THE GODS OF WARM BEER Brings Rugby & Politics To NZ 3/28
THE GODS OF WARM BEER is a rip-snorting comic epic that deals with hypocrisy, alienation, betrayal, rugby, religion, sex, violence, politics and bad language. It's Westport in 1951. On March 28 The Court Theatre proudly presents a comedy where, true to their West Coast roots, the characters are feisty, argumentative, passionate and aggressive. And so are the men.
At the heart of the play is the bitter sin of betrayal: the defection of a star player from union to league - an act of terminal treason against province, country and the lads in the pub. As the character-driven comedy unfolds, the "Gods of Warm Beer" - Sydney Holland, Joe McCarthy, Harry Truman and J Edgar Hoover - secretly manipulate the events of the 1951 Waterfront Strike for their own agendas. The result is one of Hawes' most personal and political pieces - as he puts it "my attempt to write Tennessee Williams as if he had a sense of humour".
Artistic Director Ross Gumbley knew THE GODS OF WARM BEER was one that The Court Theatre had to do as soon as he read the script. "Peter Hawes writes plays of ideas, and he's crammed this script with brilliant observations on humanity, politics and the gap between the two. It's a phenomenally layered piece of theatre".
Playwright Peter Hawes initially set out to write a biography of his father, rugby player Bobby Hawes, who "defected" to league in 1950. As Hawes began his work, however, he was struck by the thought: "If only his contract had been signed in 1951 instead of 1950, I could have brought in the Lock-out." Thus the biography was abandoned and Hawes "happily got down to the business of creating truth."
Staging THE GODS OF WARM BEER was no light undertaking. Twenty-two characters are played by ten actors, all of whom are "at the top of their game for a two and a half hour tour-de-force", according to Gumbley. It also marks the return to The Court Theatre by veteran actor Alistair Browning.
The title refers to a saying of Hawes' father: "Sometimes you go to the races and the beer is cold and the pies are warm, but sometimes the pies are cold and the beer is warm." The "Gods of Warm Beer", then, are the forces of entropy, ill-fortune: Murphy's Law personified.
Gumbley believes that the comedy is "one of the great New Zealand plays" and that despite (or even because of) the coarse language and content, THE GODS OF WARM BEER has wide appeal. "This is our history, our people and our story. What happened on the West Coast back then has a resonance for all of New Zealand now."
Hawes agrees in his trademark way: "We were witty and wise back then in the fifties, people to be proud of and to remember. We don't. Well here's what them old-fashioned, cardiganedly uncool, grey-hatted inaweseome folks can be like when jazzed up with a bit of sex and violence".