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Master Class

Master Class
By David Pownall
Directed by Ross Jolly


One of Circa’s greatest hits, MASTER CLASS returns as part of the theatre’s 30th Birthday celebrations. First produced in a sell-out extended season in 1986, MASTER CLASS opens in Circa One on Saturday 14th October at 8pm and runs until 11th November.

Starring RAY HENWOOD as Stalin, and DAVID MCKENZIE as Prokofiev - both from the original cast – joined by DANNY MULHERON as Shostakovich, and PETER HAMBLETON as Zhdanov, MASTER CLASS is again under the hand of one of Wellington’s leading directors, ROSS JOLLY.

And, MASTER CLASS is a play that makes unusually high demands of the cast - each must play the piano live on stage!

A smart, funny play, full of a powerful mix of amusement, music and menace, MASTER CLASS is set in 1948, in an anteroom of the Kremlin where Josef Stalin, and his henchman Zhdanov, have ‘invited’ leading Russian composers of the day, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich to justify their work. Stalin is determined that all music must be ‘purged’ of its elitist tendencies, and made more accessible to the common people.

The atmosphere is tense as Stalin conducts a droll, deadly game of psychological warfare, which has a surprising and shocking conclusion.

Director, Ross Jolly says, “When the idea for reprising MASTER CLASS was mooted I was delighted. MASTER CLASS is one of the best scripts I have ever worked on, with a fine blend of menace, music, mayhem and humour that is extremely appealing. For sheer excellence and entertainment this script is hard to beat.

“MASTER CLASS is a play that is always dramatic, often hilarious, and ultimately extremely moving. During the first season in 1986 I was amazed at the intensity of the audience response. The play not only had them in stitches, but also touched their hearts, and so many people put it high on their list of memorable theatrical moments.

“I am very lucky to have such a dream cast, including two of the ‘the originals’ for this revival. And we are having a ball!
The musical content is challenging, but as each actor, including novice pianoforte student Peter Hambleton, nails his respective pieces and sings his heart out, their achievements are a sheer delight.

“The power and passion of this play is unforgettable. Audiences last time laughed, were surprised, shocked, and moved - they loved it!”

“Master Class teems with chilling discords and hilarious clanking andantes, and is a musical and political triumph. You might see a better play or production this year, but I very much doubt it. Master Class is one of those rare events … it may indeed be a masterpiece”
- Ralph McAllister, The Dominion 1986

“A riveting portrait of intrigue and betrayal” - Sunday Express

Opens SATURDAY 14th October at 8pm
and runs until 11th November 2006.

$20 PREVIEW - Friday 13th October- 8pm

$20 SUNDAY SPECIAL - Sunday 15th October – 4pm


Performance times: Tues & Wed - 6.30pm; Thurs, Fri and Sat - 8pm; Sun - 4pm.

Prices: $35 Adults; $28 Students, Senior Citizens and Beneficiaries
$30 Groups 6+ $18 Student Standby - from 1 hour before the show

MASTER CLASS is kindly sponsored by CHRIS FINLAYSON

BOOKINGS: CIRCA Theatre, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
Phone 801 7992



David Pownall was born in Liverpool and is a graduate of Keele University. Founder of Paines Plough, an award-winning British touring theatre company, his plays include Master Class, Elgar's Rondo, Music to Murder By, Getting the Picture, An Audience Called Edouard, Beef, and Livingstone and Sechele. Pownall has also written radio drama, several novels, short stories and poetry. Theatre awards include the John Whiting Prize for Beef, and the New York Theatre Yearbook, LS Directors Award for Livingstone and Sechele.


