A Lion in the Meadow and Other Stories

The Pumphouse Theatre, Takapuna, Auckland

16/07/2011 - 30/07/2011

Production Details

Favourite Margaret Mahy Stories on Stage in July

“Mother, there is a big, roaring, yellow, whiskery lion in the meadow!” 

A greedy witch, a golden lion and a playful leaf take to the stage these July school holidays as three of Margaret Mahy’s favourite children’s stories come to life on stage in Auckland.

Tim Bray Productions presents A Lion in the Meadow and Other Stories at The PumpHouse, Takapuna from 11-30 July.

The show weaves together the classic stories A Lion in the Meadow, The Witch in the Cherry Tree and Leaf Magic by much-loved New Zealand writer Margaret Mahy.

“Margaret’s stories are delightful and I am very excited to be able to bring these wonderful stories to life,” says Tim, who adapted the stories for the original 1992 production.

A Lion in the Meadow and Other Stories stars Auckland actors
Elizabeth Tierney (A Dragon of an Ordinary Family),
Lori Dungey (The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Ugly Duckling),
Adam Burrell (The Twits, Snake and Lizard, Wind in the Willows, The Santa Claus Show) and
James Kupa (The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch).

Children are encouraged to dress up as a favourite character from A Lion in the Meadow or The Witch in the Cherry Tree for a costume parade at the start of each show. A special Gala Performance will be held on Saturday 16 July at 4pm with light refreshments and lucky prize draws for children.

2011 marks the 20th birthday of Tim Bray Productions, a theatre company which specialises in presenting professional children’s theatre. Formerly known as The Central Theatre, the company began in 1991 following the closure of The Auckland Youth Theatre. Former student, teacher, director and performer, Tim Bray took over the lease and set up The Central Theatre in honour of actor and drama teacher Mary Amoore’s theatre in Remuera. In 2004 the name of the company was changed.

A Lion in the Meadow and Other Stories
is at The PumpHouse, Killarney Park, Takapuna, Auckland
from 11 – 30 July
at 10.30am and 1.00pm daily
with a special gala opening on Saturday 16 July at 4.00pm.
There are no shows on Sundays.
To book, phone 09 489 8360 or visit www.pumphouse.co.nz  
Generous discounts are available for school and early childhood centre groups 

 Staged by kind permission of Orion (UK) Ltd, Sharland Organisation and The Listener

David                          Adam Burrell
Mum                           Elizabeth Tierney
Lion                            James Kupa
Fish and Chips          Lori Dungey
Witch                         Lori Dungey
Puppeteers                James Kupa and Suzy Smith
Gucci                         Herself

Musician                     Kristie Addison
NZ Sign Language Interpreters (selected shows): Kelly Hodgins, Lynnley Pitcher

Set Design                Michael Knapp
Lighting Design         Michael Knapp
Costume Design      Chantelle Gerrard
Lion Makeup Design Natasya Yusoff
Stage Manager         Alana Tisdall
Choreographer &
Movement Coach     Linda McFetridge
Magic Consultant     Wayne Rogers
Lighting Operator     Daniel Tuitubou
Set Construction      Dale Taylor
Costume Construction Chantelle Gerrard, Wendy Bradford, Lynh Pham 
Props                       Sarah Jansen, Kasia Marcisz, Alana Tisdall
Lighting Crew          Daniel Tuitubou, Terry Shepherd, Paul Nieuwoudt
Ushers                     Suzy Smith and Louise Harris
Teachers’ Resource Guide    Rosemary Tisdall
Publicity                   Sally Woodfield, Safia Van Der Zwan – SWPR
School Mailout         Ken and Margaret Bray
Photography            David Rowland, One-Image Photography
Illustration                Jenny Williams
Website Design      Office Logic
Print Design            Stefania Sarnecki-Capper, Red Design
Logo Design           Insight Creative  

Mahy magic wins the day

Review by Lexie Matheson 23rd Jul 2011

Margaret Mahy has seemingly been around forever.

