31 January 2011

The Motor Camp: The Perfect Summer Show

Taking time from playing 'hormonal 15-year-old' Holly Redmond in the current Circa One hit The Motor Camp, Florence Mulheron talks to drama on the waterfront about making her Circa debut, working with her dad, and acting in the 'perfect summer show'.

DOTW: What is the story of The Motor Camp?

FM: The Motor Camp is about two families – the Redmonds and the Hislops – a camping ground, two caravans, hickeys, class, race, fish (in particular, snapper) and love.

(left to right) Tim Spite, Danielle Mason and Florence Mulheron in The Motor Camp. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
DOTW: What can you tell us about your character? Are there any particular challenges in playing this character?

FM: My character’s name is Holly Redmond, and she is a hormonal 15-year-old  who wants to be at the Mount with her boyfriend, Eugene. She is at the stage where she believes she deserves a lot more independence from her parents, yet is still wanting to be mothered so it is that in between stage where you want to have that freedom to do what you want but then want to come home to a freshly made bed by mum. Holly knows how to wind up her father and is quite happy to do so on a regular occasion purely to punish him for making her come on this holiday. She is the epitome of an adolescent teenager who is both cheeky and clever and knows how to win over her mother in order to get her own way. I have found Holly such a fun character to play as everyone has either been a Holly type when they were younger or knows someone who has or even has one of them at home. Initially, it was quite easy to make Holly purely sulky the whole time but over the rehearsal period I have found that sometimes the art of being cheerfully sarcastic works even better to annoy my parents.

DOTW: I understand this is your Circa debut; what has the experience been like for you so far?

FM: This experience has been absolutely amazing, it is so bizarre to think this is my summer job before I go back down to Otago for university. I am so lucky to have this opportunity and I really didn’t know what to expect but it has exceeded everything I had hoped for so far. The adrenaline rush of being on stage is almost an out-of-body experience; it’s so great to have a job that purely is playing on stage every night and getting paid to do so. I would probably count this as my proper debut to the stage, although when I was six I had a walk-on role in The Herbal Bed that was on at Circa in 1996. I had about five lines and played my real mother’s daughter and mum [actor Michele Amas] said she used to have to whisper to me on stage to get me off as I just absolutely loved it and never wanted to get off the stage on my cue.

Florence Mulheron and Anthony Young. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
DOTW: What can you tell us about the rest of the cast?

FM: I think the cast has been the most incredible part of this experience. Each person has been so supportive of one another and created such a beautiful working atmosphere. As it is a new play, we did quite a lot of workshopping in the beginning and everyone was so open to new ideas, and variations of lines and allowed people like me who were quite under confident to have my opinion be heard. I think it was through this workshopping that we all created a bond and allowed our characters to really take shape. I am again so lucky to be a part of such a talented cast who I not only admire but who have helped me so much from giving me vocal warm up tips to making me laugh and giving me congratulatory hugs after the show.

DOTW: What is it like working for your dad, director Danny Mulheron?

FM: Anyone who knows my father will know he is absolutely bonkers. Working for Dad has actually been such an eye opener for me. I have always known him to be a director by profession but having worked for him I know now why he is so good at what he does. Dad has this ability to create such a good vibe between the cast and was so generous in his manner in letting us experiment with new ways of saying certain lines but also directing us by letting us know exactly what worked and what didn’t. His passion and his humour took the edge off what could have been quite a stressful play with all the props and action that takes place. Having worked for him I have an absolute newfound respect and I was really proud to be the daughter of such a well-liked director. Also Dad has a fantastic laugh and so regardless of the amount of times we performed the show for him he always laughed loudly and gave us energy and confidence.

Florence Mulheron. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
DOTW: Finally, what can audiences expect from The Motor Camp?

FM: Audiences can expect to have a big ol’ laugh. It is the perfect summer show that would be hard not to enjoy.

The Motor Camp is on in Circa One until 19 February. To book tickets, please contact the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or go online at www.circa.co.nz.

26 January 2011

Turning up the Heat in Circa Two

After starring in the premiere production at BATS in 2008, and touring around the country in 2010, Kate Prior returns to Wellington with Heat. She takes some time to tell drama on the waterfront all about this intriguing show about a man, a woman and a penguin.

DOTW: What is the story of Heat?

KP: Heat focuses on a husband and wife, John and Stella Clark, (an atmospheric scientist and biologist respectively) who are wintering over in the Antarctic in a tiny hut on the remote Cape Crozier, almost 100kms east of Scott Base. Several years before this they lost a child, so this trip to Antarctica is on one hand a way to experience a world they have always dreamed about, to throw themselves into their work, and also perhaps a last-ditch effort to save their marriage and attempt to work through their grief.

Of course, something as psychologically draining as wintering over in Antarctica is only for the very hardy, and when the focus of Stella’s study - an Emperor Penguin - walks into the hut, many of these good intentions are thrown into disarray.

DOTW: What can you tell us about your character, Stella? Are there any particular challenges in playing this character?

