Revisiting Black era of Kiwi crime

By Dionne Christian

Notorious Milk Bar and Jukebox murders, and subsequent moral panic, drive play with mostly teenage cast.

Ruby Payne, Stuart Timmins, Jackson Bliss-McCauley and Abigail Laurent in Albert Black.
Ruby Payne, Stuart Timmins, Jackson Bliss-McCauley and Abigail Laurent in Albert Black.

If Peter Larsen's play Albert Black is written as eloquently as he describes it, it'll be a stunner. Set in the 1950s to a rock 'n' roll soundtrack and based on Redmer Yska's 1993 book All Shook Up: The Flash Bodgie and the Rise of the New Zealand Teenager in the 1950s, it chronicles the "fiery emergence" of New Zealand's first American-influenced teenagers.

"It's a history that has been covered up and swept away under a conspiracy of decency and conservatism," says Larsen, who spent years researching crimes such as the Milk Bar Murder and the Jukebox Killing, which fed into Albert Black. Albert "Paddy" Black was a Belfast immigrant who arrived in button-downed New Zealand and quickly fell in with the rebellious teenagers - bodgies and widgies - who frequented Queen St milk bars.

In winter 1955, the 18-year-old Black fatally stabbed 19-year-old Alan Jacques next to the jukebox in Ye Olde Barn, a milk bar in Queen St. He was hanged for the crime three weeks before Christmas. Asked for his last words, he allegedly wished everyone a bright and merry Christmas and New Year.

The country was already reeling following the hanging of 19-year-old Freddie Foster, who killed his former girlfriend at Somervell's milk bar just three months before. A year earlier, Honora Parker had been bludgeoned to death by her 16-year-old daughter Pauline and Pauline's friend, Juliet Hulme.

Larsen says his mostly teenage cast of 15 were astonished to learn New Zealand still had the death penalty in the 1950s and how the apparent juvenile crime wave led to widespread moral panic.

"There's a real danger when you exclude people from society because of cultural differences. They tend to go off and form their own cultural groups with their own rules and these can be a good deal faster and looser than what society deems acceptable."

First performed last October by the Northland Youth Theatre, Albert Black opens at Auckland's The Basement theatre tonight thanks to the National Youth Theatre, with a new cast and some re-writing.

A New Zealand classic also opens at The Basement tonight - Gary Henderson's whodunit An Unseasonable Fall of Snow.

Michael Hurst plays hard-nosed interrogator Arthur and Ryan Richards is Liam, a hapless character who knows what crime he has committed but isn't about to confess.

Theatre preview
What: Albert Black and An Unseasonable Fall of Snow
Where and when: Both opening at the The Basement tonight.

- NZ Herald

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