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1 Taranaki Street, Wellington | Box Office Ph: 04 801 7992
Duration: 1 Hour 20 Minutes, 27 February - 26 March 2016
Price: Adult $39, Concession $19, Family Ticket $97
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Written by Kate De Goldi
Adapted and Directed by Jane Waddell

The Vivien Hirschfeld Season of The ACB with Honora Lee, by Kate De Goldi

Circa’s contribution to the 2016 New Zealand Festival, is a world premiere.

Adapted by accomplished theatre practitioner Jane Waddell, this story comes from one of our most loved authors, popular with both adults and children. Quirky humour, playfulness and intergenerational love are at the heart of this adaptation of Kate De Goldi’s 2012 novel, The ACB with Honora Lee.

A charming exploration of kindness, patience and acceptance, it explores the relationship between young Perry and her eccentric Gran, Honora Lee, who’s losing her memory and lives in the Santa Lucia Rest Home. As more and more words slip from Gran’s grasp, Perry furiously gathers them up, turning them into an illustrated and disorderly alphabet book, which becomes a gift of love to her grandmother.

An ideal theatrical experience for all the family this festival season is guaranteed to pull at your heart strings.


  • Tuesday – Saturday 6.30pm
    Sunday 4pm

    Book here for: 22 – 26 March 2016 – Tickets available from Circa Theatre. Contact the Box Office to reserve your seat; 04 801 7992.

  • $39 Full
    $19 Children
    $97 Family (2 adults, 2 children)

    Preview – Friday 26 March 2016

    27 February – 20 March 2016 – tickets are available as part of the New Zealand Festival

    22 – 26 March 2016 – Tickets available from Circa Theatre. Contact the Box Office to reserve your seat; 04 801 7992.

  • The ACB with Honora Lee by Kate De Goldi, adapted and directed by Jane Waddell

    Circa Theatre, Wellington until 26 March

    Reviewed by Ewen Coleman

    Anyone who has ever  visited a relative in a rest home will immediately identify with the residents of the Santa Lucia rest home where Honora Lee is residing, one of the central characters in Circa Theatre’s latest production, The ACB with Honora Lee.

    The play is also about her 9-year-old granddaughter Perry (Lauren Gibson) and the frequent visits she makes to see her gran, which she finds much more interesting than having to do after-school tennis.

    But Honora (Ginette McDonald) has early stage dementia and memory loss and so, as an ex-teacher, she thinks Perry is one of her pupils.

    But that doesn’t stop them developing a real understanding of each other, even if Honora can’t get the letters of the alphabet in the right order, hence the ACB of the play’s title.

    Adapted from a Kate De Goldi book of the same name by Jane Waddell who also directs, this wonderful feel-good show has much going for it on many levels.

    The short sharp scenes are excellently fused together to create a fast-flowing production that nevertheless allows for real, well-developed characters.

    And De Goldi’s wonderful use of language in the book has been captured within the dialogue, particularly in the exchanges between Honora and Perry. This makes the story a wonderful affirmation of how, in the right non-judgmental environment, both young and old can be accepted no matter what.

    But as a play it requires actors to bring it to life and in this production, under the astute direction of Waddell, the acting is superb. Gibson in particular embodies the character of loveable but precocious, questioning and inquisitive Perry perfectly while McDonald magnificently plays the irascible but endearing Honora with a twinkle in her eye.

    Ably supporting these two as the epitome of busy parents dealing with an only child are Amy Tarleton and Nick Dunbar who also play rest home patients and Michele Amas and Simon Leary who play multiple roles.

    The set design of Andrew Foster and AV storyboard by Stephen Blackburn and Jason Longstaff also add to the overall excellence of the production making it one not to be missed this festival.

     – Dominion Post


  • New Zealand Festival 2016
    By Kate de Goldi
    Published by Longacre Press
    Adapted & Directed by Jane Waddell

    Reviewed by John Smythe, 28 Feb 2016

    To begin at the end, I find myself unaccountably moved by this play and production; I’m surprise to find myself unable to speak without choking up. Something has worked at a deep level and although I still don’t know whether it’s personal or universal, it would be remiss not to mention this.

    At face-value Kate De Goldi’s The ACB with Honora Lee is a child-like tale about the relationship an only-child (Perry) develops with her demented Gran (Honora Lee), a resident of the Santa Lucia Rest Home.

    Perry’s always-busy Dad (Honora’s son), who is concerned for the planet and specializes in Sustainable Business Practice, calls his mother’s dementia “eccentricity”. Perry’s always-busy psychologist Mum is concerned about her daughter’s educational standards and keeping her fully-scheduled with after-school activities. Both pay Perry the most attention when they want to correct her grammar.

    Perry, who is aged about nine and loves to draw more than write, although she is very inquisitive about the meanings of words, also spends time with a pre-schooler (Claude) and his mother (Nina), who has plenty of time for them. Their main interest, when they’re together, is the bumble bees that fall to the ground and die.

    It is the cancellation of Thursday Movement classes and Perry’s extreme dislike of tennis that leads to her visiting Gran every week, by herself. Strangely it seems that Perry has not known her Gran before a recent weekend visit with her Dad; she feels no loss of an earlier special relationship. And Honora’s dementia means she doesn’t recognise her son or her granddaughter although she is very close to her best friend Doris, even if she does call her Molly.

    When Perry realises Honora has reverted to her teaching role, she plays along by developing an anarchic (out-of-order) alphabet book which becomes The ACB with Honora Lee. Maybe it is this simple Zen-like acceptance of what’s so, and the way it generates creativity in Perry and moments of value for Honora, that stirs my deeper feelings. (Sudden bouts of faith in humanity tend to have this effect on me.)

    In ways that anyone and everyone can relate to, De Goldi’s subtly-crafted story, fluently adapted and directed for the stage by Jane Waddell, addresses abiding questions about life and death and how we relate to each other in between. Despite the flaws each character has – or rather because of them – a profound and insightful humanity anchors what plays out above with a delightful lightness of touch.

    There is artistry at every level. Animated images of Perry’s pictures – storyboarded by Stephen Blackburn, drawn by Romi O’Sullivan, produced as an AV presentation by Jason Longstaff – pop up, buzz and drift across the latticed back wall of Andrew Foster’s simply-furnished set, lit by Phil Blackburn, operated by Deb McGuire. Recorded music (played by Bill Lake, Nick Bollinger, Andrew Clouston, Stephen Roche and Andrea Robinson) enhances the imagery along with John McKay’s sound design. Sheila Horton’s costume designs deftly characterise the multiple roles (and allow for the many quick changes).

    Lauren Gibson is simply superb as the innocent yet intuitively wise Perry, capturing each moment of wonder, frustration, joy and sadness as she navigates the convolutions of life. It’s impossible not to empathise with her, no matter how much less awkward and more grown up we like to think we are.

    In counterpoint, yet likewise living ‘in the moment’, Ginette McDonald’s Honora Lee compels our compassion even though she is compulsively cranky and off in her own world most of the time. Her closeness to Doris-cum-Molly tells us she can be loving, which poignantly accentuates the absence of any overt expressions of affection towards her own family.

    Her stock phrases – “That’ll be the frosty Friday” etc – are endearing, especially when picked up by Perry. The way Honora lights up when recalling one of the wacky rhymes and jingles she used to teach with, so her pupils would find the pie in piece, know how to spell difficulty and so on, is both fun and sobering as we come to realise what a lively mind is here o’erthrown.

    As Perry’s parents, Amy Tarleton and Nick Dunbar are so cold and distant, to start with, that I find it hard to believe they are familiar with each other and their daughter. But it gives them somewhere to go and one of the production’s subtle touches is the gradual softening of their strictness as Perry’s inate humanity rubs off on them. I would like to sense more depth of feeling in the Dad’s response to his mother’s failure to recognise him, however.

    Tarleton contrasts the brittle, professional Mum with a soft and caring Nina, and rest home residents Eleanor and Beverley, one of whom is touchingly eloquent in her silence. Dunbar also sketches in a couple of rest home chaps – Melvyn and Geoffrey – to comic effect.

    If Honora’s condition has sapped her of emotion, Michelle Amas’s doll-clutching Doris has the opposite affliction with her tendency to well up at the slightest slight: a beautifully pitched performance. Her rest-home caregiver, Audrey, is wonderfully astute in handling tricky situations, and newcomer Olga is brief but emphatic.

    Simon Leary completes the cast with his wide-eyed pre-schooler, Claude, and onto-it care-giver Stephen, whose growing respect for Perry is well conveyed.

    Adapter and director Jane Waddell has helmed the creation of a special theatrical gift that whole-heartedly honours De Goldi’s treasure of a book. Don’t miss out on getting your share – there is something here for everyone.

  • The Vivien Hirschfeld Season of The ACB with Honora Lee

    Written by Kate De Goldi
    Adapted and Directed by Jane Waddell
    Running at Circa Theatre until 26th Mar
    Reviewed by Madelaine Empson

    The ACB with Honora Lee is a production about the special bond 9 year old Perry (Lauren Gibson) forms with her gran Honora Lee (Ginette McDonald). In the early stages of memory loss, Honora resides in the Santa Lucia rest home, where her frosty demeanour simultaneously charms and distresses the other residents. When Perry is relieved of her weekly tennis duties and is instead allowed to visit Honora every Thursday, the two begin to rub off on each other. Language is the key to their budding relationship, and language is the thread that weaves Perry’s family together.

    In this production, Gibson expertly captures the wide-eyed innocence of a child, whilst McDonald’s endearing performance proves her phenomenal talent as both an actor and an empath; her connection and commitment to her character is awe-inspiring. Put the two actresses together and the resulting chemistry is profoundly moving.

    Amy Tarleton and Nick Dunbar, who play Perry’s mum and dad respectively, add great depth and charm to the production as a whole. Michele Amas and Simon Leary too bring charisma to the ensemble, all members of which perform multiple roles with ease.

    Imaginative and delightful sketches (drawn by Romi O’Sullivan, storyboarded by Stephen Blackburn and produced by Jason Longstaff) grace the AV screen during transitions, causing bouts of glee and giggles amongst the audience. Sound design by John McKay adds another dimension to these moments, helping us to gain insight into a child’s mind. Unified, these elements gently tug the heartstrings of young and old audience members alike.

    The ACB with Honora Lee is a touching story, beautifully rendered on stage.


“It's delightful seeing one's story take on a life beyond the pages of the book in which it first entered the world. Having The ACB in the hands of a script writer and a theatre company is something like the experience of a fond parent watching their child find new and enlarging prospects beyond home - stimulating friends and environments, new ideas and ways of being in the world. This stage adaptation gives fresh and imaginative life to 'my' story and characters - how very fortunate for them, me and the audience!”
Kate De Goldi, Writer