Winding Up delivers laughs for boomers but can its message transcend a younger audience?

Auckland Theatre Company’s 2020 season kicked off at the ASB Waterfront Theatre with the premiere of Sir Roger Hall’s new work Winding Up featuring the hilarious Mark Hadlow and Alison Quigan.

As you might expect with the experience of the protagonists both on and off the stage, this is a slick and smooth production. Tackling old age and the near-constant loss of friends to the grim reaper could be a desperate wringing of the hands and heavy sighs a-plenty but instead, Hall gently prods and pokes the familiar tropes for the intended Boomer audience – ‘why don’t the kids call any more?’ ‘why do bits of my body keep failing me?’ and ‘dammit, I want more time!’.

The intrusion of modern technology (Netflix, mobile controlled hearing aids etc) means the play is clearly set in the here and now but the underlying themes are timeless – the basic functions of family, the fact there’s more behind than lies ahead and how love endures. 

Mark Hadlow and Alison Quigan are gifted a gem of a script to work with and deliver the laughs effortlessly. However, despite the pedigree surrounding the production it still left me feeling strangely unmoved.

The reason for that is in the play’s reliance on its intended audience also facing these dilemmas and recognising both their comedic and emotional heft. The inside gags all landed with the audience on opening night with plenty of nods and ‘yes, that’s right’ going on all around me. But, that light touch in the writing means that while I understood the challenges facing Barry and Gen, I was never drawn into the emotional conflicts that their characters must be facing. 

Winding Up is revisiting these two characters who were at the heart of Hall’s smash-hit play, Conjugal Rites, which subsequently became a popular British TV series so maybe that’s why this sometimes felt like an episode from an 80s TV series? It’s well-intentioned but never likely to scare the horses with an emotional punch not signalled well in advance.

I left the theatre having enjoyed plenty of laughs and impressed with the glide through the tale but without any sense of foreboding that anyone under the age of 65 could have walked out with, and I’m sure anyone over that age is all too familiar with.

Winding Up is delightful, funny and expertly performed but lacked that much needed emotional tier that would elevate it to a play I would recommend to all ages.

Winding Up is on at the ASB Waterfront Theatre until the 8th of March.

Reviewed by Mike Hales.