29 November 2010

Organized Chaos: Robin Hood, the Pantomime

A veteran of Circa pantomimes, Michael Nicholas Williams takes a break from his work on Robin Hood to tell drama on the waterfront about the musical side of the panto experience.

DOTW: First of all, please tell us a little bit about the music in Robin Hood

MNW: A mix of show tunes, 70s ballads and hey-nonny-nonny madrigals.

Jane Waddell and John Wraight in Robin Hood. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
DOTW: How many of the Circa pantos have you been a part of?

MNW: I’ve written the music and been Musical Director for all 6.

DOTW: What can you tell us about the pantomime experience?

MNW: I get to giggle a LOT.  It’s nice doing a show that makes people happy - instant gratification!

DOTW: What is like composing music for a pantomime? Does the process differ at all from composing for other shows?

MNW: I think I approach it the same way as other shows…  But in panto-land, if I drift towards cheesy-ness I tend to linger a little longer.  What I enjoy most is finding the music for the underscoring - which part of a song becomes a character’s theme, or how can I arrange this jolly tune so that it’s dangerous and threatening?    

Also I enjoy adopting a different style of music. For example, Aladdin had (quasi) middle-eastern music (which to tell the truth was nearer to Fiddler on the Roof…), Jack and the Beanstalk was country and Dick Whittington was Music-Hall.

(left to right) John Wraight (on ground), Jeff Kingsford-Brown, Jamie McCaskill and Kali Kopae in Robin Hood. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
DOTW: What is your favourite Circa panto memory? 

MNW: At the moment I’m enjoying my 4 bars of fame at the end of Act 1 - then the bastards tell me to shut up!  I look forward to the gooey romantic ballads, and the Dames always make me laugh - you never know what’s going to happen.

DOTW: How does Robin Hood compare to the earlier pantos?

MNW: I think that’s like asking me which one of my children I love most… 

DOTW: Finally, what can audiences expect from Robin Hood

MNW: Organised chaos.

Gavin Rutherford and Jamie McCaskill in Robin Hood. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
Robin Hood, the Pantomime runs until 23 December, and then returns in 2011 for a two week season, 4-15 January. Tickets are going fast, get yours by calling the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or going online at www.circa.co.nz

Celebrate Christmas at Robin Hood!
Bring your group of merry men or women to see Robin Hood and enjoy a specialty platter before, at interval or after the show.

The Friar Tuck (savoury)
The Maid Marian (sweet)
The Mother Hood (full dessert)

All are just $12.50 per person, not including ticket price. For more information, call Cara Hill, Audience Development Director, at 801-8137 or by email at carah@circa.co.nz.

22 November 2010

"It really is worth a watch": Me and Robert McKee

After taking the director’s helm of the nationwide hit comedy sensation Le Sud, Conrad Newport returned to Circa to direct the new Greg McGee play, Me and Robert McKee. He tells drama on the waterfront all about McGee’s newest play, which is “very witty as well as delivering a punch to the gut.”

DOTW: What is the general story of Me and Robert McKee?

CN: This is a story of two mates who have known each other since childhood. One is a successful banker – or Equity Entrepreneur as he calls himself – the other is a writer who survives as a teacher of a Writing Course at some un-named tertiary institution. Neither is enjoying a happy marriage to their un-seen wives. When an opportunity arrives to create a film script and attract some serious money they both readily agree – for very different reasons.

Christopher Brougham in Me and Robert McKee. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
DOTW: What was it about this play that made you want to direct it?

CN: It’s a beautifully realised script that satisfyingly explores the characters of a couple of New Zealand males. Both are identifiable to theatre goers as we’ve all met people like Mac and Billy and this script really gets to the guts of what makes them both tick. Surprisingly, that doesn’t always happen in contemporary NZ theatre writing. Greg really does know how to get under the skin of the male psyche. It’s very witty as well as delivering a punch to the gut.

The fact that it toys with our concepts of reality intrigued me as well. That things aren’t always what they seem is a major theme in the script and Greg has a lot of fun with this – he keeps us guessing. There are also enough twists in the plot to keep the story interesting so that we genuinely care about what happens to both of these men.

DOTW: Greg McGee is renowned for his first play, Foreskin’s Lament, an iconic New Zealand work; how does Me and Robert McGee compare/differ?

