Time to glide to a new generation

Time to glide to a new generation
By Dionne Christian
June 14, 2006, source: NZ Herald
That a contemporary theatre company with a reputation for the modern, the slightly off-beat and the challenging should stage the 30th-anniversary production of Roger Hall’s comedy Glide Time makes perfect sense, says director Oliver Driver.

“In 1976, Roger Hall was starting out and Circa Theatre was starting out. It was the Silo Theatre of the day and took a real risk staging a New Zealand show by a new writer.”

Driver wondered about the risks to the Silo of tackling the anniversary revival when company director Shane Bosher mooted it.

“When I discovered nobody was planning to do Glide Time for its 30th anniversary, I thought it was a bit ridiculous, but as a Silo board member I thought it was a big risk for us.

“We asked Shane for a budget that would work and we trusted him because he has proven right time and time again.”

Bosher doesn’t doubt Glide Time will be a pearler, judging by the success of classics such as The Women, Under Milkwood and The Boys in the Band staged by the Silo.

“When The Women went through the roof last year, I knew Auckland audiences were hungry for excavated classics,” he says.

“Glide Time is a piece of our history, the characters are so cleverly drawn and the humour remains sharp. If anything, I think it’s almost funnier, because we know what happened to these types of characters in the 1980s and beyond.”

The revival pays homage to a production which changed New Zealand theatre by demonstrating that a local play could put “bums on seats”.

Suddenly, home-grown stories became just as funny and relevant as the British and American imports theatre-goers were more used to. In addition, it spawned the hit TV series Gliding On and launched Hall’s career as full-time playwright.

“Theatres began to be more confident about New Zealand plays,” recalls Hall. “There were jokes at the time that you could almost hear the sound of typewriters being hauled out of drawers and on to desks as people sat down to write.”

He believes Glide Time tickled the nation’s funny bone because it was observational comedy, mixing social realism with humour and sympathetic characters who were trapped in all-too-recognisable situations.

Comparing it to the television series The Office, Hall says rather than being “acutely embarrassed” for the characters – as he was with David Brent & Co. – audiences sympathised and related to those in Glide Time.

There’s John, the office clown; Hugh, the new immigrant with his homesick wife; Jim, the ne’er-do-well cruising to retirement; Michael, the enthusiastic office junior trying to get a foot on the career ladder, and the ever-reliable Beryl, constantly taking telephone calls from “mum”.

For this production, Craig Parker is coming home from London to play John, Theresa Healey plays Beryl, Greg Johnson is Jim, Simon Prast is Hugh, Stuart Devenie is “the boss”, David Van Horn is Michael and Colin Moy plays Wally.

Driver says they have altered nothing in the script, agreeing with Bosher that the benefit of hindsight makes it more humorous.

Ensuring the production is as authentic as possible, Driver insisted the cast rehearse in a mock set complete with mismatched wooden desks, metal filing cabinets that squeal when you heave the drawers shut, dial telephones, piles of A4 and clunky in-out trays. “I wanted everyone to have the processes and office systems just right.”

Simon Prast is working on getting his accent right, answering interview questions in a Welsh brogue.

“I remember watching the television series but I’ve never seen the play. When I read it, I laughed out loud and found the characters richer than I remembered,” he says.

Prast is unrecognisable in the publicity photos, wearing a worried expression and an equally worrying outfit of beige shirt, wide floral tie, plaid walk shorts, brown knee-high socks and sandals.

At 25, David Van Horn is the youngest of the cast. His dad told him about Gliding On and what going out to work circa 1976 was like.

“Basically, you started at the bottom and worked your way up. Obviously, it’s not totally foreign to me but I think, today, younger people want to move a lot more quickly and are more confident about doing so.”