The Bacchanals

Taking Dean Parker's ONCE WE BUILT A TOWER to the South Island

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The Bacchanals are a multi-award winning company based in Wellington, dedicated to exploring text-based theatre, redefining classic works, and ensuring that theatre remains a place for social, spiritual, political and psychological debate.

The Bacchanals believe that theatre should be accessible to all - economically, intellectually and geographically - and that audiences should be able to access theatre outside of the main centres.

Since our formation in 2000 we have staged 28 productions ranging from the ancient Greeks to Shakespeare to the NZ premieres of major British playwrights and the premieres of new NZ works. We have performed in car parks, warehouses, apartments, community halls and professional theatres. We have performed to audiences as small as 2 and as large as 400 and worked with budgets as small as $271 and as large as $95,000.

In March 2014 we premiered Dean Parker's new play Once We Built a Tower: The Construction of the Waitaki Dam & The Welfare State, 1928-39 in a sell-out season at BATS Theatre.

Once We Built A Tower tells the story of how the 1935 Labour Government adopted the medical insurance scheme, used by the workers who built the Waitaki hydro-electric dam, as the basis for the creating a welfare state. In its day, this scheme was the envy of the rest of the world.

Narrated by Ethel McMillan, Once We Built A Tower explores the plight of working class New Zealanders almost 100 years ago, and the lengths to which her husband Gervan McMillan and his friend Arnold Nordmeyer fought for every New Zealander to receive free medical care and an old-age pension by right.


In August/September 2014, The Bacchanals are taking Once We Built A Tower to the South Island to perform in many areas featured in the play, including Kurow - home of the Waitaki hydro-electric dam.

In order to make the show genuinely accessible, we want to a) take it to some relatively remote areas with small populations and b) not charge admission. Not being able to rely on box office receipts means we have to raise the $26,000 needed to mount the South Island tour entirely through sponsorship, funding and donations.

This tour can happen thanks to the support of Interislander, Emerging Artists Trust and Coffee Supreme. But we've still got a way to go before we can cover vehicle and trailer hire, petrol, accommodation, venue hire, advertising, two weeks' wages for 11 company members and writers' royalties for Dean Parker. We would also like to eat while we're on the road!

We are very keen to get this play to the South Island, and will be extremely grateful for any donation. Thank you!



  • A Christmas Karel Čapek opens this week at BATS Theatre!


    Music! Comedy! Satire! Christmas! Robots! Cookery!

    The Bacchanals first ever Christmas show opens this week!

    “Statistics tell us that over 1,001,001 New Zealanders want our theatres to put on more plays about, by and for robots,” says director David Lawrence, “but will Creative NZ listen??” Of course not! all they care about are objectives and outcomes, like the robots they are destined to be replaced by. So be thankful that your old pals The Bacchanals Are Back!TM and ready to punch common sense in the goolies by giving you what you really want for Christmas: a Christmas show featuring Christmas and robots, performed by a combination of humans and robots! “The robots were meant to be a surprise,” laments Lawrence, “but they’re also the show’s main selling point so arghh!”

    A Christmas Karel Capek is the true story of how terrible consequences ensue when David and Brianne (played by the real life David and Brianne!) decide to overcome their shared misanthropy by building a robot to do all their human interaction and Christmas shopping for them. Will robots take over the world and kill all the humans? Will a human and a robot fall in unnatural love and civil union each other and a dog? Will Santa Claus make a terrifying appearance dressed as the Norse God Odin? You decide! (not really, there’s a script!) “But I like it best when The Bacchanals are being political and righteous,” you groan. “We hear you, but sometimes we just have to be silly and frivolous. Pleeeeeease let us just have this one show!” they groan back.

    A Christmas Karel Capek is by far the cleverest name a Wellington play has had in 2015 because only about three and a half people understand the joke: Karel Capek was the Czech playwright who, in 1920, appropriated the Czech word ‘robot’ (meaning slave) to describe mechanical men built by humans to do their bidding in his famous play RUR (Rossum’s Universal Robots). We’re explaining this in the media release because otherwise everyone will ask us “WHAT DOES THE TITLE MEAN??” and we could be talking about so many more interesting things than that, like Creationism or the Illuminati. A Christmas Karel Capek is The Bacchanals’ first ever Christmas show! their third and final show for 2015! their 32nd show as a company! Live music! Comedy! Satire! Cookery!

