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Comedy promises fun night out at the Rose Centre

Flagstaff Team

People skills… Kate Birch, director of Company Theatre’s production of Rumours, taps into her human-resources background to draw the best from her actors

Director Kate Birch reckons Company Theatre’s latest production is just the ticket to lift spirits.

The pacy Neil Simon comedy Rumours, which is about misunderstandings and mistaken identities, is on until 25 November at the Rose Centre in Belmont, with an ensemble cast of 10.

“I wanted to choose something that would give people a good night out,” she says.

The Bayswater resident, who is directing her third production for Company, believes we could all do with a spot of escapism after a long winter and at a time the world is facing serious issues.

Rumours is set in London, the city she left 11 years ago, when her husband landed a job at Fonterra.

Moving to New Zealand with their two now adult children was a big change, she says, made easier by her involvement with Company Theatre. “It’s about community,” she says.

She first got involved through family connections to two theatre stalwarts, Fred and Dorreen Gould, now in their 90s, who were mainstays producing props and backstage.

Birch has been involved in dance and theatre since childhood, including a stint at stage school.

When her daughter Natasha was in school productions during her time at Takapuna Grammar School, Birch helped backstage.

She did the same at Company Theatre initially, with costumes on Calendar Girls, then resumed acting in its productions of Fawlty Towers and Hayfever. In 2017, she directed Death Trap, going on to helm God of Carnage and now Rumours.

With a career background in human resources, and now working as a self-employed trainer, developer and coach, Birch taps into her people skills to draw out the best in her actors.

From auditions onwards, she is looking at how people best interact, so along with a reading, she puts prospective actors through their improvisational paces.

“I choose based on how well I think they will gel as a team. It was really revealing this time – I completely changed my ideas.”

The 80s just called… Jimmy Carrick and Chloe Smith are among the cast appearing in the Neil Simon farce Rumours, at the Rose Centre

The cast is a talented bunch, she says, with Narrow Neck resident Jimmy Carrick, who takes on one of the lead roles, adding his own flair to really bring a lengthy speech late in the play to life. “Jimmy is amazing at that.”

Carrick’s partner, Liz Cannon, is also in the cast, joining actors from across the city, including Jessica Silva from Takapuna and Devonport locals Rebecca Wright and Marissa Willson.

Willson has the challenge of playing Erica, who in Simon’s script was originally Eric. An update introduces a same-sex couple into the play, better reflecting social diversity.

But there was also another reason for the gender change: “It’s extremely hard to get enough men and there’s really good female actors.”

But Birch has kept the play set in the 1980s, saying she couldn’t resist the opportunity to have fun with the music and fashions of the time – and its now outmoded technology, such as old-style telephones.

After rehearsing since early September, empowering the cast to express themselves within agreed parameters, Birch handed the production over to the stage manager and actors.

She has joined the audience for performances, saying it’s in the cast’s capable hands to entertain.

Rumours, at the Rose Centre until 25 November. Book at iticket.co.nz

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