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By Kerryn Palmer

Bronwyn Turei as Dandini, Cinderella 2020/21 Image by Stephen A’Court


If you attended Circa’s recent production of Cinderella you would know what this magic spell stands for – you always get a happy conclusion when you have lovely friends on your side. Originally used in Michele Amas’s Mother Goose, it is one of several recurring conventions employed in Circa Theatre’s Christmas pantomime, now in its 17th year of production. This article outlines the history of what is now a firmly entrenched Circa tradition and examines what magical ingredients have combined to make the pantomime a successful annual event, that caters to an intergenerational family audience.

The arrival of Europeans heralded the introduction of a new style of live performance to Aotearoa. Vastly different from the indigenous Whare Tapere, European dramatic performance was unleashed on our shores a mere 12-months after the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi [1]. It is, therefore, no surprise that pantomime – based on the Italian Commedia dell’arte, but adapted by the English in the 1700s – was an early populist form of entertainment in New Zealand. What is surprising is its longevity, and how in 2021, Pantomime is still a popular and much-loved form of entertainment in Aotearoa.

J C Williamson Ltd present Frank Neil’s stupendous Drury Lane fairy pantomime “Cinderella”. Theatre Royal Christchurch, com. Friday night, July 28th. Wright & Jaques Ltd., Printers, Auckland [Front and back covers. 1933]. Cabot, Charles Henry, 1890-1978: [Collection of ephemera, posters and programmes. 1900-1976]. Ref: Eph-B-CABOT-Pantomime-1933-01-covers. Permission from: The Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23191137

Wellington’s Circa Theatre is arguably the most prolific professional company upholding the grand tradition of pantomime in contemporary New Zealand. For 16 years the annual Christmas pantomime has been delighting intergenerational audiences on the waterfront. With no signs of abating, it boasts Circa’s largest houses of the year and regularly sells over 50% of tickets before it opens. It is also Circa’s longest running show each year, with the actors and crew performing for an exhausting and exhilarating seven weeks (five before Christmas and two in early January). Gavin Rutherford’s – world famous in Wellington – Dame drives each show with aplomb and for just under two hours each night, seven seasoned performers fill the stage with music, magic movement, topical jokes, and general silliness.

Growing up in England in the 1950s, the Christmas pantomime was an annual event for Roger Hall. He remembers attending with his parents and loved that it was a shared theatrical experience that both generations could enjoy. In 2003, an after-show foyer conversation between Roger, Paul Jenden, and Susan Wilson unearthed collective childhood memories of pantomimes, and recognition of how their delight and enjoyment of them, had influenced their choice of career.  From this conversation, the idea to present a professional, contemporary, annual family show, using the traditional English pantomime form was born.

In the 1950s, Wellington’s Repertory Theatre began producing Christmas Pantomimes (“Past Productions”). These were led by the memorable and fabulous David Tinkham.

Pantomime Production

George Webby referred to Tinkham as; “one of the finest pantomime dames I ever came across… a big man, David made an even bigger dame, commanding the stage with his obvious and infectious enjoyment” (Webby 202). Theatre stalwarts Kate Harcourt, and Ginette MacDonald also reveal the influence that Tinkham had on their careers, describing him as “legendary” (McDonald) and an “inspired director” (Harcourt qtd. in O’Donnell). Tinkham’s partner in crime for several years was Peter Harcourt, together they directed and produced innumerable pantomimes, utilising Harcourt’s dry wit, knowledge of theatre and popular music, and Tinkham’s improvisation talent and legendary Dameness. (Webby 202). Attending these shows annually, was a young Susan Wilson. She has fond memories of them being huge extravaganzas, boasting large casts of children and of principal boy – Dorothy Mc Kegg’s – ‘marvelous tights-clad legs.’(Wilson).

Two years after Paul, Roger, and Susan’s epiphany in the theatre foyer, the inaugural Circa Pantomime was launched. Bursting onto the stage in 2005 came Roger Hall’s Cinderella, with songs by Paul Jenden and music by Michael Nicholas Williams. Instead of one traditional dame, this inaugural production had three dame-like characters; Ellie Smith as the Fairy Godmother, and playing the Ugly sisters – Timothy Bartlett as Obetia and Robert Tripe as Di-aphanite. (The more traditional single Dame character came into force in 2006, which saw Julian Wilson delight audiences for three years in a row.) A Helen Clarke Labour-led government saw the inclusion of such topical gems as;

“Catering! Everything reasonable is booked up! Pita Sharples Take Away Kai; Don Brash’s Take Away Chinese; and Winston Peters Bugger Off Curries. A caterer, a caterer, my kingdom for a caterer!!”

“And “Jonathan Hunt would have been here but he’s been detained by a narrow doorway.” (Hall, Cinderella)

The addition of topical political jokes or references to the contemporary political climate are just one of the fundamental principles that make up the trope of Pantomime. Winston Peters has enjoyed his fair share of mentions in the Circa Pantomime and the 2020/21 version, very topically involved hero of the COVID pandemic Ashley Bloomfield. Hall writes: [Insert Topical joke here] in his scripts so that they can be updated each time they are performed, and the recent Cinderella script is prefaced with:

“Topical references: This show was written for Wellington in 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic when Doctor Ashley Bloomfield was our hero and the world was shut down. The story is solid but there will be topical references that won’t work for everywhere. Feel free to have a tweak and make it relevant to your time and location. (Leary and Rutherford)”

This flexibility means that the scripts have a life outside of their Circa season and will often go on to be performed throughout New Zealand by local repertory groups. For example, Central Hawke’s Bay Waipawa Music and Drama Club has committed to a Hall pantomime for the third successive year. In 2019, they did his Jack and the Beanstalk (including the Jenden and Williams’ songs). Hall was so pleased to see an intergenerational audience of around 300, as well as a cast of 30; that he offered to do a version of Cinderella set in Waipawa. This was very successful, and this year it is Aladdin that has a Hawkes Bay setting.

Other fundamentals that have been borrowed from the traditional pantomime form are: using a well-known story, local references- again interchangeable – romance, cross dressing, audience interaction, and music.

Michael Nicholas Williams has been the musical director for 14 of Circa’s Pantomimes. A dynamic and enthusiastic musician, Michael began collaborating with Paul Jenden in co-writing original songs for each show. Cinderella: Version One had 14 original songs. The opening song- perhaps in recognition of this being the beginning of a new Wellington tradition – guided the audience in what they were about to experience:

It’s a wonderful world

In pantomime

There’s fantasy unfurled

In pantomime

Women wearing stockings

Playing men may be shocking

But it’s all part of being in pantomime

It’s a topsy turvy world

In pantomime

There are men playing girls

In pantomime

All the actors will be beaming

While the audience is screaming

But it’s all part of being in pantomime

There’ll be singing and some roaring

You all have to join in

Don’t be shy or feel afraid

There’ll be pretty sets and costumes

Catchy songs and hot tunes

Lots of mayhem to be made

There is nothing in the world like pantomime

All the little girls and boys like pantomime

Though the story is quite crazy

And the jokes are sometimes racy

This is all part of being.

You won’t believe what you’ll be seeing

But it’s all part of being in pantomime. (Hall, Cinderella)

The writing of original songs continued until 2017’s Peter Pan, which saw a return to pantomime tradition of using contemporary pop songs. This has been the modus operandi since then, and if the joyous dancing, singing, and revelry from the audience at 2020/21’s Cinderella is anything to go by, then it’s a hugely popular choice.