    The Bacchanals present A Christmas Karel Capek ? BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace ? Fri 4 – Sat 19 December 2015, 7pm ? $12 PREVIEWS on Wed 2 & Thurs 3 December ?


    A Christmas Karel Čapek opens this week at BATS Theatre!
  • The Bacchanals Present Aristophanes' Lysistrata! Live at the BATS Theatre Dome! Until 6 June!



    Thank you so much to everyone who came to Richard III! What a time! We are at it again. Yes, that’s right! The Bacchanals are back at the BATS Theatre Dome (or Do-Me if you prefer) with Aristophanes' timeless tale of the women Athens banding together in the midst of the Peloponnesian War and coming up with the most audacious and perfect plan for ending international conflict forever: no more sex until men end all war!

    What a spectacular week! We've done four fun-tastic shows, we've had utterly delightful audiences and an alluring review. 



    We’re having ANOTHER war?! Didn’t we just finally get all those troops back from Afghanistan? What’s going on, John? Why are we fighting ISIS? Oh, to support our ‘allies’ you say? It makes no sense to me. “But hahah!” says the prime minister as he pulls your pony tail and reinstates Judith Collins, “you can’t do anything to stop me! 47% of 77% of all the country’s eligible voters voted me back in, meaning I represent the opinion of 36% of all Nu Zilland’s adults (if children could vote, we’d have a Labour government)! That means 1,267,751 people in this country think we should be Killing More Arabs!” Is that really what it means, John? Is it???

    BUT WHAT CAN I DO, say the general public, I’M JUST ONE PERSON. If we’ve learnt anything from the Ancient Greeks it should be this: one person can change the world. 2426 years since its premiere in 411BC, Lysistrata has remained the most famous of all the extant plays by the Greek comic writer Aristophanes, because its premise is so simple: fed up with dirty politics and the continual appropriation of public money to commemorate wars that half the country never agreed with or supported, Lysistrata of Athens comes up with the perfect plan to put control in the hands of women: no more sex until war ends!

    11-time Chapman Tripp Theatre Award-winners (plus undefeated champions of the annual Green Party fundraiser quiz in that pub in Khandallah) The Bacchanals return with their second show for 2015, their second show in The Dome, their third adaptation of an Aristophanes play, their 16th show at BATS and their 31st show as a company: a brand new version of Lysistrata starring the magnificent talents of Kirsty Bruce, Alice May Connolly, Neenah Dekkers-Reihana, Alex Greig, Brianne Kerr, Salesi Le’ota, Michael Ness, Jonny Potts, Jean Sergent and Ellie Stewart, ‘adapted’ by the company and ‘directed’ by David Lawrence.

    Look, it’s an Ancient Greek Comedy which means that it will be funny, angry, satirical and probably a wee bit explicit. After all, it is the play that answers once and for all scholars’ questions as to whether the comic phallus in Greek comedy was meant to be limp or erect. The Bacchanals are no mere smut-peddlers so expect our comic phalluses to be politically and socially aware regardless of their level of tumescence. “Aliens built the pyramids! 9/11 was an inside job! Illegal downloading is a myth!” says director David Lawrence. Maybe we shouldn’t discount the views of 1,267,751 Nu Zillanders.

    The Bacchanals present:
    Adapted from the play by Aristophanes
    Directed by David Lawrence

    The Dome, BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace
    Friday 22 May – Saturday 6 June, 2015 at 8pm
    Book online at or phone (04) 802-4175
    85 minutes in duration (or maybe 90!), 2426 years in the making!



    Twitter: @thebacchanals


    The Bacchanals Present Aristophanes' Lysistrata! Live at the BATS Theatre Dome! Until 6 June!


    We are very excited to be presenting the New Zealand premiere of Blue Stockings by Jessica Swale! Opening at The Long Hall on Tuesday!


    “A woman who expends her energy exercising the brain does so at the expense of her vital organs” – so said Dr Henry Maudsley, world-renowned psychiatrist and advisor to the royal family in 1874.

