Circa's dame speaks out

AMY JACKMAN
Last updated 10:23 09/12/2013
gavin rutherford
STEPHEN A'COURT
Gavin Rutherford: Pictures as Mother Goose in the play of the same name. "I still get starstruck by people like George Henare and Ray Henwood."

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Gavin Rutherford talks about marine biology, playing pantomime dames and why he gave up rugby.

Where did you grow up?

In Whangaparaoa, north of Auckland. We lived in Orewa and Red Beach for a long time. I went to Orewa College and started messing about with acting at the Centrestage Musical Theatre. I also played rugby until I was 20.

Why did you stop?

The coach didn't like it when I would say, "I have to go and do West Side Story so I can't play this weekend. I will be singing and dancing over the road." I made my choice then I guess.

Was it acting from then on?

I did acting a bit later. I went to university in Auckland and did half a degree in marine biology. But I realised marine biology doesn't go straight to whales and dolphins - there's a lot of tiny things living in mangrove swamps at the beginning. I spent a week up to my knees in one and thought, "I don't know if this is me". I love the science, but don't think I'd be a good scientist.

Where to from there?

I got a job at Radio Pacific in Auckland. It was branching out to be a network around the country. My job was to flick a switch to play different ads to the rest of the country. It was true Auckland border stuff - there was Auckland and the rest. Then I joined Radio Works, which became MediaWorks. At about 26 I went to Unitec School of Performing and Screen Arts. Raymond Hawthorne was a tutor, Murray Hutchinson ran the school and Linda Cartwright was a voice coach.

When did you move to Wellington?

In 2004. My partner at the time got a job with the Ministry of Education. I thought, "Great that's me. I don't know anyone in Wellington." With acting, a lot of it is about who you know.

Was it hard to break in then?

I did corporate entertainment for a while. I was working with Heather O'Carroll, who told me Rachel More was holding auditions for This Lime Tree Bower at Circa. Then Circa kept on hiring me for stuff, which has been great. I've been here ever since. I've also done some shows at Fortune Theatre in Dunedin and Court Theatre in Christchurch.

What do you enjoy about Circa?

Because of the structure, where each show is a single-venture partnership, there's so much autonomy. You're your own boss and have some creative control. You're not being told, "You're the actor, you don't get a say". That gives a great whanau type feel to the place.

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Do you have a favourite show you've been in?

The first one was great. There were lots of good monologues and it was at Circa. I was meeting people like Ginette McDonald and Ian Fraser, and I was a bit starstruck. I still get starstruck by people like George Henare and Ray Henwood. My partner, Gina, teases me about it because I get all giggly and start flirting with them. This year was great for me as well, with Midnight in Moscow and then to do The Price with Ray was amazing.

What was it like working with Ray Henwood?

Great. You notice with the guys who have been doing it for 50 years that there's rehearsals and everybody works hard and does what needs to be done. But if you watch Ray and guys like him, when the audience comes they just lift. It doesn't matter what goes on they have the audience in the palm of their hands. They are all calm and charm. It's jaw- dropping and you learn a lot from them.

What's the theatre scene in Wellington like compared to other places?

Auckland is fantastic and vibrant, but there's a lot more profile-making things you have to do. You have to work the room and show up to parties. Wellington is in a state of transition after Downstage closed. It's a lot smaller than it used to be. Christchurch is very successful. There is a lot of support for the Court Theatre. It's very well run and they get huge numbers of regulars.

How did you end up playing the dame character in pantomimes?

Because no other sucker would do it! Actually Stephen Gledhill played it before me and the amazing Julian Wilson before that. I was a bad guy in Red Riding Hood and just said, "I can do that [play the dame]. Show me that."

What typifies a dame character like Mother Goose in this year's panto?

She's a lot larger than life. Always self-centred and says whatever comes into her mouth without thinking things through. It's great because you can be naughty. You have a direct connection with the audience. If someone leaves or a cellphone goes off, you can stop the show and address that. You have to keep the play moving. The great thing about Mother Goose is that the cast is strong so I don't have to carry anything. It's been the one I've enjoyed most out of all the pantos. Mother Goose, Circa Theatre, cnr of Taranaki and Cable streets, until January 15.

- The Wellingtonian

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