Have dog, will travel a basis for play

Barnaby Olson tells the story of his Turkish adventure in a performance of A Traveller’s Guide to...
Barnaby Olson tells the story of his Turkish adventure in a performance of A Traveller’s Guide to Turkish Dogs. PHOTO: ROC TORIO
When the "Kerikeri old girls network" hooked Barnaby Olson up with a job in Turkey, little did he know it would provide him with a perfect traveller’s tale. Rebecca Fox says his story comes with a spoiler alert.

Barnaby Olson. PHOTO: BECKI MOSS
Barnaby Olson. PHOTO: BECKI MOSS
A dog is licking Barnaby Olson’s toes as he talks on the phone.

Enjoying the last couple of days at his parents’ home in Kerikeri before moving to Auckland, Olson sheepishly admits he has just given away the climax to his theatre work A Traveller’s Guide to Turkish Dogs.

But it is hard not to talk about Helena, as she plays such an integral part of Olson’s story and Olson is a natural storyteller.

It all started when Olson lost his job working on a super yacht. He had been working out of Mexico for eight months when the billionaire owner of the yacht sold it and staff were given $2000 and asked to leave the boat in hours.

Olson had been enjoying working on super yachts. He had already spent three months working on one in the Mediterranean and six in the Caribbean.



He searched unsuccessfully for another job, but it was his mother who found him one — through her book club connections in Kerikeri.

Olsen admits he was slightly sceptical about the attempt as it was someone her mother’s friend had met while on holiday in Turkey.

"I was, like, nothing will come of it."

However, he was soon flying to Turkey to help a Kiwi bloke build a boat in a small Turkish village.

He found himself in Finike, a small town by Turkish standards, where he knew no-one except his boss and very few spoke English.

"I was very lonely."

Then one day he was walking back to the boat having bought some meat from the butcher when a dog started following and no matter what he did, he could not lose her.

"I threw stones, the lot. After 45 minutes I thought ‘stuff you’ and went back to the boat where I lived."

The next morning he discovered the dog had been run over by the marina manager.

"No-one would take her. So it all unfolded from there."

Olson, who grew up with a family dog, finally gave in and took her to the vet but still did not want the responsibility of a pet.

"I was 23, on the other side of the world, with very little money. What in the hell was I supposed to do with a dog?"

At the same time he had been befriended by a Turkish history teacher who talked to him about Turkish mythology and legend.

"It seemed a lot of Turkish myth and legend coincidentally involved dogs. I had this dilemma about want to do with this dog — so it came together nicely."

Trying not to give too much away, the play follows Olson’s dilemma with the dog and how he gets her home.

"At the heart of it I fell in love and did not want to leave it behind. It’s about the length someone will go to, to look after it."

When he returned home, he told the story to a few people, discovering the yarn appealed to both young travellers and old.

"I’d get comments like ‘that’s awesome. It reminds me of when ...’. People like reminiscing about those parts of their life."

Barnaby Olson with Helena. PHOTO: BECKI MOSS
Barnaby Olson with Helena. PHOTO: BECKI MOSS

Olson, who has always been involved in theatre and storytelling, saw the opportunity to create a piece of theatre around the adventure.

He loves that acting, writing and directing means doing different things all the time.

"I like to be playful, imaginative. I’m less annoying if I use my energy in creative ways."

Developing A Traveller’s Guide to Turkish Dogs allowed him to pull together the things he loves, like storytelling, what he learned about Turkish mythology, puppetry and shape-shifting acting.

He narrates while three other actors take on various other forms and characters.

"I’m a bit jealous that while this is the story of my own life, a lot of my job is narrating while the others get to whip on a coat and play a dog, woman or sailor. I love that transformation stuff."

It first debuted at Wellington’s BATS theatre in 2018, where everyone loved the feel-good factor but Olson realised it was a little light on the Turkish mythology.

"We went back to the drawing board and strengthened that up."

It has since been performed at Circa in Wellington and at festivals around the country.

"I like to write plays that resonate with people of different ages. I don’t see why they have to be exclusive — surely something that excites a 7-year-old, a 21-year-old can enjoy.

"I’m really happy with how this does that."

To see

A Traveller’s Guide to Turkish Dogs

Hawea Flat Hall, April 16-18

Kings and Queens Performing Arts Centre, April 23-24.

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