New Zealand stage companies go global

By Dionne Christian

Jared Rawiri in Red Leap's The Arrival. Photo / John McDermott
Jared Rawiri in Red Leap's The Arrival. Photo / John McDermott

Had Anthony McCarten played sport, he would have been knighted by now.

At least that's what actor Miranda Harcourt told a surprisingly full Circa Theatre when playwright McCarten came home to New Zealand to appear early one Saturday morning at Writers Week in Wellington.

Consider his credentials, Harcourt said: 12 plays, seven produced screenplays including the Academy Award-winning The Theory of Everything, two Bafta Awards and two Academy Award nominations (among a number of other award nominations), and a handful of well-received novels.

Not to mention the fact that his play Ladies Night, written with Stephen Sinclair and first performed in 1987, is New Zealand's most commercially successful play of all time and has been staged in 22 countries. It even won an award in France.

McCarten's most recent play is Funnygirl, an adaptation of his novel of the same name, about the world's first female Muslim stand-up comedia.

When the play premiered, it did so not in New Zealand but in Austria at the Salzburg State Theatre.

He's far from the only New Zealand playwright to be enjoying overseas success; a number of our theatre-makers are getting international recognition. So who's going where and doing what?

Bullet Heart Club: The theatre company behind Daffodils, a play-with-songs and a cabaret feel. They've toured New Zealand, around Australia and, next month, head to the annual Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival which, this year, has a New Zealand theme (Local companies Show Pony, Trick of the Light and Thomas Monckton also have theatre shows in the festival). If fundraising is successful, Bullet Heart Club will be off again in August to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The Conch: Founded in 2002 by Nina Nawalowalo and Tom McCrory, the Conch takes Pacific-inspired performance pieces around the world. After tours to Australia and Europe, the company was commissioned by the British Council to work in the Solomon Islands on a community theatre project designed to reduce domestic violence. Nawalowalo is the world's first ever female Melanesian theatre director.

Flaxworks Theatre: Phil Ormsby and Alex Ellis started their company by driving a van around NZ to take their plays to venues as varied as cafes, movie theatre, community halls and the occasional traditional theatre. More than a decade on -- and with seven shows -- they've played the Melbourne Comedy Festival and the Adelaide Fringe as well toured the Australian state of Victoria. They're working on a new show -- tentatively called Conversations with Dead Relatives -- and will return to Melbourne's La Mama theatre to workshop it.

Red Leap: Image and movement-based Red Leap was founded by Kate Parker and Julie Nolan. The duo delivered two Auckland Arts Festival commissions -- The Arrival in 2009 and Paper Sky in 2011 -- which have also toured to Sydney, South Korea, Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong. Its most recent production, Dust Pilgrim, travels to Hamilton, New Plymouth and Wellington in the next few weeks and there's a one-off chance to watch a rehearsal, where sand will fly and bodies move in ways you never thought possible, on Saturday, June 18 at the Corban Estate Art Centre from 11.30am-1.30pm. Entry by koha, bring a blanket.

Massive Theatre Company: The National Theatre of Scotland, who made a splash in the Auckland Arts Festival this year with The James Plays, invited Massive to create a new work for their vibrant Exchange Festival in July.

The programme brings together groups of young theatre-makers (aged 16 to 25) from across Scotland and the world, to create and perform new theatre with the help and support of a professional creative team. The Kiwi cast will have access to a week-long programme of masterclasses and workshops, led by professional practitioners and invited companies, while generating ideas alongside other young performers. Massive has also worked with the National Youth Theatre of Wales and one of its first shows, The Sons of Charlie Paora, was performed at the Royal Court in London. Last year, it took The Brave to Hawaii.

Indian Ink: As our story (left) says, the company, which started in the late 1990s, now travels extensively, taking its productions to festivals in Australia, India, Europe and North America. Founders Justin Lewis and Jacob Rajan are now writing a play for the South Coast Repertory Theatre in California.

The Playground Collective: One of our newest theatre companies, The Playground Collective is led by Eleanor Bishop, award-winning playwright Eli Kent and Robin Kerr. It's most recent production, All Your Wants and Needs Fulfilled Forever, debuted at an NZ theatre season in New York before returning home and then travelling on to the Vault Theatre Festival in London.

- Weekend magazine

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