Writer. Director. Actor.
Acting. Directing. Writing.
My Early Years
I’ve always been a performer. Ask my mum. I wanted to be a clown when I was little. I made it eventually. Ask my friends.
I started out as an actor, proper, when I was in my early teens - joining a drama group when I was a kid, continuing on in Uni and eventually quitting my studies after a year because I landed my first professional job. I was eighteen and I knew what I wanted to do.
From that point on, by some miracle, I was hardly ever out of work. A year spent on the road taking Shakespeare to schools was, in its way, a good training ground. Sam Neil was the other male in the New Zealand Players Drama Quartet. He played Tybalt to my Romeo and whenever I killed him at a performance in a girls’ school the whole place would groan.
I got over it eventually.
I was a full-time actor for about twenty years, doing everything from contemporary dramas and comedies to more Shakespeare, Restoration works, and lots of Musicals. I was never trained as a singer, but I seemed to be able to hold a tune and had a weirdly powerful falsetto. Mary Sunshine was waiting for me. So were some other great music theatre roles.
I loved doing comedy, too. Lots of satirical reviews with John Clarke, before he came over to Oz. We had a ball. We wrote everything we performed, too. As a counterpoint, I used to get cast in a lot of ‘out there’ roles - psychos and oddballs like Hatch in Edward Bond’s ‘The Sea’, or Slim Grisson in ‘No Orchids for Miss Blandish’. The hardest thing I ever did was ‘Judgement’, by Barry Collins - a two hour forty minute monologue. No interval.
I guess I’d still be working as an actor if I hadn’t been in New Zealand.
It was necessary to diversify to survive - and I’m grateful for the directions that took me in. I did a lot of acting for radio drama. Back then, New Zealand had the second largest output of radio drama in the world; only the BBC produced more.
I started writing for radio, to add to the fledgling material I’d begun to pen for the theatre and for a while I was moving between writing and acting - and directing - which had also presented itself as an opportunity, first through the satirical reviews and then with actual, professional productions of real plays! After a while, it’s a bullet most actors want to bite.
The artistic director of Downstage, the company where I was doing most of my work, was a fantastic woman named Sunny Amey. Great name, great lady. Through the work, she somehow saw some potential in me as a director and my first full directing gig was as co-director with her on John Arden’s ‘ The Ballygombeen Bequest’.
From that point on, I was directing pretty much as regularly as I was acting. Again, the work ranged from contemporary plays, back to the good old Bard and the Greeks.
One particularly rewarding experience was revisitation of Romeo and Juliet in a Youth Theatre Workshop. Amazing energy and commitment - and some of those kids have gone on to do great things.
I think having been an actor (and at that time still doing that too) is the best possible grounding for directing. I have enormous respect for actors, and love working with them. Still, in the end, someone has to take responsibility so I always try to set up a dialogue in which everyone has a voice, and I have the last word. That only works if the last word can be ‘Thank you - that’s a great idea, and better than mine. Let’s do it.’ I’ve worked with ‘my way or the highway’ directors - but generally only once.
I think ego is the enemy of good directing. Confidence is an untrustworthy ally. Always question it.
Music Theatre has been one of my big passions in directing. That’s probably odd, because in New Zealand, it was always really hard to justify the sheer scale demanded by so many musicals. That was dealt with by Kiwi ‘number eight wire’ ingenuity. So called ‘amateur’ organisations would employ professional directors and lead performers and populate the smaller roles with their people - who would clamour to audition. It was exciting, and, in its way, a kind of mentoring process. And not by any stretch ‘amateur’. I did a couple of productions for Wellington Music Theatre where they purchased and imported the National Theatre (UK) set, or the Australian touring set. (‘Guys and Dolls’, ‘Annie’ ). They’d then tour them around the country, hiring them out to other groups to get their money back. Clever.
Other productions were mounted by independent producers and, overall, I did around eighteen of them, three of which I wrote.
In fact, writing was becoming more and more a part of my work landscape. I was doing a sit-com with John Clarke and we ended up writing a lot of the scripts together. More TV writing flowed from that but, I thought, it would always be the third string to my bow.
Now it’s the first.
And back to...
Writing has, in its way, been a move toward the creative base of all the other stuff I’ve done - be it in theatre, film or TV. It started with the late-night satirical reviews on stage, and then radio. I loved writing for radio and would still do it in a heartbeat if there was a market. There’s starting to be again, albeit in a slightly different form, with podcasts etc.
I’m sharpening my digital pencil.
In the audio medium, the imagination is king, not the budget. You can sink a ship or beach a whale with the help of a good sound library. I wrote about ten full-length radio plays and a whole bunch of short ones. Great fun.
