marlowe (christopher) meets manson (charles or marilyn, take your pick)

Wealth and Hellbeing photo (c) The Bacchanals

wealth and hellbeing
by nicholas st john
Tuesday 13 March -
Saturday 17 March 2001
Bats Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington

See the horrors that unfold when Eric, a 16 year-old Goth from the suburbs, inadvertedly gives birth to the incubus Mephistopheles who can fulfil his every desire - drugs, vampire sex, vengeance at school and respect at the dinner table. Devil Theatre.

Carey Smith (Eric), James Stewart (Dad, Damien, Mrs Goh), Tina Helm (Mum, Trent, Natasha), Rebecca Lawrence (Mephistopheles)
Posters & Flyers designed by Greg Pawsey; Production Manager & Stage Manager Eve Middleton; Directed by David Lawrence

The Author

Nicholas was born in 1975 with a sick head. He has subsequently listened to too much devil music, which has only made things worse. He grew up in the Northern Suburbs, where he often wore a trench coat, but did not tragically gun down seventeen of his classmates in an attempt to make himself feel better.

Nicky uses an assumed name because all the most exciting rock stars do.

His play Glamour In The Sinning Room was performed in the '97 Fringe, and was variously described as a "cult hit" and as "puerile". Inexplicably, it is being brought back from the dead this Fringe. Wealth and Hellbeing, written prior to Glamour, has its Fringe debut this year. He hopes audiences will love and/or hate both shows more than last time.

In '98 he was a participant in Bill Manhire's writing course at Victoria University. You can read his story Bad Blood in Emily Perkins' anthology The Picnic Virgin.

Devil Theatre

Is it comedy? Is it tragedy? Who knows? Devil Theatre has always been a genre that has provoked controversy. Here is what a non-initiated Dominion Reviewer, himself an aspiring playwright, wrote about the original production of Glamour In The Sinning Room at the Furnace in March 1997:

"Riddled with born-again angst, Cliff Richard once posed the question: 'Why does the Devil get all the good music?' Rest assured, Cliffy boy, Beelzebub doesn't get all the good theatre. Glamour In The Sinning Room is ample proof. This attempt at a play put me in mind of a small child discovering the shock value of four-letter words - thrillingly illicit for the child, but pretty obnoxious for everyone else. A couple of patrons voted with their feet and I would have joined them happily had I not been reviewing the show.
            Glamour smacks of a varsity in-joke foisted on an unsuspecting public. It was clearly a strong case of 'comping' your friends on opening night because they were the only ones who found anything to laugh at. I appreciate the amount of hard work that goes into producing a show, but this show bore none of the hallmarks of effort. There was sloppy, puerile writing, non-existent direction, acting that made Shortland Street look like the Royal Shakespeare Company, and a poorly conceptualised set design. The actors and set were swamped by the Furnace's space, but even a greater sense of intimacy could not save this turgid, boring, pointless, meandering show.
            The unkindest joke perpetrated by the protagonist, Nicholas Unkindness, was letting this script see the light of day."

Nicky is still writing plays and having them produced. The author of that Dominion review is not. Never mess with Devil Theatre.

The Production

Nicholas St John, also known as Tim Jones, wrote Wealth and Hellbeing as his assessment piece for DRAM203 when he and I were undergrad students at Victoria University and it was one of the student-written pieces that was chosen to be workshopped in DRAM204 in the following semester. I directed the workshop production, which consisted of two scenes: the scene in which Eric confronts the school guidance councillor, Mrs Goh, and the scene in which he asks Natasha to go out with him. This scene underwent several re-writes at the request of the course co-ordinator, who believed it could be a much more explicit, shocking piece of theatre and went to great lengths to persuade Tim to be as filthy and extreme as he could. The result was a scene which we could barely rehearse, we were so paralysed with laughter/appalled. I always intended to do a full production of the play and Tim and I talked each year about trying to mount it. Come the 1997 Fringe Tim had a new piece, Glamour in the Sinning Room, that he was keener to see staged, so we did that instead and Wealth and Hellbeing was shifted to the back of our minds, especially after the damning critical response to our production of Glamour.

