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Review: Canoeing for Beginners is a pro act!

Review: Napier Repertory Players’ comedy based on true story

Hawkes Bay Today

17 Nov, 2023 11:48 AM

What: Canoeing for Beginners

Where: Little Theatre, McGrath St, Napier

When: On until November 25, 7.30pm

Tickets at

A scene from Canoeing for Beginners on at Little Theatre, McGrath St Napier. Photo / Hayley Munro Photography

Reviewed by: Keith Russell

Napier Repertory Players continues its proud tradition of presenting challenging theatre productions that do so much to inspire both seasoned patrons and the curious new.

Canoeing for Beginners is written by English award-winning actor/writer Mike Yeaman, and is based on an actual insurance fraud that provided months of tabloid headlines.

While the actual case would be best described as a classic theatre farce, the writer has totally reimagined all the details to produce the comedy/drama we see on stage.

Making his Little Theatre debut is director Steve Driver, whose attention to timing, visual detail and technical expertise keeps the story sharp. A comedy-drama is not the easiest genre to start with but fortunately Driver has chosen his cast well.

The husband is played by Chris Chambers who very cleverly portrays a narcissistic man, drowning in debt, who comes up with an idea.

Sarah Graham was convincing as the wife, struggling to cope with the deception she and her husband have created. Her vulnerability added more dimensions to allow her to blindly follow her husband or maybe she had her own agenda. Her projection was clear with great stage presence and the comic interaction with her daughter did much to anchor the story.

Liv Whyte played the “gobby” daughter with style and confidence but she must consider the fact that as the comedy gets physical in the second act, a loud voice is much more difficult to control.

The down-to-earth son played by Rob Franks, would do anything for his mother and had one of the hardest scenes an actor can do, be funny and drunk. He handled this with talent.

The insensitive and always-there policeman played by Glenn Cook was the star of this show. His character becomes the engine room of the humour and Cook performed flawlessly. His timing, physical movement, voice projection and facial expressions were faultless. His ability to change roles in very quick succession was a show highlight.

Lighting and sound was well controlled along with two sets, with some clever concealed “access ways” utilised to the full during the second act.

As a drama Yeoman’s writing has a strange structure, it starts into the story and finishes with a very Shakespearean ending, leaving us with a long elongated middle. Sadly all the really interesting bits are left out, almost like the writer had lost all interest in a rather sad story. However, there are lots of wonderful one-liners along with a second act of physical comedy that will ensure a sure-fire-hit with local audiences.

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