27 August 2012

The Year of Magical Thinking: “AN ELECTRIFYING PIECE OF THEATRE”

Stunning reviews of a stunning performance! Catherine Downes and The Year of Magical Thinking has received glowing appreciation from the critics …

Catherine Downes in The Year of Magical Thinking. Photo by  Stephen A'Court.
Didion’s “writing is heartfelt, it is also incredibly expressive and lyrical, a mark of the great writer that she is. However, as good as this is, it still needs to be brought to life on the stage and this where Susan Wilson’s production makes this into a superb piece of theatre.

The simple but effective set of Penny Angrick, Marcus McShane’s subtle but very evocative lighting design and Gareth Hobbs haunting music all add much to the quality of this production, but it is the stand-out performance of Catherine Downes that transcends this production into something special.

Solo performances often incorporate multiple characters.  Not so this play.  Catherine Downes is nobody but Joan Didion relating her year of magical thinking and how Downes does it is masterful.

From the moment she appears on stage with her opening lines, reticent, holding back, but powerfully seductive, the audience is drawn into her world where they stay for the duration of the production savouring Downes’ exquisite performance.

There are moments of emotion, beautifully handled by Downes, but for the most part this is a rational, sometimes even calculating, way of dealing with loss which Downes portrays with such confidence and ease. Consummate performer that she is, the strength, stamina and ability of someone to perform what is essentially a 90 minute monologue is quite extraordinary.

A must-see production for not only the writing but for Downes’ amazing performance.”

- Ewen Coleman, the Dominion Post


Catherine Downes in The Year of Magical Thinking. Photo by  Stephen A'Court. 
“From the moment Downes appears, a spectre behind a semi-transparent screen bathed in ethereal blue light, she is the character left behind, the one still living. Downes’ face when she steps in front of the screen is one of a woman struggling to hold something back and wanting to release at the same time. “It will happen to you. That’s what I’m here to tell you,” she says.

Written by American novelist and journalist Joan Didion after her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, and her daughter, die within two years of each other, the script is more fleet-footed, dynamic, and revealing of her personality than the two books on which it is based. Self-pity or sadness aren’t allowed to dominate one moment as she oscillates between clinical details of death and memories that make up so much of life. Humour also gets fair play. “It’s still early in Los Angeles. Is John even dead there yet?”

Downes isn’t Didion, but she fully inhabits her memories and all the ranges of emotions, so when she flashes back to a happy night in Honolulu and says, “I had such a sense of well-being I did not want to go to sleep,” it strikes a chord of joy as powerful as the knell of death.”

- Amanda Witherall, Capital Times


“As the audience rises to applaud Catherine Downes' solo effort, the wonder of it is she has made her 90 minute marathon seem effortless: such is the centred fluency of her beautifully paced and modulated performance, directed by Susan Wilson.
All is perfectly pitched for the intimacy of Circa Two. We don't so much witness a performance as spend time with a very particular person who has a profound experience to share.  It is 90 minutes very well spent.”

- John Smythe, Theatreview

The Year of Magical Thinking is on until 8 September. To book, call the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or go online at www.circa.co.nz.

20 August 2012

West End Girls: Girl power started in the 40s

West End Girls' Victoria Abbott and Jessica Robinson chat about best friends . . .

Everyone has that one best friend they’ll never forget. Sometimes it’s a friend who’s there at just the right time… sometimes it’s a lifelong relationship. That one person who makes you laugh at the worst of times, at yourself, at the world until you nearly pee your pants. When you’re around them you feel more yourself than you ever have before.

Victoria Abbott and Jessica Robinson in West End Girls.  Photo by  Stephen A'Court.
You think girl power started with the 90’s? Try the 1940s.

Mae and Babs are BFF’s (Best Friends Forever). Mae’s a bombshell, Babs has never been kissed. Mae also happens to be the best prostitute in Soho with a job opening for a maid. The story is real, funny and moving. Our quest was to find the friendship between Mae and Babs and the community of women in Soho in 5 weeks.

West End Girls. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
So how did Jess and Vic (we’re writing in third person – hi!) find themselves synchronised trampolining?

It all began on the Circa leather couches…

After sitting next to each other with identical scripts for five minutes, we realised we had the same audition slot. It was instant teamwork time. Turns out team Je-toria were a good match.

Jessica Robinson and  Victoria Abbott in West End Girls.  Photo by  Stephen A'Court. 
Out in Aro in our first rehearsal Je-toria were joined by a trio of babin’ brunettes: Heather, Hayley and Bryony. Not only were rehearsals a hoot but breaktime bonding over St Vinnies op shop and Aro bake delights were relished. Our session with the Wellington Prostitutes Collective was hilarious and informative too!

Our (pregnant) stage manager Fingal made a priori-tea (terrible pun, sorry!) of getting us proper English Breakfast  and Earl Grey. Tea breaks onstage matched the tea breaks in the Green Room. As the friendships between the women in Soho blossomed our girl bonding took to the streets of Wellington. Hayley’s search for the perfect leather jacket; restraining Jess in boutiques; Bryony’s amazement at the prices Jess thought were ‘a bargain!’; Heather’s knowledge of the high street and Vic’s free makeover and obsession with samples. A $10 pub lunch ended with turning our food into faces on the plate - much to the confusion of the waitress. Heather’s free week gym pass got us in shape, in the epically hysterical trampolining fitness class.

Victoria Abbott and Jessica Robinson in West End Girls.  Photo by  Stephen A'Court. 
But we still looked like a bunch of Wellington urbanites. Enter Eliza and Jane to educate and dress us like the beauties of the 40s. Pin curls, silk undies and a ridiculously hectic amount of costume changes later we are rearing to go.

We’ve had a blast behind the scenes, can’t wait to see you on the stage!

Xx Jess and Vic

Disclaimer: The equally awesome boys team including David, Ken, Gavin and Paul are fantastic fun too (but not so interested in free makeovers or group aerobics).

West End Girls graces the stage of Circa One for two more weeks, until 1 September. To book, call the Circa Box Office on 801-7992 or go online www.circa.co.nz.

13 August 2012

Improv Cage Match: Get in Training to Laugh

By Greg Ellis

Being part of the audience for Improv Cage Match is a brutal experience. You never know when the laughter is going to hit you but it will – fast and hard. You need to be in tip top physical shape to make it through a gruelling night of comedy and come out unscathed. So here’s some simple training tips that you can use to get yourself ready for the season:

Laughing the wrong way can cause serious damage: split sides, wet pants, bruised funny bones – so it's best to start your laughter training now. Start slow with some gentle laughter and build up to the real thing. Watch one of those funny commercial shows to start with barely any laughter at all, work your way up through an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond and slowly build up your exposure to funny material until you are genuinely laughing. When you’re at that point its time for endurance. Start with a single belly laugh and gradually increase the reps until you can laugh with uncontrolled abandon for up to 5 minutes at a time. Remember to breathe through the laugh – don’t suffocate yourself.

Now you’re ready to go. Make sure you ARE prepared. The performers are putting their dignity on the line. Don’t risk yours!

Improv Cage Match opens on 19 August and runs every Sunday at 7.30pm until 7 October. To book, call the Circa Box Office on 801-7992 or go online www.circa.co.nz.

06 August 2012


Didion is one of America’s iconic writers and The Year of Magical Thinking is a stunning memoir of electric honesty and passion in which she explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage--and a life, in good times and bad--that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.

It is a remarkably moving examination of the year following her husband’s sudden death just before their fortieth anniversary that is filled with often surprising insights and more than a dash of humour. It is one of the most critically acclaimed books of the decade.

“Thrilling . . . a living, sharp, memorable book. . . . Sometimes quite funny because it dares to tell the truth.” - Robert Pinsky, The New York Times Book Review

The book was published in 2005 – winning the US National Book Award. In 2006 Didion was persuaded to adapt the work for the stage and the resulting play opened on Broadway, New York in 2007 (directed by David Hare, starring Vanessa Redgrave).

Didion was born December 5, 1934, Sacramento, California. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, and currently lives inNew York. For over forty years, Joan Didion has been widely renowned as one of the strongest, wittiest and most-acerbic voices in journalism, literature and film. With her sharp, idiosyncratic essays collected as Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album, she helped define both the New Journalism and Sixties America. Later, she and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, became some of the highest-paid screenwriters in Los Angeles (The Panic in Needle Park, Play It As It Lays, A Star is Born) – glamorous, well-connected and Hollywood’s mascots of the East Coast intelligentsia. Combined with the political reporting and fiction drawn from her experiences in Central America in the Eighties, Joan Didion emerged as the grande dame of American journalism. 

So, no one could have been more unnerved by her unraveling in the wake of a pair of tragedies than Didion herself — a fact she conveys brilliantly in The Year of Magical Thinking, which chronicles an exceptionally unforgiving period in her life. Her recently married daughter Quintana had been stricken with pneumonia and fell into a coma. Only a week later, her husband and partner of 40-years died of a heart attack. Battered by these events, Didion felt her grip on reality suddenly slipping. “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We know that someone close to us could die. We might expect to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect to be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy – cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes.” Quintana died in 2005, and Didion’s most recent book Blue Nights tells her story.

The Year of Magical Thinking  - an award-winning, best-selling memoir and a play of extraordinary perception and depth. It has touched the hearts of readers, audiences and critics:

“What has stayed with me the most these past few weeks is Didion's heartfelt portrait of her and Dunne's extraordinary love for each other, and their constant companionship, and respect, and friendship, which shine through all of her reminiscences of their four decades of marriage. Deepest love; deepest pain … quite possibly my favorite of the year.”  - Scott, New York

magnificent … as moving as anything we are likely to encounter in a theatre this year.” - Daily Telegraph

The Year of Magical Thinking opens in Circa Two on 11 August and runs until 8 September. There will be a $25 preview on Friday, 10 August and a $25 Special on Sunday, 12 August. To book, please call the Circa Box Office on 801-7992 or go online www.circa.co.nz.