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Written by Robert Lord
Directed by Susan Wilson
This outstanding award-winning New Zealand play returns to celebrate Circa’s 40th birthday Anniversary.
“What do you have if you don’t have family?”
“Peace of Mind?”
How to survive the train wreck that can be Christmas with the family is skilfully chronicled by playwright Robert Lord in Joyful & Triumphant.
The play spans forty years of Christmas Days in the lives of the small-town Bishop Family, as they struggle and cavil and cuddle. Beginning early morning Christmas Day 1949, it moves logically in time through subsequent Christmas Days of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, to conclude late evening Christmas Day 1989.
Circa first produced Joyful & Triumphant in 1992, in the original theatre on Harris Street. It was commissioned by Circa and premiered as part of the Wellington Arts Festival (now the New Zealand Festival), directed by Susan Wilson. It was a sell-out success, winning awards in the Festival as well as the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards for Production of the Year, Director of the Year, and New Zealand Playwright of the Year.
This original production went on to tour New Zealand before heading overseas to Australia and London. We are delighted to be bringing it back to Circa as part of the special birthday celebrations and very excited that Susan Wilson will again be directing. The 2016 season is made possible due to the generous support of Peter & Mary Biggs.
Proudly supported by Peter Biggs CNZM and Mary Biggs.
With thanks to Playmarket New Zealand.
2 April – 7 May 2016
6.30pm – Tuesdays & Wednesdays
8pm – Thursday to Saturday
4pm – Sunday matinee
$25 Preview – Friday 1 April
$25 Matinee – Sunday 3 April
$38 Senior and Students
$33 Friends of Circa (until 17 April)
$25 under 25s
$39 groups 6+
$36 Groups 20+
$25 Preview – Friday 1 April
$25 Matinee – Sunday 3 April
Reservations can be made by calling the Box Office ph. 04 801 7992.
From the original cast from the 1992 production, we are delighted that Jane Waddell, Catherine Downes and Michele Amas will return to play different roles for the 2016 season.
Peter Hambleton joins this outstanding cast.
RICH IN INSIGHT, HUMOUR AND PATHOS
Reviewed by John Smythe, 3 April 2016
By interval I’m thinking how extraordinary it is that such ordinary lives can be so engaging. By the end I am astonished that so much of New Zealand’s social history has, incidentally, seeped into this journey through 40 years of one family’s domestic history, distilled into eight phases of Christmas Day circa 1949, ’57, ’61, ’68, ’72, ’78, ’81, ’89. ‘An incidental epic’ is the ideal descriptor for Robert Lord’s Joyful and Triumphant.
When the play premiered to great acclaim in 1992 – winning Playwright, Production and Director of the Year, and touring throughout New Zealand as well as to Adelaide, Sydney and London – its value in encapsulating four decades of social change in post-war New Zealand was clear. No-one knew back then that it also brought us to the brink of the Internet Age, thus defining a discrete historical era.
I heartily recommend it, therefore, to people in their twenties as well as those who recall some or all of the times depicted. Lord’s generation (and mine) was that of the youngest character depicted on stage and her (offstage) brother. He was exploring our parents’ and grandparents’ lives, and putting ours in context.
The creative and technical challenges set by Joyful and Triumphant require professional skills with the ego-free maturity to serve the work with empathy, compassion and subtlety. This Circa team, with original director Susan Wilson at the helm, delivers that in abundance.
In a thrust space, subtly lit by Marcus McShane, set designer John Hodgkins places the Bishops’ unchanging (apart from the new-fangled radiogram they get in 1961) dining room furniture beneath an oblong frame from which the red and green crepe-paper chain streamers are hung. Offstage noises evoke the kitchen; imagined windows give views of the garden and their world becomes as real as the many other characters we never see, be they family, friends or otherwise.
Sheila Horton’s costume designs, augmented by very realistic wigs for the women styled by Vicky Krothroulas, are superbly eloquent in depicting the changing times and fortunes of the characters without falling into the trap of being a fashion parade. They accurately reflect the Christmas Day clothing choices of a working class Kiwi couple, their stuck-at-home daughter, their eventually upwardly-mobile son and his frustrated wife, their counter-culture granddaughter and the middle-class National Party-voting next-door neighbour.
It seems to be a style choice that each character is initially presented in a broad, almost cartoon sketch form that is gradually filled-in to become a compellingly realistic portrait. This reflects the way Lord’s archetypal characters grow into relatively complex individuals as life brings them into clearer focus and we come to know them better.
It all evolves so naturally that it takes a moment of objective thought to appreciate how skilfully their stories and relationships develop within the cleverly-structured narrative, with not a syllable out-of-pace in the deftly-crafted dialogue. All seven actors come to inhabit their roles and wear their aging with such conviction it would be all too easy to take them for granted.
As Lyla Bishop, Jane Waddell epitomises the dedicated housewife and mother whose world is her husband and family; for whom a gravy stain on the table cloth is a disaster. Intriguingly it takes a change in her circumstances (I won’t reveal what) to reveal her true thoughts and feelings, albeit in a relatively abstract form.
Michele Amas’s unmarried Librarian daughter, Rose, whose fiancé didn’t return from the war, becomes more and more poignant as the years roll by and her entrenchment in the thankless role of caregiver deepens. The changing attitudes to her highly successful Percy Piwaka children’s stories offer an especially insightful – and therefore amusing – commentary on our cultural perceptions, values and neuroses.