CN: When that play exploded onto our stage 30 years ago it was a major event. It was a very important statement about us as NZ’ers through male eyes. It had never been said so potently and provocatively before. Me And Robert McKee has the benefit of 30 years writing experience and Greg leaves no turn unstoned as he relishes mocking the very craft he has made a living at.  It is in many ways a subtler piece than Foreskin’s Lament though Greg hasn’t lost any of his anger or his insightful commentary on the NZ male.

Paul McLaughlin in Me and Robert McKee. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
DOTW: What can you tell us about the cast?

CN: I had never worked with either Chris or Paul before, though of course I had seen and enjoyed their work on stage and film. I had an instinct (an important Director’s tool) that they would be good for this play and I wasn’t wrong. These two deliver such incredibly strong performances and everybody has been commenting how much they enjoyed them both in their roles. It really is worth a watch.

DOTW: Were there any particular challenges in directing this play?

CN: Because it’s never been done before, every new play comes with a built-in degree of difficulty. Even before you start working on how to do things, you have to spend a lot of rehearsal time trying to figure out what the author is getting at – especially in a dense, multi layered piece as this one. Luckily we had the chance to have Greg in the rehearsal room and ask questions of him which proved invaluable. He talked - we listened, and vice versa, so there was some important re-writing going on. It’s a real privilege for this to occur.

DOTW: Finally, what should audiences know about Me and Robert McKee?

CN: It all sounds very serious and worthy on paper but it is actually a very funny play. The opening night audience – and others subsequently – was roaring with laughter at all the witty lines and the clever references so if you want to experience an intelligent new New Zealand play by one of its best writers then take a punt and have a go.

Photo by Stephen A'Court.
Me and Robert McKee is on in Circa Two until December 4. Book your tickets by calling the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or going online at www.circa.co.nz.

15 November 2010

Wharfside Restaurant: Daytime Opening, New Menu, Christmas at Wharfside

We wanted to talk about some of the great things happening at Wharfside over the next couple of months.    


We are very excited to announce that Wharfside, in conjunction with Circa, will be opening its doors as a daytime cafe from Tuesday 16 November. The cafe will be open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am. 

We invite you to come in and try us out, whether it be for lunch, a sweet treat, or simply a tea or coffee. We also have an extensive NZ wine list so if you feel like relaxing over a glass of wine while enjoying the superb waterfront views, then Wharfside is the place to be.  

We have a variety of hot savoury counterfood items including vegetarian options, sandwiches, wraps and salads, cakes, slices, biscuits, scones and muffins. All items will be available to either eat in or 
takeaway. We will also be running a Sunday brunch menu which will include traditional breakfast options as well as build-your-own-brunch options.

For those coffee lovers, we have great coffee card discounts available for our regular customers: buy four get your fifth one free.  

We are a great summer and winter venue. On a beautiful summer’s day, sit in the conservatory with the doors and windows open or in our outdoor patio area and enjoy the sunshine and vibrant waterfront atmosphere and on a winter’s day sit in the warm while still being able to watch the world and the weather go by.

Wharfside has plenty of space with the choice of both the conservatory or the foyer and so is a great place to meet friends for a coffee or lunch or to have a business meeting outside of the office. Wharfside and Circa also cater for daytime functions and seminars.  


Our new menu also kicks off on 15 November. While still keeping some of the old Wharfside favourites, we have revamped the menu to include some fresh new dishes as well. We thought, as we are on the waterfront, we would have more of a seafood lean to our menu, but we still do cater for those non-seafood lovers as well. We also cater to those with special dietary requirements such as vegetarian and gluten free, etc. See the website for details of our new menu. 


Here we are again in the lead up to Christmas. Wharfside will be working in conjunction with Circa Theatre to provide great Christmas entertainment and dining. With a great Pantomime on in the theatre this year, it provides a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Christmas with dinner and a show. We also cater for Christmas groups, whether it be a staff or client function or just a group of friends or family, we can tailor an evening specific to your group.  We can theme your table to give you a real Christmas feel to your evening.   We provide a very affordable children’s menu if you are looking at bringing the kids along. So why not come in for a meal and see a family classic, Robin Hood, which is a favourite with everyone, as a Christmas treat.                                                                                                      

Well, as you can see, we have a lot happening at Wharfside in the next few months and we would love you to come and join us, whether it be for a daytime snack, an evening meal or just coffee and a look around to see what’s new.  

We look forward to seeing you down at Wharfside @ Circa soon.

