Yvonne Lawley's acting career spanned more than 60 years. She began acting on television and radio in the 1960s, and the following decade on the big screen. Lawley's work in 80s soap Gloss, and as star of Ruby and Rata and Rud's Wife provided proof positive that elderly women could be a commanding presence on screen.

There’s a mistaken idea among some people that when you’re old you lose all your abilities. It’s certainly not so. In acting you have so much of a rich past to draw on. Yvonne Lawley
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Backch@t

1998 - 2000, Subject - Television

Backch@t was a magazine-style arts and culture show that appealed, from the opening acid-jazz theme tune, to a literate late-90s arts audience. Fronted by media personality Bill Ralston, the show included reporters Mark Crysell and Jodi Ihaka, and Chris Knox appears as the weekly film reviewer. In keeping with Ralston’s journalistic background, Backch@t took a ‘news’ approach to the arts, debating topics in the studio and interviewing the personalities, as well as covering the sector stories.

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Hercules: The Legendary Journeys

1995 - 1998, As: Norn - Television

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Typhon's People

1993, As: Ainsley Starling - Television

After the assassination of scientist David Typhon, a cast of interested parties head for his secret lab in New Zealand, pursuing the truth behind rumoured experiments on humans. Among them are rabid protestors, a European infiltrator (Michael Hurst) and the strangely-gifted Cato (Greg Wise). Typhon’s People marked a rare time that writer Margaret Mahy created a story aimed at adult audiences. Blessed with an impressive cast of Kiwis, Brits (Wise, Alfred Molina), and The Castle star Sophie Lee, it sold as both a mini-series and as a 90 minute tele-movie.

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Shortland Street

1997, As: Kitty Forsyth - Television

Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an inner city Auckland hospital. The long-running South Pacific Pictures production is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the hospital's staff and patients. It screens on TVNZ’s TV2 network five days a week. In 2017 the show was set to celebrate its 25th anniversary, making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture — starting with “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!” in the very first episode. Mihi Murray writes about Shortland Street here.

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The Wall

1992, As: Blind Woman - Short Film

Actor and casting legend Diana Rowan (who discovered both Anna Paquin and Keisha Castle-Hughes) turns her hand to writing and directing, with this darkly comic half-hour television drama based on an original story by Shonagh Koea. Veteran actor Helen Moulder (Fallout) gives a stand-out performance as a recently widowed woman, who arrives at a novel solution to well-meaning but hideous friends and family. The Wall is dedicated to director of photography Bayly Watson, who passed away soon after working on it.

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Chances

1991, As: Heather McGlashen - Television

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Stealing Home

1991, As: Joy - Short Film

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Death in Brunswick

1990, As: Mrs Fitzgerald - Film

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Linda's Body

1990, As: Mrs Molloy - Short Film

Performance group The Front Lawn (Don McGlashan, Harry Sinclair, and later arrival Jennifer Ward-Lealand) stretched all of their prolific talents for their final, 24 minute short film. After he whistles a certain tune, Ben (McGlashan) finds that his partner Linda (Ward-Lealand) no longer seems to be conscious. Then things get stranger: Linda catches up with an old lover (Sinclair) and faces a life-changing dilemma, while her body — awol with a tennis player on Tamaki Drive — has other plans. The surreal romance was made for TVNZ. It won Best Short at the 1990 NZ Screen Awards.

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Ruby and Rata

1990, As: Ruby - Film

Originally conceived as a TV series, Gaylene Preston's comedy was a local hit, uplifting recession-era audiences with a plucky misfits saga. Ruby (Yvonne Lawley), an 83 year old trying to dodge a retirement home, rents a room to Rata, a solo mum with sidelines in music and benefit fraud. Rata's son is into arson and shoplifting, while Ruby's nephew (What Now's Simon Barnett) is a hapless yuppie wannabe. Marginalised by the deregulated economy of the 80s and living on their wits, they may just find common cause despite themselves in this Graeme Tetley-penned tale.

