Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland

16/06/2016 - 18/06/2016

ARTWORKS, 2 Korora Rd, Oneroa, Waiheke Island

30/06/2016 - 02/07/2016

Hamilton Gardens, Medici Court, Hamilton

26/02/2016 - 28/02/2016

Te Pou Theatre, 44a Portage Road, New Lynn, Auckland

14/07/2016 - 16/07/2016

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2016

Production Details

Jack the Ripper’s Autumn of Terror 

Yours Truly – a gothic romance set beneath London gas-light 1888. A prince falls in love with a commoner, while Jack the Ripper stalks the streets. Theatre at its bloody best.

Be led through the night with Te Rēhia Theatre Company’s presentation detailing the rise of the world’s most infamous serial killer as he soaked the streets of London in blood and fear.

Yours Truly has enjoyed packed houses and rave reviews all over the country and was the work that brought Albert Belz in to the upper echelon of New Zealand playwrights.

Show contains nudity, violence & coarse language.

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2016
Medici Court 

Hamilton Gardens  
Friday 26 – Sunday 28 Feb 

Q Theatre Loft, Auckland 
Thursday 16th – Saturday 18 June 2016 
Book here

Art Works Theatre, Waiheke  
30th June, 1st & 2nd July 2016 
Tickets $25 or $20

Te Pou Theatre, Newy Lynn
14th, 15th & 16th July 2016
Tickets $25 or $20 

Theatre ,

Superior literary flourishes

Review by Dione Joseph 19th Jul 2016

In 1888, London’s East End was besieged by a series of ruthless murders.  

The victims, all prostitutes, were carved up with gruesome anatomical dexterity. In the wake of these serial killings, a shadowy figure emerged: Jack the Ripper. This was the signature of (apparently) the self-confessed murderer who, through a letter now believed to be a fake, declared his handiwork to newspapers of the day. It sent ripples of fear through Victorian London.

Drawing on the notoriety that surrounds the legendary Jack the Ripper, Albert Belz’ play Yours Truly uses various theories about who the murderer actually was. It is a thoroughly researched, intelligent period work and its chief merit lies in the sheer lyricism of its language and the fact that, although the play is now 10 years old, it has not lost any of its modern appeal. [More]


Make a comment

Definitive horrific exposé

Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 17th Jul 2016

Let me be clear from the outset: I am an unashamed fan of the work of Albert Belz (Ngati Porou, Nga Puhi, Ngati Pokai) whose career began with a bang in 2001.  His debut, full-length play Te Maunga was a critical success. a stint scripting Shortland Street followed to keep body and soul together and to hone his already considerable craft. His second script for live performance was, in my opinion, one of the great New Zealand plays. Awhi Tapu was nominated for a number of Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards and, in 2006, Yours Truly’ won awards for ‘Best New, New Zealand Play’, and ‘Most Original Play’.

The exotic Raising the Titanics toured New Zealand and ultimately won ‘The New Zealand Listener Best New New Zealand Play’ award for 2010. A popular writer for children, Belz’s play Maui Magic was a huge success in the City of Sails and beyond.  Belz has worked as Story Editor with Red Leap Theatre and has had residencies as Writer-in-Residence at Waikato and Victoria Universities. So, yes, he’s been around. 

Taking our seats in the Te Pou auditorium we are immediately confronted by five floor-to-ceiling, sepia coloured, hand-painted portraits of naked women. They are surprisingly beautiful. It’s clear from the delightful, hand-bloodied programme, the effective advertising and the many past productions of this well-aired work that this play is about Britain’s most notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper so the naked women come as no surprise. Nor does the style of the hangings, a chic that clearly links us to that most easily recognised period in British history and all the mythology that surrounds the Ripper himself.

I believe I was wise to have my thirteen year old son Finn with me as he is steeped in the minutiae of Ripperology, a fascination that, from time to time, borders on the obsessive. Mind you, he has over one thousand Pokémon cards as well and can tell you everything about each of them so I doubt this Ripper thing is really anything for me to be concerned about. It’s simply a never ending quest for arcane knowledge and who can take issue with that?

A recent visit to London included a walking tour of the Ripper’s Whitechapel hunting ground hosted by Auckland actress and close friend Charlotte Everett, ending with dinner at The Ten Bells Public House where the Ripper’s victims were known to sup. We also visited the London Dungeon where we met not only Jack himself but Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and both had the air of absolute terror that history has imbued these stories with: one true, the other fictional, both as scary as hell itself.

Finn informed me sagely, when I told him of the play, that its title, Yours Truly, is part of the signature on the chilling letter supposedly sent by the Ripper himself to Scotland Yard. “It’s a clever and subtle touch,” I am informed by this excited young man. This, plus my own obvious fascination with the case, seems to equip us well for the evening ahead.

