Baby, it’s cold outside. “Heat”, by New Zealand playwright Linda Chanwai-Earle, returns to Wellington after its 2008 debut at Bats. I didn’t quite know what to expect of this icy Antarctic tale, but I ended up really enjoying it, and found it surprisingly moving.

Set in an isolated research hut in Antarctica, it focuses on couple Stella and John. They’re both scientists – she studies penguins and he the ozone hole – and they’re alone together for the pitchblack Antarctic winter. There’s been a tragedy in their past, and the claustrophobia of spending six months isolated in a tiny hut in a dark climate soon takes its toll.

But they are not alone. The third character is Bob the penguin, a favourite of Stella’s from a previous visit. He’s poorly and so Stella lets him live in their hut, much to John’s annoyance – it’s a tiny hut and Bob’s a big ol’ emperor penguin.

John and Bob the penguin share a moment

“Heat” has a real magical feeling to it. The set uses minimal lighting to great effect, and Gareth Farr’s sound design brings an atmospheric edge. And the theatre itself had its airconditioning cranked down low to add to the icy mood – not unpleasantly cold, butif it’s a hot summer’s day, make sure you’re wearing more than a t-shirt.

The cast is superb, with Kate Prior as Stella, Simon Vincent as John, and Bryon Coll as Bob. Bryon Coll is not only naked, apart from some penguiny body paint, he also manages to, well, act like a penguin, to the point where it’s very easy to forget you’re looking at a naked man, rather than an actual penguin.

But despite all the magical flourishes, at the heart of Heat is a very simple yet strong story of a relationship between a woman and a man. I highly recommend Heat.

And you may have noticed a shipping container out the back of Circa. It has a wind-powered turbine and solar panels, which are directly fed into the Circa Two theatre, meaning the entire play is powered off the grid.

It’s a cool concept, and ties in with both the play’s Antarctic hut setting, and also the need for sustainable energy sources.

  • Heat plays at Circa Theatre until 19 February.