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Gloss - Jim Hickey cameo

1988, As: Olivia - Television

By the time of Gloss’s second season the sharemarket had crashed, but the parade of yuppies, shoulder-pads and champagne went on. This 19 July 1988 episode sees the Redfern family deal with a tragedy; it also features an acting cameo from future weatherman Jim Hickey. In these excerpts Hickey isn’t playing meteorological soothsayer to the nation, but a policeman responding to the mysterious death of Brad Redfern (Michael Keir-Morrissey). He soothes the Redferns, after tossing a coin with a fellow officer for a ride to Remuera in the deceased’s Jaguar.  

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Gloss

1987 - 1990, As: Olivia - Television

Gloss was a popular Kiwi television drama series made by TVNZ that screened in the late 80s; it combined a wealthy family, the Redferns, with a lucrative high-fashion magazine business. Yuppies, shoulder-pads and méthode champenoise abound in this cult "glamour soap". New Zealanders wanted to see themselves as less bottom of the world and more "here we come and we are sailing" (as the infamous Cup campaign song warbled), and Gloss was just what the era demanded.

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Gloss - First Episode

1987, As: Olivia - Television

Yuppies, shoulder-pads, sports cars and méthode champenoise abound in this cult 'glamour soap'. Gloss was NZ's answer to US soap Dynasty, with the Carrington oil scions replaced by the wealthy Redferns and their Auckland magazine empire. The series epitomised 80s excess, and became something of a guilty viewing pleasure. In this Rosemary McLeod-penned pilot, a 'Remuera Revisited' plot unfolds as Brad Redfern's plans to have a quiet wedding get waylaid by ex-wife Maxine. Schoolgirl Chelsea wags, listens to her Sony Walkman and gets an unorthodox haircut. 

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Rud's Wife

1986, As: Nan - Short Film

“An ironic comedy about a disconnected New Zealand family” is the tagline to this early Alison Maclean short. Recently widowed Nan (Yvonne Lawley) assesses her life and the roles prescribed by her family as she readies a Sunday roast. Her new plans — “I won’t be able to make the Christmas Cake this year” — rattle the shackles of her Old Testament-bashing husband and her ex-All Black son. Nan was a comeback leading role for Lawley after time away raising a family. Written with playwright Norelle Scott, Maclean’s short screened with the About Face TV series.

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The Haunting of Barney Palmer

1986, As: Great Grandmother Scholar - Television

The Haunting of Barney Palmer is a fantasy film for children about a young boy who is haunted by his great uncle. Young Barney fears that he has inherited the Scholar family curse; a suite of 80s-era effects ramp up the supernatural suspense. The film was a co-production between PBS (United States) and Wellington's Gibson Group, which resulted in Ned Beatty (Deliverance, Network) being cast. It was written by Margaret Mahy, based on her Carnegie Award-winning novel The Haunting, and an early fruitful collaboration between her and director Yvonne Mackay.

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Terry and the Gunrunners - 4, Episode Four

1985, As: Mrs Wadsworth - Television

In this episode of the beloved 80s kids’ drama, hero Terry Teo has escaped from evil criminal mastermind Ray Vegas. All roads lead to a lovingly realised Kaupati A&P Show (with cameo from radio personality Merv Smith) as Vegas’ henchmen Curly and Blue, Terry’s brother and sister, and Thompson and Crouch pursue him. Curly still has the best outfit and manages to trash another motorcycle — but the bikies are too busy discussing philosophy. Meanwhile, Thompson and Crouch are revealed as government agents (with a cavalier approach to spending taxpayers’ money).

