry season is vitally important. For many it represents a limited chance to be involved in a professional theatre production. It’s vital experience for the young and a taste for the hungry. Accordingly, I was concerned to see this year that some of the professionalism that has marked previous years’ productions appears to have been eroded. This had all the hallmarks of being caused by funding cutbacks, rather than a lack of talent. 

The playwriting was also a letdown this year. A concern has been expressed in the past that the professional writers commissioned by Young and Hungry don’t take it as seriously as they could, despite being paid. I also wondered if young playwrights could be mentored by the professional writers, in order to produce works that are more authentically youthful.

It was going to be hard for this year’s productions to follow last year (Sick, Song of Four and Thinning). Although certain latitude needs to be given in terms of polish for a Young and Hungry show, innovation and energy are expected. This year the season seems to be missing this. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


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