    Earlier in 2014 The Bacchanals brought you Once We Built A Tower, Dean Parker’s play about how New Zealand once had the most ahead-of-its-time welfare scheme in the world. In October 2014, The Bacchanals Are Back!TM with a play that again shows how fortunate we are to live in such a progressive country (don’t let the election result fool you!). “I know, I know,” says director David Lawrence, “everyone thought we’d be doing an adaptation of Dirty Politics instead of a Victorian period drama. Don’t worry, it’s still political!”

    Two decades after Kate Edger became New Zealand’s first female university graduate in 1877, women in the rest of the British Empire were still fighting for the right to education despite matching their male peers grade for grade. Blue Stockings tells the tale of four women studying science at Girton College, Cambridge in 1896, the year that headmistress Elizabeth Welsh convinced the University senate that women should be allowed to graduate with degrees.

    Jessica Swale’s play premiered at Shakespeare’s Globe in August 2013, and The Bacchanals are thrilled to be presenting it in New Zealand for the first time. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the 17th century or the 21st – when you’re writing plays for the Globe stage, the ideas have to be huge and epic,” says David Lawrence. “Blue Stockings is at once comic and tragic, intimate -and epic, specific and timeless.” Said The Guardian’s Michael Billington: “Jessica Swale writes with palpable vigour and leaves you astonished at the prejudices these education pioneers had to overcome.”

    Winners of the Critics’ Wildcard award for Guts, Determination, Kiwi Ingenuity and Inspired Profligacy With Zero Budget at the 2013 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards, the same team of Bacchanals who brought you Coriolanus, The Clouds, Gunplay, All’s Well That Ends Well and Once We Built A Tower are so happy to be back with their third show for 2014 and their 29th production as a company. Blue Stockings stars Kirsty Bruce, Alice May Connolly, Joe Dekkers-Reihana, Brianne Kerr, Salesi Le’ota, Michael Ness, Hilary Penwarden, Jean Sergent, Ellie Stewart, Michael Trigg and Aidan Weekes, and is directed by David Lawrence.

    The Bacchanals present Blue Stockings by Jessica Swale ● The Long Hall, Point Jerningham (behind St Barnabus’ and Roseneath School) ● Tuesday 28 October – Saturday 8 November, 7pm (no show Sunday) ● All tickets $15 ● Bookings e-mail

  • Tour Summary!


    The Bacchanals have returned to the capital, and with us we bring many fond memories of the South Island. What a fortnight! We were delighted at how well Once We Built a Tower was received. Each performance had a very different vibe, but in spite of this, every performance was greeted with a great amount of enthusiasm, gusto and gratitude - most nights the show concluded with a standing ovation! Also our (slight!) concerns of performing a play about the first Labour party (in very blue areas!) were alleviated very early on - to quote one audience member, “I’m a Tory, but I loved it!”

    We had a glorious time exploring the areas we visited, in the little spare time we had. For those of us who had, until then, barely ventured South, it was fairly remarkable to realise what a dazzling land we live in. We also had the good fortune of having STUNNING weather while we were on the road.

    I think it’s fair to say that, most of all, the strongest and fondest impression we have of the tour is the amazing levels of hospitality we encountered pretty much everywhere we went. We were billeted by company members’ friends and family (mainly Bri’s!) for several nights, and their amazing kindness and generosity was overwhelming. We also had audience members offering us beds for next time we venture south!

    Kurow was no exception to this. Quite the contrary - the community of our play’s setting was pretty spectacular. They took us on a special visit of their social security museum, we had a guided tour of the dam! We stumbled across kind locals who took us to Nordy’s church, and Gervan and Ethel’s house. They even fed us! Their hospitality and kindness were beyond lovely. It was clear to see how the social security scheme was engendered in this caring community.

    The success of the tour solidified to us that we need to take this play to the whole of New Zealand. Also that we must return to the South!

    Meanwhile, drinking from the glacial reservoir of Lake Tekapo has sharpened our spirit and whetted our appetite for producing some more political theatre in our home town. We will be announcing a new show very soon!

    Tour Summary!
  • Now... to pack!