This isn’t true of course, but it seems that way. Her name is synonymous with quality, quirkiness and enchantment when discussing literature for children, not only in Aotearoa New Zealand but worldwide. I say ‘literature for children’ rather than merely ‘writing’ because Mahy’s work consistently transcends the workaday scratchings of others and will exist forever in those special childhood realms of magic and enchantment.

This isn’t to say that her stories are po-faced and inaccessible, far from it, but simply to remind us that her writings are absolute art despite the age of her youthful audience and a sad lack of academic recognition.

She has been recognised, though, by her peers having received a couple of Carnegie Medals, three Phoenix Awards, an honorary doctorate (Waikato University)and the Hans Christian Andersen Award (or ‘Little Nobel Prize’ as it’s known in the bizz) in 2006.* 

Somewhat younger but also well established, Tim Bray Productions (originally The Central Theatre) was founded by Tim Bray in 1991 and in the subsequent 20 years has produced a rich body of work, some for big people but mostly for the smaller variety. The website (http://www.timbrayproductions.co.nz/) claims that the company “presents theatre shows that are enjoyable, original, entertaining and have quality production values.”

As someone whose association with Tim’s productions, as an audience member, goes back to the halcyon days of Ponsonsby Road and Mothers and Fathers, way back in the dim past when we were all young and beautiful and the theatre was too, I have to say that the values espoused on the website have been consistently adhered to and achieved – and without a house style creeping in which has to be a good thing. 

Tim is a master of partnerships and this common sense approach has seen him link up with The Pumphouse, with songwriter Christine White and with Rhonda and David Armitage (The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch), Edward Lear (The Owl and the Pussy Cat), Spike Milligan (Badjelly the Witch), Joy Cowley (Snake and Lizard and Greedy Cat) and, of course, Margaret Mahy (The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate and Mahy Magic) all of whom have enabled the company to build up a generationally appropriate clientele that has kept the wolf – that staple of kid’s (and adult) theatre – quite literally from the door.

Mahy and Bray, then, are already quite a formidable duo and rightly so, as Mahy writes wonderfully performable stories and Bray has a feel for the magic of childhood and a gift for theatrical creation that can only exist in a man who has never truly grown up … and bless him for that!

Tim Bray Productions latest excursion into theatrical – and Mahy – magic is The Lion in the Meadow and other stories and it is immensely satisfying. The other stories in the show are The Witch in the Cherry Tree and Leaf Magic with poems The Reluctant Hero and Footprints in the Snow woven seamlessly – and cleverly – into a single plot line. The whole is adapted by Tim Bray from Mahy’s writing and, as has become customary with this company, there are songs – harmoniously luscious songs – by Christine White, sung unpretentiously by the company and accompanied beautifully by Kristie Addison.

While all three stories featured in a 2004 Tim Bray production of Mahy Magic directed by Lynne Cardy this is a completely new production and why wouldn’t you want to introduce a new generation of young theatregoers to the delights of these three gems. Leaf Magic alone is worth the admission price.

On entry, the audience is greeted by an autumnal, leaf-dappled stage complete with full sized tree and home-made swing. My eight year old guest, when asked what colours he saw, listed browns, tans, chocolate, cream and bronze and reminded me that these were tones, not colours, and to make sure I wrote down what he said correctly. The sum total was backed by a sky cyclorama and solitary cloud (excellent lighting and set both designed by Michael Knapp).

The audience, an integral part of this and any production, is made up of a smattering of wrinklies and a considerable array of under eights and no seat was left unturned. The pre show buzz mostly obliterates the recorded pre show music but no-body cared as this was going to be fun.

As always at The Pumphouse, the FOH staff were efficient and polite and the usherette helpful and friendly. Whether scripted or not (it was impossible to tell), she gathered all the littlies in lion – and other – costumes for an impromptu parade which was, if the applause was anything to go by, a resounding success.

One of the advantages with Margaret Mahy is that almost everyone in the audience already knows the stories. As the lights came up on an actor and a campfire a young voice from in front informed all and sundry that this was ‘David.’ He was correct.  

