Dionne Christian is the NZ Herald’s arts and books editor

New horizons: Oliver Page and Benjamin Henson take on new challenges

Add a comment
Mating in Captivity stars (from left) Jack Buchanan, Frith Horan and Milo Cawthorne
Mating in Captivity stars (from left) Jack Buchanan, Frith Horan and Milo Cawthorne

They say there's a first-time for everything; for Oliver Page and Benjamin Henson that time is now.

Already established in their respective fields, the two test themselves and fulfil long held ambitions by stepping out of their comfort zones to work on new projects. Page, a short film screenwriter and director, is about to see his first "proper" play debut; Henson, a well-known theatre director who likes to push the boundaries, directs his first opera.

Page's Mating in Captivity is a contemporary comedy with a nod to the screwball comedies of the 1930s - think films like The Front Page, It Happened One Night and Bringing up Baby. It was inspired by watching friends in their very early twenties getting hitched and then wondering what to do now they were married.

"It was almost as if, by getting married young, they were rebelling against their parents' more liberal views on relationships but then they started to wonder, 'what next?'," Page says. "They knew about feminism, the sexual revolution and the identity politics of more recent times, but the theory was quite different from the practise and when confronted with some of the issues, they had no idea how to deal with it all."

So he wrote about Annie (Frith Horan) and Rob (Jack Buchanan) who are young and in love, getting -or newly - engaged, and enjoying playing grown-ups until Rob's old mate Jacob (Milo Cawthorne) unexpectedly arrives to stay in their teeny, tiny rinky dink central Auckland apartment.

Three is not company as secrets are exposed, beliefs and loyalties tested.

Page gave his script to school friend Robin Kelly, co-founder of Last Tapes Theatre Company, and asked if they wanted to produce it. Kelly says the company may be small, but regularly receives scripts from budding local playwrights so it had started its First Steps programme to produce new plays.

Mating in Captivity appealed immediately because it was "whip-smart" with recognisable characters and scenarios. Page says it's been exciting to watch the actors, and director Renée Lyons, bring his words alive and he hasn't minded a bit if they've wanted to change anything.

While he may write and direct short-films, Page says he's always enjoyed the immediacy of theatre and saw writing a play as something which didn't require sticking to the conventions of film. Getting the script finished has been a simple case of persevering and practising.

"I've just been doing the 10,000 hours thing - where the more you do, the better you're supposed to become," he says. "It wrote an earlier play, but it was terrible. I think you probably have to write one or two shockers before you hit your stride."

Mating in Captivity is a new play - in marked contrast to composer Handel's baroque opera Oreste which debuted at London's Convent Garden Theatre in 1734. Then again, Oreste is also described as a tale of love and lust, grounded in the Euripides' drama Iphigenia in Tauris.

Benjamin Henson has directed many plays in Auckland; Oreste will be his first opera.
Benjamin Henson has directed many plays in Auckland; Oreste will be his first opera.


While Oreste is rarely performed, Auckland Opera Studio patron and studio director Frances Wilson saw it as ideal for a semi-staged production featuring some of our freshest young opera talent and experienced singers.

The vocal cast - Stephen Diaz (Oreste), Rebecca Ryan (Hermione), Madison Nonoa (Ifigenia), Filipe Manu (Pilade), James Ioelu (King Toante) and Kalauni Pouvalu (Filotete) - perform recitatives in English and arias in Italian. The NZ Barok Orchestra provide the score. They're the only group performing baroque music on historic instruments in New Zealand.

But Wilson saw no reason why newer talent should be restricted to young singers, so asked Henson to direct. Henson has worked a lot with Auckland Theatre Company, runs Fractious Tash which makes vivid and often visceral theatre, and directed this year's Summer Shakespeare and Titus as Pop-up Globe.

But he has never directed an opera before and cheerfully admits he knew little about the art-form until he won a place on the Engine Room. It's a six-month paid internship, which allows two "motivated individuals" to work with Auckland Theatre Company, New Zealand Opera and Dunedin's Fortune Theatre.

Henson spent time at NZ Opera, assisting Sara Brodie with Nixon in China and later working on La Traviata so when Wilson offered him the chance to step up and do a bit more, he was more than happy to do so.

He especially liked that Oreste is full of vengeful Gods, love and lust and describes it as "the Game of Thrones of opera". While it's meant to be a semi-staged production, Henson has added a few extra touches, including a choreographed fight scene, to ensure it's not at all static.

So what's he found different about directing an opera compared to a play?

"Actually, they're not so very far away from one another because what you're aiming to do is to communicate a story and the truth of the truth of the truth of that story whether it's a complex drama or one delivered in song," he says.

"You generate characters, find their emotions and motivations, and explore what relationships they have with other characters on stage. With opera, there's a constant negotiation between the singing, the movement and the performance aspect you can pull out of them. The actor's job seems incredibly easy compared with all an opera singer is thinking about and doing!"

So does Page hope to write another play? Will Henson direct opera again? It's early days, audiences are yet to see the results of their work; critics haven't passed judgement but, yes.

What: Mating in Captivity
Where & when: Basement Theatre, August 16 - 27
What: Handel's Oreste
Where & when: Mercury Theatre, August 20 & 21

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 28 Sep 2016 01:49:53 Processing Time: 549ms