KP: At the time we meet her in the play, Stella is still broken from the death of her son, Cam. But she is also very headstrong. She knows exactly what she wants and throws herself into her work.

It is because of this, that when an Emperor Penguin finds himself in the hut, Stella is absolutely transfixed. I focus on this, because the core challenge for me when I first approached this role was the notion of madness. You can’t really play madness. Or you can, but it soon becomes pretty boring. So I really try to focus on the real things, less on a concept of madness.

Wintering over in the Antarctic is in itself a huge psychological challenge – there are numerous stories of people losing their grip on reality, and each person who does winter over must take part in thorough psychological testing. Add to this the fact that Stella and John have lost a child several years before hand, AND the fact that there is this animalistic force taking over the hut, and it is not hard to imagine that your perception would skew slightly…

Yeah, so the challenge is to focus on things like love, desire, fascination, fear, rather than anything to do with being mad.
Kate Prior in Heat.
DOTW: Heat received critical acclaim when it premiered at BATS as part of the STAB Festival in 2008; what has it been like for you to journey with this show from then until now? Has the show changed at all since 2008?

KP: Extremely interesting to say the least! It has been a gift as an actor to work with one brilliant cast in 2008 and then re-rehearse with two more fantastic actors two years later. It’s a gift because you really have to not be precious about the work. No two actors are going to approach every single moment in the same way, so it has been a matter of being malleable and finding new stuff together. I really had to return to the work with an open mind.

It’s a hard one with this one, because there’s so many props etc, sometimes there really is one easy way to technically do something. The running gag in the rehearsal room was trying desperately not to say ‘Well Aaron used to…’

So yes, the show has changed in many ways since 2008. Simon and Byron brought their own unique energies that can’t help but change the tone and dynamic. Also I think there were many aspects we still wanted to find better solutions to in 2008, which perhaps a two-week season didn’t give us the opportunity to. So after a year of touring the show in 2010, first in July and then in October, we returned to re-rehearse the work for the Circa season with the awareness there were some script changes that needed to be made, and with a much better understanding of how the scenes work with an audience – the undoubted benefit of a show having more than one outing!

That said, no matter how comfortable we become with performing Heat, it does always feel like a runaway train.

Simon Vincent and Kate Prior
DOTW: You’ve toured with this show all over the country; how has it been received by other audiences?

KP: We’ve had some great responses from audiences. It’s always a bit of an unknown, taking a show out of the cosy theatre confines of Wellington. But I think audiences around the country have been really surprised and gripped by the piece, and they fall in love with Bob the penguin.

We especially enjoyed performing to audiences in Nelson. Perhaps because it was the final leg of the tour when we really started to have some fun, but also because Nelson is awesome. The audiences were great and were totally with us and the Suter Theatre was a really perfect space for the show. Heat is really played best in a relatively small space in which the claustrophobic nature of it can be keenly felt, hence why Circa Two is such a great space!

DOTW: What can Wellington audiences expect from the return season of Heat?

KP: Mess.

Byron Coll and Kate Prior.
DOTW: Finally, how do you really feel about penguins?

KP: Well they’re incredible creatures aren’t they? I’m talking specifically about Emperors here, but anyone who has watched good old March of the Penguins knows that their resilience and endurance where not only humans, but most other animals are so vulnerable, is fascinating. As is their need for each other - which illuminates ours. Which I suppose is why March of the Penguins is so strangely transfixing.

Now it sounds like this interview is for March of the Penguins… 

Heat opened in Circa Two on 25 January and runs until 19 February. To book tickets, call the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or go online at www.circa.co.nz.

17 January 2011

Getting to the Motor Camp

The Motor Camp, opening on January 22, has been a long time in the making. Though Circa commissioned the play a couple of years ago, it was well before that that Danny Mulheron and Dave Armstrong first discussed the idea of a play set in a Kiwi motor camp. 

Playwright Dave Armstrong explains:

 “A long time ago, Danny Mulheron told me his idea for a story about two very different families sharing a site in a motor camp. I could see immediately that it was a fantastic concept. We talked about writing a play sometime, wrote a bit of a draft then got busy doing other things. However, after Danny erected those first structural poles, I knew that there was a good play in there so ended up hammering in all the pegs and banging out a script.

What attracted me to the idea is the theme of very different people from very different backgrounds being forced slap-bang next to each other and having to get on together. It’s not the first time I’ve examined the different classes in our society, but the motor camp is a unique location. It’s a place where people are meant to enjoy themselves but so often, disaster happens. 

 The characters in The Motor Camp were people Danny and I felt we knew well. The Redmonds are an educated middle-class family from the western suburbs of Wellington. People like Danny and I who know the difference between a latte and a flat white and who probably go to shows at Circa Theatre! Frank Redmond is a left-wing training college lecturer. His wife Jude is a lecturer in art history and their 15-year-old daughter Holly goes to an expensive private school, and would much rather be at the Mount with her boyfriend than the godforsaken iron sand beach on the west coast of the North Island that Frank decides will be the site for this year’s holiday.

Right in the next caravan is Mike Hislop – a redneck building contractor from Wanganui, and his Maori partner Dawn and her teenage son Jared, a child from a previous relationship.

