It’s seven o’clock on a bucolic Monday night—one of those warm but not too warm evenings, with the slightest of breezes, enough to brush against your skin, not enough to ruffle your hair. The light is soft, the paddocks that verdant green we get in spring. Most people at this time will be out for a walk, or settling down in front of the Tele.
In Waipukurau, a small town in Central Hawkes Bay, one by one the cast and crew of Footrot Flats trickle in to the Little Theatre. It’s rehearsal time.
This year the Waipawa Musical and Dramatic Club have brought their Christmas production across the Waipawa and the Tukituki Rivers to Waipukurau. Which makes it sound like it’s a long way. Once, back in the day when those rivers had to be forded, it was, but these days it’s ten minutes in the car. There’s a lot of interaction between the two communities.
The club members greet each other, chat, gossip, plot revenge on the character who “missed the bus” the day before, and missed rehearsal. One of the “bigwigs” has to sort out a timetable clash with the committee. Another switches on the urn, gathers together the tea and coffee and lollies—they know from experience this is thirsty work. Out the back the cast clamber into costumes that transform them from people like you and me to … well … dogs and pigs, and sheep and farmers, and aunties and lovers.
To me, it all looks very casual. There’s no urgency in this place—not to my eye or ear. I get introduced to the director, Simon. He might be the one feeling the pressure, the show opens in another two weeks but I couldn’t tell. He’s a friendly, relaxed sort of a chap.
My sister whispers in my ear: He’s happy with where the cast are at, right now. I nod, the way you do when you’re pretending to understand something. But really, what would I know? I’ve just come along to see what it’s like.
I nod the same sort of nod but try not to snigger later, during the break, when she sits down next to me and whispers: I’ve been stitching balls.
But for now Simon calls: Okay, people, time.
There’s a few bars from the keyboard and the flute, a burst of song; Wal yells to Dog, “Get out of it, ya mangy mongrel”, and the stage with its, as yet, half-formed set is transformed into a paddock anywhere in New Zealand, but, no doubt, somewhere nearby.
This is community theatre at its best. This is the same company that produced Whistle Down the Wind, last year. They’re small, they’re rural, and they’re good, very good. And they’re having a lot of fun.
By Central Hawkes Bay standards, I’m a towny— fifty thousand people live in Napier. That’s the big city lights for the country folk around here.
Footrot Flats is written about them, for them. Perhaps, I can say for us. Because, this is a production that speaks to heartland New Zealand. Crikey, my sister and me, and all our cousins, there’s lots of us(!), we were raised on scones, pikelets and pavalova. You could say, we’re living proof those delectable bits of stodge make New Zealand great.
The best thing about this musical, apart from the cast, the crew, the music, the storyline, and those costumes(!) is seeing and hearing your own language on stage. It’s a musical about tucker and tupping, dosing and dagging. It’s a musical about a man and his dog.
It’s a love story between a farmer and a towny.
It’s a family story spiced with a little humour for the grown-ups in the audience.
And it’s all in good fun.
Footrot Flats—the musical is based on the comic strip by Murry Ball. It’s written by Roger Hall, music by Philip Norman, lyrics by AK Grant.
What: Footrot Flats—the musical.
Where: Waipukurau Little Theatre.
When: 6th – 12th December.
Book now: At Kingfisher Gifts, Waipawa.
A disclosure: In case you didn’t pick it up, my sister is wardrobe mistress for Footrot Flats. Just like Whistle Down the Wind which I blogged about last year, this post was her idea — it’s her with those scissors. And once again, despite the fact some might say she’s one of the big wigs, and in spite of those scissors: the experience and the opinions, they’re all mine.