The dyed-in-the-wool Tory neighbour Alice Warner, compulsively given to one-upmanship, is impeccably irritating yet heart-warming in the persona of Catherine Downes. As with all of them she lives the character and leaves us to pass judgement or otherwise, as we please.
The proud working man (an adult lifetime with the Railways), staunch Labour voter, almost abusively judgmental father, of his son especially, and (eventually) perversely doting great-grandfather, George Bishop, is a role relished by Peter Hambleton. He speaks for many as his beloved working people’s party betrays its founding principles – but who does he end up dancing with?
George and Lyla’s son Ted takes a while to find his feet career-wise, and even when he does he disappoints his father. Gavin Rutherford ensures we see past the brash façade to the lost soul Ted becomes despite his material success.
As Ted’s wife Brenda, Katherine McRae navigates her progression from disappointed wife through highly critical mother to reinvented professional woman with total conviction. This is a very welcome return to the stage for McRae, after many years away.
Lyndee-Jane Rutherford takes Ted and Brenda’s daughter Raewyn through choices and experiences that epitomise the Cultural Revolution, compelling our empathy in spite – or maybe because of – her compulsion to learn things the hard way.
I concur with a number of people who say, afterwards, they felt more moved by the play this time round than they were back in ’92. Rich in insight, humour and pathos, this consummate production of Joyful and Triumphant proves its status as a Kiwi Classic.
Robert Lord – who tragically died before the play’s premiere season – played with a number of genres in his too-short but prolific career. While ‘living the dream’ in New York, his wicked eye for observational character comedy was proved in The Travelling Squirrel, directed by Susan Wilson for Circa last year. But his best work, in my opinion, is in such poignant Kiwi domestic comedies as Bert and Maisy (1986, also directed by Wilson) and Joyful and Triumphant.
Footnote: In the original production Jane Waddell played Rose, Catherine Downes played Brenda and Michele Amas played Raewyn. All were memorable then and it is a mark of their talents that they claim these new roles with equal conviction.
Reviewed by Laurie Atkinson, 3 April 2016.
Robert Lord’s best, funniest and most moving play is subtitled “An Incidental Epic”. It explores the stresses and strains of family relationships as time passes quickly by and events far away in other parts of the country and the world change the way things have always been in cosy rural middle-class Pakeha New Zealand.
And what better time to explore the Bishop family than during the ritual of the Christmas Day dinner, which is spread epic-like over eight Christmas Days from 1949 to 1989 with the preparation of the meal on a scorching summer’s day to the clearing of the table at the end of the day.
As the daughter Rose (Michelle Amas) says “Christmas is supposed to be a family thing … Everyone’s miserable”. She is probably at the time the most miserable “dreaming of marriage and a life of her own”.
Her brother Ted (Gavin Rutherford) is a no-hoper and uneasily married to Brenda (Kathryn McRae).
George (Peter Hambleton) is a died-in-the-wool Labour supporter having worked in the railways for 40 years and Lyla (Jane Waddell) is the matriarch who runs the household according to tradition so that all Christmas dinners must be roasts whatever the temperature.
But despite the misery the play is very funny and it becomes clear, particularly through the character of Raewyn (Lyndee-Jane Rutherford), the rebellious daughter of Ted and Brenda, that only by breaking away from the conventional will some sort of happiness be achievable. The ending almost turns the play into a state-of-the nation-play with a rosy ending for us all.
Susan Wilson’s production uses a thrust stage with the audience on three sides, while John Hodgkins’ minimalist stage design of a side board and a dining table keeps our attention on the importance of the rituals of Christmas-time.
The cast of Circa stalwarts on opening night seemed to be forcing the pace, volume and comedy a bit (there was a noisy party on the wharves outside) with performances that might have suited a TV sitcom better.
However in the key emotional scenes are played true and Catherine Downes creates in the Bishop’s next door neighbour a slightly scary but funny, gaunt, pearl necklace wearing Alice who sets her sights on George once it becomes respectable to do so.
If you have never seen the play, don’t miss it this time round.
Reviewed by Madelaine Empson
Joyful & Triumphant is an incidental epic by Robert Lord which chronicles forty years of the Bishop family’s Christmas Day meals and rituals. Each scene juxtaposes the mundane with the poignant, as tables are set and roasts are cooked whilst familial relationships unravel over the decades.
Lyla (Jane Waddell) is the matriarch of the Bishop family, consistently dedicated to cooking the perfect Christmas feast and getting her husband George (Peter Hambleton) out of bed to do his chores. Their daughter Rose (Michele Amas) is a budding author who has lived at home her whole life, having recently lost her fiancée in the Second World War. Rose’s brother Ted (Gavin Rutherford) is a no-hoper who can’t seem to hold down a job, much to the dismay of his wife Brenda (Katherine McRae). For some reason, their rebellious teenage daughter Raewyn (Lyndee-Jane Rutherford) doesn’t appear to want to spend Christmas Day with her family.
Meanwhile, the Bishop’s haughty next-door neighbour Alice Warner (Catherine Downes) can never seem to leave a room without passing judgements on all of its inhabitants.
Lord’s Joyful & Triumphant is at once heartfelt and hilarious, and this 40th anniversary production does it great justice. Due to a minimalist set and cleverly-wrought thrust stage by John Hodgkins, the audience is free to focus on the action which ensues around the Christmas Table.
Each and every cast member displays expert craftsmanship, commitment and comedic timing in their performance. Collectively, their efforts have resulted in a production which is – quite literally – both joyful and triumphant.