While Danny and I probably know more Redmonds in our life than Hislops, we are fascinated by characters like Mike Hislop and we have met them at barbecues, in hardware shops and in sports teams. On the surface Mike Hislop is an intolerant bigot but there is far more to Mike, and people like him, than meets the eye.

Camping grounds are great levelers. University lecturers read Chomsky while sitting next to builders reading Dan Brown. Middle-class women sit listening for tui and crickets while working-class blokes drink Tui and listen to the cricket. It is this juxtaposition that attracted me to the idea of the motor camp as a sort of Pakeha marae, where issues of family, relationships, education and politics could be discussed and resolved.

Within the two families in this play, who are from very different racial and socio-economic backgrounds, Danny and I discovered a host of prejudices, sexual and relationship problems and family dysfunction – in other words, fantastic fodder for a play. And they were funny! I love it when I see people, who on the surface have no similarities or common ground, gradually get to know each other and eventually become friends. It’s a common theme in a number of my plays and I make no apology for that.
(left to right) Anthony Young, Olivia Robinson, Phil Vaughan, Danielle Mason, Tim Spite, Florence Mulheron
Then there is the whole area of camping itself. The holidays that Danny and I remember that we had as children were wonderful, though we can’t forget the terrible weather, crappy facilities, neo-fascist camping ground owners, and the almighty arguments that could occur, for all the world to hear.

Just about all Kiwis have been camping. There are wonderful rituals associated with it that tell us a lot about our national character. Men love displaying their manhood by pitching tents, building fires, and hunting and fishing for camp food. The fact that these same men largely spend their days behind computers doing sedentary work for the other 11 months of the year is irrelevant.  

Yet sadly, motor camps are being sold off to provide private luxury accommodation for a few, and that’s a tragedy. Yet again Armstrong bangs on about the way that public facilities are disappearing or being privatized in this country. But now I’m sounding like Frank from The Motor Camp so I’ll shut up, and urge you to book for The Motor Camp. It’s very funny, it’s got a fantastic cast, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy this love song to public ownership."

The Motor Camp runs 22 January - 19 February, with a $25 preview performance on 21 January and a $25 special on 23 January. To book your tickets, please contact the Circa Box Office: 1 Taranaki Street, 801-7992, www.circa.co.nz.

We are looking for the funniest camping disaster story! Send us your best worst camping story by 31 January, and be in to win a magnetic beach scene from Whirlwind Designs (which was used as the background for The Motor Camp image) and a bottle of bubbly. 

Enter by mail to Camping Story, Circa Theatre, PO Box 968, Wellington or by email to cara.hill@circa.co.nz. The winning story will be published on the Circa website.

03 January 2011

Robin Hood: Tonnes of Puns

Robin Hood, the Pantomime is back to kick start the New Year at Circa. Actor John Wraight tells DOTW about his multiple characters, the rest of the cast and what audiences can expect from the 2011 season.

DOTW: What can you tell us about the role(s) you play in Robin Hood?

JW: I play Peasant, Abbot Costello, Little John and King Richard. They have all turned out to be very different folk, and it is such fun to explore their different characteristics. Even as the season goes on I love finding out more about them, and an audience really helps, as you can really hear when your character strikes a chord. It is such an ensemble, team-feel in the cast and I love the teamwork in passing the “story ball” around.

(left to right) Jane Waddell and John Wraight (as Abbott Costello). Photo by Stephen A'Court.
DOTW: How many Circa pantomimes have you been in?

JW: This is my second panto and I sure hope it’s not my last!

DOTW: What can you tell us about the pantomime experience? How does it differ from performing in other plays?

JW: Pantos are very similar to other plays but the big difference is that you can get away with – and relish – extreme ham! You still have to do a serious amount of work to get such a fun result.

(left to right) Gavin Rutherford, John Wraight (as Peasant) and Gerald  Bryan. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
DOTW: What is the rehearsal process like for a show like this?

JW: As above, lots of hard work making things connect and of course all the singing and dancing – a great workout though, I love it!

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

JW: We have a fantastic, experienced and talented cast, all bringing great skills and humour. This is one of the happiest casts I’ve worked with, it will be sad when it’s all over.

(left to right) Jamie McCaskill and John Wraight (as Little John). Photo by Stephen A'Court.
DOTW: Robin Hood ran for a full season before Christmas, and is now returning for two weeks to celebrate the New Year. Does the spirit of the show change at all from pre to post holidays?

JW: One show to shake off the Christmas cobwebs, and then we are back like we’ve never been away!

DOTW: Finally, what can audiences expect from Roger Hall’s Robin Hood?

JW: Audiences can expect a great show, full of surprises and great puns, tonnes of puns in fact, which I love. There’s heaps for all ages, the songs are great; my own kids spontaneously break into songs from the show all the time. It’s always great to hear some real belly laughs from our audiences.

Robin Hood, the Pantomime returns for a short season, 4-15 January. Get your tickets before they're gone! Call the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or go online at www.circa.co.nz