The latest show at Little Theatre is a charming look at a love triangle between a man, his wife, and his beloved dog Sylvia. Director Nicci Smith had a chat with us about dogs, why she loves them, and if she’s been using treats to train her cast. 

Hey Nicci! You’re directing a play called Sylvia, which opens later this month at Little Theatre. Can you tell us what Sylvia is about?
Sylvia is a funny, moving play about man and his best friend, set in New York. Greg is a man facing a midlife crisis when he finds Sylvia the dog in the park. He’s determined to keep her although his wife, family friend, strangers and a therapist all have strong views on this. 

That sounds awesome! What made you choose this play? 
I vaguely remembered hearing about the play when it was done at Cue Theatre in the early noughties, directed by the late, great Derek Treeby. I didn’t get to see it at the time unfortunately, but I remember reading about it. Being a fan of movies and TV programmes about dogs and other animals I decided to order the script about two years ago and instantly loved it. I was just waiting patiently to be asked by one of the theatres to direct. 

Nicci, auditioning potential Sylvia’s in Central Park in New York in 2019 

You’re a dog person, right? 
Funnily enough growing up I was more of a cat person, and at one point we had five cats when I was a kid. However my husband is more of a dog person and that eventually rubbed off on me. So our first child (of the fur variety) was a golden retriever named Daisy, followed ten years later by a Tibetan terrier named Milo. They both moved with us to New Zealand in 2002, sadly neither are with us anymore.  

We now have Brodie, a 13-year-old spoodle and Fonz a shih tzu cavalier cross. We also have two moggy cats Izzy and Dobbie and a munchkin cat called Frida. Also regular visitors to our house are my daughter’s dogs Hughey the spoodle and Lochie the cavoodle. 

Also, just over three years ago my daughter and I decided to train as dog groomers and we set up business in our basement. So, on top of all our own dogs we get to cuddle and beautify about another 20+ dogs per week at Pup Culture Groomers!  

Dog cuddles are the best cuddles

So, do you use any ticks of the dog grooming trade, or any treats to get the cast to follow commands? 
Oh that’s a great idea. I did suggest early on that treats would be rewarded for line learning, but I’ve yet to follow through. I’ll try that this week. 

Nicci, very important question here, if you were a dog, what breed would you be?
I think I’m the human twin of my dog Fonz the shih tzu cavalier cross. Long body, short legs, food motivated and not a big fan of exercise. We recently have become medical twins too. Last year he had to get his gallbladder removed. This year I’m waiting to see a specialist as I now have gallbladder issues. 

What do you think of cats? 
I’m a big fan of cats. I’d be hard pushed to choose between dogs and cats 

Fav dog movie?
Probably Marley and Me – it makes me laugh and cry – I ugly cry every time I see it! And when the kids were little we all loved the animated film All Dogs go to Heaven.

Frankie Roberts and Rebecca Williamson rehearsing for Sylvia

Back to the play. The Broadway productions have had some pretty big names in them, including Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. Who’s in the New Plymouth cast, and how’s it all going? 
We have Chris Watson playing Greg. He’s no stranger to New Plymouth theatre, his most recent appearances include Kings of the Gym and Noises Off at Little Theatre. 

Rebecca Williamson is playing Kate, she last appeared in The Actress at New Plymouth Repertory Society. Jo Morrissey, a newcomer to New Plymouth plays three roles – Tom a dog owner, Phyllis the family friend and Leslie the gender neutral therapist. Both Rebecca and Jo are from the USA and have been keeping us right in pronunciation. 

The title role of Sylvia is played by newcomer to New Plymouth, Frankie Roberts. Frankie, from South Africa, studied theatre when she left school and she’s delighted to be back on stage after a break of a few years. 

Thankfully our only hurdle has been rehearsing around the theatre building upgrade. I’m told it will be looking fabulous by opening night. 

Chris Watson and Frankie Roberts rehearsing for Sylvia

So role of Sylvia the dog is played by a woman? What’s it like directing a woman to play a dog? And have any actual dogs been involved?
Ha ha ha. The character of Sylvia is described as a labramutt. She’s a cross between a lab and a French poodle. It was written in 1995 before labradoodles really took off. 

Frankie who plays Sylvia has come down to the grooming salon a couple of times to meet our labradoodle clients. I wanted her to see their lovable, boisterous, doofus characters. Although Frankie already brought a lovely physicality to stage I think it’s definitely helped her bring Sylvia to life. 

Any props that have to be chewed are brought home to Lochie the cavoodle who is at the delightful chewing stage and happy to oblige.

Nicci and her twin, Fonz

Why should people come and see this show?
To see the craziness and love that a dog can bring to your life. I think anyone who’s ever had a dog, love them or hate them, will be able to relate. 

Sylvia, by A R Gurney and directed by Nicci Smith, is on at New Plymouth Little Theatre from March 31 to April 10, 7.30pm. Tickets are available from iTicket