In 2000 I dug out the plays when teaching Script Analysis to the second-year acting students at the Wellington Performing Arts Centre. As Wealth was still essentially an unfinished play (it still needed a final scene) it was a great script for the students to think about in terms of dramaturgy and structure and both scripts offered huge opportunity for non-naturalistic staging and challenged them to be much more imaginative in their work than material I'd previously offered the class. The final session on the plays, with presentations of various scenes from both, was hysterically funny and both the scripts and the performers shone. I resolved at the end of that class that I would have to get around to staging Wealth sooner or later. Later that same day I was at Bats and mentioned the classes to Sharyn Duncan, who'd run the Furnace (the venue where Glamour was performed in 1997). She'd loved the original production of Glamour and when I told her I also had an earlier play that had never been properly staged, we virtually there and then agreed on a season at Bats in the 2001 Fringe. At the same time some of the students at the Wellington Performing Arts Centre decided to put on their own production of Glamour in the Sinning Room and it played the same dates as we did, which raised Tim's profile as a playwright somewhat. Tim prepared new versions of both plays before rehearsals began and I loved the changes and improvements made to both scripts.

There was initially much debate/concern about whether Wealth and Hellbeing should be a Bacchanals show. I was aware that it was opposite in every imaginable way to The Frogs and Othello and that we ran the very real risk of alienating the people who'd liked those two shows in doing something so radically different. But at the end of the day, when filling out the registration forms it was easier to just go with The Bacchanals' name rather than coming up with a new co-op name and inventing the wheel from scratch. Carey suggested that for Wealth we could be The Black-hanals (to reflect the gothic nature of the show) or even The Bacch-anals (with a stress on the last two syllables, to reflect the explicit nature of the show). We found swiftly that we could not be as vocal and enthusiastic during rehearsals on the deck at Boston Terrace. "You're polluting the air!" yelled some distant neighbours during one of the scenes with colourful dialogue. I had always intended, even back at university, to cast Carey as Eric. I'd thought James would be great in the choric roles and offered the other choric role to one of the students who'd been in the script analysis class, Tina Helm.

Wealth was the first time we had posters, designed by Tina's then-boyfriend and sneakily distributed by Tina, Eve and myself in a very funny midnight mission with buckets of paste. It was the first time we'd been able to have a slick technical side to the show, too - all the onstage environments were created via lighting and we had a few nice scenes with a deliberate split focus, all ideas I'd gone over in my head time and again over the five-or-so years between deciding to stage the play and actually getting it on. The soundtrack included music from The Cure, 12 Rounds and some of the more scarily satanic stuff in Tim's CD collection.

The most memorable aspect of Wealth and Hellbeing for me was the song we ended the show with. I was aware of the bleakness of the end, in which Eric, his mother and father repeat their daily family dinner scene whilst burning in Hell, and wanted to do something that would make the ending a little less despairing. The piece of music we settled on was Nick Cave's cover of Bob Dylan's song "Death is not the end" and I flippantly said, "Wouldn't it be great if we could record our own version?" I liked the song but hated the Nick Cave recording; I envisaged something a bit more cheesy and Simpsons-esque, with a "Hey Jude" kind of finish. Through various strokes of good fortune, we spent from 3pm 'til midnight the Friday before the show opened at Marmalade studios, recording the four-minute long track that finished the show. Carey played a bongo drum, I played bass, acoustic and electric guitars and the engineer Jeremy Cullen played the piano, and then we all took a verse each, with Carey, Tina and James singing as their characters. The track ends with us singing the chorus a million times over. It was exactly the recording I'd imagined but never thought we'd have the time/resources to pull off. Even the people who hadn't enjoyed the content of the show said the ending made it worthwhile; that the song somehow redeemed the anger and despair of the rest of the play. What's funny is that, apart from Twelfth Night, there hasn't been a single Bacchanals' show that couldn't finish with this track, it's just so appropriate to everything we've done. - David

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