As far as unlikely double acts go, actors Jacquie Nairn and Neill Rea are up there with the best of them. The Weekly arrives to interview the duo about their new play – a gritty drama titled Anahera – but we can barely get a word in edgewise through the pair’s almost constant laughter and jokes.
But, as former Shortland Street star Jacquie points out when she can finally draw breath in between her giggles, if the friends and co-stars didn’t have humour on their side between rehearsals, their working environment would be rather grim.
Anahera tells the story of parents Liz (Jacquie) and Peter (Neill) Hunter, who appear to have it all together until their 11-year-old son Harry goes missing.
The production follows them and Anahera, the social worker assigned to their case, during the excruciating hours they search for their son – and the actors promise it has a shocking twist that will have audiences reeling.
“Rehearsal is intense, that’s for sure!” says Jacquie.
“But in saying that,” adds Neill, “we spend a lot of time giggling in between scenes because we kind of have to.”
“To be honest, I’ve found it quite challenging on a personal level. It’s not an easy play to perform, which is a good thing.” So getting used to the intimacy and live nature of theatre again has been challenging for them.
“Our personal process for television is very different,” nods Jacquie, who spent eight months directing Shortland Street after her shock departure.
“For Shortland Street, for example, you’ll have maybe 20 minutes to rehearse a scene and that will be the most you get.
“But for this, we spend a whole morning on a scene. It is a such a luxury, but also quite terrifying, because you are accustomed to a certain pace so you feel like you should be doing more!” explains Jacquie.
“There’s that wonderful safety net in television where if you stuff it up, you get to go again, but in theatre it’s all live. We’re flexing our acting muscles, that’s for sure.”
Neill insists it’s a good thing that it’s been intense and challenging – “that’s just the nature of the beast”.
Jacquie is enjoying slipping into another character that’s a far cry from Wendy, though her varied résumé this year has seen her branch out into other areas of the industry.
“I knew I would enjoy directing but I didn’t expect to absolutely love it, and I really do. It’s been a good year!"
“A different character on the telly, directing, and now doing stage, and a regular guest stint on The AM Show, freelancing is going okay this year,” she laughs.
Neill, who also reveals he has another life as a casting director, is also relishing the break from Brokenwood and tells he and Jacquie feel very lucky to have stumbled into such a complex job.
Jacquie says they get on well and she appreciates having someone she trusts. “We have to go some pretty dark places in the play. I feel safe, very safe. Do you feel safe with me, Neill?” she asks him inquisitively.
“Mmm, I do!” he responds. “It’s a funny thing, acting, in that if you don’t entirely trust the other person, you’re not going to reach the places you need to.”
“It’s a gift to have someone you trust implicitly alongside you as you explore such an intense story,” says Jacquie. “Neill is always there to catch me and we have a blast!”