As with the London experience, this production opens with that same air of trepidation via a pre-recorded soundscape of text snippets and evocative but non-specific sound that is overlaid with phrases such as “Do you like women?” and “All they did was kill” repeated, along with others, until we were more than ready for the sounds to stop. The effect is electric and takes us instantly from our miserably stormy surroundings to the even darker underbelly of Queen Victoria’s London and, even more precisely, to the dingy streets of 1880s Whitechapel and Spitalfields. 

The production is smart and the theatrics are effective throughout. There’s a trick with a match that is repeated to increasing effect and Belz’s dazzling text astonishes at every step. It’s articulate, rhythmically remarkable, intellectually exhilarating and replicates all of the cadences we recognise from writers of the period such as Wilkie Collins, Thomas Hardy, Anthony Trollope and others. In seconds Belz has located us in time and place. The excellent costumes (Ascia Maybury) contribute significantly to the character of the work and considering this is not a funded production, the visuals are that much more impressive.

Belz has taken a thought-provoking slant on the few known facts of the Ripper case. We still don’t know who this evil genius was and everyone from Patricia Cornwell, Christchurch-based actor and director Martin Howells and acknowledged experts such as Richard Jones, Alan Drake, the great Donald Rumbelow, William Beadle, Russell Edwards and Stewart P Evans has a passionately-held opinion but no-one has proved definitively whether it was indeed Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward, Duke of Clarence, painter Walter Sickert, writer Lewis Carroll, Lord Randolph Churchill, Mary Pearcey (Jill the Ripper), Francis Tumlety, Aaron Kosminsky or someone altogether different who was the killer.

Belz has his opinion and it all fits together very nicely in less than two hours, interval included. The large house on opening night certainly seems thoroughly engaged as indeed am I. 

Belz has taken some key personalities – artist Walter Sickert, himself often seen as a suspect, Ripper victim Mary Kelly, Prince Eddy Victor the ne’er do well grandson of Queen Victoria and namesake of her own beloved husband Albert, Governor of Guy’s Hospital and Physician-in-Ordinary to the HM Queen Victoria herself Sir William Gull – and brands, with shock, awe and absolute authority, the latter as the guilty party. I can find no tangible evidence beyond a Masonic Lodge/Royal Conspiracy theory posited in a book or three and a film or two in the 1970s but this should come as no surprise as new candidates surface each and every year, the latest being Francis Spurzheim Craig, ex-husband of victim Mary Jane Kelly who was identified as recently as 2015.

It’s Belz’s handiness with the script that makes the whole thing work and provides the audience with a more than satisfying – and challenging – evening’s entertainment. It’s to Belz’s credit that at no time do I question the veracity of his ‘facts’ and the pseudo-mockumentary nature of the presentation fully supports this. It’s canny stuff, totally enjoyable and full of revelations of varying scale and magnitude.

There are scenes to delight throughout. Stammering Eddy meets sweet-selling angel Annie Crook, a lolly-shop girl selling delicacies from a tray in the street, and falls instantly in love with her. I do too because Esmee Meyer’s turn as the ill-fated Annie is quite simply splendid. She’s just cute enough, just clever enough, and just honest enough to convincingly win the heart of her wide-eyed prince Eddy Victor (Ben Van Lier) and the entire audience.

There is the most delectable word-play around toffs and toffee, sweets and sweethearts and we are all fittingly drawn into it. Eddy’s mate, Walter Sickert (Blair Strang) – we never quite know why they are friends, perhaps he’s the royal ‘minder’ – lies about their relationship saying they are brothers but no one, certainly not Annie, is taken in by this pretence. 

There’s a Holmes and Watson relationship brewing between Sickert and Eddy, rather like the one between Downey Jnr and Law, and it’s more than a trifle attractive. There’s nothing quite as exciting as seeing two actors enjoy the trust inherent in a great working relationship. We are introduced to the rhetoric and form of Masonic ritual and the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘Aurora Leigh’ while Eddy asks Walter if he and his artist’s model friend, prostitute and paramour Mary Kelly have yet “made the beast with two backs” and we know without a doubt that, with Belz, we are in super-cultured country indeed.  Belz’s own script is in no way secondary to the richness of its sources and we are carried along by a deceptive romantic lyricism which plays against the horror of the primary narratives being laid out before us as we go. 