Dee Ryan & Martin Halliday
Owners, Wharfside Restaurant and Cafe 

Wharfside Restaurant is open for pre and post show dining, in addition to the new operation of a daytime cafe. To make a reservation, please call 801-7996. 

08 November 2010

A good time with your family: Robin Hood

After delighting audiences throughout the country (including a season at Circa earlier this year) and around the world in He Reo Aroha, Jamie McCaskill returns to Circa to take the title role in Roger Hall’s Robin Hood, the Pantomime. He tells drama on the waterfront all about what it’s like to play that “good fulla” Robin Hood.

DOTW: Most of us know the classic story of Robin Hood – has anything changed in the pantomime version of it?

JM: All the typical characters are there apart from one of my favourites, Will Scarlett. We’re made outlaws because of the evil Prince John.  The Sheriff of Nottingham collects taxes, Robin falls in love with Maid Marian and he splits an arrow at the archery contest. That’s all there but I’m pretty sure that Robin Hood’s mother hasn’t featured this much in any other version of Robin Hood. This will definitely get the record for the most times “Nonny nonny no” has ever been said in a Robin Hood story, and the sheriff has a pet viking called Thor.

DOTW: The last time you were at Circa, you starred with Kali Kopae in He Reo Aroha. Now you’re back and starring together in Robin Hood – how would you describe/compare each experience?

JM: He Reo Aroha was a huge creative process for Kali and myself which made the experience of that show a lot more personal to us. Being in Robin Hood is relaxing in a way that we can keep it at arms length, we can have fun with it, we put in the hard work, but we’re not being effected by the pressure of presenting our own kaupapa in regards to story telling. We’re just enjoying being actors solely and putting 100% into that and bringing Roger’s script to life.

DOTW: How does it feel to play the title character, Robin Hood? What do you think of him?

JM: It’s pretty cool. I’m having a lot of fun and Sue gives us a lot of freedom in regards to working out our characters. Robin seems to be a bit of a good fulla who cares about the people. He likes singing and fighting in the bush. He doesn’t know what an orange is and he is an exceptional archer. What more can I say? I want to be him.

DOTW: What can you tell us about the rest of the cast?

JM: Loving working with Gavin Rutherford and Jeff Kingsford-Brown again, they’re cracking me up. I’m working with people who have years of experience in the craft so I sit there and watch how they work then steal their tricks. Weird thing is, Gavin seems to sing in an American accent. It’s just bizarre.

DOTW: What is the rehearsal process like for a show like this?

JM: It’s extremely frustrating until I get over myself.

DOTW: What can audiences expect from Roger Hall’s Robin Hood?

JM: They can expect a fast-paced, witty script with accessible humour. Crack up performances by actors I look up to, Kali Kopae singing beautifully, a smiling Michael Williams whose music you will be singing when you leave the theatre, and a good time with your family.

Nga mihi ki a koutou katoa

Robin Hood opens 13 November and runs until 23 December, returning in the New Year for a two week season, 4-15 January. Tickets are available by calling the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or going online at www.circa.co.nz

Celebrate the holidays with Robin Hood! Bring your family or a group of friends to the panto and enjoy a pre-show platter or dessert at Wharfside Restaurant. Platter (sweet or savoury) or dessert packages cost just $12.50 per person (beverages additional), on top of the ticket price. For more information, contact Audience Development Director Cara Hill at 801-8137.

01 November 2010

Me and Robert McKee: Playing with the Realities of the Real and the Written

Me and Robert McKee playwright Greg McGee on rugby, writing and his latest play ...

Born in 1950 in the South Island town of Oamaru, Greg grew up in a working-class family who never went to theatre. At Otago University he studied law. He was regarded as one of the top rugby players of his generation, twice trialling for the All Blacks. Tall and rangy, Greg has a genuine modesty.

Me and Robert McKee

DOTW: McGee interviews always seem to start with rugby so why should we be different? Your career was kicked off (pun intended) by Foreskin’s Lament, a play about rugby, New Zealand culture and generational conflict and that captured the zeitgeist of the time (1981 and the Springbok Tour).  Central to the play is the conflict between ‘intellectuals’ and rugby supporters.

GG: Those were the days. There was a period when anyone with pretensions to an intellect wouldn’t admit to having anything to do with rugby. When I reviewed Chris Laidlaw’s book Somebody Stole My Game for Metro magazine, I talked a little bit about how the attitudes to rugby in the general populace have changed. Rugby is now part of the entertainment matrix and rugby players are now celebrities, whereas in the old days you couldn’t actually be an intellectual and have an interest in rugby. It was very hard to do that and rugby was hated by a lot of the middle-class liberals.