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The Ray Bradbury Theatre

1985 - 1992, As: Mother - Television

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Other Halves

1984, As: Alice - Film

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Among the Cinders

1983, As: Beth Flinders - Film

Author Maurice Shadbolt went before the cameras to play father to the main character, in this adaptation of his acclaimed coming of age novel. Teen Nick (Paul O’Shea) is estranged from his family, and blaming himself for his Māori mate's climbing death. He runs away to his straight talking grandfather (Derek Hardwick) who takes him bush  and loses his virginity to Sally (a first film role for Rebecca Gibney). Produced by Pacific Films legend John O’Shea, the NZ-German co-production was directed by Rolf Hädrich (Stop Train 349). The film debuted in NZ on television. 

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Constance

1983, As: Mrs Willard - Film

Constance centres on a young woman who attempts to escape the staid world of 40s Auckland, by embracing glamour and passion. After meeting a photographer, her aspirations of stardom are brutally fractured. Directed by Bruce Morrison, the movie echoes the style of Hollywood melodrama, while simultaneously critiquing the dream. Donogh Rees was widely praised in the title role as a protagonist who lives in a fantasy world, with one review describing her as “New Zealand’s answer to Meryl Streep”. New York's Time Out called the film "lush and exhilarating".

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Loose Enz - Graham's Mum and the Goulden Tour

1982, As: Mum - Television

This off-the-wall comedy of errors — from the Loose Enz series — sees hapless tour operator Graham (Ian Watkin) and his wide boy driver Ron (John Bach) leading a busload of international visitors (well) off the beaten trail. the teleplay neatly skewers clichéd promotional travelogue commentaries (with the music of Sibelius never far away) and takes broader shots at the tourists’ various cultural stereotypes. With Graham well-meaning but dim, and Ron too busy looking after number one, Graham’s mum (a formidable Yvonne Lawley) and enterprising local Iwi come into their own as hosts.

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One of those Blighters

1982, As: Mrs Morrieson - Television

One of those Blighters began life as a doco on Taranaki novelist Ronald Hugh Morrieson, but after interviews with many who knew him, morphed into something more offbeat: a semi-fictionalised tale of Morrieson’s mates reminiscing about his departure, interwoven with highlights from his tales of drunkards and con artists. The dramatisations are from his four novels - all became movies - plus one posthumously published short story. Amidst a cast packed to the rafters with carousing Kiwi screen legends, fellow multi-talented muso Bruno Lawrence plays Morrieson.

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Middle Age Spread

1979, As: Miss Reidy - Film

An early case of a Kiwi play being adapted for the screen, Middle Age Spread asks whether adultery is inevitable (and whether it can stay secret). Grant Tilly won acclaim as "an antipodian Woody Allen" for his philandering deputy headmaster fearing a future of stress and marital dissatisfaction. Roger Hall's hit comedy was adapted in the first flush of the Kiwi film renaissance. It marks the movie debut of many talents — including Tilly, director John Reid, writer Keith Aberdein, and cinematographer Alun Bollinger. Middle Age Spread was the first Kiwi feature to screen on the BBC.

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The God Boy

1976, As: Sister Theresa - Television

The God Boy is a portrait of a troubled teen Jimmy (Jamie Higgins) growing up in post-war small town New Zealand and wrestling with a repressive education and home front turmoil. Adapted from the Ian Cross novel by Ian Mune and directed by Murray Reece, the landmark film was the first NZ telefeature, gaining Feltex awards and front page reviews. With menace and Catholic guilt ever-present, it’s credited as a pioneer of what Sam Neill dubbed NZ’s “cinema of unease”. Higgins later starred in Australian TV show The Sullivans.

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Winners & Losers: Blues for Miss Laverty

1976, As: Mary May Laverty - Television

Veteran actor Yvonne Lawley (Gloss, Ruby and Rata) landed her first leading role on-screen with this adaptation of a Maurice Duggan short story. Lawley plays Mary May Laverty, a proud but lonely violin teacher who craves "a little human warmth", but fails to connect with people. Awkwardness abounds when she invites the father of one of her students over. The half-hour drama was co-directed by Ian Mune and Roger Donaldson, as part of their Winners & Losers series of short story adaptations. It closely follows Duggan's original story, which was one of his most popular.