Sickert begins the play as an enigmatic figure and remains largely so throughout. As the relationship between Annie and Eddy progresses we learn that “grandmother will need to be told”, that Mary Kelly has come to see herself as Walter Sickert’s muse, and we begin to observe a side to the artist that gives us cause to wonder just what’s what. It’s not surprising – since Sickert is a renowned painter of the nude female form; we’re surrounded by them – to see Mary Kelly strip down to the buff but what is unanticipated is the unapologetic, sado-masochistic nature of what the artist has her do with her scarf.

Plays presented as Yours Truly is, in a series of episodes, often have scenes that are notoriously difficult to end then segue smoothly into the next, but scene endings, transitions and new beginnings present no difficulty to writer/director Belz who seems to have a craftsman’s grab-bag filled with a never ending bunch of very effective options. Needless to say the productions flows beautifully.

Three months into their relationship Annie lays down a challenge to Eddy when she confronts him with “what does your room look like”: a question which, if answered truthfully, would both expose his identity and set up the next phase of this intriguing scenario. When he vacillates she smacks him between the eyes with one of the best surprises in a play that’s full of them. This propels the narrative forward with the power of a slashed jugular, towards its inescapably bloody conclusion. 

The secret wedding between the two is a strangely beautiful affair and it’s not just a gorgeous dress that catches our attention but the convincing manner in which these two fine actors project the love they feel for each other across the footlights. We hear that the royal family have been told of Eddy’s indiscretion and, as expected, they are less than chuffed about it. Why you may ask? “Because his grandmother is Queen fucking Victoria,” Sickert reminds us, as if we could ever forget.

This is the first of Sickert’s vicious betrayals but not his last and we wonder why he’s done it at all. Just what is going on in Sickert’s own backstory, we ask, but there is no real answer. We knew already that the sharing of this explosive knowledge would cause chaos and the impending danger to Annie and her child is palpable. When Annie discovers the truth she too is shocked. “Eddy lied to me,” she complains plaintively. “It’s what his family does best,” the cynical Sickert replies.

By means of a most effective solo scene, presented in seminar form as though we are an audience of innocent surgical trainees, we meet William Gull (Stephen Brunton), Physician-in-Ordinary to the Queen herself. While he lectures us on the vagaries of the human brain he shares with us that he, himself, is only interested in the woman’s side. It’s a strangely disturbing exercise as we hear his matter-of-fact description of the dissection of the brain, within which Belz has created a rich and timely psychological study of this mesmerising and worrisome man.

As psychopaths go, Sir William Gull is right up there, and any male actor looking for a contemporary audition monologue with a real difference should not look past this one because it really is a wee ripper. It has resonances of Stoppardian outrageousness with a screaming echo of silent lambs to boot.

The honeymoon is over, Gull has Annie locked up and Mary’s dream of Harvey’s Haberdashery is hatched. Harvey and Mary tinker with a Ouija board only to discover that “there is something evil in here, something evil” and only the interval rescues us from a fate worse than incredulity.

Never less than good, the production kicks into a special extra gear with every two-hander scene and the second half starts with a cracker when Eddy visits the asylum and finally meets up with Annie. Eddy doesn’t cope and runs off, leaving us with the newly knighted Sir William Gull who, having educated us as to his adoration of the female brain in the middle of Act One, now proceeds to do the same with Sickert, only his repetition takes on a disturbing tone. The discourse between the two is fragmented and discordant and the two men do not connect at all while the actors do.

We are introduced to the Fly Game with its ‘rock paper scissors’ hypothesis of ‘defeat me’. It’s a slight but effective device and when reprised later in the play becomes powerful beyond mere words. “I am the end of time” morphs into “I am lost” and the power of  Belz’s lyricism is paramount.

In a play already chock full of unforeseen surprise, comes an alternative example of a ‘love that dare not speak its name’, not in Victoria’s England at any rate, and  Belz’s subtle humour delivers a girl on girl moment to celebrate.  

By now the ritualised rhetoric of the Masonic Lodge is punctuating everything as Gull falls deeper into the well of his psychopathy. The Newsboy (Adam Rohe) declaims the bloody details of the Ripper’s deeds and with each pronouncement rips down one of the floor to ceiling portraits. It’s pure Brecht and the pragmatic nature of the classism that permeates this entire narrative is momentarily, but repeatedly, ripped bare.

The refrain of ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ hangs like in the air like mist and we discover that Joe, Mary Kelly’s pimp, has been gone for a month and that Kelly “has a little Sickert in her belly.” She knows the baby is his because, despite her profession, Sickert is the only person with whom she has had actual intercourse. “I offered,” she says, “and you drowned yourself in me.” Sickert is shocked to find Kelly in bed with Harvey and even more so that she is pregnant with his child, the ‘work of art that really matters’ demanded of him by Gull.