    Well! Boosted is done, the fundraiser is done! We are really overwhelmed with how generous and supportive everyone has been. We had a brilliant turnout at the fundraiser - over 60 people turned up and helped make it a wonderful evening! Then we found out that we exceeded our Boosted target by $1000! Amazing!!! Thank you x

    Now... to pack!
  • Wellington performance and THANK YOU!!!


    We are so so grateful for your support and generosity!

    In case you didn't already know - we are doing a one-off Wellington performance of Once We Built a Tower tomorrow (Monday 18th August) at The Long Hall, 7pm! To book email:

    Thank you


    Wellington performance and THANK YOU!!!
  • Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to all our donors!!!


    We have reached our target! Thank you all so, so much! We are over the moon with how generous and supportive you all are. Words cannot describe our gratitude xxx



    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to all our donors!!!
  • The Spare Room and Flyers!


    We are truly overwhelmed by the generosity of all our donors - THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!

    On Saturday we had a working bee here at Bacchanal HQ - the spare room has been tidied! Now, the spare room is basically a junkyard of old/abandoned/donated/legitimately sourced/recycled set, prop and costume items. Over the years David has kept every single set piece and gladly received any unwanted item which appeared to hold the potential to be of theatrical use in the future (a friend, Zia, gave him planks of wood that she ripped from her dismantled bed which we then used as guns in Other Peoples Wars). Some oddities from the spare room include: a backless fridge (from where the dancing vegetables entered in No Taste Forever!), a dinosaur (from The Clouds) and several Princess Leia Bikinis (also from The Clouds). Before Saturday, you basically couldn’t take more than two steps without tripping over a ladder, a table, or a pile of sock puppets. But now, it is actually tidy and we can access things we need to take on tour with us with ease! And thanks to the ruthlessness of Alex, a lot of beyond-useful stuff went to the tip: the cardboard placards from Slouching Toward Bethlehem, five televisions! Ooh – if you want to see Alex do an amazing trick where he lifts up a chair (it’s a lot more impressive than it sounds) and do some pretty good acting - you should definitely go see A View From the Bridge at Circa Theatre!

    We got the flyers printed yesterday - woo hoo! We decided to avoid posters due to the uncertainty as to how we'd distribute them! We're posting flyers to community centres and the venues where we will be performing in the hope that flyers are a lot easier for people to disperse. We have made our marketing and publicity expenditure as minimal as possible - we are relying on word spreading through the various contacts we have made while planning the tour. Also, Bri has been very busy getting in touch with local media, community libraries and information centres. Hopefully the fact that we are not charging admission for the performances will be an incentive for people to spread the word!

    We also got some great news today - we are receiving funding from the Pelorus Trust to pay for our trailer hire!

    The Spare Room and Flyers!
  • Re-rehearsing at the Long Hall!


    We had a great rehearsal ​on Saturday, and we are lucky enough to be rehearsing in one of the most beautiful spaces in Wellington. The Long Hall have kindly sponsored our re-rehearsal sessions, it's a beautiful rustic building in Roseneath - right by the Saluting Battery on Point Jerningham. For the past two summers we have performed a Shakespearean play there, Coriolanus in 2013​ and All's Well That End Well​ this year.​ We plan on making it an annual event!

    Yesterday's rehearsal was mainly spent focusing at a few changes Dean has written in in Act II of Once We Built a Tower. Pictured is the company, watching horrified (well most of us are horrified - some of us are giggling!) as the new frame of the Social Security building burns down on February 2nd 1939...


    ​Back at the Long Hall ​on Monday night. The absence of Saturday's beautiful sunshine helps us prepare for performing in halls in the South Island in the middle of winter!

    It's a very productive rehearsal though. There are two fewer company members than we had performing the show at BATS, so we spend a bit of time working out how to build the dam wall as swiftly as possible with our reduced numbers! We then ran the whole of Act I. I think we all felt very aware that it's been four months since we had our BATS season, but muscle memory took over and we had a rollicking run! It's quite a strange sensation of the play being distant, but very familiar at the same time. As Bri (who plays Frances Nordmeyer and is also our brilliant publicist) said after reading a new draft that Dean sent a few months ago, "It's like revisiting an old friend".


    Thank you SO much to all our donors, you guys are amazing! x

    Re-rehearsing at the Long Hall!