“As much as I liked writing scores for the earlier shows, having familiar pop songs (and using them in an unexpected way) has really added another level. I love watching the audience when they hear a song from their teenage years that they haven’t thought about for decades, and you can see the joy. (Williams)”

Circa’s pantomimes have always been based on a well-known, traditional story or fairytale. The merits of presenting a well-known story are that they are, according to Hall, ‘damn good stories,’ and that the classic Hero’s Journey template means that people have a fair idea of what they are coming to see. Perhaps this means they can relax in the knowledge that the narrative is in safe hands and therefore focus on the elements of theatricality that help bring the story to life on stage. To date there have been three versions of Cinderella, two of Jack and The Beanstalk, two Red Riding Hoods, two Robin Hoods, two Aladdins as well as a Puss in Boots, a Mother Goose, a Dick Whittington and His Cat, a Peter Pan, and one Alice In Wonderland.

Mother Goose, 2013. Image by Stephen A’Court

With the exception of Mother Goose – written by Michele Amas in 2013 – Roger Hall penned all pantomimes up until 2017, when Pinky Agnew and Lorae Parry wrote Peter Pan. Twenty nineteen saw panto. stalwarts Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford collaborate to write Alice In Wonderland. They are now working on their third collaboration to be announced soon. When asked to pick a favourite, stage manager extraordinaire Eric Gardiner – who has stage managed all 16 – chose the most recent, Leary and Rutherford’s Cinderella, with Mother Goose coming a close second. He explains how being written in-house makes a difference as the authors know the theatre and its limitations. Gardiner is perhaps the unsung hero of the Circa Pantomime. For 16 years, he has been the trusted and hardworking stage manager and always has a delightful cameo sometime in the show. Fondly written into the scripts with directions such as:

The conveniently placed frog turns into a weathered old man (The stage manager Eric)



Eric hops off. Probably grumbling. Wondering what his life has come to.

(Leary and Rutherford.)

In past years he would often be accompanied by the beautiful Precious (Gardiner’s Golden Lab.) who would amble on stage to delight the audience at some stage during the show. Asked why he continued to do the pantomime each year Gardiner replied:

“Personally, I really enjoy the involvement, not only as stage manager, but quite often taking part in the action on stage! It’s always a very busy production with set pieces coming and going all the time and that suits me. The cast generally help with this, making it truly a combined effort; cast and backstage.” (Gardiner)

Eric Gardiner in Robin Hood 2010/11. Image by Stephen A’Court

As with any long-held tradition and in particular such a Eurocentric one, it is important to interrogate the relevance of Pantomime in contemporary New Zealand. There is no escaping that pantomime is a problematic genre. Fairy tales are built on misogyny, there is a lack of diversity of characters, in particular in terms of people of colour, and is all that cross-dressing PC? In a 2013 Guardian article titled “Hands Off Our Panto Dames. Cross-Dressing Offers a Vital License for Subversion,” self-proclaimed cross-dresser Grayson Perry provides some interesting insights into this area of the debate.

“Pantomime and its cross-dressing traditions spring out of that long tradition of carnival and subversion; a time when everything went topsy-turvy, people were able to mock their rulers, everything became anarchic. That’s where it comes from. And interestingly, cross-dressing still has that potency. As a cross-dresser myself, I know it’s a license to cause mischief, and that’s part of the role you take on.” (Perry)

He acknowledges that it is tricky territory, some people struggle with the concept of it being an always comedic role, but for him the genuine outrageousness of the Pantomime Dame is, it is a way of edging into “darker territory, without causing serious offence… It’s the honest fool thing; that’s part of what it’s about. (Perry)

Using in-house creators – such as Michele Amas, Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford – has opened the way for collaborators to challenge and change stereotypes and tropes. For example; Mother Goose saw the introduction of the first gay character, this year’s Dandini uses the pronouns they/them, and Leary and Rutherford’s Cinderella script is prefaced with a note on diversity:

“We encourage you to cast the show diversely, panto. is a great way to play with gender. The step siblings don’t have to be the same ethnicity either. Have fun with it.” (Leary and Rutherford)

Circa has also begun to offer relaxed [2] and signed [3] performances, in an effort to be more inclusive and ensure that their pantomimes are as accessible as possible.

Working in a more collaborative way in rehearsal, casting diversely, and being open to input from all creatives in the rehearsal room, are all ways that traditional forms can be challenged and subverted.  Much of the early weeks of rehearsal are spent improvising on the floor and the benefits of having writers such as Gavin and Simon writing and performing is that things can be trialed and hashed out in the rehearsal room. Like many New Zealand plays, the staging of them observes a strong collaboration between director and playwright. The director will often provide dramaturgical script guidance as well as overseeing the cast and production elements. Eric recalls how:

“During rehearsals, which is always a hilarious time, the script is being cut and pasted continuously, and quite often we don’t get the final draft until late in production week! Even then changes are regularly happening during the season,” (Gardiner)

This form of flexible and collaborative rehearsing needs a skilled captain at the helm. The indefatigable Susan Wilson leads the Circa pantomime team each year. Her love of the old-style Pantomimes, her belief in them as a way of getting children to the theatre and to love the theatre, has been one of the reasons she has continued each year.  Having worked with Roger Hall as a dramaturg and script editor on Gliding On in the 1970s, Susan worked closely with Roger and Paul in the early years to develop this strong tradition.  She relishes that her concept of instilling a love of theatre in children has proven true, and that the Pantomime appeals to an intergenerational audience. As a founding member of the Circa Council, she finds it hugely satisfying that the annual Pantomime is financially rewarding for Circa. It boasts their highest box office return each year, and it is a huge source of pride to Circa how many families now value it as an annual family tradition. Circa Councillor Lyndee-Jane Rutherford especially loves seeing adults who came as young children, now bringing their own kids, and how it has become an annual tradition for many families, with outings including up to four generations. (Rutherford LJ)

Sarah Somerville as Dandini in Cinderella 2005/2006. Image by Stephen A’Court

The traditional format of Pantomime incorporates three key narrative elements; Romance, Magic, and Clown and Circa embrace each of these elements in its productions. Romance, a key element in fairy tales, usually tells heteronormative stories of first love. Good conquering bad and a man and a woman overcoming adversity to live happily ever after in wedded bliss. Cinderella is the perfect example of this with its rags to riches story and as Roger Hall notes ‘People love the show to end with a wedding.’  Hall sees the importance of writing in the love-interest early on in the script and from that first eye contact, the first look there is a ‘clang of a triangle’ and cupid’s arrow can be felt winding its way between the two main characters.

The magical or transformative elements of the pantomime are also fully entrenched in Circa’s productions. High production values are guaranteed, in particular in terms of costume. The design of these was Paul Jenden’s domain until 2012 when it was expertly taken up by Shelia Horton. Michael Nicholas Williams describes the power that the transformative element in the costume can have:

There was a glorious moment in last year’s Cinderella when Cinders’ dress transformed before our eyes and one night there was a little girl in the front row whose mind was blown. She sat there for the next 2 minutes (missing our awesome song!) with her eyes bugged out and jaw dropped with a mixture of amazement and almost fear. (Williams)

Natasha McAllister as Cinderella transformed.2020/21. Image by Stephen A’Court

Gavin Rutherford delights in the clown and lazzi [4] elements of traditional Pantomime and since 2010 has embraced his inner clown in the performance of his much-loved dame. Each year for the past 11 years Rutherford has donned his Dame persona and delighted audiences with her acerbic, smutty, and narcissistic wit. It is a delight to watch Rutherford work a crowd. Masterful in improvisation, connecting with an audience, and keeping the action flowing, the audience feels in safe hands with his skillful manipulation of narrative and cheeky asides. Each year the dame is slightly different and yet the same, giving the audience a touchstone. Rutherford is so good at playing up the grotesque and revelling in his inner clown that it is easy to forget he is also a fine ‘serious’ actor with a slew of awards under his belt. It’s also easy to overlook how gruelling it must be to don such an elaborate costume and wig for each night nearly 50 times in a row. It’s hard to imagine a better dame and it seems Rutherford has categorically succeeded in taking over the mantle from Tinkham. Gavin revels in the character that he has created: “The Dame makes me laugh; she’s just so messed up – she’s such a dick!” (Rutherford)

             Asked what is it about the Pantomime that appeals, parents and children alike relate how the music, dance and comedy combine to create a wonderful evening out:

“It’s just got everything in it. Music, dance, comedy. A really great show. Lots of energy and lots of laughs.”

