In 1984 I got asked by Ewan Upston to be in a musical he was directing at Downstage theatre – Boy’s Own McBeth. The Spines had played there a couple of times in the previous year and I loved the place. It was very exciting – professional theatre.
The play was an Australian musical comedy and offended just about everyone. Cliff Wood starred as Terry Shakespeare, a 40 year old pupil at Dunsinane High who refuses to leave school. I got to play his son, SS Shakespeare who stuttered badly and played lots of guitar. Peter Dennett played Dopey Shakespeare, my brother. It was pretty out there. At one point I had to play the head teacher’s wife so I did my “Janet” from Dr Findlay’s Casebook voice. At the interval I painted my face like Aladdin Sane and the second half was an Aussie piss-take of that play we don’t mention.
It was very funny but not very PC. We actually got picketed by various groups!
John Banas, the Artistic Director of the theatre at the time, came to us after the first week and told us we were being pulled. There had been a Snap Election announced and he was putting on a satirical revue about it.
He was amazing. He wrote the thing overnight almost and he, Cliff, Peter and I performed it with Ewan directing. It was a series of political sketches poking fun at the contenders but mainly Muldoon and Bob Jones.
Twenty-two years later I got to go back to Downstage. This time in Peter Tait’s play – U-boat Down Under with Jo Davison and Michael Lawrence. It was a comedy/drama set in NZ in WWII when part of the crew of a German U-boat come ashore looking for water and supplies.
We had a scaffold as the submarine. In a flashback I do a wee cameo as Hitler giving a speech about New Zealanders being savages living in trees. Then Michael, Christopher Brougham and I (with Hogan’s Heroes accents) kick a football around the beach on stage. Kronfeld (Michael) meets Mary (Jo) falls in love and choses to stay.
The second act deals with his blending in to NZ society in the 40s and we actually have a game of rugby on stage – classic Peter Tait.
Downstage is a huge part of NZ theatre history and the Hannah Playhouse a wonderful mysterious building. I’m proud to have performed there. In 1984 there was a cat that lived there named Evil who was part of the place. She liked our dressing room and sat watching you put on your make up.