Photo credit: Ralph Brown
Acting Heavyweight Jennifer Ludlam and Joel Tobeck Want to be Happy
Published: Tuesday 27 June, 2023
By Carl Bland
Starring Jennifer Ludlam, Joel Tobeck and Milo Cawthorne
Directed by Ben Crowder and Carl Bland
Following a whirlwind return season and tour of The Worm and the highly successful pre-Covid tour of Mr Red Light, Nightsong have corralled two of Aotearoa’s most sought-after actors for their premiere of I WANT TO BE HAPPY. The 2023 premiere season plays at the Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, supported by Auckland Live from Aug 18 – 27.
Binka is a guinea pig in a laboratory cage. Paul is the lab assistant who looks after her.
Neither understand each other. Yet everyday they share their hopes and fears. Binka wants to escape. Paul wants to get the love of his life back. Both just want to be happy. But how can you? When everything you’ve known is gone and you’re left with a broken heart. Sometimes the greatest gift you can give the person you love, is to set them free.
In this blackly funny odyssey from trailblazing theatre creators – Nightsong; Jennifer Ludlam takes on the role of Binka the Guinea Pig. She infuses this seemingly simple character of a small creature with depth, vulnerability, feistiness and undeniable charm.
Ludlam has had an incredibly fruitful career that spans across film, television and theatre. Her work in New Zealand and Australia over the last five decades has seen her play strong and complex women. She’s played an alcoholic lawyer, a kidnapper, homophobic mother and most recently the outspoken Leanne Black on Shortland Street. This is the first time she has played a guinea pig.
‘Jennifer Ludlam’s performance is a masterclass in bringing a character to life’
— Theatreview, Mr Red Light
Joining Ludlam is the talented Joel Tobeck, who brings his charismatic presence to the stage with his portrayal of Paul the lab worker. Despite the fact that Paul cannot speak Guinea Pig (translated for audiences into English through the magic of theatre), Ludlam and Tobeck create a mesmerizing onstage chemistry that deliver both humour and pathos.
With a career spanning 35+ years, Tobeck has also enjoyed a stellar career in film, television and theatre. In theatre, he has worked in all genres from Shakespeare to Musical Theatre. His nearly two dozen film appearances, ranging from whimsical comedy to intense drama and modern horror, has seen him work extensively both in New Zealand, Australia and the US. Tobeck first worked with Nightsong on A Stab in the Dark, which premiered as a global live stream due to Covid restrictions for the 2022 Auckland Arts Festival.
“Joel Tobeck gives a compelling performance as he switches between his two characters as well as being presented in a filmed version of John”
– NZ Arts Review, A Stab in the Dark
Joining Jennifer and Joel is Nightsong favourite Milo Cawthorne. In addition to his successful career in film and theatre, Milo has worked with the company as a puppeteer, actor and behind the scenes superstar. Milo plays two guinea pigs in this production – also a first for him.
Nightsong bring on theatre favourites Sean Lynch (ATC’s Long Day’s Journey into Night) as lighting designer, Andrew Foster (The Worm, Te Pō) as set designer, John Gibson (A Stab in the Dark, Te Pō) as composer and Elizabeth Whiting (King Lear, The Worm) as costume designer.
Written by Carl Bland and directed by the visionary duo of Ben Crowder and Carl Bland, I Want To Be Happy melds Nightsong's signature visual aesthetics with the preposterous premises of everyday life. The play juxtaposes the grandeur of life's significant events with the seemingly minuscule existence of even the tiniest creatures. Love, loss, triumph, and disaster converge in this thought-provoking exploration of both the human and guinea pig experience.
Script development support provided by Auckland Theatre Company.
“It’s the kind of theatre that makes film look boring, and turns first-time punters into lifelong patrons.”
- Up Your Arts - Mr Red Light