 “Well written, well played. Very, very funny. Brilliantly and hilariously improvised at one point during the performance I saw. The last pantomime I saw was at the London Palladium – this was better than that.”

“This was the best show we had all seen in a very long time! Probably the thing we enjoyed most was the actors’ ability to relate to the audience and tailor jokes to current events.”

“We love the dame!! The whole cast is always amazing. It had a very different feel to it this year with the music, but we thought it was HILARIOUS. We are used to having the original songs and my kids are still singing ‘The Undies for Africa’ song from ALADDIN. We had visitors from the UK with us this year and they said this was hands down the BEST panto. they had ever seen.”

(Quotes taken from Circa post-show surveys.)

The magic ingredients of traditional form with a contemporary twist, accessibility, high production values, and a highly talented cast and crew, have all contributed to the success and longevity of the Circa pantomime. Not only does it appeal to a range of age groups, but it also provides a steady income to the hard-working cast and crew for nearly three months of the year, and as Eric Gardiner observes, “it is always a fun affair for cast and audience, so long may they reign!”

Gavin Rutherford embracing his inner clown. Puss in Boots 2018/19. Image by Stephen A’Court


[1]  In 1841 David Osborne and three other actors staged a comedy called The Lawyer Outwitted at Auckland’s Watson’s Hotel. It was the first known European-style theatre production in New Zealand. (Atkinson)

[2] A show that has been adapted to suit audience members who may need a more relaxed environment.

[3] In New Zealand Sign Language, for hearing impaired audiences.

[4] Traditional Italian improvisation

Works Cited

Atkinson, Laurie. “‘Actors and Acting – Early Acting, 1840s to 1920’.” Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Ministry of Culture and Heritage, 2014, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/actors-and-acting/page-1.

Gardiner, Eric. Circa Pantomime E-mail-Interview. 26 Mar. 2021.

Hall, Roger. Circa Pantomime Interview.  6 Mar. 2021.

Hall, Roger. Cinderella. 2005.

Leary, Simon, and Gavin Rutherford. Cinderella. 2020.

McDonald, Ginette. “Ginette McDonald and The Thrill of the Theatre.” Circa Theatre, 4 Feb. 2013, https://www.circa.co.nz/ginette-mcdonald-and-the-thrill-of-theatre/.

New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Early Acting, 1840s to 1920. https://teara.govt.nz/en/actors-and-acting/page-1. Accessed 20 Apr. 2021.

O’Donnell, David. “Dame Kate Harcourt and the Art of the Senior Actor.” The Theatre Times, Oct. 2020, https://thetheatretimes.com/dame-kate-harcourt-and-the-art-of-the-senior-actor/.

Pantomime Production: “Robin Hood” – Nelson Photo News – No 145: November 11, 1972. https://photonews.org.nz/nelson/issue/NPN145_19721111/t1-body-d42.html. Accessed 20 Apr. 2021.

“Past Productions.” Wellington Repertory Theatre, Wellington Repertory Theatre, 2021, https://www.wellingtonrepertory.org.nz/archives/past-productions/.

Perry, Grayson. “Hands Off Our Panto Dames. Cross-Dressing Offers a Vital License for Subversion,”.” The Guardian.Com, The Guardian, 2 Dec. 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/02/panto-dames-cross-dressing-grayson-perry.

Rutherford, Gavin. Circa Pantomime Interview. 1 Mar. 2021.

Rutherford, Lyndee-Jane. Circa Pantomime Email Interview. 22 April 2021

Webby, George. Just Who Does He Think He Is? Steel Roberts, 2006.

William’s, Michael Nicholas. Circa Pantomime Email interview. 24 Mar. 2021.

Wilson, Susan. Circa Pantomime Interview. 1 Mar. 2021.

Kerryn Palmer is a theatre director and teacher, with a PhD in making theatre for and with Young People.

Peter Hambleton:

On Friday night I attended the Opening of the New Zealand Premiere of the play, The Dinner.  It was directed by Juliet O’Brien who directed Tim Gordon and I in The Letter Writer a few years back. I caught up with Tim to find out how The Dinner came to Circa

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Tim Gordon:

Juliet O’Brien, an ex-pat living in Paris, has been performing in The Dinner in France and offered to direct it here. She’s been with us for the last couple of weeks.

Peter Hambleton:

I see it was devised by Joan Bellviure  – what does “devised” mean?

Tim Gordon:

It’s his structure –  every dinner takes place in  Wellington – there are always  two hosts, and three guests. Four of them know each other very very well and the the fifth guest is a complete stranger to all except the one who invited them.

Peter Hambleton:

I loved the way  the large groups determine your characters and relationships.

Tim Gordon:

Yeah we never put anyone on the spot.  The questions we used were developed by Joan Bellviure. As you saw each actor asks of their section of the audience the specific questions for the role they are playing that night.

Peter Hambleton:

Because of that, I felt I had skin in the game as the play unfolded.  Is it scary, a play without a script?

Tim Gordon:

Yes and no, the questions help  deveop the character and relationships and ultimately the plot.

Peter Hambleton:

Amazing seeing you all work together to create the story. How do you do that without any consultation?

Tim Gordon:

Listening. Fortunately we all go back a long way.  I first worked at Circa in 1990 with Mark Wright on Suspect at Harris St. That improvised play was devised by Lori Dungey and a group from Vancouver. Ian Harcourt, of course, old school kiwi comedy icon moved to Wellington the early 90s and Anna Kennedy, now an Auckland agency TV producer, first worked with us when she was still at school in the Hutt Valley.

Peter Hambleton:

Well, I had such a good time on Friday. Enjoy the rest of the run.

Tim Gordon:

Thanks, Peter. We’re having fun. Sorry its such a short run in Circa ONE finishing on Saturday 25th August.

Catch The Dinner before it closes! Only on until Saturday 25th August!

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Photo Credit: Roc+ Photography

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Joan director Tim Gordon takes a moment to thank all of you for your support 

I’m the first to admit the many of the blogs published by cast and crew are faintly disguised marketing plugs. This one is not because Joan is wrapped. Within 60 minutes of the last standing ovation Circa One was back to an empty black box, the lamps hung on racks in the lighting rig, the drapes drawn or folded away, the set dismantled and stowed and while we were still in the new fabulous Circa bar space celebrating, the crew from Rushes were already storming the doors.

During Production Week the third anniversary of my own mother’s death came about. Her dying in the Mary Potter Hospice in Newtown after 87 years of living in Island Bay was so similar to the passing of Joan in Tom Scott’s play. Every performance I watched meant reliving that night in January three years ago, not in a painful way but with the peace and calm of the death that Joan narrated. After the opening night premiere many many people talk in the bar afterwards of their own experiences of their own mothers and fathers dying. Tom Scott had written of the emotions and experiences we all shared. Joan did huge business.

We were at the centre of a perfect Anticyclone –not only did we have a great script and two fabulous actors enhanced by a talented and creative design team; that script was by Tom Scott and the actors were Ginette McDonald and her daughter Kate McGill. From the marketing point of view these are Wellington’s favourites. The media gave our publicist, Mel Booth,  a greater regard than many productions get. This was the holiday season without news stories or political leadership races to push the Arts off the pages. Plus Wellington had a beautiful Summer and there was no excuse for the audience not to leave their homes.

And so we were lucky.

Circa productions do not have the budgets to compete with the advertising surrounding our competition, the NZIF or touring productions; but we do have a loyal and supportive audience..

This blog is about thanking you for your support and feedback. In the end Joan was a success because word-of-mouth quickly shared the joy, the tears and the laughter experienced. This production was a privilege and pleasure. Each show has been carefully chosen and programmed with the audience in mind. Please trust the playbill even if you don’t know the playwright or the actors or the design team. I encourage you to consider all Circa Shows because each production has the same creative energy and passion shown by Joan and without you we can not build a sustainable Theatre industry.



As both Set and Costume Designer, Ian Harman is responsible for creating the striking visual world of A Doll’s House. Below he explains his production concepts and process.

4_ADH_first rehearsal_3 June 2017-6881

I absolutely adored Emily Perkins’ take on A Doll’s House. I wanted to set it very “now” so the immediacy of the work could come through. I wanted to create a space of movement and unrest, one that was unnerving and delicate.

The set uses saw-horses, scaffolding planks and good old 4×2 to create a tornado like arch that delicately hangs over the actors’ playing space. It creates a sense of unrest and chaos; of what it is like to live in a building site and graphically portrays the fragility and spiralling turmoil of Nora’s world. It feels it could all come crashing down at any second.


I chose light coloured Sunkist wood, and faded pastel tones (based on a faded Tip Top ice cream sign) as small accents of colour to give us a hot summery New Zealand feeling. I loved the juxtaposition of all of this dark drama against a summery palette.

The use of the builder’s plastic helped to give us “outdoor’ space, silhouette work for Nora’s fears, and a beautiful effect of the world crashing down around us as Nora leaves the space at the end of the play revealing the theatre in its naked and tattered glory as she pushes out through the back wall of the theatre into the night streets of Wellington.

The lighting designer Marcus McShane masterfully used these curtains in the Christmas morning sequence when the children are seen riding their bikes through the plastic and around the set. It is filmic, surreal and utterly breathtaking.


The costume design used a lot of blue to evoke a little of the plays Nordic origin as well as popping beautifully against the tones of the set. The Christmas day scenes were monotone with Nora and the children being the only colour, using subtle reds and tangerine to bring summer and festivity to the scenes. I also wanted Nora to “pop” and to always be seen.

At the very last minute we changed the dress that Nora wore in the last scene. What I wanted from the dress was to keep flicking Nora from child to woman, that as she was chastised we could see the child Theo thought she was to seeing her transform into the woman she becomes as she realises she has to leave. I chose a Blue floral dress that was simple and chic and fitted her like a glove, It grounded her and helped the focus immensely.


I also wanted to have some references back to its original Nordic heritage as well: Nora’s hair in a plait, the use of soft Nordic blues and bleached wood, and a Scandinavian nod with the Christmas crowns they wear on Christmas Eve.

The whole process for me was one of slow restraint, adding each subtle detail so as not to overshadow the beautiful writing, direction and performances but to enhance and support the fragile word in which A Dolls House is set.

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Playwright Desiree Gezentsvey, author Christine Leunens, and Director Andrew Foster reflect on Desiree’s stage adaptation of Caging Skies:

Desiree: When I met Christine two years ago, she gave me a copy of Caging Skies and I was instantly hooked. Why did her moving story of love, war and survival haunt me so? My father was a Holocaust survivor who was both helped by courageous, righteous people and betrayed by others. He taught me to live by the Golden Rule: “Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.” As I peered at the world through the eyes of an innocent Viennese boy (Johannes) who grew up embracing Hitler’s terrible lie, I found myself stepping inside a haunted house, into a love story that encompasses the most complex of human emotions, set against an extreme backdrop in which all lives are at stake. Life or death. What would I do? Would I stand up for my values, risk my life, the lives of my loved ones, to save another? Looking at the realities (and alternative facts!) of today’s world, I hope we will never be confronted with finding the answers to these heart-wrenching questions.

Writing the play has been a challenging and fascinating journey – distilling, creating and weaving all the threads into a new form, while staying true to the​​​​ novel. As we approach the premiere, listening to my husband, Yury Gezentsvey, perform on the violin the recording of Jeremy Cullen’s stunning music, and watching our extraordinary cast – Tim Earl, Comfrey Sanders, Claire Waldron and Donna Akersten – embody Johannes, Elsa, Roswita and Oma under the brilliant creative vision of director Andrew Foster, is beyond exciting!


Playwright Desiree Gezentsvey and Director Andrew Foster

Christine: When I read Desirée Gezentsvey’s play adaptation, I felt she had entered the universe I had created and had understood it with the same intimacy and depth I did. She saw not only the darkness, but also the potent need for love, the humour and passion for life that rises above war and the worst of humanity. I couldn’t believe how complete the play adaptation felt to me.

As the news came that Andrew Foster would be directing the play at Circa Theatre and that others were getting involved, I really felt that something rare, wonderful and communal was happening. It was a pivotal moment for me seeing the actors’ faces for the first time, as if the characters in my inner dream stepped out of the confines of the page and were going to be given the opportunity to exist in ‘real life’, if only for a couple of hours at a time. It has been an extraordinary journey with Desirée, from a common hope to the tangible realisation of complexity; and to see how the story continues to live independently of me is something I, as an author, couldn’t have wished more for!

Author - Christine Leunens

Author – Christine Leunens

Andrew: What fascinated me about the play was the way in which Desiree has used the vernacular of modernist and existential theatre so that the ‘reality’ that is constructed has very little connection with the reality outside the house. It may be 1944 but the characters, whom we only ever see inside the house, exist in a Pinteresque limbo… I was drawn to the complexity of the relationship between Johannes and Elsa, to the mystery of it. Who’s in control?

Peter McCauley plays Gerry in A Doll’s House. Here Peter shares his thoughts on returning to Circa, to Ibsen and to working with Emily Perkins once again.

If the past is a foreign country, as is stated in The Go-Between then my history in that country speaks with a forked tongue. It tells whooping tales of shipwrecks and rock’n’roll tours where the debris from one mingles with the other in a maelstrom of disaster. It is not however an exaggeration to say that it is 30 years since I last performed in a play at Circa Theatre. It was a farce written and directed by John Banas and featured the very late Michael Haigh playing a bumbling detective. Another very late and equally fine actor, Anne Flannery, directed me in a staging of The Constant Wife at the old wooden building next to the former public library that was the first home of Circa.

3_ADH_first rehearsal_3 June 2017-7567

CircaTheatre_ADoll'sHouse_July 2017-8980_bw_lr







I am enormously pleased to have the opportunity to work in Wellington again and especially at this theatre of significance. That I am able to renew my acquaintance with Emily Perkins whom I first met on a television show that we were both cast in also makes this project special. Back in that alien time we will call the 80s when Avalon was more than a suburb and Emily was a bright wide eyed young woman of great talent, I had no idea that I would have the privilege of working with her brilliant words in a play based on one written by Henrik Ibsen.

You may not be surprised that I couldn’t foretell such a happening but you must admit it is somewhat mystifying that a 19th century Norwegian playwright should provide a vehicle in the form of Hedda Gabler for me to tread the boards of the Norwegian National Theatre! That Downstage production received tremendous acclaim in London, Edinburgh and Sydney as well.

A Doll’s House opens 5 August. Book here

CircaTheatre_ADoll'sHouse_July 2017-8997_bw_lr

5_ADH_first rehearsal_3 June 2017-7270







All images by Tabitha Arthur

Larger than Life were Ngaruawahia’s third-best children’s novelty act back in the 70’s and 80’s. Now they’re all grown up and ready for a comeback.

Travel back in time to small town Aotearoa, and join three hūpē nosed brothers, Te-Whakakotahitanga-o-Ngā-iwi-o-Te-Motu Boy-George Jackson, Te-Rua-Wairere-o-Ranginui-Kia-Papatuanuku Presley Jackson and Tuahangata Liberace Jackson, as they land the opportunity of a lifetime – opening for the legendary John Rowles in Wellington. All they have to do is get there and not screw it up! Come along as the boys take you on an adventure of epic proportions as they meet famous faces, Kiwi icons, wacky New Zealand characters and ultimately …. screw it all up.”

This show started out mid-2016 with the idea of a funny aesthetic — one small white guy wedged between two large brown boys. Sprinkle some nostalgia over old school Māori showbands and a classic road trip story, and the seed of Larger Than Life was planted. We had an excuse to play some cool kiwi tunes. What we needed now was a story…

Over the following months, a lot of ideas were thrown around. Once a development season was booked, the ideas became something more. We beat out the show’s main points and talked about the characters and where their journey would take them. Eventually we had the bones of a story to support all the ideas we had been throwing around.

Next came the writing. Hours of writing, feedback, editing and trimming fat. After draft two, three weeks of intense workshopping. Working through character, storylines, and songs with actors during the day; writing and rewriting at night. It was exhausting but at the end of it, we had a show.

After a three night stint performing to invited guests and the general public, it was clear the show worked. We had a humorous aesthetic, a charming story with some funny jokes. But we were left with a question—what’s the message?

Cue another few weeks of workshops and writing: we have the show that is now Larger Than Life. A funny aesthetic, a charming story with plenty of jokes and satire and a positive, humorous view on race relations and prejudice in 70’s/80’s Aotearoa, through the innocent eyes of youth. And of course, some cool kiwi tunes.

Produced by Te Rēhia Theatre Company
Directed by Tainui Tukiwaho (The Catch, Step Dave, Billy T James, The Almighty Johnsons)
Written by: Chris Rex Martin and Tainui Tukiwaho

Circa Two
15 – 17 June
14 June Preview ($20)

Wed – Sat 7.30pm
All tickets $25

Duration: Approx. 1 hour and 10 minutes 

11 May 2017

Circa Theatre will today sign an agreement with Te Papa Chief Executive Rick Ellis that will see Circa Theatre join forces with the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa to foster and develop a closer working relationship between the two iconic organisations.

The Memorandum of Understanding recognises the shared connections between the two organisations and reflects a mutual desire to collaborate, commercially and creatively, in order to bring even greater cultural and artistic offerings to the public – including the development of a vibrant and dynamic cultural precinct in the physical space that Te Papa and Circa are situated in.

“This is an exciting agreement for both the Museum and the Theatre,” says Mr Ellis. “It makes sense to have a closer working arrangement between Te Papa and Circa Theatre, as we are not just neighbours in proximity, but we also share the same goals in wanting to develop a cultural hub in the Wellington waterfront space.”

Circa Theatre co-founder and Circa Council member Carolyn Henwood CNZM agrees and adds: “With our building renovations due to begin later this year, this unique partnership marks an exciting period for Circa Theatre. It will ensure greater synergy between both organisations – who share a passion for authenticity and innovation – and a commitment to provide visitors to the precinct with an even richer, more holistic experience. The potential and opportunities are endless.”

By working more closely together, both Te Papa and Circa Theatre hope that they can create a cultural heart of Wellington and one that will increasingly attract more visitors, both local and international.

“As it is, the Wellington waterfront is a wonderful place for people to spend time,” says Ms. Henwood. “We believe that this special relationship, by uniting respective cultural and creative strengths, will help make it an even better and more attractive destination and one that will continue to evolve and flourish over time.”


Lizzie Tollemache talks the creating and touring of Rollicking Entertainment’s production Mr and Mrs Alexander: Sideshows and Psychics
18 April – 6 May
Circa Two
Tues – Sat 7.30pm, Sun 4.30pm

“1888. New Zealand. Mr Alexander bent metal with his mind. Mrs Alexander solved crime with telepathy. Crowds gasped at their heart-stopping finale, The Possum Trap. Meet the most notorious couple in colonial showbiz!”

Or so the flyers said.

It was 2014 and we were in Toronto with a brand new show on a six-city tour. David bent potential audience members into buying tickets, with banter and a flyer. Lizzie solved the company accounts with voiceover gigs, sent back to New Zealand via the modern miracle that is Dropbox. And crowds (thanks heavens) really did gasp at our heart-stopping finale.

So why fly halfway around the world to perform for Canadians who’ve never heard of us, sleep in the basements of strangers and bust our guts for hours every day? It all came back to a promise, whispered amongst travelling performers, of a mythical land. An anti-Edinburgh, where the people actually want your flyer in their face. Where ticket prices are capped at crazy-affordable prices. Where 100% of ticket sales are returned to the artist. A rare and marvellous beast: the financially viable Fringe tour.


So we booked ourselves in for six festivals and went via the States where we performed in a magician’s speakeasy in San Francisco, hung with circus friends in Vegas and researched voodoo psychics in New Orleans.

And then- Canada! Soaring highs with a swag of five star reviews and strangers who liked the show so much that they took us sailing on Lake Ontario (true story). Gut wrenching lows in Calgary when some awful people broke into our gear and stole props because they HAD to know how the mind-reading and the Human Blockhead act worked.


Our strangest part of the tour was in Ottawa, when a full house watched us accidentally hypnotise an audience member. In our show, David puts me into a trance. With an audience volunteer tapping out the rhythm of my heartbeat, I stop my pulse. Later, I bring it back. This time? As well as my heartbeat, it was our audience volunteer who went under. Completely out to it. We have experience with hypnosis but were gobsmacked. Somehow, we’d stumbled upon the world’s most suggestible woman! Dry-mouthed, David brought her back. Everyone thought it was part of the show. We left the theatre white-knuckled, and bought several stiff drinks.

Canada 2014 was our company’s first tour. We travelled, we learned, we laughed, we cried… We broke even! And it was the single biggest turning point for our company- leading to bookings in the UK, Australia, the UAE, around New Zealand… and, finally, Circa!

1229 - Flick 2017 NZICF_AW RGB 3000px                    RollickingEntertainment logo for Messy magic and Mr and mrs alex

Circa One
Preview 31 March
1 – 15 April
Tues – Thurs 6.30pm, Fri – Sat 8pm. Sun 4pm
$25 – $52
Devised and choreographed by Andrea Sanders Featuring Andrea Sanders, Kali Kopae &
Carolyn McLaughlin
Brought to you by Total Entertainment NZ

There’s No Stopping Them – The BeatGirls’ Turn 21!

There is a party in town and all of Wellington is invited! The BeatGirls’ will return to Circa Theatre in April with their latest show The BeatGirls’ 21st – All Grown Up, celebrating 21 years entertaining audiences the world over.

The group has a long and successful history with Circa Theatre which began in 1999 and has continued over the years with The BeatGirls’ 21st – All Grown Up marking the trios unprecedented seventh show at the theatre. Their back catalogue of shows include the popular It’s My Party (1999), It’s My Party 2 (2000), Beatcamp (2010).

Beat Girls 1

The BeatGirls’ first photoshoot

beat girls 2

BeatGirls’ It’s My Party 1999















The BeatGirls’ 21st – All Grown Up is not only set to be another stand-out show from the girl group, but a chance to reflect and look back on 21 years in the entertainment industry – a truly remarkable accomplishment and very rarely seen throughout NZ.
Initially only performing music by The Beatles, the repertoire now spans 8 decades incorporating many styles from Swing and Bossa Nova, Girl-group to Glam Rock, Soul to 70’s, and 80’s to current songs by popular contemporary artists topping the charts.

“We’ve really re-invented ourselves over the years with new rep and costumes and kept the energy fresh and the show exciting” Founder of the BeatGirls’ (and The BeatGirls’ 21st – All Grown Up creator) Andrea Sanders stated when reflecting on the groups success over the years.

New Zealand Premiere


“I only am escaped alone to tell thee” Book of Job, Moby Dick                                                                                                     

Circa Two 11 March – 8 April
Tues – Sat 7.30pm, Sun 4.30pm
$25 – $52  

Fri 10 March & Sun 12 March SOLD OUT!

By Caryl Churchill
Directed by Susan Wilson
With Music by Gareth Farr

Escaped Alone wins Best Play 2016 at the UK Writers’ Guild Awards 

Director Susan Wilson talks about this award -winning play and Caryl Churchill who is considered one of the greatest playwrights of this century.

EA PHOTO CARYL CHURCHILL HIGH RES 1 CC to use - credit Marc Brenner (Light Shining reh photo 1)

Playwright: Caryl Churchill


What drew you to choosing to direct this play?

It was a new play by the fantastic Caryl Churchill written for four older women and as I know that there are extraordinarilly talented older women actors in Wellington it was an immediate attraction. I read the play and loved its importance, relevance and brilliance and what better way than to counter the invisibility of older women than to put them on stage.  This is rare and wondrous!

It was only after it was programmed by Circa that it received the prestigious Writers’ Guild Award (UK) for best play of 2016. It has just enjoyed a sell-out return season at the Royal Court Theatre and will be seen in New York before touring the UK. We are delighted that this season is part of the Women’s Theatre Festival (WTF!) at Circa.

Is this the first Caryl Churchill play you have directed?  

Yes it is. I have seen many of her plays and always loved them. Circa has produced several of her works including two productions of Cloud 9.

They are all challenging plays from a director’s point of view but hugely rewarding. She was one of the first playwrights to use overlapping dialogue. I remember thinking how marvellous this was after reading Top Girls. In Escaped Alone, Caryl Churchill has moved even further into this realm. Her dialogue overlaps, is cut off and rhythmical but we still follow the stories of each character. The result is that there is a richness and depth in her characters and story.  As Time Out’s Andrzej Lukowski says, she has an incredible gift for spinning light out of the dark.

Director: Susan Wilson

Director: Susan Wilson

What did you think when you first read the script?                                             

I immediately knew I wanted to do this play as soon as possible with a stunning cast to do it justice. I am thrilled to have four of the best – Ginette McDonald, Carmel McGlone, Jane Waddell and Irene Wood. Escaped Alone is an important play about our world at the present moment.  It looks to the future and asks many questions about why we are here and where we are going.  And it‘s funny!

You have a long history of directing, particularly at Circa what are the joys of it?

It is a privilege to be able to bring such a variety of new work from both New Zealand and overseas to our audiences.  I love the collaborative process with design, lights and in this case special music composed by Garth Farr. And I love watching the actors create, develop and realise their performances.  It is both challenging and rewarding .


Miss Jean Batten
Part of WTF! Women’s Theatre Fetsival
7 – 11 March 
Circa One


Jean Batten, was not only one of the finest pilots of her time but also an exceptional navigator. Her 1936 flight from England to New Zealand in a single engine plane made of wood and fabric navigating with a map, a compass and a watch must be one of the extraordinary feats of the last century. Her record for the flight stood for 44 years.

Utterly fearless she flew at a time when pilots regularly disappeared without a trace. She was unquestionably brave, unswervingly determined and at the height of her fame she was one of the most celebrated women in the world. But despite her high public profile she carefully guarded her privacy.


Miss Jean Batten is a solo show written by Phil Ormsby and performed by Alex Ellis about New Zealand’s legendary Aviatrix.

In June 2014 Phil wrote a first draft of Miss Jean Batten at Playmarket’s ‘Writers Retreat’ for a 40 minute solo performance at La Mama Theatre in Melbourne, Australia, as part of their ‘Explorations Season’ in October 2014.

The staging was simple, a chair on a bare stage, enhanced by a basic soundtrack (and Jean in her PJ’s)



“Miss Jean Batten” Performance as part of the ‘Explorations Season’ in October 2014 at La Mama Theatre in Melbourne, Australia.


“Miss Jean Batten” Performance as part of the ‘Explorations Season’ in October 2014 at La Mama Theatre in Melbourne, Australia.

















Feedback from the Explorations season was great. It confirmed for us that the show needed to be a solo performance (Jean’s greatest exploits were achieved on her own) and that even though her whole life was fascinating it was her record breaking flight from England to New Zealand that really captured people’s imaginations.

Once Alex had completed her research…


Miss Jean Batten premiered at The Basement theatre in Auckland in March 2016 directed by Amanda Rees, set designed by John Parker, costume by Elizabeth Whiting, sound by Thomas Press and lighting by Ruby Reihana-Wilson.


Miss Jean Batten image for info pack

Miss Jean Batten premiere at The Basement theatre in Auckland in March 2016


“This is a gem of a show” Alex Bonham, Whats Good Blog

“It’s a star performance, one that the legend that is Jean Batten more than deserves.” Sam Brooks, Pantograph Punch

“a brilliant one-hour cameo performance.” John Daly-Peoples, NBR


We’ve since performed in the Aviation Hall at MOTAT



MOTAT Aviation Hall


At the Nelson Arts Festival and the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival and now Circa.


Jean taking off at HGAF


Miss Jean Batten is a joyous celebration of an independent woman who pursued her ambition with unqualified success despite being judged and patronised because of her gender. She was someone who didn’t always fit neatly into the box society placed her in but she seems to have lived exactly the life she wanted.

Most of all, it’s about capturing the spirit of Jean Batten, New Zealand’s most famous Aviatrix. It’s a story of success against enormous odds and one that will resonate with every kiwi.


The Rebel Alliance have been irregular visitors to Wellington over the last ten years. Their very first production The Orderly by Michael Downey played at BATS as part of the 2007 Fringe Festival and the year after they returned to BATS with Sophie Dingemans’ Grace. Their last visit was in 2012 with Anders Falstie-Jensen’s Standstill, featuring a hardworking cast on 3 treadmills, also at BATS. Manifesto 2083 marks their Circa debut!

The Orderly - Production Still

The Orderly – Production Still

Grace - Production Still

Grace – Production Still












Productions by The Rebel Alliance have almost always been based or inspired by true events and Manifesto 2083 is no exception. Originally created by Danish theatre makers Christian Lollike, Olaf Højgaard and Tanja Diers in response to right wing extremist Anders Breivik’s attack on the Norwegian Parliament and subsequent killing spree on the island of Utøya the play became hugely controversial when the company announced their intent to create a play based on Breivik’s manifesto a mere month after the attack.  It premiered in 2012 and shortly after toured to Norway.

Standstill - Production Still

Standstill – Production Still

The play can almost be described as half Ted talk half performance piece in the way it lays out ideas that drove Breivik, and demonstrates with disturbing realism the ease with which one can be radicalized online.

The Rebel Alliance is the only company outside of Europe that has been given permission to perform this intense piece of Scandinavian theatre.

Manifesto 2083
Part of the 2017 Fringe Festival

13 – 18 Feb
Mon – Sat 7.30pm



The star-studded cast of Last Legs is just about to hit the boards of Circa One for their return season after their record-setting premiere season.

Back in the rehearsal room and days away from their second opening night we spoke to VIVIEN BELL ­about her role in Last Legs and preparing for the repeat season.

Last Legs is great because I allows you to have a laugh at yourself. The characters are quite broad and growing old disgracefully, so you can laugh at them and recognise their traits, petty concerns and issues that you might recognise in people you know, or even yourself.

Wellington, NZ. 08.09.2016. Last Legs. Written by Roger Hall. Directed by Ross Jolly. Circa One, 10 September to 8 October.  Photo credit: Stephen A’Court.  COPYRIGHT ©Stephen A’Court

 Photo credit: Stephen A’Court.

Coming back to rehearsal room and preparing for the return season has been really nice and more relaxed. We are so familiar with the work, and it’s nice to have the lines learnt and feel secure, and also to come back to all your friends.

At the beginning of the week’s rehearsal I think people were taking more risks and exploring more than they did whilst rehearsing for the first season because we are confident and it hasn’t been such a long gap that you can’t get it all back for opening night.

Wellington, NZ. 08.09.2016. Last Legs. Written by Roger Hall. Directed by Ross Jolly. Circa One, 10 September to 8 October.  Photo credit: Stephen A’Court.  COPYRIGHT ©Stephen A’Court

 Photo credit: Stephen A’Court. 

Certainly on of the benefits of doing a repeat season is this extra awareness of what my character Kitty is like and what she was perhaps intended to be. She is quite sexy – she uses sex as a means to get by and afford to live in this expensive, upmarket retirement village – though she doesn’t like to admit it. I feel more now, with the second season, that she’s quite a hard-nosed businesswoman, and was worried about where she would end her days.

For those coming back to see it a second time I would like to say that it is faster and slicker, but I’m sure the audiences will be the ones to tell us that. We haven’t changed anything in Roger’s script, but coming back to a show and re-rehearsing we always find something new in the characters, jokes and situations.

I think our audiences will see some things they might have missed the first time around.”

Last Legs – Return Season
28 Jan – 18 Feb
Circa One
Tues – Thurs 6.30pm, Fri – Sat 8pm. Sun 4pm
Strictly Limited Season!

Part of WTF! Women’s Theatre Festival
25 Feb – 25 March

Kia Ora Hens and potential Hens,

After several years of hibernation, Hens’ Teeth Women’s Comedy Company will burst back onto the Wellington stage of as part of the aptly named WTF! Women’s Theatre Festival in March. This festival surrounds the second Hui on Women in Theatre on March 11th,  and Hens’ Teeth perform in Circa One March 14th -25th

For those of you who don’t know – Hens’ Teeth format is of a comic line-up which changes nightly, with some regulars and some “tryouts”. It is held together by an M.C. who this year will be Pinky Agnew. Typically there are 8 -12 performers each night, who will do one or 2 slots each. These pieces are typically 5 minutes long, with some running at 12 minutes. These are mostly sketch-based comedy, but any comedy form is possible – from stand-up, to music, to mime.

We have some of the stalwarts of the old guard: such as Kate Harcourt, Prue Langbein, Helen Moulder, Rose Beauchamp, Darian Takle,  who will be performing a mixture of old favorites and new. To add to this fine mix we’re looking for fresh blood (or fresh fodder) who can contribute to the laughter index.

The success of Hens’ Teeth has been attributed to the comedy being about things that are part of the fabric of most women’s lives: sex, politics, aging, cooking, ambition, breastfeeding, men, opera, housework, dieting, childcare, self-defence, love, money, contraception, creativity, etc, etc. The only rule for the content of Hens’ Teeth is that we don’t laugh at the expense of men, or of any other minorities.

If you have a piece you’d like to offer, email or phone me before the end of January. On February 26th we will run an audition workshop, and choose the line-ups for the season. Can’t wait!

P.S. Please pass this on….

Kate JasonSmith

Creator & Producer, Hens’ Teeth.

Contact Details
M: 022 233 4444
E: kate@hensteeth.co.nz 


Our Box Office will be closed from 2pm Fri 23 Dec and reopen at 10am on Tues 3 Jan 2017. Tickets can still be purchased online. Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


2017 Full-Year Programme

Our 2017 brochure is now in the building! Why not stop by and pick up a copy and have a peek at all of the amazing shows we have coming to Circa next year! We have a lot of new shows – as well as some much loved favourites returning!

You can also click on the button below and view the 2017 programme on our website!


For Circa Theatre. Photo credit: Stephen AíCourt. COPYRIGHT ©Stephen AíCourt

Photo credit: Stephen A’Court.


Scarlet & Gold
Circa Two
25 November – 22 December
Tues – Sat 7.30pm, Sun 4,30pm
$25 – $46. Friends $33 until 11 December
Written by Lorae Parry
Directed by Kate JasonSmith
Choreographed by Jan Bolwell


Playwright Lorae Parry tells us about the rehearsal process.

“We’re off to a great start with rehearsals for Scarlet & Gold. We’ve just finished our second week, learning songs with Laughton Pattrick – maestro extraordinaire – who’s been teaching us 4 part harmonies of songs of the time. All very exciting, challenging and enormous fun!  The singing and dancing have a vibrant place in the play.  The miners loved to sing – they’d burst into song on Saturday nights in the local Miners’ Hall. Our extraordinarily musical cast, includes five pianists, a guitarist, and piano accordion player. And of course me – playing the spoons.  Mercifully briefly!

Jan Bolwell has been also been laying down the choreography, for the scenes of the Saturday night dances in the Miners’ Hall, to the intimidating umbrella dance the women perform on the street in the rain, as they protest against the plight of their men.

Director Kate JasonSmith is also ensuring real understanding and portrayal of the play’s rich text drawn from the real life events of the Waihi Strike story. I don’t know how long the research for the play has taken me, but it’s been a long time! Stopping and starting over several years, I’d write a snatch of a scene here, a segment of a speech there.  More recently, after my inspirational visit to Waihi in with my nephew, I spent hours in the Turnbull; researching old papers, and reading books by Maryan Street, Stanley Roche and Harry Holland, along with a 300 page thesis by Phillip Rainer.




And now, after many drafts, that research has become a play. It’s fascinating watching the story unfold and seeing our large cast coming together. We have 13 actors in all, so we’re a big cast on a small stage. Yet somehow that makes the play more present, immediate and alive. We have a core cast of eight wonderful professional actors, 3 talented student actors, and two vibrant 13 years olds who arrive at rehearsals after school, and inject huge energy onto the stage.

One element I wanted to bring into the foreground, was the lives of the Waihi women. Initially the story of the strike seemed centred around the men. Six or seven of my great great uncles, cousins and brothers-in-law were involved in the strike and had been part of my family’s stories. Coming from Australia in the hope of a better life, and led by Bill Parry, they were among the “Aussie stirrers”.

But as I dug into the research I realised just how much the women brought to that seminal and dramatic event. They were the ones who stood staunchly by their men, put bread on the table and sewed for the kids. Eventually, in outrage, they went out onto the streets and found their voices.  And once they’d found them, they were not to be silenced.  The men could be taken to jail for abusing the strike breakers, but these women knew no boundaries! They said what they wanted to say, knowing they couldn’t be arrested without an outcry of sympathy resounding across the country.

Those women and girls were courageous. At the height of the strike, my great great aunt, Georgina Parry, was confronted by three strike-breakers who threatened her with a piece of wood. She stood her ground: ‘If you’re man enough to attack me, I’m woman enough to fight you.’ The women of Waihi gave as good as they got!




It’s over a hundred years since that strike finished. Yet it continues to resonate today.  Scarlet & Gold looks backwards in order to look forward. It will leave many audience members remembering and reflecting on the past and on the future. For some it will be memories of their own families’ stories, families divided by strikes, politics, rugby tours and land rights.

In remembering Waihi they will remember the other needless tragedies
of Huntly, Kaitangata and especially Pike River. It’s a dramatic play combining tragedy and comedy. It tells a New Zealand story that has become apocryphal in the struggle for equality and our belief in a fair go for all.

After a Rehearsed Reading of the play at Circa several months ago, one audience member, Graham Dyhrberg, wrote: “We were struck by how real your play was, so raw and true to the stories I have heard about the strike. It also brought back all the emotions we felt in our own struggles in our early working life and made us realise how little has changed. So powerful was the play it has been constantly on my mind since.”

I very much hope you’ll join us at Circa soon, for a great night out. We believe this play will inspire, entertain, and enrich the human spirit. And we guarantee you’ll leave the theatre singing!”


Painting by Bob Kerr – Bill Parry, President of the Waihi Miners’ & Workers’ Union 



Susan Wilson has directed the Circa Panto since 2005. She tells how it began and why she loves doing them.

How did it happen that you started directing the Panto at Circa?

Sometime in 2003 Roger Hall, Paul Jenden and I were discussing Pantos when we were in the foyer at Circa one evening and we all said how much we had loved them as kids and how enjoyable they were and how they have influenced us and our choice of career. Paul and I particularly recalled David Tinkham and his marvellous Pantos in the Opera House which we had seen with our parents and what a memorable and influential experience it was.  Roger Hall agreed, recalling his own childhood experiences in the UK and said he would love to write a Panto for Circa. He had been wanting to do so for some time and had also been talking to Ray Henwood about it. So off we went with Cinderella. Never expecting to be still celebrating Panto in 2016

jack and the beanstalk Poster

You have worked on many of the Pantos with musical director Michael Nicholas Williams – there is obviously a great comradery built up during that time.

Michael and I always seem to have a good time we get along really well and can speak our own shortcut Panto language as we go along. Anyone listening in would think we were crazy. I really do admire Michael’s extraordinary talent and I’m so grateful he has been with us from the very beginning, always patient and good humoured and full of enthusiasm. I’m always sad Paul Jenden is no longer with us but of course all his song lyrics are there and many of his costumes are still recycled into new clothes Panto outfits.

What are the most memorable moments?                                                                                                        

All my favourite moments are to do with the children coming up on stage and performing with the actors. No matter how big or how small those extra actors are, they are amazing in the way they participate, learn songs and become part of the story. The actors always enjoy working with the children and sometimes the adults as well will join in. It’s sometimes hilarious playing to a full house of just adults who abandon their personas and turn into children and fully join in the fun.

Susan Wilson and Michael Nicholas Williams

Susan Wilson and Michael Nicholas Williams

Do you have a favourite Panto?

All the Pantos are my favourites according to which one I am working on. We have always been blessed with wonderfully talented casts who have brought much to each show by way of contributions, jokes and singing and dancing talent.

What makes the success of the Panto?

Panto is a way of leaving the outside world and all its troubles behind for an hour or two of fun and joining in the old stories which we all know. It’s a great opportunity for young and old to get together at the same place in the same story land and have a great time.

All the productions have been successful because they are a family show with fun and jokes and participation for both old and young and everyone in between!

I would like to congratulate Roger Hall for all his wonderful scripts and congratulations to him for staying the distance with us for so long and enduring endless re-writes.


Jack and the Beanstalk, this years Panto, opens 19 November.
Friday 18 November preview SOLD OUT!
Sunday 20 November $25 special!


The Dark is a paranormal romance set in the 1920 during the height of the Spiritualism craze. Playwright Ken Duncan sort to produce a piece of work that relied heavily on tension and suspense.

Suspense and tension are often seen in the horror genre, yet the range of different ways tension and suspense can be used are limitless. We have put together a list of 8 scenes in which tension and suspense are used to keep the audience on the edge of their seat.


  1. Jurassic Park – Raptors in the kitchen

The raptors in the kitchen is possibly one of the most iconic tense scene in a non-horror film. The 2 children hiding in the kitchen and the deafening silence as the audience realize that the dinosaurs are intelligent enough to have learnt how to open doors.

  1. Misery – Annie returns home

Misery has its gory moments and is not a film for the squeamish; arguably the scene with the most tension is not one that feature gore or the breaking of knee caps. Rather when Annie comes home those precious seconds in which Paul must crawl back into his room and relock the door with a hair pin the audience are chewing their nails!

  1. Se7en – what’s in the box?

Most crime drama tend to have their share of tension mainly around the identity of the killer. Se7en heightens this tension through the killer turning himself in covered in blood. Tension increases as we and the main character’s attempt to figure out why a serial killer would turn himself in when he still has 2 of the 7 deadly sins left to kill for. “What’s in the box” will go down as one of the most iconic suspenseful filled scene in film history.


  1. Silence of the lambs – Lights Out

An armed FBI agent chasing a deranged serial killer. Then tension is pretty high during this ironic film but the suspense mounts when the lights go out. Clarice is left in the dark attempting to navigate while Bill stalks her wearing night vision glasses. The whole scene is made tenser because we watch from his point of view as he brings his hand close to her face and she is completely unaware of his presence.

  1. 127 Hours – Aron cutting off his arm

Another film that builds suspense steadily throughout. As soon as Aron is trapped the tension starts to build and does not let up until he has freed himself.The amputation scene uses a sound score that has us flinching away as Aron saws through the muscle and nerves in his arm.


  1. Jaws – Shark Attack

It says a lot about the direction, cinematography and sound score of this film that audience are on the edges of their seats before we even see the shark! Jaws is the film that proves how effective music can be, and how our fear of the unknown can leave us tense messes.

  1. The Walking Dead – season 6 finale

Tension can be used in many different ways in films and television shows. The Walking Dead shows us how effective long term tension can be in their sixth season. We have an assumed death by one of the main character only to find out 3 episodes later that he actually survived. Then the season 6 finale had one of the main character die but the audience was not told which character until the season 7 premiere. To add to the suspense, the producers made sure that every character filmed a death scene so even the actors did not know if their character had survived.


  1. We need to talk about Kevin

In general, this films uses tension extremely well. The general atmosphere builds tension and suspense is heightening through stunning performances by the actors. This film is tense in a way that leaves you troubles for days afterwards because usually we have a good character and a bad, but in this film mother and son are both trouble and sadistic. Nature vs, Nuture and evil children. What more could you want?

If you are interested in seeing another way suspense and tension is used, come along to The Dark play reading and be ready to be on the edge of your seat.

The Dark

Saturday 29 October, 2pm


Hui on Women in Theatre held on 19 September at Circa Theatre Wellington.

Thank you to all the wonderful people who attended the inaugural Hui on Women in Theatre in Wellington. The Hui was awash with energy, ideas and creativity.

Around 100 people attended, predominantly women of all ages and stages spanning from students to veteran actors and theatre practitioners.  We met in two three-hour gatherings at Circa Theatre.  People were welcomed to each session by the organisers 4Hui – the inequality for women in theatre in New Zealand – was brought to the fore by introductory presentations by Kate JasonSmith and Hannah Banks.  In small discussion groups key barriers to equality attendees were identified and then honed to possible solutions and actions to be taken.  A number of working groups were formed with volunteer convenors to get the ball rolling.  In the attachment to this report are the lists of these working groups and their convenors.

At the Hui participants were advised about a follow-up meeting scheduled for 11 March 2017.  Since the Hui the March date now looks likely to be a much larger event focused on topics and outcomes arising from the Hui on Women in Theatre. This may include key speakers, workshops and performances.  Circa Theatre are hosting a fortnight of women’s theatre to coincide with this event.

Linda and Kate and others in the original Hui organising group had a follow-up meeting on Thursday 29th September.  It was agreed that the group organising the 11th March meeting will be in touch with the convenors of each working group in January to canvas ideas and expectations for the March meeting.  In the meantime we are expecting the topic convenors to get onto contacting others and starting to explore their themes more fully. There is no expectation that convenors of the working groups report back before then but if you need anything such as contact details or have ideas to contribute before January feel free to get in touch with the Linda and Kate at hui@circa.co.nz.

It was suggested that someone in the media group(s) could set up a Facebook page specifically for Wellington Women in Theatre. This would become our main communication device and a place to ask questions, post articles and possibly link to other groups such as Feminist Educators of Wellington.  Perhaps as part of the Facebook page someone could come up with a good “working title” for the Wellington group.

As a result of the hui there was also a desire for people to meet and socialise “intergenerationally”.  Linda has offered Circa Theatre on Thursday 27th October from 5.00-6.30pm as a venue to gather informally for a drink and a catch up.  We are looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible then.

Kia ora Koutou