Murdoch play to open, at last

Investigative reporter Jane, played by Sofie Welvaert, finally meets "Keith Murdoch", played by...
Investigative reporter Jane, played by Sofie Welvaert, finally meets "Keith Murdoch", played by Paul Ellicott. PHOTO: CHRISTINE O'CONNOR
Theatre director Andrew McKenzie is not worried that an earlier postponement of the show will "jinx" a play about late Otago All Black Keith Murdoch, which opens at the Globe Theatre this month.

"It's definitely crossed my mind a couple of times," he added.

The play, Finding Murdoch, focuses partly on some of the stresses that come with "the wearing of the black jersey and what it means".

But Mr McKenzie could also be forgiven for feeling some of the pressures himself, as he again tries to stage what he terms a "highly charged piece of theatre".

"And with Keith Murdoch's passing away just this month, it is an opportunity to celebrate, reflect, and re-evaluate our understanding of a complex and unfairly maligned man," he said.

Murdoch had been portrayed in an unfair, exaggerated way in the British media, including as a gorilla in a cage.

"We're encouraged to, and we want to, mythologise our sporting heroes," Mr McKenzie said.

Some heroes responded to those pressures by larger-than- life deeds both on and off the field.

There were also massive pressures to live up to expectations.

"But we're still all very human, we're all prone to make mistakes."

Underlying the play is the controversial sending home of Murdoch, from an All Black tour of Britain, after he apparently punched a security guard in a fracas at the Cardiff Arms Hotel, on the night of December 2, 1972.

But instead of simply coming home to New Zealand, Murdoch chose to live a quiet life in outback Australia, where the playwright and television journalist Margot McRae tracked him down and spoke to him, in 1990.

In McRae's subsequent play, a reporter called Jane also tries to solve the mystery of what really happened in the Cardiff hotel that night, and to find Murdoch.

In late 2016, Mr McKenzie, a drama and English teacher at King's High School, began working on the play production, which was to have started last June.

But in almost a case of life imitating art, that planned production itself also became briefly embroiled in controversy and had to be postponed.

Actor and television presenter Craig Storey, who was earlier to have played Murdoch, was charged and later convicted last year after admitting a charge of assault with intent to injure, involving his former partner.

The new production opens on April 26, and includes most of the original six actors, but with Globe secretary Paul Ellicott playing Murdoch.

The show runs until Saturday May 5.

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