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The Bacchanals present Once We Build A Tower by Dean Parker

The Bacchanals Present:
By Dean Parker / Directed by David Lawrence

11-15 March, 7pm
BATS Theatre Out of Site, Cnr Cuba & Dixon Sts
Bookings: 04 802 4175 or
Tickets: $20 / 14 / Groups 6+ $13

And while the wealthy and the privileged enjoyed their Festival of Arts with its splendour and budget and Dominion Post sponsorship and pro-apartheid dance shows, a group of poor unwashed actors on the fringes of the city came together to enact a tale of New Zealand political and social history.

As they sat in their dusty hall watching Chapman Tripp winner Joe Dekkers-Reihana eat cold baked beans from a can he had opened by stabbing with a knife, The Bacchanals wondered aloud, “What can we do this election year to make a difference?” And lo, many drafts of a new play by Dean Parker were e-mailed to them, bearing the title ONCE WE BUILT A TOWER and telling the story of how, 40 years before the birth of even the oldest Bacchanals, the 1935 Labour Government took the medical scheme used by the workers who’d built the Waitaki Dam and made it the basis for creating the Welfare State.

“You mean Labour once used to be a serious proper political party?!” asked Charlotte, the youngest Bacchanal. “I thought they were just a bunch of bland guys all named David whose only point of agreement is keeping Grant and Jacinda from winning an election?!” (for Charlotte, educated under NCEA, always ended sentences with an upward inflection.) And some of the older Bacchanals laughed, especially Michael Joseph Ness who was named after Michael Joseph Savage, and said to Charlotte: “You may think John and Bill are hip and cool, what with their capitalism and their planking and their persecution of Kim Dotcom, but There Was A Time when no person who cared about the world they lived in could conscionably vote National.”

“There is something fundamentally wrong,” says a character in ONCE WE BUILT A TOWER, “in a land where wealth accumulates and men decay and no one raises a finger.” It was to this end that The Bacchanals decided they wanted to tell the story of this time, because New Zealand in the late 1920s, where ONCE WE BUILT A TOWER begins, is not really all that different to New Zealand today: a country that should have enough natural resource and animal, vegetable and mineral wealth for all – and yet somehow some New Zealanders are incredibly rich while others are incredibly poor. Some New Zealanders live in ridiculous comfort surrounded by wealth while others live in conditions that would make you think this were a third world country, not the youngest and luckiest nation in the world. And yet it was only 70 years ago that other countries were seeing the radical reforms of the NZ Labour Government as a model the whole world should aspire to. So what the hell, you might ask, has happened to this country since then?

Well, let us tell you by performing you a play! I know, I know, it sounds dreary and wordy and political and like it’ll be sad grey proletariats doing angry confronting expressionist theatre but we promise it’ll be fun. There are songs and laughs and we’ll make you a cup of tea and it’ll be like a big party in a church hall, except that it’ll be in a theatre and there won’t be a party. You can see Bacchanals stalwarts Alex Greig as Dr Gervan McMillan, Kirsty Bruce as Ethel McMillan, Michael Ness as Michael Joseph Savage, Michael Trigg as Arnold Nordmeyer, Brianne Kerr as Frances Nordmeyer, plus Jean Sergent, Joe Dekkers-Reihana, Aidan Weekes, Hilary Penwarden, Charlotte Pleasants and Alice May Connolly in an assortment of roles and with music played by Ellie Stewart and Walter Plinge. The Bacchanals’ director David Lawrence is very happy that Once We Built A Tower will be their third collaboration with Dean Parker (after their Muldoon-biopicSlouching Toward Bethlehem in 2011 and the adaptation of Nicky Hager’s Other People’s Wars in 2012), their 15th show at BATS Theatre, and their 28th production together, celebrating their 14th birthday!

The Bacchanals are a multi award-winning company based in Wellington, New Zealand, dedicated to exploring text-based theatre (none of this devised crap for us!) and trying to ensure that the theatre remains a place for social, spiritual and psychological debate. They also want audiences to have a bloody good time and come away thinking THEATRE IS IMPORTANT AND CAN CHANGE THE WORLD. The Bacchanals want to make theatre accessible to all be it economically, geographically or intellectually.

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