First Nation performances – The Auckland Festival

Hatea Kapa Haka

I booked mostly theatre events and at the time of writing, the only cancellation due to COVID 19 has been the out-door spectacular, ‘Place des Ange’ in the Auckland Domain. The transport of their equipment had been disrupted. (by now, several shows have been cancelled because the artists were not in the country before the quarantine regulations went into force.)

Hollie Smith

I attended the free out-door opening event in Aotea Square. The highlight was Bohemian Rhapsody performed acapella by Hatea Kapa Haka in Te Reo Maori. After a bad start, they began again and were stunning. They also led the audience in the National anthem in Te Reo. Hollie Smith, iconic kiwi singer, was the headliner culminating in a Te Reo version of ‘Bathe in the River by Don McGlashan. There was a lot of ‘community singing by the audience encouraged by the energetic and engaging singer/compare. It started to rain so I took shelter under one of the sun shades near the back.

Kane and Hera
Maori & Aboriginal flags

My next event was nearby in the Waitakere Rooms at the Aotea Centre. Intriguing. We, the audience, gathered for Black Ties in a large bar area before being ushered downstairs to a huge function room set out with circular tables and chairs. The action took place on a raised stage at one side of the room. Aboriginal Kane and Maori Hera are young and in love and to set things in motion (after an interruption by his adopted brother) he proposes. She’s keen, but won’t give an answer until they have met both sides of their respective families. The action quickly flicks between Melbourne and Rural New Zealand, exposing dysfunctional and inappropriate behaviour on both sides of the Tasman Sea. Everything goes hilariously wrong as prejudices are revealed and actioned. Mothers embarrass. Sylvia’s known bottom line is that only a Maori can marry her daughters, while Ruth Baker, wants her son to stay in Melbourne. At the end of Act one and against all the odds, the answer to the proposal was a yes, though we didn’t see much of the couple’s process in making this decision.

Wedding party Bride & Groom flanked by their mothers

We were banished upstairs at the interval and returned to find ourselves at a wedding reception. Families/Whanau/Mobs have met and the Mothers are already at loggerheads ranging from icily polite to downright vicious. Siblings and best friends are also at war, leaving Kane’s adopted brother ducking arrows and Hera’s young sister making the wedding video, which transports crucial off-stage scenes to on-stage screens. Did I mention the band? – of course it’s a musical with wedding and love story standards. They gallantly fill in the awkward pauses in the passions and cover when too many of the characters are off-stage. Consequently, act two sags in places.

Jack Charles father of Aboriginal theatre

The cultural clash is palpable and the experience, chaotic, funny and dangerous – all vital ingredients for a good night at the theatre. This important piece is a result of collaboration between ILBIJEIR and Te Rehia theatres. First Nation people have a lot to give to each other and we, the colonisers have much to learn from such cultural collaborations with the brakes off.


Where Black Ties boldly takes swipes at Maori culture, The Treaty, the lack of a treaty (Australia), absent fathers, drink and loss of culture, UPU (Silo Theatre) is a cry from the Pacific. It’s an anthology of poetry and prose from the islands, starting with Matariki (Samoa) – the lining up of the stars for the Pleiades group in a powerful ensemble opening. It brings together voices from this vast area of ocean, often forgotten, to talk about sea level rises, missionaries and their legacy and colonisation. There’s a section where the speakers de-colonise with different actions, another where a Pacifica man describes the joys of sex for her, a white missionary wife. Another, eulogises the delights of Spam, brought to the Pacific by American colonisers. My favourite was the Fat Brown Woman. She has attitude, sexuality and she is not to be messed with. The women in the ensemble, all thin to average, somehow managed to swing their hips and swell their bodies to suggest fat. With such powerful words it was a pity that at times there were rushed or lost, particularly by the male actors. These are words to savour, messages from the First Nation people of the Pacific.

Biladurang (Platypus) is a one-person dance/theatre performance in a hotel suite twenty odd floors up overlooking water – in this case the Waitemata Harbour and Hauraki Gulf. Joel Bray is the writer and performer, he’s blond, white, Aboriginal and gay and this is his story. There’s a warning of ‘course language, adult themes, drug references, nudity and sexual references. I hesitated to book, but the Aboriginal aspect drew me in and well, I do look to push out of my comfort zone wherever possible. That’s what theatre should do.

pouring of wine

We gathered on the ground floor, a full house of sixteen people – mostly middle aged and, like me, older – four of us were men. Two lifts took us up and we assembled outside the room – one of us knocked on the door. Joel, dressed in a bath robe answered, embarrassed – quickly retreated to retrieve underwear from the floor and handed us all bathrobes to wear. It was intimate, but we settled in with a glass of bubbles each. Joel made a good stab at remembering our names as we entered and he played on the initial awkwardness of our situation by chatting away to make us feel comfortable. He lapsed into dance – using a wall and the floor as a springboard for his strong hands and broad feet – moving in contemporary style – narrowly missing furniture: the television, the low round table clustered with glasses and wine bottles. A sound track came from a laptop controlled with a finger in between arabesques. He recounted his teenage discovery of gay porn followed by Christian self-disgust and guilt. The self-inspection of his forty-nine-year-old body lead to memories of drug use, being fucked but never finding love in a relationship – a familiar gay theme. The performance is a careful construction of set pieces and intervening chat with audience management. Those who were placed on the bed were moved so it could become the next performance space.

Joel needed to shower and we heard the sound of water as he turned on the taps in the bathroom – returning briefly to dim the lights and point a remote at the television – we watched the next performance space. Emerging cleansed and naked but covered in foam, he opened the curtains, dressed. We look out at Auckland, the Waitemata Harbour and the Islands of the Hauraki Gulf. Four of us from Waiheke Island were there – we proudly point it out.

The water is part of the story of the Platypus the journey to being created half duck, half rat – defying classification. This is the crux of Joel’s story – white but black – not fitting in anywhere. His ancestors were ‘stolen’, became detached from their culture – half remembered by his father and reassembled by another generation. Does he know who he is?

He recalled attending an event for Aboriginal people and being asked, ‘How do you know you are Aboriginal?’ There was a pause but no answer to the question. There was a moment when he spoke for all First nation people – imagining a parallel universe where no Red Coats arrived no ships carrying settlers landed – a powerful image of a pristine forest (no global warming) where the Biladurang hunts for food in the river with her duck’s bill and lays eggs which will hatch into the next generation. There are still some in the ancestral lands of the Wiradjuri people.

Roma Eurogames and Coloseo


I exit the Metro at Coloseo late in the evening, it’s dark and I’ve never been here before. The floodlit spectrum before me is instantly recognisable; it’s the Coliseum, so this must be Rome. Childhood stories of heroic Gladiators, a Lion who refused to eat a Christian and the movie Sparticus are all part of the history that was the Roman Empire. My Mum always said it was the most successful empire ever, lasting more or less over a thousand years. Much longer than the British Empire, she said. To be fair, she didn’t know about the Incas 3.5 thousand years or the Aztecs who went for 2,750.


My Mr B&B accommodation is a short walk from the Coliseum and my host’s American husband is on hand to greet me to a small but beautifully appointed ground floor apartment. Todd has plenty of good advice of what to see and where to eat locally – and there’s a welcoming bottle of Prosecco.

San Giovanni in Laterno

There’s been considerable uncertainty about the LGBT Eurogames here with lack of information and conflicting reports. The website now doesn’t have the information – schedules and heat sheets, so I’m looking for some answers at the accreditation evening tomorrow. Early morning emails from the organisers inform me that accreditation has moved from the Games Village to a café due to anticipated rain, but my first priority is buying breakfast stuff from the Carrefour supermarket a short walk away.

Scala Sancta – tourists climb the stairs on hands and knees.
Scala Sancta ceiling

I’ve got time this morning, to explore and spot a likely candidate highlighted by my host on the handy map of Rome. Scala Santa houses the marble steps which Jesus (allegedly) climbed twice on the day of his death in the Jerusalem palace of Pontius Pilate. These were brought to Rome by St Helen and laid from top to bottom by the workmen so that no one walked on them. For several centuries , they were covered with wood to prevent wearing of the marble but now they have been restored so the faithful may once again engage with the same steps as Christ. Today the stairs must be climbed on hands and knees as an act of faith and devotion. As I don’t claim to have either of these, I take the alternative staircase, which looks much the same to me. At the top, the chapels are crudely frescoed and I don’t spend much time looking. I guess this is an experience for the faithful, although a party of Japanese tourists are crawling up the stairs. I wonder?

San Giovanni the porch

The Basilica San Giovani in Laterno, just across the road looks more impressive. The edifice is huge and the building seemingly attached (this happens a lot in Rome) is something to do with Rome Opera. Not many are crowding in the door and it’s free with a relaxed security check. Inside, It’s massive and uncrowded. I later discover that this is the official cathedral of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. He has his throne here, it’s the centre of his diocese. Back at the Coliseum, I explore the Domus Aurea, a hill where part of Nero’s palace looked down on a lake where the Coliseum now stands. It’s all under re-construction and only parts of this once extensive and lavish complex can be glimpsed. Nero was so unpopular that much of what he built was destroyed and recycled. I consider visiting the Coliseum but there’s a queue. I can see that the interior is mostly in ruins and being reconstructed. I walk up towards the Forum, but you need a ticket to go there, instead I walk up an alley-way to get a view. An African trader of wooden trinkets, I passed earlier, has gathered his wares and is running up the hill looking behind as he goes. This is a blind alley leading to a church so I’m surprised to see the young African being escorted by Police down the hill. One of them is carrying his rucksack – I didn’t notice them overtake me. It all looks quite relaxed, and for the African (chatting to his captors) a common occurrence.

San Giovanni – the nave
San Giovanni in Laterno St Philip looking stern
Basilica San Giovanni in Laterno Popes Chair
Nero’s ruins
Ruins of Nero’s palace
View of The forum in the distance

My weekly pass is a great deal and I follow other sporty-looking people to the accreditation. I spot two women ahead – on of them is Viv Woodcock – Downey from BLAGS and the Gay Games committee. I interviewed her for Out for Sport – nice to have a familiar person to chat with in the queue. The other woman is her wife, who is competing in the discus. The café might have been chosen for its long and gently sloping incline to the bar where there is a library – yes real books to go with the beer and coffee. The Queue is huge, taking up all of the incline then snaking over the stage – someone briefly plays the grand piano. Word is that none of the people handing out accreditation badges have answers to our questions. There’s to be a meeting of the swimming team leaders at 7pm. As I’m the senior of the three from Out to Swim, I volunteer myself to attend. Thank goodness for our WhatsApp group as I’m able to collect a team mate’s badge – he’s been delayed at Gatwick Airport.

No one knows exactly where this meeting will take place and we’re all sitting around waiting. Suddenly it materialises with a presentation of an alternative schedule of events – quite different from the original. Gay Swim Amsterdam object as they have swimmers arriving on Friday who would miss out on their events. Apparently, the Netherlands Swimming Body fines swimmers who don’t turn up for their races. The original schedule is reinstated in a flash with no resistance. The Warm up is now at eight-thirty, races start at nine and it is a fifty-metre pool – outside. There are, however, no heat sheets.

My host’s recommended restaurant, overflowing at lunchtime is now quieter. They do a great seafood pasta dish and salad, perfect to carb-up for racing tomorrow.

The competition Pool

Thursday morning, I wake at seven. Panic – I haven’t set my alarm and I’ve got thirty minutes to have breakfast, shave and leave the apartment. This would normally take me a leisurely hour. The trains are all on time, my weekly ticket will take me all the way to the coast and google maps assures me that I’ll be there by eight-forty – still enough time to do some warm-up. Outside the Stella Polari station and I follow a couple of other late swimmers. It’s not clear where the entrance is and we all go down the wrong side – some signs, as we had in New York two weeks ago, could have been useful.

Out to Swim team
Medals at the end of day one

My warm-up is rushed and the pool is too warm – I’m not slicing through the water as in NY – still, I have time to use the twenty-fiver metre pool inside to complete my warm-up. It’s deliciously cool by comparison. When I signed up for this there was no schedule and so, just entered seven of my usual events. It turns out that the 400m freestyle, the 200m Backstroke and 800m freestyle are all scheduled for today. I’m allowed five events over the three days – the 400 falls by the wayside. Suddenly there’s a heat sheet and I’m trying to support our two relatively inexperienced swimmers to get to their races and warm up properly. A marshalling area gathers the swimmers in their heats and I can see that It’s all completely relaxed and professional. There are no hints of hysteria or panic – these officials know exactly what they are doing. There’s even time to announce each swimmer and their country. National identity, it seems, is important in Europe. The Netherlands and Germany are here in force – also Portugal, Belgian, Spain and France. Suddenly the 200m Backstroke looms. It seems like a struggle, with the lack of preparation, but it turns out to be only a few seconds under time. 

Pool and seaside

There’s now an opportunity to do a 4 x 50m Medley relay – not officially – just for fun. We have to make up a fourth team member- Nicolas (French but swimming for Stockholm) helps out. We’re giving James and Federico some experience. As Federico mainly does backstroke and James is best at Front Crawl, I end up doing the Breaststroke, but that’s OK as I need the practice. I’m not sure where we came – possibly last but we swam and our names are recorded on the official Italian site, but there’s no time entered.

The electricity is off in the pool café, so no espresso, just a tuna and spinach sandwich on white bread. It’s enough to get me through the 800m on a reasonable time – faster than Crawley back in January – leaving me with two gold medals in one day.


It’s the opening ceremony of the games tonight. There’s a huge contingent of Brits here – hockey, football, rugby and volleyball. OTS have four Water Polo teams here so we three swimmers are not entirely alone. We all assemble at a small stadium for a short wait. There’s a rumour that only ten people from each country should march in. My legs like that idea, but it turns out not to be true. We gather on the stadium pitch in a semicircle facing the spectators and watch a graceful aerial artist perform to the accompaniment of a live opera singer. What else would you expect in Italy? Once we are seated in the stand, there are the usual interminable speeches. Every politician in Rome has to have their say and it’s all the same words. Proud, inclusive, welcoming – which all has to be translated into English – the language the rest of Europe understands. Yes, we are leaving Europe (I think) but the British legacy is the language of commerce and we can’t undo that. There follows more dancing – sexy and together. We all agree, an improvement on the Paris Gay games performance.

Vienna Museums and palaces

Sunday morning is the traditional brunch for European gay swim meets and it’s a feast – smoked salmon, cold meats, scrambled eggs and bacon washed down with coffee and prosecco. The Out to Swim youngsters don’t look too worse for wear after the party and many are off to catch flights home. I’m off to look at museums. Mumok is dedicated to contemporary work. Imposingly nestled within the Museum Quarter like a gigantic lump of coal it seems argue with the surrounding Neo-classical surroundings. The main exhibit is a retrospective of Ernst Caramelle (Austrian) from 1974. Apart from several striking perspectives achieved with two dimensional geometric shapes, his work did not engage me. I was more interested in the building – metallic inside with a lift shaft opening onto metal grill landings.

Mumok in the Museum Quarter
Gustav Klimpt
Egon Shciele
Schiele self portrait
Schiele self portrait
Schiele house
Schiele village

On the other side of the courtyard is the Leopold museum. Its modern walls blend in with the neo-classical surroundings and make less of a statement that the Mumok. Here there is an exhibition of Viennese fashion textile design with mannequins and photographs. The main attraction is work by Klimpt and an extensive exhibition of Egon Schiele (1890-1918) – a tortured soul by all accounts.

There’s time to fit in the Mozart Haus at the end of the day, even though my legs have had far too much work so far this weekend. It’s in a back street off Stephanzplats and a bit tricky to find.  This is the only remaining house that Mozart lived in here for 3 years at the height of his success. It is also the most spacious. The audio, included in the entry, is interesting and prolongs the visiting time of a quite sparse exhibition. Nothing, except for the manuscripts and letters remain, so the house displays items which come from the period and which might have been in the household. Mozart was quickly adopted as the darling of the Viennese, but royal patronage was more difficult to come by – another example of populism rubbing up against conservatism. The Marriage of Figaro, almost wasn’t allowed by the Emperor – the play version was forbidden a few years before because of the negative depiction of the aristocracy. Vienna was underwhelmed by Mozart’s opera – not so Prague, who loved it. Vienna woke up to what it was missing, but too late as Mozart was near the end of his life and only just completed his Requiem and The Magic Flute.

I’m not really up for another Japanese noddle dinner nor a naff looking fish restaurant nearby, but find a reasonable Italian place for Linguini Adriactica – seafood. Perfect except for the fact that two couples across the isle are smoking in between courses and they have a baby with them. I’m shocked.

Schonbrun Palace
Schonbrun front courtyard
Shonbrun back side
Palace gardens
Palace Gardens
Palace Garden
Palace from the monument

Monday, I’ve booked one of those bus tours of the city and hope that the Friday Art Nouveaux experience on foot is not replicated. It’s not and the bus leaves from the Opera House (rebuilt after being destroyed in WWII). We drive around the Ringstrasse in different directions having various buildings pointed out. The windows are tinted, so no possibility for photography. The Hapsburgs are mentioned, a lot. They sounded a despotic crew who lorded over central Europe for several centuries. We can’t go into the Palace complex but instead head out to their Summer residence, Schὃnbrun Palace. Our guide sets us up with earphones connected to her microphone so that she can keep us all together. No photography is allowed and we only see the ground and grand upper floors. There are no cellars so the ground floor is laid with wooden cross sections – it’s apparently damp. The horse-drawn carriages drove through to the hall-way to deposit guests or straight through to the gardens. On the upper floor, there are beautiful inlaid floors made from Brazilian forests. Empress Maria Therese was fond of oriental decoration and the walls are covered with Chinese silk and porcelain. There are no fire places so each room has a huge porcelain pot-belly heater, which was presumably filled with hot water, brought from the kitchens across the courtyard. Maria Therese was the power and her husband barely mentioned (except for his wealth). We learn that the empress kept loosing wars, but eventually she won one and promptly built a triumphant monument on the distant hill at the end of the huge garden. We have some free time to visit things like the coach house to see gilded carriages. In spite of the warning that I shall have to run up the hill to reach the monument, I give it a try. I’ve seen enough carriages over the years. The view is rewarding and you can see how close the Palace is to the city. They wanted to be near enough to move back into town in the event of an attack. It seems that someone was always trying to assassinate the emperor and eventually the Arch Duke was killed, leading to the First World War and the end of the Austrian Hungarian Empire. The last Emperor refused to abdicate and was banished and the country became a republic. The League of Nations was established and Austria forbidden from joining up with Germany. It all sounds so complicated and unnecessary – no wonder problems persisted in Central and Eastern Europe.

Belvedere Palace
Lower Belvedere
Int. Orangery
Interior Orangery
Medieval Collection
Medieval collection
Medieval Collection

We gather at the coach at 12.20 pm precisely and return to the city. Our tour guide gives us the option to leave the tour at the Belvedere Palace to see the Klimpt collection. A French nobleman who worked as a mercenary fighting the Ottoman Empire to the East, made a lot of money and built this Palace. I’m the only one on the tour getting off here. For me it’s too good an opportunity to pass up. The League of nations was set up on this site and the Great War settlements were agreed. I start off in the lower Belvedere – what was the Orangery. It’s a lovely walk down the formal gardens and the sun is shining. There’s an amazing collection of Medieval Art down here, not normally my thing, but I do like the vibrant colours – still bright after centuries – and every now and then there’s a non-religious scene. Faces are also of great interest to me – how they have or haven’t change over time. One thing is certain, medieval painters couldn’t do babies. I’m about to walk up to the main building when I discover a treasure.

women’s gallery – young man
Brencia Kaller-Pinell
Helen Funks
Mariette Lydas La Partie de Dames 1937
Self portrait – powerful
Stephanie Hollenstein

A special collection of women artists. Wow, what a find. It’s interesting to see the way female artists look at women compared with male artists, who sexualise their subjects so differently.

In the Upper Belvedere, there’s a café and I’m starving, my legs have done overtime and I need to sit down. Deep fried chicken with salad is the dish of the day. It turns out to be chicken Schnitzel on a bed of potato salad. There are a few dots of green spring onions. Still in spite of the low green content, It’s tasty.

Klimpt the Kiss

Here, I find the main Klimpt Collection – since seeing the interactive Klimpt show in Paris last year, I’ve been keen to see the originals. What a treat.

The Vienna gay guide lists a restaurant called Motto at the other end of my street. I almost miss it as the doorway is dark and the sign very discrete. I’m offered smoking or non-smoking – an improvement on last night. It’s not particularly gay and the menu is expensive but excellent. Cheese dumplings come on a red salad and the boiled beef slabs are delicious and both traditional Viennese dishes.

Granddad’s War – Armistice Day 11.00 am 11 November 2018

George Lockwood 1915 aged 18

I wrote this short play, based on my grandfather, George Lockwood, to mark the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli.  Today seems an appropriate time to share it.  George never wore a poppy nor attended memorial services.

Granddad’s War

A short play


Christopher Preston


Granddad: (George) 70’s tall and frail with bright twinkling eyes – a gentle man.

Charlie: His eldest grandson 18.  Also plays the young George

Vicky: His eldest granddaughter 17. Also plays the nurse.

Colin: A Quaker 30’s a stretcher bearer in the medical corps.  Also plays Henry, George’s son.

Scene 1:

George Marries Nell

The back lawn of a suburban garden in a small provincial city.   George is sitting in a comfortable chair asleep and surrounded by wrapped presents. He stays onstage throughout. Charlie enters with a sack.

Charlie:         Happy Birthday Granddad.  Here’s my present.

George:        Thank you Charlie.  I wonder what it can be.

Charlie:         You should be able to guess.

George:        It’s either pine cones or sheep manure.

Charlie:         Brian’s got you the pine cones – not so messy to gather.

George:        My tomatoes will be very pleased and Nana will be able     to light the fire. Thank you.

Charlie:         There’s lots of food.  Mum’s done her stuffed eggs, Aunty Dawn’s brought a pav and Aunty Lizzie has made her famous brandy snaps – all the usual.

George:        Good. Any sign of Henry?

Charlie:         No, they were supposed to be leaving an hour ago.

George sighs

Vicky enters with a parcel

Vicky:           It’s here Granddad, your medal that Mum applied for.  She said I should bring it straight out to you.

Charlie:         Can we open it Granddad?

George:        We should wait for Henry.

Vicky:           Oh, please Granddad, they’ll be ages.

George:        Alright, but the presents have to wait.

George un-wraps the parcel

Charlie:         That’s a pretty flash box.

Vicky:           It’s huge.  What does it say?

Charlie:         1915 The Donkey and the Wounded ANZAC. What does that mean Granddad?

George:        Charlie, go and see if there’s any sign of Henry. There’s a good boy.

Charlie exits

Vicky:           (Turns the medal over) Australia and New Zealand 5 stars

G.Barker …  Granddad, what was it like at Gallipoli?

George:        Well, we arrived on boats, there was a beach and we had to line up for kit inspection.  We were supposed to supply various things ourselves.  For example, we had to have three kinds of soap: Shaving, bathing and laundry and were ordered to produce the items when they were called out. There was a small chap, Jones, I think his name was, didn’t have much in his kit.  When the sergeant called out ‘Bath soap’ Jones brought out a small bar of white soap from his kit, held it up and then put it back. When the sergeant called out ‘Shaving soap’, he pulled out the same small bar of soap and held it up. Finally, the sergeant called out ‘Laundry soap’, and Jones, again pulled out the bar of soap and held it up.

Vicky:           I always like that story, it makes me laugh … you never talk about the fighting.

George:        It’s all such a long time ago … there’s nothing much to tell.

Vicky:           Mum says you got shrapnel in your lung …. Not long after you arrived.

George falls asleep.

Vicky:           Granddad?


Scene 2:

George and Nell with daughter Joan circa 1922

The camp-site at Gallipoli, It is very cold.  George enters in a great-coat with rucksack on his back. There is sound of sporadic firing throughout the scene.

George:        Hello, they’ve moved us, I think I’m supposed to be sharing with  you.

Colin:            Gidday, you just arrived?

George:        Yes, a few days ago. George Barker, infantry.

Colin:            Colin Levinson, medical corp.

George:        Are you doctor?

Colin:            No, just a stretcher bearer.  You a conscript?

George:        Yes.  What about you?

Colin:            I’m a Quaker … Couldn’t afford the hundred pound fine or going to prison.

George:        I’m an Anglican.  I don’t know anything about Quakers.

Colin:            We don’t believe in war, so this was the only option.


Colin:            Take your pack off mate and sit down, you’re a sitting duck standing there.

George:        Rightey oh.

Colin:            That’s more like it young fella.  How old are you?

George:        Eighteen, I left school a year ago.

Colin:            Brothers and sisters?

George:        Two older sisters.

Colin:            Only son eh? I dunno. It’s such a waste.

George:        What is?

Colin:            Just … this fight. (Pause) But, she’ll be right if you keep your coat on and your head low.  Bullets and the cold is what’s killing men here.

George:        Are you married?

Colin:            Fifteen years.  I’m just hoping all this will be over by the time my oldest is seventeen.

George:        Over by Christmas they told us.

Colin:            Can’t see it myself, but what do I know?  The British generals are hopeless.  See all those bridges there and the steps over that way.  We and the Ozzies organised all that.  You can even have your hair cut down there by the store.  No, it would be over by Christmas if we were in charge.  Let’s have a look at your chitty.  Nah, you’re not with me, you’re further down the line.  Just remembered, you infantry blokes have to be together, ready to go over the top.

George stands and puts on his rucksack.  There is a tremendous burst of gunfire. There are ricochet sounds of bullets bouncing off cliffs. George is hit and staggers.

Colin:            Hold on there mate.  Where are you hit?

George:        Here, it hurts.

Colin:            Help.

There is another burst of gunfire and Colin is hit.  He falls to the ground. The scene fades into the hospital ship where both men are lying side by side.

Scene 3

Silver Wedding

Nurse:           It’s shrapnel.  The surgeon says it’s in your lung so we can’t operate.  You might have to live with it for the rest of your life.

George:        Live, Nurse?

Nurse:           Yes, you’re one of the lucky ones.  You’ll be able to tell your children about it.

George:        But I didn’t do anything, didn’t fire a shot, except in training.

Nurse:           It doesn’t matter. You were here.

George:        Where?  Where am I?

Nurse:           You’re on the Hospital ship Gascon.  They’re shooting at us as well, but you should be OK down here.  Now try to get some more sleep, that’s what you need just now.

She exits.  George looks around and sees Colin.

George:        Colin … Private Levinson. They carried us out on donkeys …  Are you alright?  Hello.

With difficulty, George gets up and gives him a prod. Pause

George:        I’m sorry mate.

George drifts off to sleep as the lights fade.

Scene 4

Me and my grandparents

George is asleep again. Vicky enters.

Vicky:           We’re all starving, can’t we open the presents?  Uncle Henry might be ages.

George:        Just a few more minutes.

Vicky:           Granddad, what about the food in the war.  What did they give you to eat?

George:        Well, there was a shortage of flour so there wasn’t much bread or cake.  One day, the cook found a sack of flour sitting behind a shed.  He was so excited that he made a batch of scones.

Charlie enters with a bag of pine cones.

Charlie:         Mum makes great scones.

Vicky:           Shh. Granddad is telling another war story.

Charlie:         (whispers) They all tell the story of the scones.

Vicky:           How did the scones turn out Granddad?

George:        Well, they looked great but when the men tried to eat them they were as hard as rocks.

Vicky:           What did the cook do wrong?

George:        The sack of flour turned out to be Plaster of Paris.

Vicky:           Oh. What was that doing at Gallipoli?

Charlie:         For setting broken arms and legs.

There is a sound of a car arriving, doors opening, greetings and adult and children’s voices. 

Charlie:         They’re here Granddad.

Vicky and Charlie rush off. George looks again at his medal then falls asleep.

Henry enters.

Henry:           Sorry we’re late Dad.  Had to sort out some sheep this morning. Anyway, Happy Birthday … Dad?  Are you asleep again?  Come on, wake up.

He gives him a shake. There is a pause.

Vicky enters followed by Charlie

Vicky:           We can open the presents now that you are here Uncle Henry. Shall I call the others?

Henry:           No, Vicky. Granddad isn’t going to wake up.

Charlie:         Is he dead?

Henry:           Charlie, go and ask Nana to come out here please, and Vicky make sure none of the kids come out.  Find them some games to play out the front … or something.

They exit

Henry picks up the Gallipoli medal and looks at it.

Henry:           You never did tell us about it, not properly, just the funny stories. Now it’s too late.

 Fade to black.




Gay Games – Culture from Klimt to Pink Flamingo

It’s the last day of the swimming and I’m leaving the long-distance heroes to slog it out in the 1500m as I’ve booked a ten am slot to see the interactive Gustav Klimt exhibition at Atelier des Lumières. I’m early and having over an hour to kill, find a healthy-looking breakfast place overlooking a small garden square. I sit just outside, shaded from the morning sun and enjoy and egg with spinach on toast with coffee while the world in this deserted part of the city trickles by. I’m shocked, but not surprised by the numbers of homeless and derelict human beings, many clearly display mental health symptoms, around the city. It seems that every metro station has its regulars, sleeping, begging – mostly men.

The Atelier des Lumières has opened its doors and the early birds wait until two queues are organised – those with and those without tickets. I enter a cavernous space with some seating. There’s a projected notice on the walls and remains of some industrial fittings, which announces that the show will commence in a few minutes. We are clearly waiting for the space to fill up, and it does, but not too much as when the projections begin they cover every part of the place, walls floor and ceiling. Even the audience is part of the surface. Klimt is most famous for his gold period but we begin with neo classical work and move through his wide-ranging styles. This is the most exciting exhibition I’ve ever encountered and it helps that I’ve seen some of the work in galleries around the world, particularly when the purists ask – ‘but have you seen the originals?’ Questions like ‘Would Klimt have approved?’ are irrelevant. He’s not here to comment and I’ve been emotionally engaged. That’s my criteria for art. The thirty-minute presentation of moving Klimt images is followed by two short pieces featuring Hundert Wasser and something called Poetic_AI a stunning digital experience. Music accompanies the exhibition, cleverly heightening the emotional engagement.



















I’m tempted to stay on and watch it again, but I’ve got a Pink flamingo Rehearsal to attend.



We’ve been called for 12 noon in the park next to the swimming pool. Some of the guys wear their costumes as quick changes have to be rehearsed and last minute brushing up of routines achieved. Red and pink balloons have to be attached to a giant mouth and lips for the finale.

The balloon Mouth and Lips

They can then be carried to the pool and stored for later. We’ve been promised a twenty-minute rehearsal slot in the pool, but everything is running late and after a demonstration by the winning Syncro team there are two Water Polo finals to be played.

Last minute rehearsals

We manage to get about eight minutes in between games. It’s all chaotic, but we get acquainted with our small storage room to the side, where we will enter, exit and get changed.  All we can do is wait and get into our costumes.

they guys just love to show off their pecs & abs

The theme of the Pink Flamingo this year is ‘The French Kiss’ and we are act number five. Team New York Aquatics are after us – they are next year’s IGLA hosts and the current hosts, Paris Aquatique are last. There’s quite a lot of simulated sex in the various acts and weird sea-monsters. Sydney Wet Ones have Marie Antoinette losing her head and many clubs have impressive syncro teams doing amazing things.

Opening dance group: 2 Italians, 2 Spaniards, 1 American, 1 Kiwi, 1 Frenchman and an Englishman.

It’s our turn and the sound system is a bit rubbish so our opening number begins slightly out of time but we recover. We are the only act with an actual script. It’s a pre-recorded presentation with mimed action, explaining the French Kiss interpolated with choreographed dance. Christophe has to take over the syncro slot at the last moment as Steph has to catch a train. Miraculously we manage to spread ourselves over the dance area and the raised paddling pool area. It’s a huge space to fill and connect with the audience.

Paris Aquatique – chic

There is a long pause before Paris Aquatique’s act, as the judges have to decide the winners as they, being the hosts are not eligible to win. They also won last year in Miami.  When they do come on, it’s fantastic and goes on for much longer that the five minutes the rest of the clubs were allocated.


As the results are announced, the tension mounts. There’s a prize for the best technical performance (beheading of Marie Antoinette) then the best costumes. Tel Aviv win the consolation prize then to our utter joy, London is announced the winner. There is a roar from our team and I overhear Stephen Lue quietly say ‘Thank fuck for that.’ We all pour out of the stand down onto poolside to collect the model Pink Flamingo. Most of the  Out to Swim team dive into the pool and swim to the other end for a final photograph.

We won the Pink Flamingo

I’m exhausted and it’s time to calm down and relax for the evening. The youngsters will probably go off to the party at 11.30pm – 5.00am. It’s too late for me and I have a train to catch in the morning. At Gar du Nord, there’s a sign directing European passport holders around a pillar into the Business Class lane. There is no queue at baggage security scanning; automatic passport recognition gates allow me to leave France and another set of gates let me into the UK. I don’t think that will happen next year after we’ve left the European Union.

Christophe and the Pink Flamingo

Back in London, there’s a facebook frenzy of photo sharing. When news comes out that Out to Swim is the top swimming club in the Gay Games, getting twice as many points as second place Washington DC AC, the facebook posts erupt. We took 79 swimmers to the games and everyone who competed earned points. There are lots of people to thank, coaches, organisers and just everyone for participating.

Out to Swim and the Pink Flamingo

We are all so proud of our International LGBT club. We have swimmers from all over the world, from every continent, reflecting London as it is now. I hope this will continue through the years ahead. Who knows what will happen?

Cultural Fusion to end the Auckland Festival

Anything exploring the interaction of two or more cultures gets onto my list. AWA, a collaboration between the Atamira Dance Company and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra is a movement and music biography of Moss Patternon’s family. His dad worked on the Tongariro Power Scheme, damming central North Island rivers for hydro power. Years later he worked on the Yellow River, in China, where he died. His body returned in a closed coffin denying his family of Te Uru Rangi (a portal to heaven).

AWA – When Two Rivers Collide, uses Maori and Asian Dancers to create a beautiful tension between two cultures using Kapa Haka and Tai Chi to join the Waikato and Yellow rivers together to powerful effect. The string section of the APO is augmented with Taonga Puro (traditional Maori instruments) and Pipa a Chinese mandolin. Waiata Maori, performed by a children’s choir begins the performance and the focus is shared with a large Chinese choir. It’s an exciting mix, sliding between classical cultures which included Bach and Handel. The dance evokes the myth of Ranginui (Sky Father) and Papatuanuku (Earth Mother) being separated by Tane Mahuta. The dancers work in close contact like flocks of starlings, each dancer taking his turn to lead the conflict, constrained by a dramatic semicircle of cables around the dance area. At times I wanted the dancers to take flight up into the cables, escaping the primordial slime in order to free the spirits.  This is not possible with contemporary dance, however, and beautiful as it is, the dancers are limited to delving deep into the floor – grounded with Kapa Haka and Tai Chi elements from which it borrows.

AWA remains a mystery – moving and beautiful. Increasingly New Zealand artists are collaborating to explore cultural relationships as a time when China and Aotearoa are talking trade. This work was well attended and received by a multicultural audience. My hope is that this and similar work will help to break down still prevalent hostility and suspicion amongst Pakeha New Zealanders.

The Bone Feeder began as a play by Renee Liang which was produced in 2010. It’s based on the story of the SS Ventor which left New Zealand in 1902 carrying 499 coffins of exhumed Chinese bodies returning to their homelands in Southern China. The ship was wrecked off Hokianga, finally sinking near the harbour. Coffins and bodies swept ashore were kept by local IWI until a time when they could be claimed by their families. Renee has successfully written an opera libretto for composer Gareth Farr.  This is a first for both artists and augers well for future New Zealand opera.

Farr has drawn on his early experience with the Indonesian Gamelan and expanded his composition skills to incorporate Chinese classical instruments – flute, fiddle and zither. A violin, a cello, marimba and Taonga Púoro make up the orchestra.

Young Ben, beautifully portrayed and sung by Australian tenor, Henry Choo meets The Ferryman (Tioti Rakero) and asks to be taken to Mitimiti cemetery where the bones of his ancestor, Kwan and three of his countrymen are excited at the prospect of finally going home.  When Kwan sees his descendant, he is reminded of his New Zealand wife. Chinese workers were forbidden to bring their women to Aotearoa and some took local wives, occasionally travelling back to China with money and to produce more sons. Ben, however is part of his New Zealand family so there is a question in Kwan’s mind. Is it appropriate for his bones to return to China? The plight of his Chinese wife, Wei wei is delicately portrayed by Xing Xing, while Chelsea Dolman does credit to Louisa. Together with four other female singers, they create a fantastic and atmospheric chorus. There is a scene where Ben can, in a dream, see Kwan and he is persuaded not to dig up the bones but feed them instead.

Chinese came to Aotearoa with the gold rush and have been here ever since and almost as long as the Europeans. They worked quietly tending their market gardens and selling the freshest fruit and vegetables in small towns all over the country. When the UK joined the Common Market (as it was then) New Zealand looked to Asia for markets, beginning a new wave of immigrants. It is helpful for Pakeha and Maori New Zealanders to be reminded of this long history and to learn, at last, about another culture.

Ibsen and Garland Recycled

Recycled theatre – Peer Gynt for this century.

I thought it was time to re-acquaint with Ibsen’s episodic ‘masterpiece’ and ATC’s offering for the Auckland Festival provided an opportunity to experience Eli Kent’s updated version. Somehow Peer Gynt had eluded me – I know I’ve read it and imagine I’ve seen it somewhere and of course there’s the Music by Grieg and perhaps I’ve seen the Ballet.  Ibsen’s other work, I know and love: Hedda Gabler, The Dolls House, The Master Builder and Enemy of the People all have strong narratives and powerful sub-plots which collide dramatically. Ibsen emerges as the leading and enduring architect of the ‘Well Made Play’ and modern drama.

Peer Gynt doesn’t behave like any of these works and yet it has a protagonist who, Odysseus – like, sets out on a journey. Gynt leaves home to wander the world, abandoning his mother and Sol, the woman he loves to seek (mostly) sexual adventure.  Much of the original narrative is lost in the recycling, replaced by Eli Kent as a character, sub-plot or even Troll, discussing with the audience and himself the process of writing and self-analysis with the aid of his projected mother and short-time girlfriend. Kent brings the landscape up-to-date beginning with Gynt’s seduction of his ex prior to her wedding to ‘The Batchelor’. Wherever you go with Ibsen, Trolls are not far away and topically, Gynt has a narrow escape from his next sexual conquest, the daughter of the Troll King. He can’t return to  Sol and so travels to America to seduce the leader of a strange yogic sect and again, narrowly escapes death. Years later and with a change of actor, he’s in Dubai with his ghost writers in a book deal. Milo Yiannopolous is also there for the party. An indentured Starbucks worker breaks in and shoots everyone except Gynt. It’s become clear now that he’s a survivor but Kent has meanwhile ‘given birth’ to Ibsen who protests about cuts and tries to take over the play. A lot of philosophy ensues and difficulty for Kent when the Actress playing Sol, refuses to wait for her love – thus scuppering the ending. Meanwhile, Gynt is judged by the Button-maker, not good enough for heaven or bad enough for Hell and is designated for recycling.  In the wake of a shipwreck Kent changes clothing and identity with Gynt in an effort to avoid his fate and the writer is left alone on stage waiting for a miracle to close the play.

At times it’s edge of the seat stuff, though the author’s navel gazing and sexual problems verge on the embarrassing – a significant number of the audience left at the interval – the wait was worth it. A mostly older crowd – the audience seemed bemused and possibly offended by the crudities and sexual references. The men in particular were uncomfortable. But that is what theatre should do isn’t it? There was an underlying feeling of gladness that they had taken this risk and were slightly liberated. Or did it remind them of their own younger selves in the 60’s and 70’s? Personally, I could have done without the angst ridden Eli Kent’s non character and wanted more of the Gynt story which was beautifully performed by the ensemble.

Rufus Wainwright recycles Judy with opera as a starter

I’d  heard of  Rufus Wainwright and knew that he’s a singer songwriter. I didn’t know that he writes opera and that’s what attracted me to this event. Only an email reminder from the Auckland Festival pointed out that he would be ‘Doing Judy Garland’ in the second half.

Prima Donna (the visual concert version) has come from the Adelaide festival. Actually only Rufus and his conductor plus the video have traveled. The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and New Zealand singers have put this together. The Story is about an opera singer who lost her voice years ago in the opening night of ‘Eleanor of Aquitaine’. Madeleine Pierard was in fine voice for this role. She’s announced in the press that a revival is planned and she’s found her voice, but the real test will be in the theatre.  Supporting roles are the maid, Marie, a girl from Paiccardy finding Paris so … different. Madison Nonoa has a high pure soprano, whilst tenor Filipe Manu gives the romantic interest singing about love in the garden, his best shot. Both of these young singers will be ones to watch in the future.  The music is beautiful and soars against a video backdrop where film artist Cindy Sherman, dressed in a costume worn by Maria Callas, silently plays the diva.

An opera audience is quite different from Judy Garland fans, except that there were a significant number of gay couples of a certain age who might get off on both. Judy has never really done it for me, though I’m semi-familiar with many of the numbers. I don’t think I’ve got the ‘Judy gene’ which gay men are supposed to have.  Rufus has a powerful belt to his voice and at times sounds a bit like Judy in her later years, particularly when he sings Do It Again in her original key. He works hard – too hard – I don’t like to see performers work that hard and then to let us know how hard it is going to be before or after a number. He’s got a good voice, but sadly it’s unremarkable. Fortunately he slipped in one of his own compositions, Forever and a Year from the excellent Australian gay film Hold the Man.  I would have liked to hear more of his original stuff.



Revolt. She said. @ Silo Theatre on International Women’s Day

I’m sitting naked on a beach enjoying the sight of a South American Rugby team, half of them striped off, nervously sitting in rows facing the sea. I’m also reading The Stories of Frank Sargeson, a (closeted) gay New Zealand writer covering the 30’s – 60’s, when my phone rings. It’s a local Auckland number.


A pleasant young sounding man – ‘Is this Christopher Preston?’

I’m cautious – ‘Yes.’

‘I’m Mark from iticket.’

I just bought a load of tickets from these guys for the Auckland Arts Festival. What’s gone wrong?

 ‘I noticed that you tried to book tickets for Revolt. She said, at the Basement Theatre.’

‘Yes, it didn’t work so I assumed it’s sold out.’

‘No, no, it’s not, there are tickets left.’

‘Oh, right. How did that happen?’

‘I think you tried to click through on a Silo Theatre email that was faulty.’

‘Oh.’ How did this guy get my phone number? Presumably all the data I entered is still floating around somewhere.

‘Would you like to book a ticket now?’

‘Um … I’ll have to look on my diary. Do you think I can do that while you are on the phone?’

‘Should be ok. I can take your credit card details.’

My credit card is sitting in the pocket of my shorts next to my towel. I attempt this new manoeuvre with my phone. ‘No, I can’t do it. I’m sort of on a beach.’

‘Oh, nice.’

‘Actually there’s no “sort of” about it, I am on a beach.’

Giggles from the young man.

‘I’ll have to do it when I get home what availability is there for Wednesday or Friday?’

I thank the young man and note that the Rugby team have relaxed and are now standing around with arms folded chatting to each other – some on the beach, others knee deep in the sea. Reg, a local in his late seventies, is watching with admiration.  I return to Frank Sargeson whose writing hints strongly of homosexuality. We were in those days, illegal.


It’s Wednesday evening and the tiny foyer of the Basement Theatre is filling up with anticipation.  Increasingly, my approach is to avoid too much research beforehand. By experiencing a work without expectations I’m more easily taken by surprise. It is enough that one of my favourite companies, Silo Theatre has produced Revolt. She said. Revolt again, but a number of my professional theatre associates have recommended this show on facebook, including my trans friend and theatre critic Lexi Matheson.

The stage area is scattered like ‘Tracey Emin’s Bed’ and props are visibly on display, encouraging speculation. The stage manager’s desk is also visible as there are no wings in this auditorium. The last few late-comers are ushered over the stage as the cast enter in overalls and clear up the ‘mess’ and proceed to set up for the show.  It’s all frantic activity, choreographed, watch-able and exciting. My expectations are aroused as backdrops are hung and a floor-cloth unrolled, ready for the show. It begins gently, with a scene where the token male expresses his sexual desire to a woman. It’s about gender language and when the woman joins in, his ‘penetration’ conflicts with her ‘enclosure’, so he has to adjust his vocabulary or it’s just not going to happen. The scenes progress with ‘him’ increasingly not able to understand or adjust.  Polynesian actor Fasitua Amosa looks like a gentle giant and shows just enough of his feminine side to make you think there might be hope. He feels like the failed protagonist, the antagonist in fact. But with the scripts that Silo Theatre produce, you can expect the unexpected. Failing to understand that his female employee really does just want Mondays off, he proceeds to receive a ‘No’ to his marriage proposal in the third scene.  Confronted with a melon-eating woman sitting in a supermarket trolley in the dairy isle, he retires from the fray.  A mother, carrying her damaged daughter, visits her cave-woman mother to confront denial of female history. ‘He’ makes a brief appearance as a loin cloth wearing cave man, hardly reaching the stage before being dismissed.  The structure breaks down to a chaotic and exuberant ending so that the three women might also be failed protagonists. There are strong performances all round from Sophie Henderson, Michelle Ny and Amanda Tito. I also enjoyed the performance by stage manager, Eliza Josephson-Rutter, who casually sits at her visible station, looking at her phone and eating snacks. She throws costumes and props on stage with indifference, leaving actors holding props too long and with impeccable timing runs her cues to the wire. The stage really is a mess at the end, but with it all rolled up in the floor cloth and backdrops torn down, the stage is bare for the bows.

There is no satisfactory ending, just a passing cry to ‘do away with men’ as they exit, pushing or riding a theatrical skip on what looks like it’s going to be a long journey to gender equality.

I’m used to no satisfactory ending these days – we’re supposed to think about it. Grabbing a programme on the way out gives me reading material on the ferry back to Waiheke and the first thing I noticed is that Alice Birch’s script was first performed by the RSC at The Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2014. That at least explains the bluebells.  Her inspiration for the play comes from the story of radical feminist, Valerie Solanas and her self-published SCUM Manifesto. ‘She then shot Andy Warhole and book sales went crazy.’ Um … does this mean with a camera?  So, typing ‘Who shot Andy Warhol’ into google, I find that he refused to make her film script as it was too dangerously radical, even for him, so she shot him with a gun. He was seriously wounded and never really recovered.  She went to prison and was diagnosed (conveniently?) as schizophrenic.

All this on International (at least in the western world) Women’s Day – a day in New Zealand when the news is full of a facebook post by Senior Wellington College school-boys, claiming that true WC boys should take advantage of unconscious drunk young women. We pretend to be shocked, some try to excuse but deep down we know there is a problem raising boys to men.  I wish I could remember and distill my mother’s method raising us. She claimed she always knew I was gay – I wonder if that influenced her. She was certainly always interested in diversity and difference.

It’s the small steps on a long journey which bring about change and there will be setbacks along the way. The courage of a Rugby team to go naked on a beach or attending thought-provoking theatre are such steps, but how do we erase phobias from human conditioning?




The James Plays & Nixon in China

My most eagerly awaited theatre experience were The James Plays by established Scottish playwright, Rona Munro and first presented at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2014 by the National Theatre of Scotland. Being a co-production with the National Theatre of Great Britain they were then transferred to London for a season, and now, here in the vast Aotea Centre for just nine performances (3 for each play) fresh from the Adelaide Festival.



I’d got a deal by booking all three plays on consecutive nights. I also decided to take the fold up bike, saving the run down Queen Street to catch the ferry.  So on the Wednesday, I carefully locked the fold-up on a cycle stand and treat myself to a dish of salmon tortellini and a glass of red wine at the Italian restaurant next to the theatre.  To my delight a crowd of my swimming buddies, also culturally voracious were seeing the show and I anticipated meeting up in the interval.  I knew nothing about the history of Scottish monarchy – there’s the unreliable tale told by Shakespeare in Macbeth – until the story of Mary spills into Elizabethan history and the subsequent merger of two countries with James VI.

James I was captured by the English as a thirteen year old and imprisoned for eighteen years, released after the death of Henry V (Eng) – another of Shakespeare’s great ‘stories’ – on the promise of a ransom.  It is no coincidence that these plays were first seen in the year of the Scottish referendum for independence and Munro would have been crafting her work during the lead up. Like Shakespeare, she has not let truth get in the way of a good story and her programme note admits ‘that some small liberties have been taken with known events in order to serve our stories.’  There are many comparisons with Munro and Shakespeare – bawdiness, violence, murder and betrayal.  Human nature is examined in all its flawed complexities, but in an absolutely contemporary vernacular, so Shakespeare it is not, nor does it aspire to be.

Henry V appears as a character in James I as a mentor psychologically controlling the young King who presents as meek and compliant.  On his arrival back in Scotland and confronted by his Uncle ensconced in the castle with wife and sons, he has to prove he is a Scott and force them to kneel to him as their King.  Munro writes great parts for the women so a lot of the action involves their stories.  It would seem that the women took an active role in the scheming and violence. Notable are: Isabella Stewart, a crusty and hate-filled character, who, after her sons and later her husband are locked up and killed by the King, is herself incarcerated.  She survives as a mad visionary for the future James II;   Joan, an English noblewoman, who’s marriage is arranged to James I is a pragmatist who tells her new husband that he can take a mistress if he likes and that she will manage the household accounts as she did at home.  Sadly she does not entirely reciprocate James’s deep love for her.

All three plays highlight the financial difficulties that monarchs face, how to fund their wars and lifestyles?  The answer is usually by taxing the Barons, but the difficulty is getting them to pay up.  It’s not a new story as we now charge multi-national corporations, politicians and the rich with tax avoidance.  It’s just that in the 15th century, more real blood was involved.  But each play takes a different view and if James I was mainly about power struggles and the necessity to survive by killing off relatives, James II investigates the psychological damage done by putting a six-year-old on the throne.  James, born with a large pink birthmark covering half of his face is further traumatised by the loss of his older twin brother.  Munro, has him constantly hiding in a chest to escape his fears and the power of the Douglas family who effectively ruled the country in the King’s minority.  Of course, James grows up to be yet another violent monster, wreaking revenge on the Douglas clan – killing off non-relatives.  With a fascination of explosives and canon, he is accidentally blown up by his own device, leaving another underage King of Scotland.

On both of these evenings, I was able to leave during the curtain calls, retrieve my fold up bicycle and pedal furiously down Queen Street to catch the 10.15 ferry.  James III turned out to be longer that the others and completely different in atmosphere.  This James was artistic, credited with bringing the renaissance to Scotland. He wants to have a choir accompany him wherever he goes, an expense he can ill afford.  His Queen, Margaret of Denmark brought with her, as dowry, The Orkney and Shetland Islands, which Munro uses as a running joke by the King, against her.  Initially devoted, the couple become estranged and the Queen retreats to Stirling Castle with their son and future heir, yet another James.  James III is decadent, arrogant, lazy and dangerous.  Although a good fighter, he loses control of his family and kingdom, taking to bed and battle his personal servant Ramsay.  In his final battle he is fighting his own people in a rebellion which included his own son.

The final dramatic scene sees James IV strip down to put chains of repentance on his chest, over which the coronation robes are placed.  It was too late to cycle madly down Queen Street so I stayed to applaud the end of an exciting trilogy.  With time to spare before the last ferry at 11.45pm, I relaxed with a glass of wine and a bucket of chips down at the viaduct area of the harbour.


Nixon in China is one of those ‘modern classics’ I’d heard about but had never seen. For me Nixon is irretrievably tied to ‘Watergate’ and thus labelled corrupt and disgraced.  This ground-breaking visit by the Nixons predates Watergate and, engineered by Henry Kissinger, sought to find a solution to the Vietnam War.  Someone hadn’t done their homework had they?  When I visited Vietnam in 2011, I discovered that the country had been subjugated by China for a thousand years and consequently had no love for their former oppressors.  In fact Ho Chi Min went to Russia for help and advice as there was considerable animosity between the two communist giants at the time.   Nixon’s visit did have the effect of opening up dialogue between the US and the Soviets, but that did not end the war, it was Ho Chi Min’s intellect and determination.

American composer, John Adams had never written opera before and poet Alice Goodman was new to libretto writing, so this was a recipe for something innovative.  What came out was extraordinary and exciting music melding the big band sound of the period with strong influence from Philip Glass.  The score demands an extended brass and woodwind section plus the addition of four saxophones and an electronic synthesizer.  All this adds up to high volume, requiring the singers to be amplified.

I’d chosen to sit in the horseshoe shaped balcony of the Auckland Town Hall (Great Hall) in order to be closer to the orchestra and soloists in this semi-staged production.  Coincidentally this placed me nearer the speakers relaying the voices.  There’s not that much you can do in front of and behind an orchestra taking up most of the stage, so it was disappointing that sur-titles were not available.  Fortunately a couple of guys I know on Waiheke had warned me to look up the synopsis so I would be able to follow the plot.  Great advice and all was well with the dramatic arrival of the Nixon’s, met by the smooth baritone voice of Chen-Ye Yuan playing Chou En Lai.  The cast progressed through the stalls, the Freemasons Opera Chorus took up the choir stalls and a host of local Chinese New Zealanders played the media (taking pictures), the Red Army and citizens of Beijing.  In a very formal setting, the octogenarian Mao, played with some vocal power by Barry Ryan teetering on unsteady feet, seemed about to fall from his high platform at any moment, demolishing the brass section of the orchestra.  Act two, focuses on Pat Nixon (Kiwi soprano Madeleine Pierard) on her tour around the city, culminating in a performance of a revolutionary ballet directed by Madame Mao sung by Soprano Hye Jung Lee.  Pat is moved to intervene in the cruelty portrayed between the Kissinger like villain and the heroine/victim, breaking the convention of theatre and ending the show in confusion. This prompts Madam Mao to sing her ‘Queen of the Night’ like aria ‘I am the wife of Mao Zedong’.

Act three takes us into the interior thoughts of the main characters.  As they wait to leave in their hotel room, the Nixons reflect on their humble origins and Chou En Lai wonders ‘how much of what we did was good?’  Here the lack of a libretto was a disadvantage and I understand that at the last moment, permission to include it in the programme was denied by US copyright laws.  The Opera seems to fizzle out with no great fanfare as the Nixons leave. With the benefit of hindsight and the sense that Chou En Lai does have a vision of the future, there is a glimmer of hope.  For all the shortcomings, I found the music thrilling and if I couldn’t always catch Goodman’s poetic lyrics, it didn’t matter too much.  At three hours ten minutes long, the only option home was the 11.45pm ferry.  Unaccountably on this Saturday evening, my bar at the viaduct was closed by the time I cycled down the hill.  To compensate, I ordered a small bottle of Waiheke red wine on the ferry.

NZ Theatre and The Auckland Festival

Book of Everything
Book of Everything Jesus on Rt

A recent conversation with my friend Stephen Fisher in Palmerston North included a discussion of The Book of Everything, adapted by Richard Tulloch from the novel by Netherlander, Guus Kuijer, and produced by Silo Theatre.  I’d seen this excellent play back in February. Set in post war Amsterdam it’s about a young boy’s family experiences. A bullying father is trying to hold to his Christian disciplinary beliefs which are at odds with sensible child rearing and loving relationships. The next door neighbour branded a witch because she is different by the rest of the family, nevertheless becomes a fascination for the boy and eventually leads him to challenge his father, who is then redeemed. Ironically, the character of Jesus, who pops up in the boy’s head, is unable to provide any solutions.

I recommended that Stephen see the show when it came to Palmerston North, and I was quite relieved to hear that he had liked it. He didn’t however see the play in Palmerston North as the Regent Theatre asked him to review it in New Plymouth so there would have a better mid-week audience turn-out. It worked and the audiences came. Stephen and I then discussed the six million grant to Silo theatre for touring four North Island venues and was this pouring funds into Auckland Theatre to the detriment of Wellington Theatre?

Taking a deep breath, I pointed out that six million dollars wasn’t actually that much to tour a cast of eight, stage management, set and costumes to large scale venues (No 1 Tour in the UK) around New Zealand and that Kiwis often complain about everything being expensive – they don’t want to pay for quality.  But on a really serious note, it does seem that Auckland Theatre is in the ascendancy now. Stephen felt that Auckland might have better actors – they’ve re-located now that Radio Drama has joined TV drama production in Auckland. I chipped in to say that historically, employers here refused to hire actors unless they were already living in the area.  I found this to be the case in 1987 doing the audition rounds. Everyone asked, ‘how are you going to make a living when you are not acting?’ None of your business.  ‘Where are you going to be based?’ I don’t know and does it matter? So it’s no wonder that the main centres still do not exchange artists and give their audiences some new faces from time to time.

There were plenty of new faces during the Festival this year and early on, deciding what to see, I eliminated all the One-person-shows.  They seldom work for me and their proliferation is symptomatic both of the Kiwi ‘get up and give it a go’ mentality and the ‘we can’t afford to pay for more than one actor’ attitude. The result is a lack of real tension such as you would get in a dialogue between two actors. So, my first outing was a 2 pm matinee of Marama, Polynesian physical Theatre by Nina Nawalowalo at the large auditorium at Q Theatre.  Marama employs six women performers plus two animators operating puppets and other effects.

The Conch -Marama
The Conch -Marama

It’s visually stunning, magical and slow, like the themes it embodies – climate change and deforestation in pacific Islands.  There is a place in the forest where women can go and be safe, but that space is diminishing taking with it cultural values and a way of life.  Out of the stage mist and darkness, women emerge from the forest floor; objects magically appear and recede back into the void.  I know it’s done with the armoury of theatrical tricks, but don’t want to dwell on the technicalities, just enjoy the magic.  It’s a visual treat for those with a good attention span and not in need of an afternoon nap as the gentle music and Waiata (song) is rhythmic and lulling.

Always keen to see what New Zealand playwrights are up to, I managed to squeeze in two of the four Raw performances. These are works in progress shown to a live audience for the first time.  Making the most of my ferry journey from Waiheke, I’d managed to swim at Newmarket then a cycle up and over to Q theatre in Queen Street. Waiting to go into Cell Fish, I found myself half recognising Murray Lynch. We’d been at Massey University together in a drama course and at the time, I’d been envious of him running off to join a professional theatre company – something I managed to do three years later. Cell Fish, devised, written and performed by Miriama McDowell and Rob Makaraka – direction by Jason Te Kare – is centred around Miriama’s  experiences teaching Shakespeare to Maori men in prisons. The two actors play all the characters in the prison drama group, often swapping roles. The result – partly in Te Reo – is often hilarious, but there is a serious message to be had from these damaged characters who may or may not be rehabilitated to the ‘outside’.  We got act one, so this is one to watch as it develops.  Murray and I had forty years of catching up to do over a drink in the bar waiting for the next show. Murray now runs Playmarket – unique in the world as the only organisation that works as a playwright’s agency and library/archive, actively developing new work.


Tea by Sri Lankan Kiwi, Ahi Karunaharan had a cast of fifteen. Set against the backdrop of the history of tea, its colonial plantations in what was then Ceylon, the struggles for worker’s rights and conditions plus women’s emancipation, Tea tells an epic story. I was unsure about the first scene which seemed to be between god-like beings, but as we were presented with only act one, I’m sure this will become clear. I was quickly drawn into the narrative of the different characters and look forward to the spectacle of so many South Asian actors in employment.  Ahi was the producer of the Short & Sweet Festival last year and was a great help to me, so it was good to briefly hug and say ‘Hi’, after the show. My fold-up bicycle was waiting for me, tied to a balustrade in the Q Theatre Foyer.  It was bliss riding down Queen Street to catch the ferry.

Pop up globe
Pop up globe

Not part of the Auckland Festival, but very much in the centre of theatre-land is the Pop-up Globe Theatre, erected with scaffolding and corrugated iron (Kiwi iconic building material) in the car park to the rear of Q Theatre and in front of the Basement (Fringe venue). Celebrating the 400 years of Shakespeare, it offers a resident company plus guest companies presenting plays plus workshops and schools matinees throughout March. There has been much chatter about competition for audiences with the Festival and the added complication of the Biennial NZ Festival in Wellington covering similar dates. My choice of Henry V was entirely due to the fact that Lexie Matheson was making her first stage appearance since transitioning to female fifteen years ago.  We’d worked together at Theatre Corporate in 1977 and it was fantastic to reconnect.

Lexi as Alice
Lexi as Alice

In this all female production, Lexie played Alice, the French maid like a grand, but kindly duchess with a sense of humour. Lexie was a centred planet around which the delicate Princess of France flitted and her hat in the final scene was a triumph. It occurred to me that I’ve not actually seen a live production of Henry V before though I’ve studied the play and used one of the Chorus speeches for drama school auditions. It was disappointing, therefore to find the acoustics of the Pop-up Globe less than ideal. Sitting to one side, it was difficult to hear the softer unsupported voices of this young ensemble unless they were facing in my direction. Within this corrugated iron ‘O’, the sound does not bounce around the auditorium as it does in the wooden Bankside reconstruction.  Ironically, the groundlings got the best sound here. The cast were nevertheless, valiant with particularly fine performances from the Eponymous hero (ine) and opponent Dauphin, although I could have done with less macho pacing up and down and around the stage. Also worthy of note was the hilarious Fluellen forcing the rascal Pistol to actually eat a leek – drawing a round of applause.  With an eye on the ferry timetable, I was able to extricate myself from the after-show melee, but had to run down Queen Street. The bus ahead of me kept stopping, spurring me on, but I never quite managed to catch it.  Fortunately the 10.15 sailing was late arriving.

Next time: The James Plays from The National Theatre of Scotland and Nixon in China