Founding member of Circa Theatre, Circa councillor, actor and freelance theatre and television director, Ross has directed many productions for Circa over the past years including the original production of Master Class in 1986, and Moonlight, F.I.L.T.H., Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Travels with my Aunt, the record-breaking smash hit Social Climbers, the award-winning Taking Sides (Best Circa Production 1997), the acclaimed production of Heretic for the 1998 NZ International Festival of the Arts, and most recently, The Cripple of Inishmaan, How I Learned to Drive, Waiting for Godot, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, the sell-out success ART (and its return season), The Unexpected Man, The Memory of Water, The Weir, Madame Melville, the NZ Festival 2002 success Copenhagen, Life x 3, The Birthday Party, Conversations after a Burial, Ancient Lights, Humble Boy, the sell-out hit of the 2004 Festival of the Arts, Roger Hall’s Spreading Out, Stones in his Pockets, Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things which was nominated for Best Director and Best Production at the Chapman Tripp awards 2004, An Inspector Calls, The Mercy Seat and Democracy. Earlier this year Ross directed the NZ premiere of Ross Gumbley’s Happy Coupling for the Court Theatre, and The Underpants and Wild East for Circa.
Ross won Director of the Year for his production of Waiting for Godot, at the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards 1999.


A founding member of the Circa Council, Ray’s most recent performances at Circa include Spreading Out, Conversations After a Burial, The Birthday Party, Copenhagen, Playing Burton, The Unexpected Man, A Delicate Balance, Rutherford, Travesties, Waiting for Godot, Honour, Simply Disconnected, Skylight, Market Forces, F.I.L.T.H., Moonlight, The Master Builder, Angels in America, I Hate Hamlet, No Man’s Land and Time of my Life. Other performances include Otherwise Engaged, Othello, Uncle Vanya, Hedda Gabler, Much Ado About Nothing (Downstage), Honour (ATC), NoGood Boyo (NZ & Australia) and Ken Hill’s Phantom of the Opera (Japan). Television includes Shortland Street, Market Forces, William Tell, Enid Blyton, Gliding On, Atlantis High and Film: Heavenly Creatures, The End of the Golden Weather, and Lord of the Rings.
Ray won Best Actor at the Chapman Tripp Awards 2001, for his role in Playing Burton, which has since toured to several NZ cities including Christchurch and Auckland and also to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
2005 again saw Ray touring NZ, this time in the one-man show The Carer.
Last seen at Circa as Willy Brandt in Democracy, and at Downstage in Under Milk Wood, Ray also received an ONZM in this year’s honour’s list.


Peter has made numerous appearances at Circa including A Doll’s House, I Hate Hamlet, Angels in America, Twelfth Night, Moonlight, Travels with my Aunt, The Herbal Bed, The Cripple of Inishmaan, The John Wayne Principle, Design for Living, Travesties, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Seagull, The Memory of Water, Lady in the Van, Copenhagen, Take a Chance on Me, An Enemy of the People, Ancient Lights, Humble Boy, Spreading Out, The Bach and Bright Star, Democracy and Dr Buller’s Birds.
Other recent stage work includes Sylvia, Much Ado about Nothing, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Middle Age Spread, Richard III, Black Comedy, The Goat (all at Downstage), and The Graduate (Centrepoint).
A recipient of a Shakespeare Globe Centre International Artistic Fellowship (with Judith Gibson) in 2002, Peter also won Best Actor at the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards for his performance as Heisenberg in Copenhagen, and a performance accolade for An Enemy of the People.
As a director Peter’s work includes Marathon, Pericles and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


A veteran performer of 40 years, David began his professional career in England, returning to NZ in 1971. Since then he has worked in most of the country’s theatres – Mercury, Central, Centrepoint, Four Seasons, Circa, Downstage and Court – as well as in Radio Drama, TV commercials and film.
David was most recently seen at Circa in The Underpants and The Lady in the Van. He also appeared recently in the award-winning Albert Speer at Bats in 2004, and in Mum’s Choir at Downstage earlier this year.


Actor, writer, director and comedian, Danny is probably best known for his work as a director both for stage (Drawer of Knives, The Bach, The Tutor, The Love of Human Kind, The Daylight Atheist, Market Forces) and screen (Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby, The Semisis). As an actor he is probably most well known as one of the Classy Flagrant’e Brothers (along with Brian Sergent) in the long running comedy sketch show Skitz, which he also directed. Other highlights in a great comic career have included The Very Liberal Phineas O’Diddle in Away Laughing and the hapless Matthew from The Sex Fiend a smash hit he wrote with Stephen Sinclair at the height of the politically correct 80’s.
Danny was last seen on stage at Circa in Simply Disconnected.


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