After 20 years, a favourite returns

Ladies Night cast members (from left) Marisiale Tunoka (Wes), Toby Leach (Norman), Ashley Hawkes (Craig), Sara-Georgie Tunoka (Glenda), Paul Metreyeon (Gavin), Colin Spicer (Grahame), Ross McKellar (Barry) and Stephen Butterworth (Bernie) rehearse at Sims
Ladies Night cast members (from left) Marisiale Tunoka (Wes), Toby Leach (Norman), Ashley Hawkes (Craig), Sara-Georgie Tunoka (Glenda), Paul Metreyeon (Gavin), Colin Spicer (Grahame), Ross McKellar (Barry) and Stephen Butterworth (Bernie) rehearse at Sims Bros (1992) Ltd garage in Ward St, Dunedin, last week. Photo by Linda Robertson.

Ladies Night hasn't been seen at the Fortune Theatre for 20 years so it's time for a revisit, says Lara Macgregor, artistic director of the Fortune Theatre. Charmian Smith reports.

It's like going from the sublime to the ridiculous, coming from directing Harold Pinter's The Caretaker to Stephen Sinclair and Anthony McCarten's Ladies Night, says Lara Macgregor, artistic director of the Fortune Theatre.

Revived for its Christmas show, the classic 1980s New Zealand comedy opens on November 15.

The Caretaker, a 1950s British play of the theatre of the absurd, was staged off-site in September and October during Arts Festival Dunedin.

''The process is so completely different. There's no subtext to unravel. There's a contemporary story that reflects our society. These guys know this world; there's very little to unpack, which is very different from just having done Pinter. It took me the first week to go 'oh, actually, there's really not a lot for me to do'. The simpler it is the better. Just leave the story to unravel and the friendships to form,'' she said.

First staged in 1987, Ladies Night has been translated into 12 languages and is said to be the most commercially successful New Zealand play.

''It has a huge amount of heart. It's about a group of very Kiwi men who have difficulty communicating with women. They have no confidence in themselves, in their own sexuality and they are at places in their life where life sucks. They've lost their jobs, they've lost their homes, so things are really down.''

It reflects our times with recent redundancies and difficulty finding jobs, she says.

''For me, there's definitely a connection to what's happening right around us. I'm getting really serious here. For a man, losing his job is about one of the hardest thing a man deals with in his lifetime - or it can be - and for some people it happens more than once. There's an incredible amount of lack of confidence that comes with that happening.''

The characters are all in that situation and somehow are coerced into doing something they have never considered before and they are afraid, she said.

Despite its reputation, only the last part of the play is about the strip show, but it's actually about confidence rather than stripping, she said.

Of the eight actors in the production, four have moved to Dunedin in the past couple of years and are either new to the Fortune or returning after several years.

Macgregor says she was looking for an opportunity to use them.

Marisiale and Sara-Georgie Tunoka, who trained at Allen Hall, have been working in Auckland for several years, but with a young son decided to return to their home town, Dunedin.

Sara-Georgie teaches drama with Interact and Siale has just completed a postgraduate teaching course and will be working as an intermediate schoolteacher next year.

Sara-Georgie, the only female in the play, plays Glenda, a former exotic dancer who helps the men get their act together.

She's a real Kiwi girl, hard core but with a heart of gold, she said.

Paul Metreyeon, from Chicago, married Shannon Colbert, a Dunedin woman who had also trained at Allen Hall.

They were both studying drama at Roosevelt University at the time.

After more than 20 years living in the United States, they moved here with their two sons two years ago.

He has been acting since he was a teenager and spent almost a decade as a company member in Chicago's Factory Theatre, which was dedicated to producing original works.

Although he's done a few readings at the Fortune, he works as a waiter, the traditional actors' ''resting'' job.

''It's so great to be back on stage. I'm in my element. Just the rehearsals alone is fantastic,'' he enthuses.

The fourth Dunedin-based actor is Briton Colin Spicer, who came to Dunedin two years ago with his wife Sarah, who was appointed head of drama at Logan Park High School.

''The school's reputation for drama was what brought us over, but we fell in love with the people and the place,'' he said.

They had both trained as professional actors in the UK, where they worked in theatre in education and as theatrical agents, as well as television, film and radio.

When they first arrived, he looked after their young daughter and did a little teaching before getting a ''proper job'' as an office manager, but he's also found time to do some performing, including in the Taieri Musical Society's Mamma Mia! earlier this year.

''It's been great getting to know everybody [in the theatre community]. It's a close little community and everyone is very welcoming,'' he said.

They and the other actors are enjoying rehearsals - ''we get to have fun. It's not like doing Agnes of God which is not funny'', Paul said.

Macgregor says: ''It's a very simple story to tell, but it's really genuine and it's very heartfelt. There's something very endearing about it. I think that element of it will take people by surprise.''


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