Born in Christchurch, Stuart McKenzie's early years were spent in Singapore where his parents were missionaries. His first play The Joffongract, a phantasmagoric journey, was written after traveling for two years in South East Asia when he was 18 and 19. It was performed by the Free Theatre Group in Christchurch in 1983 directed by Peter Falkenberg. Stuart joined the Free Theatre and wrote and acted in many productions including A Letter from L, The Mortal Pleasure of Wanda Lust and The Rapist Over Suzannah, which won rave reviews for its searing intensity.
In 1987 Stuart’s play Down the Really Road — loosely inspired by Amos Tutuola’s The Palm Wine Drinkard — was performed by The Committed in an acclaimed outdoor production at the Auckland School of Architecture. A young woman follows a Perfect Gentleman into a dark forest, discovering too late that he is just a skull in a cave of bones.
Stuart has degrees in Creative Writing and Contemporary Religion from Victoria University and Canterbury University — and has completed post-graduate research in contemporary theology at Cambridge University with controversial British theologian Don Cupitt. His writings in religion and art have been published in New Zealand and internationally.
In 1996 Stuart’s play True opened at BATS Theatre in Wellington, later transfering to Downstage Theatre. A young wife reveals to her husband and her best friend how she slept with David Bowie. It was praised in The Listener as “a small miracle of a play, continually challenging, teasing and provoking.”
In 2000 Stuart’s play Double Beat opened at Downstage Theatre, telling the story of a brother who tracks down the recipients of his dead sister’s organs.
Through their company The Community Theatre Trust, Stuart and wife Miranda Harcourt have been at the foreground of verbatim theatre in New Zealand, following the success of Miranda’s and William Brandt’s solo show Verbatim. Stuart and Miranda’s follow-up play Portraits was based on interviews with the rapist and murderer of a teenager, his girlfriend and the parents of the victim. The review in the Dominion said, “With painstaking detail, Harcourt and McKenzie have constructed a devastatingly powerful portrait of the effects of violent crime, as well as an indictment of the society that feeds those obsessed with violence.”
In 1998 Stuart and Miranda wrote Flowers from My Mother’s Garden. A sell-out success at the 1998 NZ International Festival of the Arts, it explores genealogy, social history and family dynamics through the lens of Miranda’s relationship with her mother Kate Harcourt. Flowers toured nationally and was seen by over 35,000 people, becoming one of New Zealand’s most loved and popular plays. It is published by Penguin Books.
Stuart and Miranda’s latest play Biography of My Skin is a candid, autobiographical show about actor Miranda trying to tell her own story as a working mother, but caught in a script written by her husband.
Stuart Mckenzie is also a film-maker. His debut feature, psychological thriller For Good (based on the stage play Portraits) had its international premier at the 2003 Montreal Film Festival and was selected for competition in the Critics Choice section of the 2004 Paris Film Festival. Stuart recently conceived and directed a 10-part observational documentary series called Tough Act for TV2. It follows students auditioning for Toi Whakaari: The NZ Drama School and the first year of training of the 22 successful applicants.
Stuart has produced, written and directed several acclaimed short films, including The Mouth and the Truth (Best Short Film, 1991 New Zealand Film & TV Awards), Ends Meat (voted Best Film by the staff of the 1992 London Film Festival), Snap (Official Selection, 1995 Clermont-Ferrand), Chinese Whispers (finalist, 1996 Asia Pacific Film Festival) and Voiceover (Best Short Film, 1997 NZ Film & TV Awards).
Stuart and Miranda also work in the corporate sector as performance coaches.