A KETE of COOKED KUMARA, adventures in a new land

BATS Theatre, Studio, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

01/11/2016 - 05/11/2016

Production Details

In this solo performance, actor and storyteller Ralph Johnson shares the personal stories of both his male and female ancestors and their relationships with Tangata Whenua in the Wellington-Wairarapa districts between 1840 – 1880. 

“It’s a story of their interaction with the land, the tangata whenua and each other,” says Johnson, who has been telling bits of this story for some time and has woven them together to create this show. 

“I became fascinated by the domestic side of our history, especially how much interaction there was between Māori and Pākehā. I was surprised by the number of settlers who spoke Māori, including some of my own ancestors and it made me think about living in a bi-cultural country, what it meant in the past, what it means for us today and what could it mean for future generations”

Johnson has had a great response from audiences when sharing these stories from Wellington’s past.  As his show is about actual historical Wellingtonians it is not uncommon for someone to approach him after a performance to tell him they are a descendent of one of his characters.  “They often have a story of their own to share.  I find most people want to know about where they come from and this show gets them thinking about their own ancestors.”

BAGGAGE @ BATS, celebrating 20 years.   

BATS Theatre Studio
1-5 Nov, 6.00pm

Baggage @ Bats is the overarching title of a season of 3 original NZ works celebrating 20 years of creative work from the Baggage Co-op and being staged in The Studio, 3rd floor at BATS Theatre.

The co-op has produced 26 theatre works, many of them at BATS, starting with the play Baggage, written, directed and performed by co-founders Moira Wairama and Tony Hopkins as part of the 1996 Wellington Fringe Festival at BATS.  Several Baggage shows have won Fringe awards including the play Questions which was also adapted for television and won a Qantas Media award.

The Studio is the intimate performance venue situated in an area of BATS once the domain of The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes who owned the building before it was purchased and renovated by Peter Jackson.

“I always wanted to get up to that top floor and have a look,” says producer Moira Wairama, whose new book The Mothers Child was launched at BATS in January to mark the start of the co-op’s celebrations. “The Studio is the perfect intimate venue for storytelling which is the basis of most Baggage Co-op work, and it’s appropriate the three shows we are presenting reflect this kaupapa.”

Poneke: pre booked storytelling for local schools

As part of Baggage @ BATS, show producer and well know storyteller Moira Wairama will be offering pre booked shows for local schools.  PONEKE, a storytelling of traditional Wellington Maori myths and legends, offers tamariki an opportunity to visit the iconic BATS theatre to hear stories of how the harbour was created and named.

Wairama is also author of the book The Taniwha of Wellington Harbour . “I think it is important for our tamariki to know the myths and legends of where they live and while Ralphs show is a story about Wellington’s settler history, I wanted to offer another option for younger audiences.” 

Theatre , Spoken word ,

Share the experience and empathise

Review by Margaret Austin 03rd Nov 2016

Described by its author as “a story of research and imagination”, A Kete of Cooked Kumera charmingly dramatises an era of the early colonial history of this country. The subject has long fascinated Johnson, though writing and performing a piece about it is a far cry from earlier portrayals as Oedipus and Lear.

“Lots of experiences outside theatre feed my writing,” he says. And in response to my question about his onstage bare feet he remarks, “I wear shoes when the role demands it – but only then.”

So, barefooted, Johnson recounts a voyage by the ‘Aurora’ in 1840 – a voyage which his relative Jemima is taking from England to New Zealand. He takes on her character and speaks with her voice, describing both the anticipation and the fears entailed by such a journey. What would the new country be like? Just how frightening were the natives? She had been promised a husband – who would he be?

Early discoveries are dismaying – where are the towns? And then there are the earthquakes … Jemima is duly married off to George, much to her chagrin. Johnson’s portrayal of George is a delightful but salutary demonstration of the undesirable colonial spouse. 

Other immigrants must also adapt. Thus a bricklayer becomes chief constable; a silk and satin merchant becomes a postman. His task is to deliver mail to Whanganui – a mere fortnight’s walk up and back! 

Johnson’s performance is loosely scripted – an approach developed and perfected at the monthly story telling sessions at which he is a regular.  

See A Kete of Cooked Kumera and experience some of the tragedy of colonial life. Find out what happened to the drinkers at the Thistle Inn. Empathise with Jemima and find out how many marriages she had to endure. 

And be left with Johnson’s final question – a challenge to both Māori and Pākehā.  


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