Bill Massey’s Tourists


A New Zealand WW1 play for all generations

WW100 NZ SymbolJan Bolwell has written a sixty-minute solo play Bill Massey’s Tourists about her grandfather, Arthur Gardiner’s experiences in World War One.

Bolwell says: “ All New Zealand plays about both World Wars have been written by men. I thought it was time we had a woman’s perspective on war. I write from the point of view of a teenage granddaughter doing a school project on WW1 and trying to entice her grandfather to tell her about his war experiences. “

Jan Bolwell’s play is titled Bill Massey’s Tourists because this is what the Kiwi soldiers called themselves, referring to their Prime Minister Bill Massey. The ironic title sets the tone of the play that is peppered with jokes, dances, songs and soldiers ditties about the war.

But the serious side of war is also present as Arthur gradually tells Jan about the brutal treatment in the training camps at Sling and Étaples and the horrors of Passchendaele, New Zealand’s greatest military tragedy. As Arthur tells his story the teenage Jan begins to understand why her grandfather has ended up a grumpy, unwell and uncommunicative old man.

What people are saying about the play?

“Jan Bolwell tells her grandfather’s tales of World War One with a remarkable vision and perception. Her versatility is admirable. A terrific script. A great performance. A tale well told. Knocked me for six.”
Raymond Hawthorne, New Zealand Theatre Director

“”If you can survive Passchendaele, you can survive anything,’ says Jan Bolwell’s grandfather in her third and most poignant solo play about her family. Tough part fiction and part family stories, it conveys with a compelling simplicity what it was like for a 20 year-old New Zealander to be thrown into the maelstrom of bloody war. …….. At the heart of the play is a short dance that highlights the physical and mental agony of war with an emotional impact that is overpowering ….. while slides of men in the trenches show us the reality.”
Laurie Atkinson, theatre reviewer, DomPost

“In a world where wars continue to dominate our news, Arthur’s experiences as a soldier, Jan’s quest as his teenage granddaughter then her point of view as a university student protesting the Vietnam War, combine with our collective memories and differing perceptions to make Bill Massey’s Tourists a profoundly insightful and mutually personal shared experience.”
John Smythe, Theatreview

…conveys with a compelling simplicity what it was like for a 20 year-old New Zealander to be thrown into the maelstrom of bloody war.

Laurie Atkinson

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No matter how entrenched you are in your opinions, there is every chance this play will move you

John Smythe


  • 2014
  • 60 minutes long
  • Written by Jan Bolwell
  • Performed by Jan Bolwell
  • Music by Laughton Pattrick
  • Handel’s ‘Ombra Mai Fu’ sung by Janet Baker
  • Presented by Handstand Productions


  • Whitireia Performance Centre, Wellington, July 2014
  • St Peters Hall, Paekakariki, July 2014
  • Auckland Regimental Headquarters, Auckland, July 2014
  • Wellington Museum of City & Sea, Wellington, February 2015
  • Dunedin Community Art Gallery, Dunedin, March 2015
  • Hamilton Museum March 2016
  • VUW, Wellington May 2016
  • Waiheke Island September 2016
  • Garnet Station cafe & studio, Auckland, September 2016
  • VUW, Wellington, June 2017
  • New Plymouth September 2017
  •  Tokoroa, September 2017
  • Whitianga September 2017
  • Opotiki September 2017
  • Gisborne September 2017
  • Waipawa September 2017
  • Lincoln September 2017
  • Christchurch September 2017
  • Ashburton September 2017
  • Twizel September 2017
  • Lake Hawea September 2017
  • Arrowtown September 2017
  • Bannockburn September 2017
  • Roxborough September 2017
  • Balclutha September 2017
  • Invercargill September 2017
  • Te Anau September 2017
  • Oamaru September 2017
  • Westport September 2017
  • Takaka September 2017
  • VUW, Wellington May 2018
  • Palmerston North October 2018
  • St Peters, Paekakariki November 2018

Production team

  • Directed by Kerryn Palmer
  • Dramturge Ralph McAllister
  • Audiovisual designer, Andrew Simpson
  • Set: Nicole Cosgrove
  • Lighting: Janis Cheng

This exceptional performer, Jan Bolwell, is blessed with an irrepressible joie-de-vivre that communicates itself instantly to the audience, so that her grandfather’s war story is illuminating and memorable, but also surprisingly enjoyable.

Terry MacTavish