‘The lion will come on soon’ said a voice from the darkness on my left. My guest again. And so it came to pass. David (Adam Burrell) links the stories and poems with enthusiastic and skilful ease. He cavorts with a particularly cuddly lion (James Kupa), creates all the magic necessary to have everyone, except his lovely Mum (Elizabeth Tierney), believing in the dragon and fashions about as much fun as is possible between himself, a ball and a large and alarmingly benign feline whose make-up, designed by Natasya Yusoff, is quite superb.

By this time the entire audience were engaged, adults and children alike, and this remained the case for the show’s one hour duration.

Slipping into Leaf Magic is made easy by a skilful adaptation and Bray’s classy direction. Most directors would shy clear of Leaf Magic, the catch-cry of ‘never act with animals, children or miscreant leaves’ ringing in their ears, but not so Bray and his team. They have clearly relished the challenge. 

The story is of a child and a leaf that won’t leave him alone. It starts out as fun but rapidly becomes a pain in the proverbial until a piratical, gypsified character called ‘Fish and Chips’ (Lori Dungey) turns up to help. Only Mahy can create characters like this one and they simply defy description. If you don’t believe me, read Mahy’s Green Needles. The character is quite simply out of this world. 

Bray and Dungey really understand how these characters function in the Mahy story-telling model and, in the hands of these skilled practitioners, ‘Fish and Chips’ dangles between the mystical and the mundane exactly as Mahy meant it to. There is an outcome to the story but I’m not going to give it away, suffice to say that Gucci (played exquisitely by herself), has something to do with it.  

There’s a quite a lot of the English panto tradition in Mahy’s writing and this translates beautifully into this production with quite regular cries of ‘he’s behind you’, some very funny chases, a nice bit of cross-dressing, some very nutty characters and more than a little cooking. 

Set between Leaf Magic and the final story is the Mahy poem ‘The Reluctant Hero’ or ‘Footprints (sometimes Barefoot) in the Snow’. If the show has a theme it is contained in this straightforward piece about a boy whose feet won’t stop growing and how his footprints in the snow show that a hero has passed by, and all set to music by Christine White.

It’s kidpower at its most authoritative and it’s David, not his mother (or the lion, the dragon, the leaf, Fish and Chips or the witch) who’s in absolute command. The young audience clearly understood this and responded to the concept with unqualified gusto.

Mahy has created a surfeit of witches over the years and in The Witch in the Cherry Tree she has excelled even herself which suggests some very special magic is afoot with the ingredients for this spell being a mix of normalcy, as embodied by David and his mother, and enchanting eccentricity as provided by Lori Dungey as the witch of the title.

Witches and kids are strange bedfellows and, while the littlies love to be alarmed even more than a bit, there is a line beyond which tears and cries of “I want to go home now” very quickly become du jour. Dungey is magnificent. Her witch is everything a witch should be, but she is also daffy and has enough adult frailty for the small ones in her audience to see through the creepy to the just plain dumb and therefore maintain that sublime superiority we all need if we are to transcend our fears. Dungey’s clever – and effective – judgement takes her witch to the edge of clown, exactly where it should be.

There is some very smart business, a highly amusing umbrella-go-round, some very cool cake-making and some exceptional magical effects, this latter applying throughout the production and, in particular, to the impishly mischievous leaf. My young companion informed me that “evil witches always get what they deserve” and he was no doubt pleased when this also came to pass. Not that Dungey’s witch is evil, just that, being a witch, there is always just that vague possibility. JP Rowling certainly has a lot to answer for! 

In all, a delightful hour spent enjoying Mahy, Bray, The Pumhouse, some extremely charming performances, a bevy of clever effects and a bunch of spirited kids. There’s no doubt magic won the day but with this team working together this was hardly ever in doubt. 

After all, where would we be if there was no magic in the world.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
* In 1991, the New Zealand Children’s Book Foundation created The Margaret Mahy Medal as an acknowledgement of her contribution to children’s literature (and literacy), she was made a member of the Order of New Zealand in 1993 and in 2009 she was ‘busted’ in bronze as one of the 12 Local Heroes who currently keep a lonely vigil outside the Christchurch Arts Centre where she resides alongside such Kiwi luminaries as Sir Miles Warren, Bill Sutton, Elsie Locke, and Sir Richard Hadlee.
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