Playwright finds funny side of war

01:03, Jan 22 2013

William Shakespeare had the Globe Theatre; Moenui playwright Rick Edmonds has the Havelock Town Hall.

"That's where the similarities end," Edmonds laughs.

He has lost count of the number of plays he has written, but for the past 12 years he has written annually for the amateur casts who turn up to auditions at the Havelock Theatre Company. His newest play, Grand-Dad's Army, opens for an eight-show season on Thursday, January 31.

It is a fictional account of seven Home Guard soldiers sent to one of the Chetwode Islands in Pelorus Sound during World War II. It was a secret posting and when the war ended no-one remembered they were there. So for the next 68 years the ageing men continued to scan the horizon, searching for any approaching enemy.

In 2012 they are rescued by Department of Conservation (DOC) staff during a visit to the island. The grey-haired, octogenarian soldiers are brought to Havelock and discover the world they knew has disappeared, replaced by a new, digital age.

Inspiration for the script came when Edmonds was doing some historical research about the army's former Delta Camp near Renwick for the Historic Places Trust and for DOC about Blumine Island, where he found old gun emplacements.


"I got to thinking about the soldiers. They were placed on remote locations in the Sounds for weeks and weeks, for the defence of the country. They never saw any action. I started thinking about their lives and what it must have been like."

A base for the fictional Grand-Dad's Army script started to form and Edmonds' long association with the Havelock Theatre made it easy for him to create characters he knew certain members would easily portray. "And there are several actors who I haven't worked with before - and [who] probably haven't been on the stage before."

Newcomers to the small port town with time to spare are encouraged to give theatre a try.

Impersonating another character for an entire show, night after night, increases personal communication abilities, self expression and ways to convey emotions, Edmonds says. "People can get scared, frightened and fearful . . . but the [stage] is a framework that can release people, too. By forcing yourself to be in [another] character."

The Grand-Dad's Army soldiers have distinctive personalities, grumpy, sad, paranoid, commanding. As director, Edmonds helps actors develop the personalities through speech, voice and mannerisms on stage. But it isn't all serious.

Havelock Theatre productions are primarily about having fun, he says.

"People are goofing around in character behind the curtain . . . and it's created a culture where the audience has the same fun."

The Home Guard soldiers in Grand-Dad's Army were on a serious mission, protecting New Zealand from possible enemy attack in the Marlborough Sounds, identified as one of the country's most vulnerable locations.

"But inevitably with me, there's some funny stuff happening. The cast say it's hilarious.

"I hope the audience will laugh at it, too."

Grand-Dad's Army opens on Thursday, January 31, 8.30pm, at the Havelock Town Hall. $18 adults, seniors and students $15, children under-14 $10.


The Marlborough Express