One-man play on old Chez coffee shop delights

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:00 26/12/2012
Grae Burton and Eelco
PATRICK HAMILTON/Fairfax NZ

HONOURED: Grae Burton presented scenes from his play Coffee With Eelco for Eelco Boswijk and other residents of Green Gables.

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Kiwi actor Grae Burton brought to life an excerpt of his play Coffee With Eelco in front of the man himself at a special tribute performance.

The surprise performance at Green Gables on Christmas Eve left Eelco Boswijk delighted and ready to take part in the improvisation which depicted the first time he met Burton, a Nelson-born actor, writer and director now living in Auckland.

The one-man play he co-created with Tim Coughlin and which is still performed in Auckland is based on the life and times of Mr Boswijk who is best known for giving Nelson an early cosmopolitan edge with the creation of the Trafalgar St coffee house, Chez Eelco.

The Chez was from 1961 until its close in 2001, considered to be the heart of Nelson. Burton launched his acting career in the coffee house, and like many other Nelson artists, he credits Mr Boswijk for the leg-up on his career path.

"He was my first patron," said Burton who was back home for Christmas.

"I have known Eelco for years and now I get to tell his story around New Zealand. He is a beautiful man who inspired me in many ways."

Mr Boswijk, 83, now lives in Green Gables, which has named the lounge room Eelco's room. The play charts his life as a young immigrant from Holland, through his discovery journey around New Zealand before he settled in Nelson.

Burton burst into the lounge at Green Gables dressed as a young Mr Boswijk, complete with the trademark hat given by the World of WearableArt team, which also received early help from Mr Boswijk.

Burton, who admitted to being nervous beforehand, acted the part of Mr Boswijk, and invited Mr Boswijk to be him in the scene about their first meeting.

"I remember at the time he gave me a cup of coffee, but I couldn't drink it. It was, well, awful."

He said during the performance the secret to great coffee is that it has to be made with love.

Burton's improvisation included roping in the audience of Green Gables residents, much to the confusion of some, including the woman he addressed as "Sheriee" as being the young, beautiful lady who was welcome to work at the Chez anytime.

"Oh, I'm not Sheriee," the resident replied.

Some of the more risque comments left others frowning, but no-one walked out.

After the performance Burton recounted various anecdotes about Mr Boswijk's life.

"Just about every time I give this performance there's someone in the audience who gets up an tells a story about Chez Eelco and Mr Boswijk.

"That's how big an impact he has had on people," Burton said.

After the show Mr Boswijk said Burton was a "remarkable fellow to have made a story out of the old Chez".

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- The Nelson Mail

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