It may have been written in 1978, but Roger Hall's much-loved play Middle Age Spread is still "disturbingly relevant", the playwright says.

The show has been revived and will return to the stage to celebrate his 80th birthday, which he celebrated in January.

It is his most famous play in nearly 50 years of writing, which has included 46 plays and pantomimes.

The timeless show is hitting the stage again at Takapuna's PumpHouse Theatre from May 9. It is being staged by Tadpole Productions; the North Shore theatre group co-founded by Louise Wallace, of which Hall is patron.


Hall – New Zealand's most successful playwright – said it was a nice gesture the show was being brought back and said despite being set in the 1970s, the play was relevant because it's about the "eternal problems" of marriage and reflects on aspects of New Zealand which haven't changed.

"We're still talking about the gap between the rich and the poor," he said.

Described as a comic tragedy, three couples are at a dinner party none of them particularly wants to attend but, by doing so, they share their doubts and anxieties about their middle-class lives and middle-aged selves.

Directors Janice Finn and Wallace are keeping it set in the 1970s.

"It is either a journey down memory lane or an entertaining history lesson for the social media set of 2019," they write in publicity material.

"And the same personal stories of thwarted ambition or broken hearts could just as easily be unfolding on Facebook or on any suburban street today."

After its first performances at Wellington's Circa Theatre, Middle Age Spread went to London in 1978 where it won Hall the UK's highest theatrical honour, an Olivier award for comedy of the year.

Roger Hall is 80 now.
Roger Hall is 80 now.

But in recent years, Hall has faced tough criticism from a new generation of local playwrights who claim his blend of comedy and tragedy, shot through with social criticism, is too middle class – for rich, white people – and stuck in a bygone era.


He's also been accused of writing female characters that pigeon-hole women and don't accurately reflect their lives and feelings.

Rather than getting into a public slanging match, Hall instead can provide copies of letters he's received from women thanking him for writing such truthful portrayals of their lives and, indeed, writing entire plays for all-female casts.

"I think almost every playwright who's had a long career, the younger generation wants to kick you out and that's natural and inevitable," Hall said.

While Hall said New Zealand theatre is far healthier than it once was, he acknowledges the fight for recognition and survival, particularly financial, still challenges theatre companies and playwrights.

Partly because of this, he last year instigated the country's first theatre month.

He said he was happy to see a wider variety of plays and playwrights emerging but fears sometimes the stage is used as a pulpit.

"There are so many plays on, and I don't get to as many as I used to, but these days, there seems to be so many 'issues plays' and 'what a terrible time I had'," he said.

"I may be doing an injustice to younger playwrights; I don't know if other people feel like I do and, again, I may be getting old, but people burst into applause when the character says something they all agree with. Are people coming along just to have their beliefs supported?"