Reviews, News and Commentary

Three great plays open Auckland Theatre Company’s 2022 season

John Daly-Peoples

Sydney Theatre Company’s production of “Grand Horizons”

ATC 2022 Season

John Daly-Peoples

The first three productions of the Auckland Theatre Company for next year offer a good range of work from overseas and local dramatists with three very accessible works.

“Grand Horizons”  by Bess Wohl
8 Feb – 5 Mar

In the absence of a new Roger Hall play ATC have turned to the American playwright Bess Wohl who mines similar territory to Sir Roger.

In her latest Tony-nominated comedy, “Grand Horizons” we encounter Nancy and Bill who are 50 years into the picture-perfect marriage. Now, as they settle into the beige walls of their new ‘lifestyle village,’ Nancy announces she wants out and Bill seems  to acquiesce.

For their two grown-up sons, it’s a devastating betrayal. Their long-held beliefs about love, family and security are shaken.

The play premiered earlier this year in Sydney where the Sydney Morning Herald said ‘On the surface it is a textbook sitcom from the versatile but undemonstrative kitchen sink set and understated costumes, to the instantly recognisable characters – the grumpy old man, the put-upon wife, the grown-up kids who aren’t sure who’s meant to be the grown-up.

“The revelations, such as they are, are not shocking – at least, not to the audience – and the reactions almost comfortingly predictable. But the power of minute observations builds as the play unfolds.”

“There is a beautiful clarity at the heart of “Grand Horizons”. A big part of this is Wohl’s story, which transforms an everyday family saga into a deftly constructed story arc paced with show-stopping side-tracks and dramatic punchlines.”

The play was so successful in Sydney that it is having another season at the same time as ATC’s

Wohl has become one of the leading playwrights in the US at the moment having written nine plays since 2010 all of which display a wry humour and unerring sense of the way people talk and relate to each.

“Grand Horizons” is directed by Jennifer Ward-Lealand and stars Roy Billing and Annie Whittle.

“Lysander’s Aunty or A Most Rageful Irreverent Comedy Concerning an Offstage Character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Ralph McCubbin Howell
17 Mar – 3 Apr

Jumping from Athens to Aotearoa, with a cast of New Zealand’s finest comic talent, this is an uproarious wild ride of magic, mayhem and mutiny.

In William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, young lovers Lysander and Hermia defy the Duke by eloping to an aunt’s house in the woods. But just who is this anti establishment aunt who is not much more than cypher.

Explaining the plot of the play, McCubbin Howell says, “Reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream” a few years ago, I was struck by the fleeting mention of Lysander’s Aunt. She is introduced as someone who might help the young lovers defy Athens law and elope in the woods, but the plot then takes another turn and she never gets mentioned again. Shakespeare is littered with characters like this, but this one in such a well-known play seemed particularly intriguing. Who is this law-snubbing, free-loving aunty? Why is she in the woods? And what’s she doing helping runaway lovers elope?

The play takes a similar approach as Tom Stoppard did with his “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in imagining some of Shakespeare’s characters beyond the confines of the original play

With quick, witty dialogue and a pacey plot, Lysander’s Aunty or A Most Rageful Irreverent Comedy Concerning an Offstage Character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a brand-new, energetic, large-ensemble production led by award-winning Trick of the Light duo, director Hannah Smith and writer Ralph McCubbin Howell.

“Witi’s Wāhine by Nancy Brunning
10 – 28 May 

“Witi’s  Wāhine” tells of  four Māori women taking their journeys through history and mythology, sharing tears, jokes and waiata along the way. But these are no ordinary women – they’re matriarchs of New Zealand fiction, finally stepping out from the shadows.

In Witi Ihimaera’s books, characters spring from the page, fully formed and opinionated. Here, some of his most memorable characters, from works like The Parihaka Woman, The Matriarch and Pounamu, step onto the stage.

The result is “Witi’s Wāhine”, a love letter or, more accurately, a love song, to the women of Te Tairāwhiti, the East Coast, who inhabit Ihimaera’s writing: the wāhine of his own whānau. Nancy Brunning has crafted a story that fuses loving tribute with powerful commentary, levity with unflinching reality, sensitivity with warm affection.

Reviewer Simon Wilson said of the production that it serves up “the richness of culture and the wonder of people, with all their warts, with all the laughter and the singing and the pain.” Originally devised and directed by the late Nancy Brunning, we proudly present this Hapai Productions performance of words and song, re-directed by Waimihi Hotere and with a special appearance by Ihimaera’s irresistible ngā tuāhine.

“Witi’s Wāhine” is a co-production between Auckland Theatre Company and Hāpai Productions.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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