Stage and screen director Janice Finn surveys the scene around her: tramping boots, backpacks, an assortment of camping paraphernalia - and an iridescent purple make-up box.

It may look as if Finn and the six all-female cast of Tadpole Productions' Social Climbers are heading off on a weekend away but these are props for the Roger Hall comedy. Finn describes it as the "prop-iest" show she has directed in a long time with one important new device added since Hall wrote the play 20 years ago: a mobile phone.

"When you think about it, the advent of the cellphone could have put paid to the whole premise of six women heading off tramping for a weekend and becoming stranded by bad weather in a DoC hut but Roger has easily explained it away by adding in a few lines about there being no phone coverage," she says.

Social Climbers premiered in 1995. Now there are new politicians and policies to lambast; new books and films to discuss and the advent of social media. But the cast - Louise Wallace, Lisa Chappell, Michelle Leuthart, Donna Brookbanks, Darien Takle and Micheala Rooney - say the concerns of women and the nature of female friendships haven't changed.


Hall tweaked the play to make the references more contemporary but, perhaps because it was based on a real-life event, it didn't need much more altering to continue to elicit the laughs. He wrote it because female friendship was a subject he hadn't explored before and he wanted to write about women in a group away from home.

"I went to several schools to talk to teachers about their jobs and what they would talk about in a group," he recalls, adding that he's never found it difficult to write from a woman's point of view. "There was a time when some feminists thought men couldn't write from a women's point of view but it is the job of a writer to be able to portray other people regardless of gender, age, race, etc. Women novelists have always been able to portray men. Jane Austen's portrayal of Mr Bennett is totally convincing. I've always enjoyed women's company and like to listen to them."

One woman wrote to him after his play By Degrees, also an all-woman play, to say it was wonderful to see women of her generation, whose troubles and triumphs are often neglected by dramatists, portrayed with warmth and insight. It's a sentiment shared by the cast, who say Hall has an "extraordinary ear" for the way women talk and what they discuss. Finn has directed six of his plays; Takle has also been involved with six.

"He's done an extraordinary job with this," says Wallace. "There aren't many male playwrights around who will sit down and write a play for six women."

Finn says it's an authentic situation to get a group of people together - in this case teachers (and one reluctant younger daughter) who think they know each other because they're together in the lunchroom each day - and suddenly they're stuck, out of their comfort zone, and realise they don't really know each other at all.

So will the cast be off tramping as a "team bonding" exercise any time soon? That makes them laugh because, says Chapple, none of them are outdoorsy types although Takle and Rooney have done a bit of tramping and Wallace once "survived" the Milford Track.



Social Climbers

Where and when:

The PumpHouse, Takapuna, October 15-25