The only thing all the women – except the thrill-kill by Gull whose rampages are evolving – have in common is the knowledge of Eddy Victor’s true identity. Sickert pleads with Kelly to leave London for her own safety but Kelly won’t leave Harvey despite being told that she too will ‘be hunted down’ and killed.

With this in mind we are stunned by Belz’s definitive horrific exposé as he has Sickert betray Kelly’s whereabouts to the murderous Gull and her fate seems sealed.

The ending of the play I will leave with the Ripper himself, in the deepest shadows. Belz is very clear as to what happens next but I won’t be. There will be other productions of this excellent work and you’ll just have to go and see how it ends for yourself. Or better still buy copy.

Yours Truly is a deeply satisfying piece of theatre. It’s invisibly directed and the performances are top notch. The production values are good, the technicals impressive, the costumes evocative of both class and time and the text is quite superb but it’s the acting that really carries the day.

As Walter Sickert, Blair Strang hits all his marks. It’s a strong performance of an enigmatic role and Strang connects all the dots for us without becoming a cypher. It’s clever work and it’s good to see him back on the stage.

As the newsboy, Adam Rohe does all that is asked of him. He leads us into the theatre before the play begins with a “Read all about it!” joie de vivre and ticks off each of the murders by tearing down a floor to ceiling portrait with business-like aplomb.

As Harvey the hopeful lover, Romy Hooper presents a credible foil for Mary Kelly. It’s an effective performance which balances the play nicely.

As Eddy Victor the prince, himself thought at one time to be the murderer, Ben Van Lier is suitably royal, suitably vacant when required, and suitably in love to convince us of his passion for Annie and his crippling fear of his grandmother.

It is the trio of Annie Crook, Mary Kelly and Sir William Gull, however, who impress the most. As Annie, Esmee Meyers enables us to love her and to feel for her. Without this affection the play has no real heart. We believe implicitly in the love she feels for her child and for her prince, and her circumstances, as out of her control as they are, cause us considerable grief. Meyers’ performance is selfless and skilful and she serves the play extremely well.

Inhabiting the character of Mary Kelly, Ascia Maybury is an actor of extraordinary capability. The classic ‘whore with a heart of gold’, Kelly is actually much more than that. In Maybury’s skilful hands she is a real person with real feelings and we love her for it. She is courageous, takes risks and reaps the rewards with a fine performance. 

As the psychopath Sir William Gull, Stephen Brunton speaks the text with intelligence, guts and courage. On a superficial reading, this character might be seen to be somewhat separate from the play. His rhythms are different, he carries the weight of the ritualistic Masonic rhetoric, and he’s ultimately quite, quite mad. He is also extremely credible, seems to be from a different class to everyone else and yet, through his profession, he also has the feel of a man of the streets. In the hands of Stephen Brunton, Gull is painfully real. He’s believable enough for us to see him at the palace looking after the aging queen but he’s equally credible as London’s nightmare, skulking in the Whitechapel streets doing the business of the crown with alacrity and no shortage of intense personal pleasure.

As I said at the start of this review, I am a serious fan of Albert  Belz’s writing and his exceptional theatre nous. His scripts have the power and the acumen that Greg McGee aspired to but never quite achieved. He defies labels too, which means he can go anywhere at any time and, best of all, he takes his time. I look forward to the next Belz work but I’m happy to wait until he’s ready. Yours Truly is a perfect example of Belz knowing when the work is cooked, and the number of productions of Yours Truly with different casts and produced by different companies bears testimony to this. 


Make a comment

Lyrical feat but interest and tension not sustained

Review by Heidi North 17th Jun 2016

Yours Truly, Albert Belz’s ‘gothic horror’ tackling the tantalising tale of Jack the Ripper, was a hit when it was first performed in 2006, winning ‘Most Original Production’, ‘Production of the Year’ and ‘Best new New Zealand Play’ at the Chapman Tripp Theatre awards.

This latest production, by Te Rēhia Theatre Company and currently at Q theatre, is also directed by Belz.

In presenting a theory for the lurid tale of Jack the Ripper, Belz takes us on a journey through the Royal conspiracy, the occult, mental psychology, masochism, and the Freemasons.  

Staging wise, beautiful billowy drops with nudes on them are hung on the stage, but they seem to restrict rather than enhance the space as the action gets pushed into smaller corners, making it difficult to see what is happening on the floor in several scenes. More imaginative lighting and staging could enhance the experience. 

Belz’s writing is sinister and clever. The play is at its best in the relationships between the two romantic couples: prostitute Mary Kelly (Ascia Maybury) and artist Sickert (Blair Strang); Eddy (Ben Van Lier) and Annie (Esmee Meyers).

