Reviewed by Cecilia Martini
The End of the Golden Weather (Part 3 – Christmas at Te Parenga)
By Bruce Mason
A NZTM Production
Takapuna Beach, Takapuna
25 December 2022
Reviewed by Cecilia Martini
What an enjoyable Christmas morning celebration.
Returning after a Covid enforced cancellation last year, this Takapuna annual hit the ground running for the 17th time this Christmas. The 5-600 strong audience was in a mood to celebrate and delighted to be back. The sun was out, the tide that was full and the corks were popping.
Sir Roger Hall conceived this annual event in 2006, determined to create an authentic Takapuna Christmas tradition. He felt it should be theatrical (of course) and have clearly discernible links to Takapuna. What better way, he felt, than Bruce Mason’s iconic Golden Weather, set right where Mason grew through childhood. The main character in his play is a nameless 12-year-old based on the young Mason himself. Completed in 1959, he went on to perform it more than 1,000 times in theatres, pubs and parks all over New Zealand and overseas with themes that are as relevant today as they were 80 years ago. Part 3 could not be a more perfectly accessible realisation of a kiwi Christmas.
The crowd at Takpuna Beach End of the Golden Weather
At Takapuna Beach there is no stage, just a natural setting that Mason has pre-painted: a green sward ringed by pohutukawa, the guardian rocks at either end of three-quarter mile long beach, the occasional squawking gull and an ever-brooding Rangitoto standing guard over everything.
This year, quietly at first, the plaintive notes of bagpipes could be heard. Initially wistful, then joyful, and then slowly increasing in tempo and volume. Suddenly the piper hove into view. A few quiet murmurs could be heard when the crowd realised that the actor this year was not a boy at all. No, in 2022 it was a girl.
Perhaps better known for A Traveller’s Guide to Turkish Dogs from earlier in the year, Tess Sullivan quickly discarded the pipes and bounced in as an elfin-like blythe spirit providing the child’s-eye view of Christmas in a 1930s family setting. She capered and cavorted about, dancing easily from narration and description to an array of characterisations that included parents, their friends, relatives and siblings, simply telling a story and telling it well. She easily captivated her audience and their mindset change from boy to girl was instantaneously accomplished and in no way the risk some may have initially feared.
Part 3 of Mason’s script is timeless, its tone is perfect and its setting is as impeccable as the play itself – a Christmas concert performed by children for their nearest and dearest. There is a clear expectation, excitement and nervousness among them before the concert begins. But all goes awry and turns into frustrations and scoldings with the tantrums and idiosyncrasies of the siblings who refuse to take it seriously and do what has been so meticulously planned and prepared.
Tess Sullivan drew out the humour in this and truly owned her interpretation. The chocolate fish she dealt out to some in the audience may have melted but they loved her nonetheless, and post-performance comments expressed appreciation for the different emphases she brought. On balance, it was great casting and Tess was loved by everyone at the beach. The only quibble perhaps related to her tempo which was constantly up, whereas the occasional pause may have enhanced some of the dramatic moments and time-shifts.
But this was overshadowed by those superb characterisations. One middle-aged bloke was even overheard saying he had never been to a single play in his life but thought this was pure magic … and he’d definitely be back next year. And Stephen Lovatt, arguably New Zealand’s definitive Mason interpreter and a long-time actor in this role, was glowing saying ‘Tess owned it’.
Part of the success of this event lies in its very simplicity and community focus. There is just one actor and two speakers on stands. There is neither set nor scenery, no curtain to draw and no props, mood music or special effects. Everything is outlined in Mason’s original script and the audience itself becomes a part of what he has described.
It is understood the NZ Theatre Month Trust, which produces this event, is not only keen to see it continue, but is keen to establish some type of Endowment Scheme awarded annually to an outstanding early-to-mid career professionl actor, and posing an on-going challenge to both interpret Mason’s words and play the role. Tess Sullivan took on that challenge this year and clearly won.
So, Sir Roger, take a bow. You may have been unable to attend this year and missed out on a chocolate fish, but you have well and truly established a Christmas tradition that resonates well beyond Takapuna.