Updated: Apr 15, 2019
When I first became interested in going to the theatre as an adolescent in the early ‘70s, New Zealand plays were fairly thin on the ground. One of the first I can remember going to see was by Dean Parker. I don’t recall the name of the play, and a Google search hasn’t shed any light on it. I think I enjoyed it, though about all I can remember from it is an anecdote about a guy whose virility was such that he could, even with several wet towels draped over his member, maintain an impressive erection.
Another play I saw about that time was the musical Mr King Hongi, which was on at the Mercury. Again, I can’t find any info. I didn’t like it much – I wasn’t a fan of musicals back in the day. My most abiding memory of the play was my father, unhinged by an acromonious separation with my mother, chewing on the programme and flicking the resulting spit-wads at a hapless university colleague who was sitting a few rows in front of us.
All of which which says more about my fraught adolescence than it does about New Zealand plays of the early seventies!
Then there was Roger Hall. Glide Time burst forth in the mid-seventies … and the popular New Zealand stage comedy was born. Roger did have his contemporaries. Joe Musaphia comes to mind – with his play Mothers and Fathers among others. And I need to mention Mervyn Thompson who by then had been going it alone for many years. Hardly a comic writer, his plays were tub-thumpingly didactic, but for all that had an urgency and power that made them memorable theatrical experiences.
Roger remained the king of New Zealand comedy until his supremacy was briefly challenged by, well, us. Anthony Mccarten and I wrote Ladies Night, which premiered at the Mercury in 1987 and was produced all over New Zealand until the mid-nineties. Anthony went on to write a succession of popular comedies – Weed, Via Satellite, Let’s Spend the Night Together – while I wrote The Sex Fiend with Danny Mulheron.
But after a few years Anthony shifted his focus to novels and film scripts, while my plays – with the exception of The Bach – became too serious and/or eccentric for me to pose any further threat to Roger’s dominion over New Zealand stage comedy. He continues to reign supreme to this day.