Increasingly, though, I was writing for TV and a move to Australia pitched me headlong into it. I actually came over to finish directing an Australian mini-series I’d picked up that we’d shot in Fiji and which was finished in Sydney. I was asked to stay and direct a couple more films but they fell over and, looking for work to tide me over for a while, I landed a directing gig on E-Street - a two by one-hour-a-week drama. (Gruelling!)
After a while, I complained about a couple of scripts I’d been handed and was told if I thought I could do better I should. I listened to Mr Confidence and, admittedly with a fair push from Mr Ego, too, I did try to do better and submitted a script. I ended up writing a for the series and then story-producing and producing. It was all an unintended path - an accident.
Increasingly, I’ve spent my time writing and I have to say, it’s been at the expense of other things like directing and acting, which I miss a lot. I miss the theatre a lot. Film and television have their own sets of pressures and writers, without which nothing would happen, are not high up in the pecking order.
Still, I do enjoy it and when I’m not writing I don’t know what to do with myself.
Of late, my writing has taken me back - via the ether - to New Zealand, where I work for Screentime and have written several mini-series and a whole bunch of telemovies and where, happily, my work is given lots of respect. I’m enjoying my writing - which is good, because the other strings to my bow, although they haven’t snapped, are seldom used now.
I’d like to think, if required, I could still hit the bullseye.
After all, I was born in Nottingham.
AMERICA HURRAH (DRAMA TRILOGY. ENSEMBLE.)
ZOO STORY (ONE ACT DRAMA. LEAD)
ZOO ZOO WIDDERSHINS ZOO. (DRAMA. ENSEMBLE)
TANGO (DRAMA. LEAD)
CELEBRATION (MUSICAL. LEAD)
NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH (DRAMA. LEAD)
THE BALLYGOMBEEN BEQUEST. (DRAMA. LEAD)
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST (COMEDY. MINOR ROLE)
THE BACCHAE (GREEK CLASSICAL. MINOR ROLE)
RIVERWIND (MUSICAL. LEAD)
WIND IN THE BRANCHES OF THE SASSAFRAS (COMEDY. MINOR ROLE)
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL (CLASSICAL COMEDY. MINOR ROLE)
VICTIMS (COMEDY. ENSEMBLE)
THE SOLDIER'S TALE (ORCHESTRAL PIECE.LEAD)
BULLY (DRAMA. MINOR ROLE)
THE DRAGON (POLITICAL SATIRE. ENSEMBLE)
ROOTED (COMEDY. LEAD)
W.A.S.T.E. (DOCO DRAMA. FEMALE IMPERSONATION AND LEAD)
THE SEA (DRAMA. LEAD)
VALDRAMAR. (ROCK OPERA. TOOK OVER LEAD)
SONGS TO UNCLE SCRIM (MUSICAL DOCUMENTARY. ENSEMBLE)
SONGS FOR THE FOURTH REICH (WEILL/BRECHT SHOW. ENSEMBLE)
THE ROBBIE HORROR SHOW (POLITICAL SATIRE. ENSEMBLE)
DRACULA (DRAMA (?!) MINOR ROLE)
TRAVESTIES (DRAMA. ENSEMBLE)
THE ODDS AGAINST EVAN (ONE ACT DRAMA. LEAD)
FINNEGAN'S WAKE (ADAPTATION - DRAMA. LEAD)
PALACE OF VARIETIES (MUSIC HALL. ENSEMBLE)
LOVE'S LABOURS LOST (CLASSICAL COMEDY. MINOR ROLE)
CROSSING NIAGARA (DRAMA. LEAD)
THE BALCONY. (DRAMA. LEAD)
JUDGEMENT (THREE HOUR MONOLOGUE)
THE RECRUITING OFFICER (RESTORATION COMEDY. ENSEMBLE)
NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH (DRAMA. LEAD)
BENT (DRAMA. FEMALE IMPERSONATION)
THE SUICIDE (COMEDY. ENSEMBLE)
E.G.B.D.F. (DRAMA WITH NZ SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA. LEAD)
CABARET (MUSICAL. LEAD (MC))
FULL MARX (MUSICAL. LEAD. (TWICE))
ONE FOR THE ROAD (ONE ACT DRAMA. LEAD)
THE WELLINGTON EMPIRE (MUSIC HALL. LEAD)
THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (OPERETTA. 2nd LEAD)
CHICAGO (MUSICAL. FEMALE IMPERSONATION)
THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW (NZ. TOUR AUS. PRODUCTION, NARRATOR)
SYLVIA (comedy. Lead)
ALSO MANY SATIRICAL REVUES, CHILDREN'S PLAYS, DOCUMENTARY PIECES,
ONE YEAR OF SCHOOLS PERFORMANCES WITH SAM NEILL.