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New Zealand Plays – Highlights

Updated: Apr 16, 2019

I’ve been thinking about what New Zealand plays have excited and moved me over the years. Here are some thoughts, in no particular sequence:

Have Car Will Travel by Mitch Tawhi Thomas was a slap in the chops and a wake-up call. If New Zealand theatre can be this exciting and visceral – what are the rest of us doing?

And I enjoyed Briar Grace Smith’s Nga Pou Wahine … not one of her most celebrated plays – but the only one I’ve seen!

Over the years, there’s been many treats. I enjoyed many of the plays I saw in Wellington in the years when I lived there. Colin McColl’s take on Webster’s Duchess of Malfi … okay it wasn’t a New Zealand play – but he had a distinctly NewZild take on it.

James Beaumont created the most exciting theatre in Wellington in the ‘80s, kicking off with the glorious Wild Cabbage … and following that up with a succession of brilliant gothic/expressionist extravaganzas – not least his stage version of Tenessee Williams’ screen play Baby Doll. Actors complained about how demanding he was, but he delivered the goods. And – surprise surprise – they kept working with him.

I have never understood why James didn’t persevere with stage shows. I remember there was a disappointing staging of a classic at the Watershed in Auckland years later … but can one failure really shut down an artist of this calibre permanently? In hindsight he was the one theatre practitioner who created a body of work that was unique, vital, with a consistent poetic flair all of its own. He made an important contribution to our cultural life.

Other seminal New Zealand plays, in my humble estimation …

We better include Forskin’s Lament here. Not as great as people proclaimed, but significant nevertheless. A tough uncompromising, if verbose, look at rugger culture and its impact on the wider New Zealand community.

And the New Zealand plays written by yours truly? The Bach and The Bellbird seemed to register with theatre-goers … Drawer of Knives I consider my most original play, staged at Circa in 2006 by Danny Mulheron … and yet to set the world alight. What’s the matter with everyone … or is there something wrong with me?!

But hell, I’ll grab whatever kudos I can – even if it’s self-generated!

More highlights of New Zealand plays to follow …

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