The Court Theatre will be reeling in the laughs when its newest Kiwi comedy The Biggest opens this June.
Set in small-town Coromandel The Biggest follows Walter, Pat, Mick and Stu as they try to win big at the local fishing competition. They’re after a replacement for Stu’s dream boat – the one that he spent his life-savings on and then wrote-off the first time he used it, landing himself in a wheelchair.
Only problem is, they don’t know how to fish.
For Ross Gumbley, the director of The Biggest and The Court’s Artistic Director, the idea is simple but fantastic.
“It’s a great idea for a comedy – a group of characters who have to catch the biggest fish when none of them know how to!”
With scenes switching between the local pub and the nearby fishing wharf, The Biggest is set to bring small-town New Zealand to a big city audience.
“This is a Kiwi comedy with a universal appeal. It’s beautifully observed from the lives of people in small towns and it comes vividly to life in a very endearing way.”
For writer Jamie McCaskill the inspiration for the play came to him when working in a local pub in Thames.
“I wanted to write a play about raw, rural men and try and find the beauty under their rugged exterior. The characters are based on archetypes of people who used to drink in the Thames pub.”
The Biggest opens with the characters skulling beers and ribbing each other in the local working men’s club – a familiar scene for many New Zealanders.
The script reflects McCaskill’s aspirations for a raw, rural play; full of dialogue that Gumbley calls ‘salty language’.
“It doesn’t feel like dialogue from other plays you might have seen – it feels like dialogue from people you know. It’s going to be one of those plays where people leave with very sore ribs – and they’ll have sore ribs because their partner will be elbowing them in then saying, ‘that’s you up there! You’re like that!’”
The director is particularly proud of the cast he’s gathered for the show, saying, “we’ve cast the hell out of this play. There are times when it’s hard to believe that these lines were written for any other living human being – and that’s when you know you’ve got it right.”
Mark Hadlow returns to The Court to take on the role of wheelchair bound Stu, joined by Phil Grieve as loyal but lonesome Pat; Robert Lloyd as cheeky Walter; Apirana Taylor as returning expat Mick; Juanita Hepi as Walter’s put-upon daughter Cassie and Nick Dunbar as ‘local prick’ and fishing rival, Jan.
Beyond big laughs, the story also explores the politics of identity – namely the confusion and misunderstanding that McCaskill feels still exists around Māori culture within New Zealand.
“We still don’t fully understand how we should value each other’s culture in this country. Hopefully The Biggest can create conversation that doesn’t point fingers but makes us realise that values to Māori culture can be inclusive – and aren’t there to alienate non-Māori. I think we need to appreciate all aspects of life in Aotearoa.”
Celebrating and questioning Aotearoa’s diversity is a key mission for The Court Theatre. The Court is committed to producing at least one work by a Māori or Pasifika practitioner in each of their mainstage seasons, The Biggest being the first of two Māori plays this year, followed by Albert Belz’ Astroman in October.
Although set in the far North, the play felt much closer to home for Gumbley.
“When I think about the world of The Biggest I think about Christchurch right after the quakes. The quakes were awful, but as a community we were brought together to support each other. And that’s what happens in this play. It’s about the strength and love that you find in your whanau; in your family and in your friends. And how at the end of the day if we don’t support each other through this then life’s a whole lot harder.”