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1 Taranaki Street, Wellington | Box Office Ph: 04 801 7992
Duration: 02 April - 12 April 2014

Written by: Based on the letters of Rita Angus
Adapted for stage by: Dave Armstrong
Directed by: Conrad Newport
Presented by: Armstrong Creative


A poignant love story and a stunning collaboration of theatre, music and art.

After sell-out seasons around the country, Rita and Douglas comes to Wellington. Two of New Zealand’s leading performers, Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Michael Houstoun, join forces to present the words, music and images of two of our greatest cultural icons – artist Rita Angus and composer Douglas Lilburn.

Recently divorced painter Rita Angus and young composer Douglas Lilburn met in the early 1940s and had a brief but passionate affair. Living in virtual poverty and struggling with health issues, Angus went on to produce, with Lilburn’s support, an outstanding body of work.

“It is difficult to imagine a better way to appreciate the art of Rita Angus and Douglas Lilburn than this celebratory tribute in which a sharp dramatisation of their quarrelsome relationship is counterpoised with Michael Houstoun’s exquisite renditions of Lilburn’s piano works while a luminous display of Angus’ paintings appears as an enormous projection” – NZ Herald


  • Starring Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Michael Houstoun

  • 02 April − 12 April

    Tuesday and Wednesday 6.30pm

    Thursday – Saturday 8pm

    Sunday 4pm

    Running time 75 minutes (no interval)

  • Adult $46

    Concession $38

    Friends of Circa $33

    Groups 6+ $39 20+ $36

    Under 25s $25

  • Poignant and Elegantly Told


    The rest of the country has been fortunate in having been able to see over the past three years one of those rare theatrical occasions when all the stars have miraculously aligned.

    At last it’s Wellington’s turn to enjoy this simple but superbly presented chamber piece about two artists, Rita Angus and Douglas Lilburn, whose first meeting was in a Lambton Quay café in 1941.

    A grand piano sits on one side of the stage, on the other a desk, some canvasses and an easel. Behind them is a vast canvas on which is projected a generous display of Rita Angus’s compelling portraits and landscapes that provide both a vibrant visual pleasure and the subject matter of many of her letters.

    Dave Armstrong has taken her letters to Lilburn and edited them so that their strange, sad relationship is always central but we also discover what drove her as an artist and her fearless individualism in an age of conformity.

    Apart from her pacifism during the war when she worked on a tobacco farm and was later fined for refusing to work in a factory to support the war effort, we learn almost nothing about her life other than the strangely distant love affair with Lilburn and the tragedy of her miscarriage.

    The most revealing moment is when she rages against Lilburn because he had just joined the music staff of Victoria University. He shouldn’t be wasting his time teaching when he should be composing full-time and devoting himself to his art.

    Lilburn’s letters to her were destroyed and so Lilburn’s replies in this stage correspondence are created with his music and in the hands of Michael Houstoun the ‘writing’ is of course eloquent, moving and deeply felt.

    Jennifer Ward-Lealand’s portrait of Rita is as poignant and subtly revealing as the artist’s striking portraits. Angus’s most famous self-portrait (poised cigarette /bright green scarf) is brought to life as are the nervous, pill-popping habits that eventually led to a brief stay in a mental institution, but it is the artist’s steely dedication to her art that is truly memorable in this performance.

  • 7:10pm on Thursday, 10 April

    Join playwright Dave Armstrong for a pre-show talk in the Circa foyer: ‘Rita and Douglas – behind the play”. Grab a drink from Encore Restaurant and Bar and have a seat while Dave talks about the background to his play Rita and Douglas. Free to attend. Will take place from 7:10 – 7:45 or so, just before that evening’s performance of Rita and Douglas


Supported by The Estate of Rita Angus, The Lilburn Trust, Creative New Zealand and Te Papa Picture Library

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes (no interval)