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October 1, 2007 | by  | in Theatre |
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The Hollow Men

Never have I heard so much controversy before a New Zealand play opening. My right-wing whanau knew about the production grant The Hollow Men received from Creative NZ before I did (and I’m supposedly ‘in the biz’). Rodney Hide was there sipping an OJ on opening night, and there was genuine excitement in the air before the lights went down. I wasn’t disappointed.

The Hollow Men is the theatrical adaptation of Nicky Hager’s controversial book which detailed the e-mails that Dr Brash received on “how to be a politician”, and also revealed that certain key figures knew more about National’s links to the exclusive Brethren than they initially let on.

The production is remarkably slick. The sparse set by Brian King consists mostly of black bar frames which double as desks, television set, and the frame of the Parliamentary debating chamber for question time. The costume (Judith Crozier) and lighting design (Jen Lal) are similarly sparse and subtle – blue ties, light blue lighting. The sound design (Andrew McMillan) serves to punctuate the short scenes and immerse us in each new setting – the ballroom, the election night party and so on.

The script consists of short scenes and speeches detailing the rise and fall of Don Brash, and Parker’s done a great job of translating it for the stage. We step in as Brash is being groomed for the leadership, and continue through his reluctance to engage in “Winston Peters’ style politics” and his subsequent corruption into populism and marketing speak. It is politics itself and the media who are the architects in all this, who force us to try and “win an argument in five-second sound bytes.” It’s all here: the Orewa speech (“one rule for all”, the opposition to the Civil Union Bill, the Nuclear-free policy and Brash’s fight with Katherine Rich (Welfare spokesperson) over his ‘beneficiary bashing’.

Brash feels like the puppet in all this, with PR Consultant Hooten (Sam Snedden) and Sinclair (Arthur Meek) pulling the strings. Hooten who describes himself as ‘right-wing-neo-con-ultra’ and Arthur Meek as Sinclair are both full of energy, as they skate around on their wheely chairs, exclaiming “Fuck, we’re good!” Stephen Papps as Brash is suitably naïve and clumsy. Michael Keir Morrissey as Keenan is our narrator throughout the piece and brings fresh honesty to the role, switching between his persona as an advisor and as audience confidante. Both Will Harris and Lyndee-Jane Rutherford play a variety of roles, providing most of the laughs as well as bringing sincerity to each role.

The first half feels a little bit like an exercise in National bashing; with Brash’s first real lines being a long (slightly mocking) explanation of right-wing economic policy which generates bemused laughs.

However, the rest of the play went on to present a much more balanced view in terms of delivering the text. When the actors simply let the text speak for itself, the effect was that the events felt more real and thus, worrying indeed.

Overall, it’s a fascinating look behind the scenes of New Zealand politics. This slick, witty production in which politics is the loser on the day is compulsive viewing.



Adapted by Dean Parker from a book by Nicky Hager
Directed by Jonathon Hendry
BATS until October 11, 8pm
$13 Concessions

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About the Author ()

Well hello there. Eleanor was the Theatre Editor in 2007, now she writes the Women's Column and just generally minces about the Salient office. Eleanor is currently an Honours student in Theatre (with a touch of gender). She also has a BCA in Marketing but she tries to keep that on the d-low (embarrassing, because she loves academic integrity and also perpetuating the myth that she's a tad bohemian). If you've got a gender agenda, woo her by taking her a BYO Malaysian. She lies, if you show any interest at all she'll probably tackle you in the street and force you to write a column.

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  1. Happy Smurf says:

    Love your work Elinor

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