Playing new role at Globe

Terry MacTavish is excited to pay tribute to former student Michele Amas by directing her play....
Terry MacTavish is excited to pay tribute to former student Michele Amas by directing her play. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Dunedin actor and director Terry MacTavish has trod the boards at the Globe Theatre many times. Now for the first time she will direct a play there. She tells Rebecca Fox about the personal connections that make the play special.

Lying on Terry MacTavish’s bed is a costume, a teal blue period dress sized for a young girl.

Beside it is a school notebook filled with printing and drawings.

They are special to MacTavish, a drama teacher at Queen’s High School for many years, as they represent memories of a talented young pupil, her writing so good the teacher kept her third-form notebook.

That pupil was Michele Amas. It came as no surprise to MacTavish that Amas went on to be a successful actor, director and writer in theatre, television and radio — the costume was what Amas wore in MacTavish’s production of The Taming of the Shrew.

"She was an outstanding student. I saved the photo, the very costume she wore and the English notebook she wrote in the third form. She showed such promise as a writer."

Amas went on to win acting awards and completed a master’s degree in creative writing. Her first collection of poetry was shortlisted for awards and a short film she wrote and directed was selected for the Venice Film Festival.

The cast of the play The Pink Hammer by Michele Amas rehearse at the Globe Theatre, London St, on...
The cast of the play The Pink Hammer by Michele Amas rehearse at the Globe Theatre, London St, on Monday ahead of their upcoming production. (From left) Laura Wells (as Louise), Hannah Pearson (as Siobhan), Ashley Stewart (as Woody), Marama Grant (as Annabel) and Sofie Welvaert (as Helen). PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Then in 2013 she began writing for the stage, first writing a children’s play. In 2014 she completed The Pink Hammer, a comedy-drama premiered at Centrepoint Theatre in Palmerston North and also staged at the PumpHouse Theatre in Auckland.

"She was described as a successor to Roger Hall with a more feminist and youthful voice and a good ear for Kiwi vernacular. She could tug at your heartstrings and create gusts of laughter."

Unfortunately Amas died of cancer in 2016 aged 55 and the country lost that voice.

So when the Globe Theatre asked MacTavish if she would direct The Pink Hammer, she could not say no, even though she has not directed a play for the theatre before.

"Although I’ve acted at the Globe since the 1970s I’ve never directed anything, as I’ve always been directing at university or at school. I’ve always said wait until I retire.

"Now I have, I don’t have any excuse. This is one in her memory and a terrific end-of-year treat."

MacTavish says what makes the play so special is not just the laughter but the very human, identifiable characters.

"They’re complex and fascinating human beings who develop through the course of the play."

The story centres on four women who turn up for a DIY course only to find the course organiser has scarpered, leaving her husband Woody behind.

"At the beginning they don’t like each other at all and they all hate Woody."

It is set in a typical Kiwi garage workshop, a "glorious man cave" for Woody, who is a carpenter.

Stewart , Wells and Pearson in another scene from the play. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Stewart , Wells and Pearson in another scene from the play. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Only the garage gets invaded by these feisty women out to learn new skills, who paid money for the course.

"They are pretty annoyed the tutor, Maggie, has absconded with another man, and blackmail Woody into taking the course for them."

MacTavish has brought together a collection of local actors including Marama Grant and Laura Wells, whom audiences will know from the recent production Dear Boobs, along with musical theatre regular Hannah Pearson and performer and director Sofie Welvaert.

Grant plays the bossy Annabel. MacTavish is working hard to ensure Annabel is not so overbearing the audience dislikes her.

Wells plays Louise, a "mousy, nervous" woman with her own reasons for coming, although she says it is to build a doghouse.

Welvaert as Helen, a horse stud owner from the Taieri Plain, also has an ulterior motive but says she wants to make her own coffin.

"She prefers the company of horses."

Then there is Hannah, as Siobhan, a flirty, cheeky, young woman looking to escape grief.

But the biggest challenge of the casting has been finding the right Woody, MacTavish says.

"It’s a very challenging part, as he has to be strong enough to balance out these four strong women who are furiously angry at the beginning. It was very important to get the right guy, that could play a fiery temper as well as show sensitivity."

So she put her thinking cap on and came up with the idea of shoulder-tapping Ashley Stewart, a former pupil of hers from 10 years ago who performed in her production of Caucasian Chalk Circle. He last performed for the Globe in Mary Stuart in 2016.

Stewart auditioned and MacTavish found her perfect Woody, although she cannot resist showing the pictures of a half-naked Stewart in a cardboard box from that early production — a photo found in a box of photographs and clippings from her time at Queen’s.

"It [the role] suits him perfectly."

For MacTavish, working on a play written by a working actor made it even more worthwhile.

"They’ve had to fight difficult lines, they’ve heard when an audience gets it, know what pauses are needed. The pace is quick and bubbly, earning those poignant moments of silence."

Coming up with the set has been another challenge but MacTavish took inspiration from her nephew-in-law’s garage, as he is renovating her late mother’s house.

"He’s transformed Mum’s garage into a workshop."

One thing that did not come from there was the requisite "girly calendar", she says.

"Which of course the women take instant exception to."

She has been enjoying "scavenging" for props to make the set look authentic.

A solution to one prop problem came from the kindness of a Clyde theatre group which recently performed the show and another former pupil.

"They very kindly lent it to me. It’s a special prop which would be difficult for us to make, so it’s lovely that they are sharing their hard work creating it."

It is an example of how the region’s theatre groups support and co-operate with each other, she says.

To see:

The Pink Hammer, written by Michele Amas, directed by Terry MacTavish, The Globe Theatre December 2–11.

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