23 April 2012

A Shortcut to Happiness: ‘We shrieked with laughter’

Playing Ned for the second time around after a successful world premiere season in Dunedin, actor Peter Hayden tells drama on the waterfront all about the current Circa hit A Shortcut to Happiness, as well as shares his own, personal ‘short cut to happiness’.

DOTW: Please tell us a bit about the story of A Shortcut to Happiness.

PH: It is the story about six people who all attend folk dancing lessons. Each is in search of happiness. Five of them are ‘baby boomers’, some are looking for love after their life partners have died, some are lonely, some are in difficult relationships … but the dance teacher, Natasha, a recent immigrant from Russia, is in search of happiness in a new and strange country, of odd people and peculiar customs … all of her observations and experiences are targets for Roger Hall’s sharp wit. In the end, a measure of happiness is achieved, but after many pitfalls and problems, some of them hilarious, others tender or highly dramatic.

Recently widowed Ned is one of the folk dancers.  He has two left feet but is attractive to some of the women, as in this particular group, there is a ‘man drought’. He and Natasha strike up a friendship, he employs her to clean his house… and when she is ‘ripped off’ by a handsome rakish rogue, he offers her a roof over her head. Their relationship evolves… that is all I will say.

Peter Hayden as Ned. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
DOTW: I understand that this is your second time playing Ned; the first was during the world premiere in at the Fortune Theatre in Dunedin last year. Has Ned changed at all since that first production?

PH: Elena Stejko and I played Ned and Natasha at the Fortune Theatre in Dunedin and are reprising the same roles from that production. I thought the Circa version would be a relatively simple transference of the same role onto a new stage … this was not the case.  It was a case of ‘leave previous character at the rehearsal room door’. Ross Jolly had different ideas about the story and the relationship between Ned and Natasha. We had to burrow down into the role to pull up new and more subtle interpretations of some scenes, some lines. Each production has been different, it has been fascinating to explore the roles in two different ways. One thing that hasn't changed is the comedy … it is up front and central to both productions. I love it.

DOTW: How are the dancing sequences for you? Do you enjoy that part of it? Was it challenging to learn?

PH: I was looking forward to the dancing, however it was a lot more difficult than I thought.  Even dancing badly, which you would think was the easiest thing to do, was not easy. To dance badly, we had to learn to dance well, then break it down … it seems illogical, but that’s the way it works. In this production at Circa we are doing much the same dances as were performed at the Fortune. Choreographer Sasha Copeland has been terrific, she has brought in new moves, greater energy and excitement to the dances. It is good to be able to do a second season in order to finally get the dancing right.  

DOTW: What can you tell us about your fellow cast members and director, Ross Jolly?

PH: First thing to say is that some cast members (no names) had to have remedial (extra) dance classes because they couldn't get it. 

One other cast member, Cathy Downes, was in the Dunedin production … so it is lovely to have her as Janet again in Wellington. We go way back, in fact as far back as drama school. We are great friends. The other cast members are an A list of Wellington actors and it has been a pleasure to work with them and see their process. Carmel McGlone and Tim Gordon have developed a hilarious relationship as the compulsory course attendees and U3A maniacs Bev and Ray. Cathy Downes and Donna Akersten are equally wonderful as the golf and bridge buddies Janet and Laura.

It is also great to have one more week of rehearsal in Welly than we enjoyed in Dunedin.  Don't know how we did it down there in 3 weeks + production week.

Ross has directed several if not more Roger Hall comedies.  He has an unerring ability to mine the comedy of each situation. I have learnt much from Ross

Peter Hayden, Donna Akersten and Cathy Downes. Photo by Stephen A'Court. 
DOTW: How are audiences reacting to the Circa production so far?

PH: I was in Olive Café this very morning and was approached by a couple from Tauranga, who said this is the funniest show they had ever seen. ‘We shrieked with laughter,’ the husband said. The after-show reaction has been universally positive.  People leaving the theatre have broad grins on their faces … as an actor that is very gratifying.

The reviews have been universally positive and in particular pointing to the Ned and Natasha relationship being satisfying and very real.

DOTW: Finally, what is your personal ‘shortcut to happiness’?

PH: Hmmmmmmm. I wouldn't say dancing is a short cut to happiness as my wife and I went to ballroom dancing lessons some years ago, and most couples separated soon after … or perhaps that was a short cut to happiness for them.

My short cut to happiness … curiosity … being curious about the world keeps you open minded, youthful, interesting and interested until the day you die.

A Shortcut to Happiness runs in Circa One until 26 May. To book tickets, call the Circa Box Office at 8017992 or go online at www.circa.co.nz

Peter Hayden and Elena Stejko as Ned and Natasha. Photo by Stephen A'Court.

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