There is no better time in New Zealand for a new state-of-the-nation play and no better subject than our Prime Minister.

The election of Jacinda Ardern sparked plenty of reaction but after a year of coalition bargaining, ground breaking announcements and ministerial failings, the anticipation of Winston Peters' decision has slipped from memory.

Jacinda, the latest from star playwright Sam Brooks, is all about that long (nearly) month where the nation held its breath.

Yet, despite the title, the play is not about Jacinda herself and only fleetingly covers the political world. The election is merely the springboard for a range of subplots about where New Zealand is, where it's going and whether change is really achievable.


It is rare to see a native and original production that explores the entire nation's psyche.

Most local plays tend to focus on the individual or the international, making Jacinda a refreshing change of pace.

The 150 minute run time perhaps hints at why these grand scale works are so rare but the varied and disconnected plotlines, held together by Sam Snedden's slick direction, hold interest.

Covering all walks of life requires a talented cast; thankfully the 16-strong performers from The Actor's Program are more than up to the task.

Renaye Tamati is the clear standout as the embittered ex-mayor's assistant who now runs a women's shelter.

Her powerful performance, quiet yet bold, is the play's greatest asset and her final monologues its most memorable moment.

Ruby Hansen is equally gripping as a career politico left adrift by the election result while Renee Casserly and Jaime McDermott provide welcome comic relief in small but standout roles.

For the most part, Brooks' script is tightly crafted, finely blending comedy and drama, and producing several rousing speeches. As the play was written specifically for the Actor's Program, some roles seem tacked on to fill out the roster but none of the storylines feel wholly redundant.


One flaw does cast a long shadow, though. An over-arching plot sees the metaphysical embodiment of New Zealand demand various characters justify the country's existence.

While it allows for delightfully witty performances from Mirabai Pease and Adeline Shaddick as meddling angel-like figures, it serves as something of magical convenience that lazily brings the best characters together, betraying the complex maturity of the rest of show.

Yet a melting pot of disparate ideas is a fitting tribute to our current government. While the October 2017 setting means the first year in power goes unexplored, perhaps rendering it out of date already, Jacinda is a compelling exploration of the turbulence of change and the power of the individual.

It could have done without the stardust but the combination of a stellar writer, an accomplished director and a cast firing on all cylinders is a coalition worth celebrating.

What: Jacinda
Where: Basement Theatre, until November 24th
Reviewed by: Ethan Sills