Topic: Play based on Gate Pa staged: part of battle centenary

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The Chief Justice, The Rt. Hon. Sir Harold Barrowclough, was among the audience in the Tauranga Town Hall last night when "The Oval Table", a play depicting events in Tauranga at the time of the Battle of Gate Pa, was staged for the first time as part of the commemoration of the centenary of the battle. This article appeared in the Bay of Plenty Times on Wednesday, 29 April 1964, and is reproduced here with their permission.

The play was written by Mr C. Kingsley-Smith of Whakatane, who gave the copyright to the Elms Historic Family Home Preservation Trust, the body maintaining the Mission House which was used by the Rev. A. N. Brown.

Most of the furniture used on stage, including the oval table itself, was used in the Mission House when the events dramatised took place. They were lent for the play by Mr D. H. Maxwell of the Mission House.

A gown worn by Mrs Brown in the play was the original Mrs Brown's wedding dress and it is believed that one of the traditional cloaks worn by the usherettes was worn at the signing of the treaty of Waitangi.

In his script Mr Kingsley-Smith aimed at stressing the ideals for which both sides were fighting at Gate Pa.

He achieves this by manipulating the conversation between the Rev Brown and the officers selected to lead the assault on the pa.

The three acts deal with scenes in the Mission House the day before the battle, the discussion after dinner that night and scenes after the battle.

There are dramatic weaknesses in the script but considering that the play is being produced as part of the commemoration of the centenary of the battle these can be overlooked.

Although producer Cliff Marchant has had his cast in rehersal for eight weeks there were a few opening night faults, such as two players speaking simultaneously, but the strong leads and steady flow of the play got the points made across well and still entertained.

The central figure, the Rev Brown, was played by Ron Fisher, whose portrayal of the man torn between the love of his country and the love he born for the Maori was well done. He was well supported by most of the officers during the conversation theme, especially by Tony Warren (Lieutenant Hill), Garth Ollerenshaw (Lieutenant Langlands), Tom Burton (Captain Hamilton of HMS Esk) and Jim Hollis as Lt. Colonel Booth.

Although his role was relatively small, apart from the final scene, Donald Mathieson as Staff Surgeon Manley was convincing and got his main punch line - the climax of the play - across well.

The best supporting performance was Nola Speir as Mrs Bretherton, while Mil Sullavan was good as Mrs Brown.

The set was a reproduction of the Mission House living room, slightly changed to give the best stage effect.

The lighting by Lyn Wahren and Richard Muir was effective and the make-up team headed by Frank Waldegrave skilfully blended faces with the authentic costumes used.

Other members of the cast were:- Nerolie Walker, Clifford and Bronwyn Marchant, Dorothy Twaddle, June Carlton, Gavin Carey, Carol Nuku, Anna Granges, John Noble, Clarrie Marshall, Barry Mora, Les Owens, Stephen Hunt, Alex Twaddle, Wayne Fort, John Hambling, Henry Rahiri, Calton Kerr, Wynn Phillips, Allen McIntrye and Richard Carey.

After the play the official guests were give supper in the Council Chamber.

"The Oval Table," will be presented in the Town Hall tonight and tomorrow night. - L. McD.V.


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