Dave Armstrong, playwright, puts it on the line

Reserve Bro'town DVDs and annuals at Christchurch City LibrariesGoing to the first public reading of Dave Armstrong’s new play reinforced to me how much creative people bravely put themselves on the line when they go public. Reading from a published work can be pretty brave but an unpublished work? (See the wrap up of the opening night of the Festival)

Two actresses, the director and the dramaturge (new word for me – literary manager, in this case of Auckland Theatre Company) on a platform reading through General Ward (yesterday the title was changed to Visiting Hours). They have had two days of workshops prior to this and Dave Armstrong had supplied rewrites the morning of the reading. So it is all under development.

Plot – two women Iona (white, middle aged teacher at a private school and played by Catherine Wilkin) and Shinayd (17, Maori, check out operator and graduate of Harakeke High, played by Keisha Castle-Hughes) find themselves side by side in the general ward of the local hospital recovering from serious surgery. After an initial period of cultural, generational and racial misunderstandings and disagreements they start to bond in their shared troubles of health and life and love.

The play has a way to go – the ending for instance needs work for the play to succeed and hearing the actors and the playwright talk and answer questions after the read was fascinating. The play begins with a lot of laughs and gets more serious as things go on. Shinayd about reading books “I had to read them at school so why should I do it now”. Shinayd on hearing about food and drink at the themed book club evenings that Iona loves so much. “So if you were reading Once Were Warriors you’d cook fried eggs and give each other the bash”

Dave Armstrong says he values workshopping as a potentially dangerous but valuable experience in writing a play. ATC is looking to include the play in its 2011 season. Dave Armstrong’s plays include Niu Sila (with Oscar Kightley), The Tutor, Le Sud, King and Country. His television writing includes Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby, Bro’town, The Semisis, Skitz and Shortland Street.

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