Kiwi treads boards in Greenwich   1 Nov 2005

By Ellie van Baaren

I don’t really like him at all. In fact I don’t really like anything about him. He’s the sort of guy who picks up women whereas I find it really tough to pick up women. I’m quite shy.

That’s Kiwi actor Michael Lawrence describing his character Bernie in (potent pause) Productions’ latest play, Sexual Perversity in Chicago. And he’s right. Bernie is not at all a likeable character. His language comes from the the dark side of the potty, he has no respect for women and he’s doing his best to indoctrinate his younger and more enlightened friend Danny (Will Birch) with his views.

It may not be every actor’s choice of roles, but it was watching Lawrence/Bernie cuss, insult, rage and strutt his way around the stage that left the biggest impression on me as I came away from Sexual Perversity.

But the biggest shock was that it is so far removed from the real person. Chatting over a glass of wine after the performance Lawrence is softly spoken with a hard-to-place accent due to his British roots, and no doubt years of adopting different nationalities on stage.

He’s been shuttling between the the UK and New Zealand, where he trained at Corporate Theatre drama school, for several years now and was keen on expanding (potent pause) Productions’ repetoire.

The theatre company is based in Auckland where it has garnered a lot of respect from critics for productions including Harold Pinter’s Old Times and The Caretaker, and most recently Strange Children by Stephanie Johnson, their first play written by a New Zealander.

When finally the opportunity came up to bring (potent pause) to London, several potential plays were considered.

"I actually prefer Pinter and we wanted to do one of his plays but because of his upcoming anniversary we couldn’t get the rights. So we went for the American Pinter, as [David] Mamet is often called," Lawrence says.

Director Miles Taylor says it was a typical Kiwi production – "without half the things that you needed" – with only a three-week rehearsal process. "The biggest challenge was actually all the scene changes. There were 34 of them and although the play is quite simple there was a lot of different lighting changes needed," Taylor says.

Apart from the production company itself, Lawrence and Taylor are the only two Kiwis in the cast with the other three actors hired through an audition process.

"Their [the other actors] commitment has been brilliant," says Lawrence. "Acting is a dog eat dog world here. In New Zealand you get known and you get work quite easily. These guys are sending out hundreds of letters to casting agents. I admire them, I couldn’t do it."

• Sexual Perversity in Chicago runs until November 13, see right for details and review. Go to www.nznewsuk.co.uk to win tickets.

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