DOTW: It was war.

GG: You know everyone was out on the streets protesting against Apartheid and so on, but there was also a huge anti-rugby sentiment there because rugby was perceived to be rural at a time when the rural marginals were perceived to be holding the urban seats to ransom through the first-past-the-post electoral system. It was rural, red-neck, misogynist and kind of Muldoonist, because the Rugby Union seemed to be in cahoots with Muldoon in refusing to be bound by the Gleneagles Agreement so I think the urban liberals associated rugby with all those really kind of prehistoric attitudes.

DOTW: You were a long-haired rugby player when a lot of your peers still wore ties and blazers.

GG: There was also an intergenerational thing going on. By the mid-seventies it was all afros and beads and everything changed so quickly. But for the few years before that, the fight between young and old was at its most terrible. The Tour was a touch-stone for that conflict as well.

DOTW: When and why did you start writing?

GG: At primary school, actually. I started filling exercise books. I’m not sure why.

DOTW: In the play Me and Robert McKee, the character Billy says writers are paid to tell lies.

GG:  I started early. I remember telling a tall tale or two at morning talk. I once told the class that my father used to let me back the van out of the garage in the morning, and it must have sounded plausible. My mother got a call from the teacher asking what was going on.

DOTW: Was school a positive experience?

GG: Yes, but it can’t have been all positive. As a five-year old, I ran away from Casa Nova School in Oamaru. The headmaster saw me escaping out the gate and sent the whole of Standard Four after me. We lived a kilometre away from school and it must have been a sight – this big group of kids tearing down the highway chasing me all the way home.

DOTW: The art and craft of writing is a strong thread through Me and Robert McKee.  It features Billy, a writer who teaches a writing course, and his best friend Mac, a banker and would-be producer. Mac offers Billy a screenplay to write. However the offer is not all it seems. What was the play’s genesis?

GG: I saw the bourgeoning popularity of writing courses and thought, how can I put a stop to that waste? How can I persuade more people to take up something useful, like merchant banking? Seriously, the impetus for particular stories comes from a myriad of elements, but in this case I saw – or heard - these two characters very clearly, and they seemed to have a lot to say to one another!

DOTW: Billy talks about the terror of the blank page. He makes writing sound difficult.

GG: Writing isn’t difficult. Everyone does it. Writing something worth a damn is extraordinarily difficult. As Billy says in the play – “Anyone can write…Writing is the great free market of artistic expression. There’s no prohibitive overheads, you just need pen and paper. There’s no professional organisation you have to join before you’re allowed to do it, no exams to pass, no subs to pay, no fees, no licence. It’s open slather. Entirely self-regulatory. You can do whatever you please. Like banking.”

DOTW: Billy talks about the importance of listening for a writer. What do you mean?

GG: When Billy talks about the importance of listening, he’s not talking about having an ear for dialogue, though you do need that as well. Excuse me for quoting my own play again, but Billy says it better than I could: “You won't write anything worth a damn unless you learn to listen. Unless you learn to open the channels. And pray that in that moment of quiescence, that moment of acute calm, Someone will speak to you. A character. And tell you things that you never knew you knew. A story. Everything - everything - depends on the authenticity of that voice. Character is destiny: destiny is story.”

DOTW: Who is Robert McKee?

GG: This is what Wikipedia says about the man who is probably the ultimate screenplay guru:

Robert McKee, born 1941, is a creative writing instructor who is widely known for his popular "Story Seminar", which he developed when he was a professor at the University of Southern California. McKee is the author of a "screenwriters' bible" called Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. Many of Hollywood’s active screenwriters claim him as an inspiration. Rather than simply handling "mechanical" aspects of fiction technique such as plot or  dialogue taken individually, McKee examines the narrative structure of a work and what makes the story compelling or not.

DOTW: How do you feel about the play?

GG: I really like this play on the page, the way it combines humour and emotion and plays with the realities of the real and the written. And I think it’s very theatrical, without being physical theatre, but the leap from the page to the stage is the big test and, as always, it’s both exciting and terrifying. I’m very grateful to have Conrad Newport at the helm and Chris and Paul bringing it to life.

Me and Robert McKee opens in Circa Two on November 6. For tickets, call the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or go online at www.circa.co.nz.