What: Horseplay
Where: Maidment Theatre, Alfred St
When: Until May 29


is rambunctious and humorous, full of drink and literary allusions with a touch of rural gothic horror (cue screechy violins).

This is all satisfyingly suitable for a play depicting a fictitious chance meeting between

The Scarecrow


writer Ronald Hugh Morrieson and poet James K Baxter - two of New Zealand literature's most charismatic, maverick, alcoholic bawds.

It's a fantastic, Stoppard-like scenario and both Ken Duncum's farfetched, pun-laced, real-time script and this Simon Bennett-directed, larger-than-life production more than live up to it.

There are Baxter self-quotations and talk of cut-throats and fowlhouses for literary experts to spot, but you don't have to know a line of the great men's work to enjoy the play and its absurd tableaux involving half a dead horse.

Both lead actors are very good - as they need to be - playing up with gusto. Tim Balme, in declamatory mode for Baxter's poetic speeches - he refers to his loins as "old and rusted lumps of iron ore" - has the crazy-eyed, long-haired, barefooted look of a man who is "sick and tired of being a bloody prophet", wrestling with his God.

John Leigh as the sweating, ill Morrieson, Baxter's host in "Hara" (Hawera, Taranaki), is less of a caricature, moving very naturally from straight man to wild man to resentful sad sack and to something more transcendent.

Toni Potter has an earthy physicality and vicious tongue as Morrieson's blowsy blonde love interest, Wilma.

Tracey Collins' realistic set - depicting the home 50-year-old Morrieson shares with his aunty (Elizabeth McRae) - sensibly doesn't compete with the action for attention, although the supposed 1972 vintage of the women's costumes isn't quite obvious enough.


Ode to Hawera

, apres the real Baxter's

Ode to Auckland

, is a memorable epilogue, setting out the small despair of the myth of Morrieson, the man who couldn't leave his home town, destined to be discovered after his death.

Who's next for a meeting onstage? Alan Duff and Keri Hulme? C.K. Stead vs just about everybody? I can't wait.