Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

26/07/2014 - 02/08/2014

Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

16/03/2015 - 21/03/2015

Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland

25/03/2015 - 28/03/2015

Te Papa: Soundings, Wellington

23/04/2017 - 25/04/2017

TSB Showplace, New Plymouth

24/08/2017 - 24/08/2017

Papa Hou Theatre at the YMCA, 12 Hereford Street, Christchurch

09/09/2017 - 09/09/2017

Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson

17/10/2017 - 17/10/2017

Capital E National Arts Festival


Taranaki Arts Festival 2017


Production Details

Capital E National Theatre for Children

Join four actors as they explore the truth behind a different time and place. Through inventive play we’re transported to World War One where a story emerges of two young men; one a keen enlister, the other a conscientious objector.

As road cases transform to trenches, and a dusty collection of coats become a map of Europe, their stories collide on Flanders fields. Through energetic songs and moments of Pythonesque vaudeville, this high energy ensemble beautifully shares unforgettable stories. Prepare to embark on a journey that is a little bit sad, a little bit courageous, and a lot funny.

Watch an interview with Creative Producer, Stephen Blackburn, who talks humour, vaudeville and adventure.

An Awfully Big Adventure’s national tour is timed to coincide with the hundred year anniversary since the outbreak of World War I.

Dates: 26 & 30 July, 2 August 2014
Price: $12.50
Suitability: Eight years old and up
Buy tickets via Capital E


Capital E National Theatre for Children presents two return performances of An Awfully Big Adventure, part of the Capital E National Arts Festival 2015. On Saturday 21 March at 2.30pm and 6.30pm at the magnificent Hannah Playhouse, dusty coats and road cases will transform into the trenches of Europe as you arrive in World War One to explore the truth about what really happened out there.

An Awfully Big Adventure’s season coincides with the hundred year anniversary since the outbreak of World War One. It is a work that explores the complexity of the times, the conduct of the war, the heroes, and the impact it had on New Zealanders.

Capital E’s Festival Producer, Melanie Hamilton says, “We’re thrilled to welcome back this stunning production as part of the Capital E National Arts Festival. The production embarks on a journey to explore the truth behind a different time and place. This will be a show not to miss!”

Through energetic songs and moments of Pythonesque vaudeville, this high energy ensemble of four, Adam Brown, Chris Swney, Andrew Paterson and Brynley Stent, beautifully shares the unforgettable stories.

Wellington will see only two performances before heading to Auckland’s Q Theatre from Wednesday 25 March – Saturday 28 March, so be sure to book in early. Ideal for ages 8 years and older.

An Awfully Big Adventure will be playing at
The Hannah Playhouse in Wellington
Saturday 21 March 2015,
2.30pm & 6.30pm.
For bookings and the full Festival programme, please visit the Capital E website.


Soundings Theatre, Te Papa
Sunday 23 – Tuesday 25 April, 11.30am


To the point: War story for families/ thought-provoking/ funny and theatrical/ musical moments/ adventurous.

TSB Theatre, TSB Showplace
Thurs, Aug 24, 6pm


Papa Hou YMCA
Sat 09 Sep, 2:00pm
$20 / Family $60 – 4 tickets with max 2 adults, add up to 2 extra child tickets $15 each.
*Fees & conditions apply, see How to Book.  

Nelson Arts Festival 2017
Tue 17 Oct, 6pm
60 mins, no interval
Under 19 $9
Adult $15
Family (4 people, max. 2 adults) $44
Book Now!

Original Cast:
Barnaby Olsen, Chris Swney, Andrew Paterson and Brynley Stent

2015 Cast:
Adam Brown, Chris Swney, Andrew Paterson and Brynley Stent

2017 Cast:
Jonathan Price, Brynley Stent, Andrew Paterson, Adam Brown 

Written & directed by Leo Gene Peters
Designed by Rose Kirkup 
Lighting design by James Kearney 
Composed by Gareth Hobbs  

Theatre , Family , Children’s ,

1 hr

“What was the point?”

Review by Lisa Allan 18th Oct 2017

An Awfully Big Adventure is a tribute to the craft of theatre. This hour long performance marches us through World War I. It pushes and pulls. It is an explosion of vibrancy and play. It is generous and compassionate. It is insightful. It is uplifting and deeply touching. It is everything I believe theatre should be.

The stage is a-clutter with things to begin with. There are props, set pieces and costumes lining the edges of the space, in fact, nothing seems to be hidden. This arrangement makes it possible for the actors to grab hats and coats and bangy things and silly moustaches and wheely boxes and more, as and when they need them. I adore this kind of theatre. A beautiful storm of characters appearing and disappearing, settings growing organically before our eyes and the deft use of people, their bodies, voices and imaginations.

The cast Jonathan Price, