17 November 2015

Jonathan Morgan as Friar Tuck

Roger Hall’s Robin Hood: The Pantomime opens In Circa One on 21 November.  This week in drama* on the waterfront, Julie O’Brien talks with Jonathan about his career, costume changes and corpsing.

Who do you play in Robin Hood?

I play two roles - Rumble and Friar Tuck.

Does it get difficult swapping between the two characters?

Not on stage, but there are some pretty fast costumes changes so I hope I get those right. The great thing about performing with this cast is that most of them have had a lot of experience in panto, so I’m sure if I walked on stage in the wrong costume, someone would help me out… I hope!
Jonathan Morgan in rehearsal for Robin Hood:  The Pantomime.
What training have you had? 

I currently hold a Bachelor of Applied Arts; Performing Arts (Singing) and a Diploma in Performing Arts (Singing) from Whitireia Performance Centre (2013) and a Certificate in Screen Acting from Wellington Performing Arts Centre (2010).

What have we seen you in?

I performed in Destination Beehive (2014) and Red Riding Hood: The Pantomime (2014) at Circa Theatre.  You also may have been seen me as Eugene in Wellington Musical Theatre's Grease (2014) and in Wellington Musical Theatre's Hairspray (2012).  I also performed in Miss Saigon at the Arts Centre, Gold Coast, earlier this year. It’d be interesting to know if anyone saw me in that!

If you weren't performing, what would you be doing? 

If I wasn't performing, I would most probably be teaching. I'd love to be a Drama/Social Studies teacher.
Jonathan Morgan, in rehearsal with Andrew Patterson.
What's a favourite role that you've played and why? 

My favourite role I have played would be George Hemi Arapeta in Destination Beehive (2014, Circa Theatre). It was my first professional show and I learnt a lot about being in the theatre and about politics. It was amazing working with Lorae Parry and Pinky Agnew, too. They are both very funny and it was great to see how they worked. Highlight: my character performed a reggae/rap song. It was awesome.

What's a role that's you'd love to play and why? 

A role that I would love to play would be 'Simon/Lola' in Kinky Boots. The musical is inspiring, beautiful, and has very catchy music.

What are your plans after Robin Hood

I am considering studying a postgraduate diploma in teaching through Victoria University, but haven't committed yet. (Let's leave this one out, for now ha ha!).
The cast of Robin Hood:  The Pantomime in rehearsal at Circa Theatre.
What’s it like doing the Panto?

Brilliant! We are having so much fun. Rehearsals are hilarious and a lot of laughs. It’s taking a lot of discipline to stop myself from corpsing. Hopefully by the time the show comes around, I’ll be used to the jokes and not find them funny anymore… I seriously doubt it, though!

Roger Hall’s Robin Hood: The Pantomime opens 21 November and runs until 9 January.

10 November 2015

Ian Harman for Ache

Ian Harman
Ache is well into its season and receiving excellent reviews! Many of the audience and reviewers have commented on the sleek design of set and costume by Ian Harman. This week on drama* on the waterfront, Ian talks about his process, working on Ache and what else he has coming up.

“The set on this production was incredible. Versatile, stylish, precise. The execution was impeccable and the entire world enchanting.”
-Rosie Cann, Art Murmurs

“…the most stunning feature is the all-wooden set (Ian Harman). It's beautiful watching Buchanan moving its parts between scenes: the slide of the slatted screen from this side to that, the lattice it makes against the horizontal lines of the backdrop, the harmonious minimalism of tone and material. It's a visual pleasure, essential to the play's character.”
-Lena Fransham, Theatreview

Ian Harman talks about his design:

I was attracted to Ache firstly because I love working with director Lyndee Jane Rutherford (LJ) and then secondly, when I read the script I had an instant connection with the piece. I wanted to design a set for a lighting designer to play with, and something that shifted and changed like the relationships in the play. I was interested in how the lattice would work and how we could use the light to define the spaces. I was thrilled with what Marcus McShane brought to the project.

The Set design for Ache.
As for costume I wanted to work with broad brushstrokes and really let the actors work and the direction shine through.

For the overall design I wanted it to say modern, contemporary, utilitarian, and so hot right now. And I wanted it to feel like a very kiwi interior. I feel we achieved that and I love how it works! Finn our builder finished it beautifully and it works effortlessly.

Renee Lyons and Richard Dey performing on Ian Harman's set for Ache.
Other than Ache, currently I am working on costume for Boys at the Beach at Centrepoint. I am directing, choreographing and designing British Invasion for the Abbey Musical Theatre and Designing, choreographing and performing as my alter ego Mr Lola Illusion in a Christmas Burlesque called Jingle all the Way.

The set design for Ache.

Ache continues at Circa until Saturday 21 November.  Book now: 04 801 7992 or www.circa.co.nz

21 October 2015

Jack Buchanan in Ache

Pip Hall’s Ache opens in Circa Two this weekend. This week on drama* on the waterfront, Debbie Fish talks to actor Jack Buchanan, about his roles in Ache and his love life…

Jack Buchanan (with Renee Lyons in the background) in rehearsal for Ache.
 Q:  Who do you play in Ache?

In Ache I play a number of characters – the foodie, who runs a pop-up restaurant out of his house, I play the cop, the architect, the doctor, and the groom.

Q:  Seeing as Ache focuses a lot on dating and relationships, can you tell us your current relationship status?

In its simplest form: horribly alone! But it’s alright, I’m OK with it. ‘Single’, let’s go with ‘single’.

Q: And are you feeling optimistic, given that statistics about the man drought?

Well I’m feeling a mixture of optimistic, and also "what the f*ck is wrong with me?"  Now that I know there are something like 50,000 more single women than men in New Zealand, or something crazy, I’ve clearly been doing a really bad job if I haven’t found any of them. But technically isn’t the man drought between 25-40? See I’m not 25 yet, so that must be the problem. As soon as I hit 25 I’m sure I’ll have 50,000 women at my door. The problem will be solved.

Jack Buchanan and Amy Usherwood in rehearsal for Ache.
Q: Any stories you’d like to share about dating or relationships?

I’ve only been in two what I would call "serious" relationships. I was in a relationship from the time I was 16 until I was 20. And when I was 20 we broke up, and I kind of realised I didn’t know how to be single. I think when you’re around 18 is when most people figure that out and I missed that. And it was really terrifying and I didn’t know what to do. I think when you’re in a relationship and you’re young, there’s this thing like "if I were single I’m sure people would be all over me, it’d be so easy and I’d be so good at that" and then you become single and that’s just not true.

Q:  Why should people come see Ache?

The reason I like watching it is because Ricky [Dey] and Renée [Lyons] are really, really charming and watching them together is great. I think the play lives or dies on the chemistry of those two characters, and fortunately Ricky and Renee are not just two really great actors, which they are, but they’re two people who make each other laugh a lot. And I think that has really bled into the play in a really nice way. And then of course there’s the ‘we’re all single and alone’ and this is about that. It’s nice not to feel alone in being alone.

Jack Buchanan and Richard Dey in rehearsal for Ache.
Ache runs from 24 October to 21 November in Circa Two. To book, visit, www.circa.co.nz or call the Circa Box Office on 04 801 7992.

12 October 2015

Adventures in Pianoland

This week on drama* on the waterfront, we talk to the "irresistible" Jan Preston about her upcoming show Adventures in Pianoland.  Jan joins us at Circa for one weekend only!  Tickets are selling fast - book now to avoid missing this musical tour de force.

Jan Preston, star of Adventures in Pianoland.
Q:  This new show is an autobiography. What prompted you to write it at this stage of your life?

I’ve been including elements of my autobiography in various performances over the past few years, and it seemed the right time to write and present this show. I talked to Gaylene [Preston; Jan's sister and Director of Adventures in Pianoland] about the idea and she was extremely enthusiastic, although it took a while to find the gap in both our schedules.  I’m extremely excited to finally be premiering the show in Wellington.
Gaylene & Jan Preston
Q:  You trained as a classical pianist but now you are known as a boogie player. How did that transition happen?

It has been a very circuitous route, from studying classical, to playing in Jack Body’s Sonic Circus, to writing theatre music for Red Mole and onto rock songs with Coup D’Etat, before eventually finding my style as a boogie piano player and songwriter. All this is revealed in Adventures in Pianoland!
Gaylene & Jan Preston
Q:  This is the first time your sister Gaylene has directed you although I believe you have composed music for her movies. Has this brought new dynamics to your relationship as sisters? 

We have always been very close, but we tend to keep our personal life separate from our working one. We definitely have a special dynamic when we work together, and I think Gaylene has been directing me, one way or another, since I could walk and talk.
Gaylene Preston, who directs her sister Jan in Adventures in Pianoland.
Q:  Although you frequently come to NZ you are based in Australia. What took you there in the first place?

I originally went to Sydney to get a record contract in 1980, as that was the city many NZ rock musicians (eg Sharon O’Neill, Jenny Morris) were relocating to at that time.

Q:  You are remembered for your band Coup D’Etat  and work with Red Mole. They must have been exciting times?

They were wild times, it was the 1970s and early '80s when the entertainment world was not as regulated as it is now, so collaborations were freer and more chaotic. I include stories and slides about Red Mole and Coup D’Etat in the show.
Jan Preston when she was performing with Coup D'Etat
Q:  This is the premiere season of Adventures in Pianoland and certainly a departure for you with the combination of music and dialogue. Have you enjoyed the challenge it has presented to you?

In my concerts I always like to chat to the audience quite a bit anyway, so it feels quite natural to me to include dialogue.

Q:  Finally – if you were marooned on a desert Island and could take only 3 pieces of music with you, what would you choose?

The most important thing would be to have a piano on the island, so long as I could play I’d be OK, I care more about that than the actual music I would be playing.  If pushed, however, I would take my favourite boogie woogie, The Honky Tonk Train Blues by Meade Lux Lewis, plus some Chopin and maybe a piece of Winifred Atwell Ragtime.
Jan Preston
Adventures is Pianoland is on for three days only!  Thursday 15 - Sat 17 October.
Book now:  www.circa.co.nz or 04 801 7992

05 October 2015

Approaching Janet Frame

This week on drama* on the waterfront, we hear from Harriet Prebble, who plays the role of iconic New Zealand author Janet Frame in Gifted.

Harriet Prebble
The initial hurdle of approaching the role of Janet Frame as an actor was tackling the juxtaposition between mythology and reality. Gifted is told entirely from the point of view of Frank Sargeson, who also serves as the play’s narrator.  Through his eyes we see snapshots of memory: Janet at her highest, her lowest, her most magical, her most inaccessible, her most human, all filtered through Frank’s cycling emotions of curiosity, confusion, jealousy, fear, and admiration.

We are, by necessity, somewhat removed from Janet’s intellectual and emotional inner world, as she wanders in and out of Frank’s recollections.  Finding the internal truth and conviction of the character that underlies the external mysticism is just the sort of challenge I got into acting for.
Harriet Prebble as Janet Frame in the Circa season of Gifted.
There’s a wonderful scene in the play where Frank accuses Janet of “eavesdropping”. Growing up in a writing household, I learnt very quickly that writers border on omniscience: they see all; they hear all. Any anecdote, any colourful character, any turn of phrase is ripe for the plucking.  I love this exploration of the watchfulness of writers, and Janet in particular. Even if they’re shy (or, in fact, especially so) or socially removed and even if they appear to be disinterested or distracted, they’re still taking everything in – wordless exchanges, silly jokes, and even silences – whether as material for their next novel or just pure intrinsic fascination with people and the language they use.

Language is a focal point of the play, and it’s great to be able to take the audience through the fun of words. Wordplay, puns, etymology, patterns, poetry, innuendo – it’s a real chance to delight in something that we so often default to using purely as a tool. I’ve always had a fascination with language (I studied foreign languages at the University of Canterbury and went on to complete a publishing diploma in Wellington) and this play absolutely revels in it at all levels, from lofty literary allusions to Dead Souls right down to the humble fart joke.

This is my first time tip-toeing the boards of Circa, and I’m very proud to present this beautiful tale of our literary history to the audiences of Wellington, the cultural capital of New Zealand.

Gifted opens at Circa Theatre on 10 October, and runs until 31 October.
BOOK NOW:  04 801 7992 or www.circa.co.nz


23 September 2015

Ralph and Hannah

This week on drama* on the waterfront, we're thrilled to have Ralph McCubbin Howell and Hannah Smith of Trick of the Light Theatre at Circa with their award-winning show The Bookbinder.
Ralph and Hannah recover from their sell-out five-star season at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Q. Tell us about The Bookbinder – what can audiences expect?

The Bookbinder is a dark fairytale that will appeal to everyone who enjoyed The Road That Wasn’t There last year. It is an original story set in a bookbinder’s workshop about an apprentice who fails to heed his instructions and finds himself bound in a book.  We wanted to capture the experience of reading, so during the course of the performance the story comes to life.  It’s intimate, engaging and transformative.
Ralph McCubbin Howell performs The Bookbinder.
Q. You’ve just got back from Edinburgh – how was that?

We had an amazing time doing The Bookbinder at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  The Festival is colossal, and we weren’t sure if we’d get lost in the mix, but audiences really responded to the work.  We were sold out every day of the run, received multiple five-star reviews, and were short-listed for an award. It was really cool to be able to show our strange wee New Zealand story to an international audience and to put our work on the world stage.
Ralph McCubbin Howell performs The Bookbinder.
Q. You’ve been performing this show for the last year – what are you looking forward to about the Circa season?

We’ve done 150-odd performances of the show over the last two years, and it will be really nice to come back and do it in our hometown.  Also, we are usually on tour, packing the piece in and out of a theatre space every day.  At Circa we will be in one venue for two weeks, so we are able to transform the space into something really exciting!
The Bookbinder by Trick of the Light Theatre.
The Bookbinder is on at Circa Theatre for the school holidays.  It will delight adults and children alike.  Suitable for children aged 8 and over.
11am and 7.30pm Tuesday-Saturday
4.30pm Sunday
Book online:  www.circa.co.nz
Or call 04 801 7992

15 September 2015

Introducing Errol Anderson

This week on drama* on the waterfront, we meet Errol Anderson.  Errol is tackling his first role at Circa Theatre; he plays the extremely handsome and charming (if totally silent) Daryl in The Travelling Squirrel.
Errol Anderson plays 'Daryl' in The Travelling Squirrel.  Photo by Stephen A'Court.
How has this experience been for you?

If I could describe the experience thus far with one word it would be humbling. I mean, imagine being picked for the starting All Black line-up? One, you must've done something right to get picked and two, you're bound to get on a roll because your playing alongside some of the best. Plus I don't have any lines, which allows me to kick back and appreciate my fellow actors' processes. It has been very grounding and I get to learn something new everyday. It's a hard life!

What other productions have we seen you in around Wellington?

I was very lucky to be involved in 2080 written by Aroha White and directed by Katie Wurahi at BATS Theatre earlier this year. I remember going into the audition room lines learnt, 'dropping a free' (rapping), and it all went quite nicely. My style is pretty raw and loose when it comes to this stuff,  but Katie had my back and smashed me. My performance wouldn't have been where it was without the support and love of Hapai Production, fellow actors Susie Berry, Acushla-Tara Sutton, Nua Finau, and Aroha and Katie. These are some incredible people.
Errol with co-star Claire Waldron in rehearsal for The Travelling Squirrel.  Photo by Tabitha Arthur.
Has theatre always been a passion of yours?

I come from a house of strong and creative people. We're split into either athletes or artisans - both performers, but slightly different stages. I owe my physical discipline and creativity to my father Royce Anderson - 'The Carver' - who trained our minds and bodies to excel when it wanted to give up. Naturally, I leaned toward a career in rugby because I understood it and Raywen Anderson my mother - 'The Backbone' - taught me how to play strategically, and how to cut people in half with tackles that people would come to see. Seeing how proud my parents were sideline would fuel my drive to win. It was only a matter of time until I took these teachings and transcribed them into theatre and film; once my body could no longer take anymore serious injuries. Theatre and film are places where I can share my skills through telling stories.
Errol (front & centre) with the full cast of The Travelling Squirrel.  Photo by Tabitha Arthur.
What are the things your have found most interesting about the The Travelling Squirrel?

It's a quirky tale about how fickle the entertainment industry is and the characters you may run into on this rocky road we call showbiz. What's not to like?

What are your plans following The Travelling Squirrel?

I've recently been cast in the play All Our Sons, written by Witi Ihimaera and directed by Nathaniel Lees, which goes up in Circa Theatre after we close The Travelling Squirrel. I'm really excited to get amongst the team in this production, because I know most of the cast in one way or another and am keen to breathe life into this piece, because it is so close to home.

The Travelling Squirrel is on at Circa Theatre until 2 October.
Book now:  ph 801 7992 or www.circa.co.nz

31 August 2015

Paul Waggott and the Squirrel

The Travelling Squirrel by Robert Lord opens this week at Circa, with actor Paul Waggott playing the lead character, struggling writer Bart. Directed by Susan Wilson, this show is a satirical romantic comedy that follows Bart as he tries to get published and negotiates life with Jane his famous actress wife.  It then asks what happens when the tables turn and he becomes New York's hottest writer and Jane is axed from her soap opera job.

The play depicts a dangerous world in which fame and fortune are always, temptingly, just around the corner. Phillip Mann describes this show of Lord’s as "one of his funniest plays – just as it is also one of the most moving."
Paul Waggott, in rehearsal for The Travelling Squirrel.  Photo by Tabitha Arthur.

To learn more about the show and what the process has been like, we’ve asked Paul Waggott to share his experience of working on this script over the past four weeks.

"Robert Lord was a name I had come across before while I was studying at Victoria University's Theatre Department. I spent many hours in The Robert Lord Library. But this is the first time I've had the opportunity to work on a play by him, and it's been an absolute joy. I remember when I first read the script I was struck by how ageless it seemed. It deals with so many concepts and situations that still ring true today. I could hardly believe it was over twenty years old.
Gavin Rutherford and Paul Waggott in rehearsal for The Travelling Squirrel.  Photo by Tabitha Arthur.
"Bart is such an exciting character to play. As soon as I read the script I felt like I knew who he was, which is a testament to Lord's writing I think. I can empathise with Bart's central struggle: as the play begins he has finally finished writing his first book after five long years. His journey from here takes him through failure, to the depths of despair, out the other side with the promise of fame and fortune and beyond... It's a rollercoaster for the poor man that's for sure. I guess it speaks to me of a central question that all creatives must wrestle with at some point: to sell out or to not sell out? And, what even constitutes selling out? Is it worth holding on desperately to the integrity of your art if no one witnesses it? What if 'selling out' is the only way to get into a position where you can share your true art with the world? Bart doesn't manage to answer this question - I'm not sure it's ever answerable as such - but it sure is a good one to ask.
The cast of The Travelling Squirrel.  Photo by Tabitha Arthur.
"Amidst all the intellectual facets of the play sit some very, very funny moments. The play seems to effortlessly run the gamut from poetic beauty to straight talking real world dialogue; from the interrogation of concepts and ideas to high farce. I'm not sure how Lord managed it but it seems to me he pulled it off. Bart is surrounded by wonderful characters, from soap opera superstar wife Jane, to the life in a New York minute agent Terry, to the hedonistic gossip columnist Wallace and more. There are multiple intersecting love (and lust) triangles that I'm sure we can all see ourselves reflected in to a greater or lesser degree - none of which I shall spoil here. 

"I think what excites me most is that the characters all feel human - heightened maybe at times, but humans, not caricatures. It really is a great script, and a great production - working with the cast has been a dream come true. There's so much talent on and off the stage in this production. I really can't wait to share it with audiences through September. Why don't you make sure you're one of them!"

The Travelling Squirrel opens on Saturday 5 September, and is on at Circa until 2 October.  Book now:  801 7992 or www.circa.co.nz.
Acushla-Tara Sutton and Paul Waggott star in The Travelling Squirrel.  Photo by Tabitha Arthur.

12 August 2015

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This week in drama* on the waterfront, we learn more about writer, doctor and spiritualist, and author of The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

An Old Norfolk Saying... "And a dreadful thing from the cliff did spring, And its wild bark thrill'd around, His eyes had the glow of the fires below, Twas the form of the Spectre Hound"
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Author Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 60 mystery stories with Sherlock Holmes and his loyal assistant Watson. He dreamed of being a serious historical novelist, yet he is best remembered for stories that he considered pot-boilers. He drew on many sources for his stories, and it was during a visit to Sheringham, Norfolk that he learned of the hound, Black Shuck, who is said to be one of the oldest phantoms of Great Britain which inspired him to write The Hound of the Baskervilles. There are many myths, tales, legends and sightings of this monster. Local legend tells of a huge hound, the size of a small calf with blazing eyes, who regularly prowls the coastal path between Sheringham and Overstrand.

The beast is said to track the steps of its victim and anyone unfortunate enough to turn around and meet its fiery gaze is said to die within a twelve month period. The Baskerville name was apparently from a local coach driver, Henry Baskerville, whom Doyle came across during his visit. The old man kept a signed copy of the book's original pressing as a sort of recompense.
Conan Doyle was born in Scotland. When he was nine years old he was sent off to England to a Jesuit Boarding school. It was here he found his flair for storytelling as a way of escape from bullying.

When he left school he decided to pursue a medical degree at the University of Edinburgh. At medical school, he met his mentor, Professor Dr. Joseph Bell, whose keen powers of observation would later inspire him to create his famed, legendary master sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. Doyle’s first publication came in 1879 with The Mystery of Sasassa Valley.  At the same time as writing, he  pursued his studies and went on to become a physician at Southsea, Portsmouth. He eventually gave up medicine to concentrate on his writing career. In a series of stories - starting with A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four - he produced the memorable character, Sherlock Holmes, a detective who relied on facts and evidence rather than chance. In 1891, six Adventures of Sherlock Holmes were published in Strand magazine, with six more appearing the next year. By 1893, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, as the collected stories were now called, was a huge hit. Doyle however, wanted to concentrate on a more serious writing career and as he was somewhat tired of Sherlock Holmes he decided to kill him off.  As a result he wrote The Adventure of the Final Problem, in which Holmes and his arch enemy, Moriarty find themselves at the end of an intense pursuit, up on the top of the Reichenbach Falls in the Swiss Alps. This encounter ends with both of them apparently falling to their deaths.
Homes and Moriarty firghting at the Reichenbach Falls.  Illustration by Sidney Paget.
However, due to public outrage and financial pressures he was compelled to continue writing the Sherlock Holmes stories. The first to follow on from The Adventure of the Final Problem was The Hound of the Baskervilles, which remains today one of the most famous and popular of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
William Kircher as Sherlock Holmes in the current Circa production of The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Photo by Stephen A'Court

Around the time he obtained his medical degree, Conan Doyle’s renounced his Catholicism and turned away from organised religion.  He began to attend séances and by the end of his life he had become an ardent spiritualist.

On one level, his was the story of a lapsed Roman Catholic troubled by an alcoholic father and never quite able to cast off his sense of the supernatural; on another it was the intellectual journey of an inquisitive man, dissatisfied with Victorian materialism but intent on using its tools to examine alternative forms of consciousness. His brother died in WW1 and his son died of ‘flu during the great epidemic round the same time, thus adding to the fervor of his convictions. This was also a time when orthodox religion was giving way to Darwin and science.
Conan Doyle died in Windlesham, his home in Crowborough, Sussex, and at his funeral his family and members of the spiritualist community celebrated rather than mourned the occasion. On July 13 1930, thousands of people filled London’s Royal Albert Hall for a séance during which Estelle Roberts, the spiritualist medium, claimed to have contacted Sir Arthur.

In 1902, Arthur Conan Doyle was knighted by King Edward VII. It was not for having created Sherlock Holmes, but for his writing a non-fiction work about the Boer War. However, his legacy remains with the amazing Sherlock Holmes stories.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is on at Circa Theatre until 29 August.  Book online at www.circa.co.nz or by phone on 04 801 7992.

11 August 2015

Julie OBrien Improvises

Ask Julie O’Brien if she thought she’d ever perform in a totally non-scripted, unrehearsed show where the audience dictates the storyline and the answer would be a definite "never".

Most recently seen as Donna in Wellington Musical Theatre’s 2014 production of Mamma Mia, Julie’s career spans over thirty years. She is totally at home on the stage, but improvisation is a very different experience.

"Improv has definitely taken me out of my comfort zone", she says, "I’ve always worked with a script and a director and had weeks of rehearsal, but I’m absolutely loving this new challenge."
Julie stars as Donna in Mamma Mia.  Photo by Russell Dixon.
Born and bred in Wellington, O’Brien has worked in New York, Britain, New Zealand and Australia appearing in shows as diverse as Chess, Evita, The New Rocky Horror Show, Grease, Hairspray, Anything Goes, The Pirates of Penzance and Oliver. Julie was an original Australian cast member of ‘The Witches of Eastwick’, and received personal praise from Cameron Mackintosh when she played several performances in the role of Felicia, for which she was first understudy.

Before returning to NZ in 2005, Julie played the role of Rosie Greenwich in Leader Of The Pack, at Crown Casino, Melbourne.

In 2006, she took up the position of Course Coordinator of Musical Theatre for the Two Year Diploma course at The Wellington Performing Arts Centre (now Whitireia Performance Centre).

In Wellington, Julie has played the roles of Little Becky Two Shoes in the Downstage production of Urinetown, Mari Hoff in Stagecraft Theatre’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, and Velma von Tussle in Hairspray for Wellington Musical Theatre.
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.  Photo by Jared Pallesen.
In 2012, she became a member of The Improvisors when they were contracted to undertake two of the largest training programmes ever to be run in New Zealand. "We rolled out the re-branding of Z energy to all employees in every Shell Service station throughout the country."  A year later, due to the overwhelming success of the Z Energy project, The Improvisors were asked to develop an HR programme for The Warehouse. ‘Love Your Customer' was a half-day programme for 15 – 20 participants hosted by a team of three Improvisors. It was run nationwide in 18 centres delivering to 5000 team members over ten weeks.  "It was very intense but a great experience", she says.

It wasn’t until earlier this year that O’Brien finally plucked up the courage to do Theatresports. "It’s a challenge and you definitely have to have your wits about you. The audience is primarily in charge of what we perform. We don’t know what the audience is going to throw at us, so it certainly keeps us on our toes."

Downton Aldib is different again from the format of Theatresports. Described as long form, a new episode is created at every performance. And with one show down and eight more to go, O’Brien is looking forward to seeing how it develops. "Each night, we supply the characters, the audience supplies the key plot ingredients and the result is costume drama as you’ve never seen it before and will never see again," she says. "The feedback from Sunday night’s audience was amazing. They were really engaged and after the show, people were already talking about coming back."
Julie O'Brien stars in DOWNTON AdLib, on now at Circa Theatre.

DOWNTON AdLib is on now at Circa Theatre, every Sunday night at 7pm until 27 September.  Book online at www.circa.co.nz or by phone 04 801-7992.

23 July 2015

Bizarre and Brilliant

The Young and Hungry Arts Trust Ambassadors are a group of keen bean Year 12 & 13 students, who attend shows at Circa and others theatres throughout the year and write reviews.  They joined us at The Ugly One on Tuesday night.  Here is a review from Eva Poland.

Reviewed by Eva Poland, Chilton St James School.

Simultaneously one of the most bizarre and one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen, Circa’s production of The Ugly One is deeply haunting from its slow start to sudden dramatic finish.

The play tells the story of Lette, a plug-inventor at a large corporation who is denied the right to present his product at a convention after being told that he is incredibly ugly. When this is confirmed by his wife and friends, Lette eventually becomes so disturbed that he opts to have a total face re-shaping from a plastic surgeon. This causes a radical change in Lette’s life; suddenly he is loved by everyone and paid a much higher amount of money than he was before.

Throughout the production four actors are used to play seven key characters, with the actors never leaving stage and no transitions between scenes. This can be rather confusing at first but not to the detriment of the storyline, the actors handle the task smoothly and all of them are equally accomplished in playing their roles.

By far one of the most effective aspects of the show was the script, which is sharp, honest and almost unbearably clever. Thankfully the director has been kind enough to not overcrowd it with complicated action or scene changes, and the humour of the writing shines through. If anything, the unusual structure of the play adds to the effect of isolating the audience and making them question the morals of our society and whether or not the amount of importance we place upon beauty can be justified.

The set was another factor that contributed to the frank, unfiltered genius of The Ugly Ones. A stark, simple, grey and familiar looking “office”-type setup was plausible when it doubled as a house, an hotel, a convention stage and even a rooftop. Lighting and sound were minimal, drawing the focus toward the acting and storyline.

Overall The Ugly One is a funny and thought-provoking play, both brilliantly performed and directed. The most poignant and most terrifying scene is perhaps the last, a scene that more than any other encouraged the audience to think about not only our love for beauty, but our love for ourselves. The last moment of the play sees the audience witness a passionate kiss, preceded by Lette meeting an old friend of his who was so taken by Lette’s new face that he decided to have it recreated on his own head. “It’s me,” Lette gasps, “I’ve finally found you… me.”

The Ugly One is on at Circa until 8 August.

BOOK NOW at Circa Theatre  801-7992 / www.circa.co.nz

20 July 2015

From Hobbit to Holmes

Following his lead cast role as Bifur the Dwarf in The Hobbit trilogy of movies, William Kircher returns to the stage after a 20 year absence with The Hound of the Baskervilles.  This week in drama* on the waterfront, William talks to Colleen McColl about Bifur, Sir Peter Jackson, the joy of being back on stage.
William Kircher as Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles.  Photo by Stephen A'Court.
Q:  You have recently been seen in The Hobbit movie trilogy playing Bifur the Dwarf which must have been very rewarding. How did you prepare for the role? And what were the highlights and challenges of working with Sir Peter Jackson? 

A:  Pretty much as soon as I signed off on the contract, which was around six months before we began principal photography, the production arranged a top personal trainer at one of the most prestigious gyms in Wellington.  I trained very hard!  Then for ten weeks the main cast came together for a 'boot camp'.  We trained everyday in a diverse range of skills including body movement, dialogue, weaponry, horse riding, stunt fighting, dialogue, improvisation, teamwork... it was a very intense and rewarding experience. Almost like going back to Drama School! Peter Jackson is a fantastic "Actors' Director". He is a creative genius, who has a definite vision for his art, and yet remains open to suggestions and ideas from his actors. He is very respectful of the actors craft and it was an incredible honour to be chosen to be part of a team that worked with one of the greatest film directors in the world for over three years! 
William as Bifur in The Hobbit.
Q:  Has appearing in these movies impacted on your career? 

A:  Being in the films has opened doors all over the world for me. It has enabled me to take my acting career to an international level.

Q:  Twenty years ago you were in Brilliant Lies also directed by Ross Jolly. It must be interesting to be back working with someone after all this time? 

A:  Ross has always been one of my favourite Directors and it is very fitting that my first project back on stage after all this time is with Ross at the helm. He has put together an amazing cast and I am loving every single second of the rehearsal period. It is like a family reunion for me. It is so great to be back working at Circa!

William on stage on Brilliant Lies.
Q:  This is the first time in twenty years you have appeared on stage. Apart from The Hobbit movies, what have you been up to?

A:  I have always stayed in the creative industries, but in the late 90s I concentrated more on television and film acting. Then I moved away from acting for several years and worked in the corporate side of the screen business. I worked as a Producer with Cloud 9 Screen Entertainment. In the meantime I also worked with Nicole, my wife, at her talent agency Possum Talent. I wrote and directed some theatre, plus many comedy dinner shows, and I developed my singing career with our 60s vocal group The California Dreamers. We also were hard at work bringing up our family!
William and his wife Nicole at the World Premiere of The Hobbit at the Odeon Theatre in London.

Q:  Had you read Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories before you began working on this production and in particular The Hound of the Baskervilles

A:  Yes... read quite a bit of Conan Doyle when I was a younger and The Hound of the Baskervilles was always a major favourite!

Q:  It would be hard to ignore all the influences from actors playing Sherlock Holmes. Is there an actor you have seen in the role of Sherlock that you have admired and has it influenced your interpretation in any way?

A:  No actor in particular has influenced me.... in fact you can say that ALL the actors I have seen playing this role have influenced me.

Q:  This is a very different way of playing this story with four actors playing all the many roles. Has that brought challenges for you?

A:  The style of this show is wonderfully theatrical... and yes, all the actors play diverse roles. I love this, as it takes a great deal of craft and skill to bring these roles to life. Many years ago I was in a major hit show titled Bouncers that utilised exactly the same technique. Bouncers was a massive hit at all around the country and this culminated with a sell-out season at Circa that then shifted to the Opera House! So this style is not new to me... it is true 'Theatre' and I am thoroughly enjoying the challenge of working in this way once more.

Q:  Last year was very busy and successful for you. What were some of the highlights? 

A:  Throughout the year I got to work all around the world in Germany, Sweden, London, America and Australia.... then in December I was in Hollywood walking the Red Carpet at the Dolby Theatre for the premiere of the final Hobbit film. What a fantastic adventure... and I count myself very, very fortunate!

Q:  What is the favourite role you have ever played and why? 

A:  Well, of course, apart from playing Bifur in The Hobbit trilogy... I have to say Sherlock Holmes. Because as an actor, you are only as good as your next role!

Q:  And one that is an ambition to play? 

Sherlock Holmes! And maybe the villain in a James Bond movie!

The Hound of the Baskervilles opens Saturday 25 July 2015.  BOOK NOW:  phone 04 801 7992 or online at www.circa.co.nz
William with his Hound of the Baskervilles cast mates (from left to right) Nigel Collins, Gavin Rutherford and Andrew Foster.  Photo by Stephen A'Court.

08 July 2015

Young, Hungry and Beautiful

The Young and Hungry Arts Trust Ambassadors are a group of keen bean Year 12 & 13 students, who attend shows at Circa and others theatres throughout the year and write reviews.  They joined us at the beautiful ones on Tuesday night.  Here are two of the reviews for you to enjoy!

Reviewed by Maddy Reese, St Catherine’s College

An enthralling marriage of singing, dance and drama, the beautiful ones is an immersive story which plunges audiences into the hyper-real scene of midnight techno clubs. Lead character Ihia is a lovestruck member of a club’s dance crew, pining away for his lover Hana, who left him many months ago. However her sudden return sets in motion a string of events that threaten to tear them apart again… or possibly reunite them forever. Interspersed with utterly incredible dance sequences, musical numbers and projected light shows, this drama is unlike any other production I have seen before. 

Writer and director Hone Kouka expressed that his ambition for this production was to essentially create eight music videos spliced together with a simple-but-effective plotline in between. This ambition could not have been more perfectly realized, as the drama was convincingly suspenseful and the dance numbers were captivating to watch. I – as a fellow dancer – felt a longing to take to the stage with them. However, when this wish actually came to fruition, I was quite surprised. The involvement of the audience was a previously un-experienced phenomenon; the last thing people expected was for the performers to take their hands, pull them out of the audience and onto the dance floor, during one of the more charismatic musical numbers. This involvement proved to be an incredibly invigorating aspect of the show – now we were able to form a palpable connection with the drama and actors onstage, and it was one of the most fun parts of the whole performance. Pair this with music that all but moves your body for you, and one has a sure-fire method of giving audiences the best stage experience possible.

the beautiful ones is an eloquent combination of set design, musical incorporation and all three aspects of theatre: song, dance and acting. Easily one of the most innovative, successful and exciting productions I have seen this year. It demands you to involve yourself in your entirety: not only mind and body are required, but heart and soul as well. In return, the beautiful ones gives you everything back, rewarding you for its demands. This drama will leave half of your soul on the stage even as you walk out of the theatre.

the beautiful ones - on at Circa until Saturday 11 July


Reviewed by Yasmin Yumul of St Mary’s College
Projections of street scenes, graffiti, rugged walls kick-started the performance which later on evolved to Maori patterns, nature scenes and interiors. Disco coloured lighting frolicked the dark stage. This ominous atmosphere and the characters’ sensuous costume commanded attention. It was a consistent atmosphere that unified the performance. 

Although the show was modern, it kept a Maori motif which made a direct connection to a lot of the character’s ethnicities and the marginalised theme of the show.

The actors had great stage presence as they dominated the floor, the air space and the corners of Circa theatre. It was a delight to watch every dance number, particularly Ihia’s performance as he longed for his lover Hana. Emotion was evident in every movement of his muscles.

The music was at times contemporary topped off with some sick beats.

There were smooth transitions between dance numbers, the music was fluid and so was the lighting. However, the transitions between scenes seemed protracted and gave the impression of ‘technical difficulties.’

The inclusion of the audience in the performance was excellent. An inviting hand from the characters to hop onto their sexy enigmatic world and groove into Ardie’s voice cemented a bond between the two ecospheres (reality and fiction). 

Passion, intensity and flair were palpable in the characters’ dancing. However, it was not only the dancing that engaged the audience’s attention. It was also their personalities; Ardie’s suave attitude, Juju’s cheekiness, Kotiro’s relatability. The fact that the characters’ had their own distinct movements and mannerisms that continued even in moments when they were not the main spectacle of the scene heightened the show’s professionalism. 

The dialogue between characters was ineffective through most of the show as it became lost in the atmosphere.

The show revolved around Ihia waiting for his lover Hana to come back. The plot was not executed well. The revelation of the twist was poor as there was little involvement, reactions from the main characters (i.e. Ihia, Hana) and it seemed to have been disregarded too easily. In addition to this, the plot itself seemed to be 2-dimensional, predictable, there was no depth or breadth achieved in the exploration of the love story. It was a surface plot about a boy waiting for a girl.

Overall, however I would moderately recommend it. It is a stimulating, and wonderful treat for the eyes and those that adore dance.

the beautiful ones is on at Circa until Saturday 11 July.

07 July 2015

The incredible Lyndee-Jane Rutherford

Lyndee-Jane is a well-known face around Circa Theatre, next on stage with The Ugly One (opening Saturday 11 July). But, do we really know all of the incredible things this talented woman has done?  This week on drama* on the waterfront, we take an in-depth look at the force that is Lyndee-Jane Rutherford.

That face!  Lyndee-Jane Rutherford.
Originally from Feilding, Lyndee-Jane has worked extensively as both an actor and a director in theatre and television since graduating from Toi Whakaari/New Zealand Drama School in 1993. She has performed in over fifty professional theatre productions, including Who Wants to be 100?, Troy the Musical, Calendar Girls and In Flame, for which she was nominated for Chapman Tripp Actress of the Year in 2003.

She was also nominated for Supporting Actress of the Year for both The Hollow Men in 2008 and Mauritius and 2010. In 2010 she toured nationally with Geraldine Brophy and Pinky Agnew with Grumpy Old Women and again in 2011 with their own play, Party Girls.
Lyndee-Jane, photographed by Paul McLaughlin

Lyndee-Jane is also a well respected director, having led successful productions at professional theatres across the country.  She directed A Shaggy Dog Story, Who Wants to Be 100? and Penalties, Pints and Pirouettes at Palmerston North’s Centrepoint Theatre, and Love Puke, Becoming the Courtesan and Hamlet Dies at the End at BATS Theatre in Wellington. She won the Chapman Tripp Theatre Award for Most Promising Director in 2006 with her production of Love Puke and was proud to have directed the Capital E National Theatre for Children production of Songs of the Sea that toured NZ and Australia. Lyndee-Jane has also enjoyed directing a number of student musical productions for Toi Whakaari/New Zealand Drama School, Whitireia and in 2009 she directed the sell-out smash Young and Hungry hit, Sit On It.

Lyndee-Jane is often recognised for her roles in television series such as Skitz, The Semisis, Telly Laughs, What Now TV, The Hothouse and the pre-school sketch comedy show Giggles. She directed the third season of Giggles (TVNZ Kidzone) and has also directed various field-stories for The Erin Simpson Show, What Now and The 4.30 Show.

In 2013 Lyndee-Jane directed two productions at Circa Theatre, The ImpoSTAR and the hugely successful Midsummer – A Play with Songs, for which she was nominated for Director of the Year at the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards.

She also acted in Shop ‘Til You Drop at Centrepoint Theatre and directed Miss Bronte in Melbourne for the Adelaide Fringe Festival. Early last year she directed a new season of the “triumphant” Miss Bronte at Circa Theatre.

Paul Waggott and Lyndee-Jane Rutherford in rehearsal for The Ugly One.  Photo by Tabitha Arthur.
Lyndee-Jane is also on the Circa Council, a board of experienced theatre professionals who run this theatre. 

In the middle of 2014, Lyndee-Jane directed Grease for Wellington Musical Theatre and was thrilled to be invited back to direct Mamma Mia.

Her most recent project was the Broadway musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood, right here at Circa. This "wild, funny and frivolous spectacle" (Theatreview) was one of the most ambitious projects Circa has undertaken in its 40-year history.

Lyndee-Jane says she is "very excited to be back on the Circa Two stage with a fantastic cast, crew and a play that will be fun and entertaining."

Lyndee-Jane plays 'Fanny' in The Ugle One.  Photo by Tabitha Arthur.

Text UGLY to 3920 to be in the draw to win!

Don't forget you still have a chance to enter The Breeze ‘Embrace Your Inner Beauty’ giveaway.

This prize pack for two is valued at over $900 and includes:

•    2 tickets to the NZ Premiere of The Ugly One at Circa Theatre on 11 July, followed by drinks and nibbles;
•    A voucher for Encore Restaurant at Circa Theatre to spend on anything you want: dinner before the show, desert and coffee or even a nightcap;
•    A ‘Staying in Touch’ massage for two from East Day Spa;
•    A week of free yoga and trx classes for two from Empower Yoga. Plus if you love it (which you will) you can grab yourself and your buddy a great reduced rate for future classes;
•    The entire Tailor Skincare range. Tailor is a Wellington based, NZ made, organic skincare range and is a wonderful alternative to the harsh products on most shelves today;
•    A beautiful gift basket full of health and beauty supplements, among other exciting goodies, from Hardy’s Health Store Lambton Square.

The Ugly One is on at Circa from 11 July – 8 August.

BOOK NOW at Circa Theatre  801-7992 / www.circa.co.nz

30 June 2015

following your passion

This week in drama* on the waterfront, we hear from Scotty Cotter about a typical day in rehearsal of the beautiful ones – following your passion! 

Scotty Cotter, currently starring in the beautiful ones
The rehearsal day normally starts at 9.30am, everybody comes in rugged up in clothing due to the cold weather that has hit Wellington. (I’m from Auckland and as you can tell I fear the cold, TYPICAL!)

Dolina Wehipeihana, the choreographer, starts the music and it’s all on. Muscle and bone for a hour. This consists of  stretching, moving, rolling on the ground, body conditioning, figuring out how you get your left foot in front of your right, how to leap gracefully without feeling like a fat hippo. I successfully pass warm up!

The room is now hot and everyone has shed their winter layers, including socks, and are now to the basic shorts and t-shirts. From there we head into working over one of the dance sets. Detailing and cleaning each move and lift and figuring out how we do this seamlessly. I find myself lifting a lot of people. I feel like the Hulk! This makes me smile. The room is fueled with determination to get each point right, but also filled with a lot of laughter. I walk over to Sandip, who plays Sachin, to have a pretend wrestle with him. He taps out. I win. We work on the choreography till lunch time. By this time we are all sweating and having fun. I have passed the morning. Time for lunch.
Lunch normally starts with us all skulling back water to keep hydrated then rugging back up to fight the cold. Normally we're all still warm so just chuck on a hoody or a jacket. The Circa balcony has the best view of the waterfront, if you ever get a chance to see the rehearsal rooms you’ll see the balcony. You can see right to the ranges on a clear day and when it’s sunny its the most epic view. We all figure out what we are having for lunch cause by this point we are starving! This cast loves to eat – it’s great!
After lunch we are into the acting side of the mahi. Braedyn and Sharn, who play Juju and Ardie, are working on their scene with the director Hone Kouka. Braedyn is cracking me up and I think to myself he is someone we should all keep our eye on. He has a natural instinct when he performs and he has a bright future in the arts. From the side of my eye I spot Sharn doing the splits, he is an amazing dancer. I somehow find myself signing up to the splits challenge where at the end of the season I would be able due to me stretching everyday, do the splits. I’ll keep you updated on how that goes.

The rest of the ‘youngins’ leap up on the floor to work on the scene. Te hau and Paige who play Vaine and Lil Paulina are part of that crew. These two are our wahine force! They both effortlessly draw your attention, both amazing dancers in their own right. I like rehearsing with this crew we have a instant complicité.

Kali Kopae walks in with her baby Willow. The whole room stops and makes baby noises and faces towards the baby for a couple of minutes then we are all back into rehearsal. After the youngins have finish their scene we find out that we have the music for a song that Kali sings produced by K*saba and composed and written by Tama Waipara and Kali Kopae. See starts to sing along. Her voice is a formidable. I’m glad she’s my mate so that I can tell people how flash she is. She tells me to shut up and then we laugh at each other. It’s fun to work with her again.

Manny Solomon, who plays Ihia, gets up and dances to K*Saba's track. I like this kid. He’s got spark. He knows how to hold a stage. I appreciate that. I find myself trying to hug Te Hau so that I can get her into a playful headlock she is already on to my tricks and try's to get me in one. We make a truce then crack up.

Besides all the fun. We work hard. Which is why I love making theatre. Work shouldn’t be boring. For me following your passion and being excited about what you do is why I am involved in the arts. Having fun creating, imagining, telling stories, allowing the audience to dream and self reflect. That is why I make theatre. To share time and transport the audience to another place.

SO COME AND CHECK OUT THIS SHOW!!!! Dust off all your old dance moves and bring them along. the beautiful ones is an exiting visual tapestry that will have you shaking and grooving in your seats.

See you all there!

Scotty Cotter

the beautiful ones is on at Circa Theatre until 11 July, the last production in the inaugural Ahi Kaa AK Festival.
Book now at 04 801 7992 or www.circa.co.nz

View the beautiful ones trailer on Youtube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTKXhFCHkMI