TV preview: Chch quake drama Hope and Wire

By Nick Grant

The shattered lives and fractured landscape of the garden city provide drama in TV3’s new show.

Luanne Gordon and ­Stephen Lovatt play a stressed Christchurch husband and wife in Hope and Wire.
Luanne Gordon and ­Stephen Lovatt play a stressed Christchurch husband and wife in Hope and Wire.

In Hope and Wire, TV3's new drama about the Christchurch earthquakes and the aftershocks - literal and psychological - that ripple through the community in their wake, Stephen Lovatt plays a lawyer who finds himself on shaky financial ground as a result of the disaster.

The decision to accept the part was a no-brainer, but it wasn't the character that attracted him. "I just wanted to be in it, really," he says. "We need to talk to ourselves nationally about these experiences and television is a good way to do it, especially as a drama."

Plus, the project represented Lovatt's first opportunity in his 28-year-long career to work with writer-director Gaylene Preston, whom he describes as "frustratingly and delightfully creative".

Thanks to Preston's "idiosyncratic presence" and the way she let the actors experiment, and at other times would throw them curve balls that demanded an instant response, "it was an exciting time being on set with her, and a rewarding one.

"I'd work with her again at the drop of a hat."

And then there was the pull of Christchurch itself, which Lovatt hadn't visited since before the quakes.

"I felt grateful to have time in that city," he says. "I spent a lot of time there in my childhood - my grandma and grandfather and aunt lived down there. I had a whole bunch of cousins there.

"I also used to work at the Court Theatre regularly, and my son was born there, so I have a little bit of a connection to the place.

"Not that I want to overplay that," he adds, "I'm certainly no son of Canterbury, but it was really nice to be down there. There is no other place in New Zealand like it, is there?"

Lovatt says it was invaluable to be in Christchurch and get a first-hand sense of the trauma its inhabitants continue to experience.

"I spent a good deal of time in the container shopping area, eavesdropping on people who reminded me of the character I was playing and trying to bring some of that into the performance.

"There was also a lot of walking around, just being in amongst it," he says. "It was quite moving to go past the church you used to go to with your grandma and see there ain't nothing there no more."

Not surprisingly, filming in Christchurch presented all sorts of logistical issues to overcome, but Lovatt says his biggest challenge was the way Preston and co-writer Dave Armstrong wrote the script.

"The lives of the people in the series have been shattered and the structure Gaylene's gone for in telling their story is similarly fractured; there's not really a central narrative," he explains.

"So we'll see some of this collection of characters and then we lose them for quite a long period of time and when they pop up again their story will have moved a certain distance without us really being aware of how's it happened.

"It was quite challenging to not have a straight-line narrative to play but it was also great fun."

Also enjoyable was acting with Luanne Gordon who, as Lovatt's character's wife, learns to be more self-reliant as time passes.

"Luanne and I are old chums - I played her boyfriend for a while back when she was the lead of the TV series The Strip. She's been offshore for a fair time, so it was lovely to be working with her again."

Lovatt hasn't had the chance to watch the finished show, he has only seen a few sequences that needed some dialogue re-recorded, including footage filmed in the Red Zone "where some of the big buildings came down".

"It looks like Gaylene's done a terrific job and I'm very excited to see the whole thing," he says.

Lovatt can also be seen on the big screen in the critically acclaimed New Zealand indie movie Fantail and on stage in Auckland Theatre Company's excellent revival of Maurice Shadbolt's Once on Chunuk Bair.

When the season ends there's nothing immediate on Lovatt's horizon, which will give him the opportunity to focus on creating a couple of shows.

One's a solo endeavour and the other - "to do with part of our history" - is in collaboration with a writer, a director and another actor.

"I'm pretty interested in bringing it all back home," he says.

"I worry for New Zealand sometimes - because we're so small we're not particularly good at carrying forward our history. Consequently it's quite easy to have it reframed by other narratives, and some of it really oughtn't to be."

Hope and Wire premieres this Thursday, 8.30pm, on TV3.

- Herald on Sunday

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