Julia and Chris chat about Skin Tight, love, bruises, manhood, our Pakeha heritage, and TV commercials… [by James Wenley]
Skin Tight, by Gary Henderson, is a New Zealand play done good.
Since its humble debut at BATS theatre in 1994, the play toured New Zealand, and the world, including productions in Australia, Great Britain, South Africa, Canada and the USA and won a Fringe First award in Edinburgh.
At its core are the enigmatic characters of Tom and Elizabeth, recalling old school 1940s/50s New Zealand, who open the play with a brutal and passionate physical fight. The first stage direction of the play is instructive ‘A number of gym mats form a single pad centre stage’. It is a play that asks a lot of its actors.
Jed Brophy and Larissa Matheson originated the roles, now rising actors Chris Neels and Julia Croft have taken up the mantle in a new Auckland production at the Musgrove Studio directed by Melissa Fergusson. For both, Skin Tight is their favourite New Zealand play. Julia first read it in Drama School, and the character of Elizabeth was on a dream ‘one day I’d like to play that character’ list. Now she gets to.
I worked together with Chris and Julia on the team of Auckland Theatre Company’s Shrew’d - a quirky reworking of The Taming of the Shrew - in 2008. Along with myself, Chris was one of the three crew members who together managed to win ourselves increasing and unplanned stage time. Julia was a star, playing the sexy and sassy Shrew, holding her own in a boxing ring. At that stage, Chris was about to embark on three years of acting training at Unitec, Julia was about to return to do her final year at Toi Whakaari. Chris has admired Julia since Shrew’d, and remembers one particular backstage moment: "I remember walking into the theatre one day, and she had her head between her legs and she was blowing stuff out of her lips. And I thought ‘that’s a professional actor’. She was warming up while the rest of the actors were having a smoke or something like that, but Julia was in there stretching - that’s an actor."
Chris has been out of drama school now for six months, and says he’s been doing okay. He appeared in Outfit’s The Sex Show and is currently appearing in KFC’s Double Down commercial. “There’s times where you struggle for rent and things like that, but largely I’ve done alright. I’ve been given some nice opportunities along the way.” Julia, he says, is “wise and experienced” in contrast. She describes her industry experience as involving “ebbs and flows”. “You have periods where it’s great, and inevitably you start thinking ‘I’m gaining momentum, this is great!’ then nothing. It’s one of those jobs, when you’re working, it’s the best job in the world, when you’re not it can be a challenge“. This year Julia featured in Red Leap’s Paper Sky during the Auckland Festival, and formed Thread Theatre with Veronica Brady, co-devising the show The Keepers, and can also be seen on our small screens in the Z petrol station campaign.