The wordiness and poetic range has a tendency to push the actors towards caricature, though. If this is dialled back it might create more of an authentic connection with the audience. 

The monologue’s of Jack the Ripper are poetic pieces of writing, and Stephen Brunton has a wonderful time delivering them, but given they are such long pieces, the staging of them needs to be less static.

In appropriating an English story, Belz, along with Te Rehia, are making the valid point that Māori writers and producers do not have to tackle homegrown tales only. However, I do wonder why this play has been chosen to be presented again now, and if it has anything new to add to the conversation.

There is no doubt this play is a lyrical feat, but unfortunately, being clever is not enough. Sustaining the interest and tension over two hours is something that this particular production does not do.  


Make a comment

A winning, dedicated performance

Review by Jan-Maree Franicevic 27th Feb 2016

So. My bestie Suzi is my date tonight, she and I roll into the gardens with snacks and chairs as I have done three times already this week. At the gate the usher tells us, “No, no. They have moved tonight’s performance to the Medici Court.”

I enquire, “Is that because of the noise?” 

She says she does not know why, but by the noise leaking from Backyard Beats* on the Rhododendron Lawn, I would put my money on it. Not that moving to the Medici Court alleviates the problem of sound pollution; it dogs this production so much I am sad to say that I feel ripped off.

The programme note from writer/director Albert Belz states that the challenge for his work – which has won critical acclaim as it has toured, and is certainly a masterpiece – is the outdoor venue and the noise from other events. He says he feels sure that with his talented, hard working group of players (and they are), quote, “We’ve got this.” 

Alas, the sound is so obtrusive that there are few moments where this masterpiece of theatre gets the quiet space it needs to be great.

The story is beautiful – love and politics, blood and guts – a winning combination if ever there was one. We are in Victorian London. Girl meets guy, guy meets girl, pictures are drawn and sweets are bought. A baby is made and a marriage ensues. The subsequent two-couple honeymoon vacation sees another baby made, no marriage ensues this time though, because blackmail, murder and a first class cover-up of a planned abduction and lobotomy is underway. This show has it all!  

Yours Truly has a solid plot line, and has been magnificently written. This piece is pure poetry, played sublimely well by a cast of incredibly capable players. Ascia Maybury plays Mary Kelly sensationally: she is the standout for me; she gives momentum and meaning with every word and gesture.

Stephen Brunton as Sir William Withey Gull is delightfully sick. I want to despise him but he leaves enough wiggle room in his portrayal of a homicidal health professional that I can’t. His is a picture of evil genius. 

Blair Strang (yes, as the people sitting next to me loudly proclaim, it’s that guy from Shortland Street) gives a solid performance as Walter Sickert, but he is just too quiet to compete with the noise, a great deal of his golden dialogue is lost on us, sat up the back of the court.

There is no doubting that he is a skilled player. Going by what I do hear, and what I see, I can soundly state that he is a superb match for the part:  the protagonist; a kept artist who epically fails at the one job he has to do.

He has a lovely interaction early on in the piece with Eddy (nicely done by Ben van Lier), a standoff of status; the words paint one picture, the fellows’ physical actions paint quite another. Such is the delicate beauty of this play, so well written and so economically played.   

Sigh. I just wish I could hear more of it.

The costumes are simple and effective. Truly great players don’t need elaborate sets or garb to bring a great show home, they just get on with it! Suzi notes one costume fail on the way home: Sir William’s apron strings are starchy white in comparison to the bloody spray covering it… It is picky, and I didn’t see this at all, I was too busy trying to be as quiet and still as I could, so I would hear the play.

I have to congratulate the entire cast for giving a winning, dedicated performance in the face of such distraction: they don’t miss a beat. 

I know, I know, outdoor theatre in a festival environment is always going to be a bit noisy – heck this is my fourth show this week – but honestly the noise tonight is infuriatingly loud. I want to apologise to Belz on behalf of my town for staging these two events simultaneously. Bad planning HGAF, I am disappointed.

One day, I will get back to this piece of outstanding theatre and hear it all, and be thrilled to bits. Tonight and tomorrow the gardens look to be a quieter place (by indication of the programme) so I would imagine audiences will get a much better showing, and therefore hope every seat is full. 

Belz is every bit a master playwright, he has a hit here and on every level. His casting is superb, as is his direction (a rare feat in my experience).
 – – – – – – – – – –
*Backyard Beats, a mini festival of Kiwi bands which is being held in conjunction with Waikato University as part of Orientation activities…with the general public invited to attend… and so very LOUD.


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council