This powerful drama shows the effect of the 1930s depression on a family, who face unemployment and a personal crisis when the husband and father dies in a relief camp. Underlined with a rich vein of earthy humour, it is a powerful statement and a passionate celebration of the contribution women have made to the evolution of this country. I’ve chosen the coffin speech to highlight the effect of poverty on two people in a relationship, what the choices are and what choices are revealed given their differing responsibilities. Being a monologue one character reveals another through his absence and her presence. It is also a classic New Zealand monologue that students rarely get to see in a professional context.
Renée-was born in Napier in 1929 of Ngati Kahungunu and Scots ancestry. She left school at twelve to go to work, a situation common in the 30s for the oldest child in the family. When her own children were young, she began writing short stories, reviews and humorous columns for newspapers, acting in Napier Repertory Theatre and later began a university degree. For twenty years she also directed plays for a number of theatrical groups and schools in the Hawke’s Bay area. In 1979, Renée moved to Auckland to complete her BA at Auckland University and worked as a cleaner at Theatre Corporate where, six years later, she was to return as Playwright In Residence. After graduation, she worked at a secondary school teaching English and Drama.
On New Year’s Day in 1981, she began writing her first play ‘Setting The Table’ – completing the first draft of it five days later. She went on to write plays which feature women in leading roles and humanise working class people. Much of her work is published and excerpts from her fiction and plays included in collections and anthologies both in New Zealand and overseas (eg Te Ao Marama, Vol 1: Te Whakahuatanga O Te Ao Reed 1990). More recently extracts have been included in Intimate Acts, a collection of lesbian plays published by Brito and Lair, New York. Renée currently lives in Otaki and likes theatre “…to tell me things. I like scripts that go somewhere and take me with them. I want to be moved, I want ideas, I want fun. I want magic.” Renée was the 2017 recipient of the Playmarket Award, a $20,000 prize recognising a playwright who has made a significant artistic contribution to theatre in New Zealand.
Renée published her memoir in 2017.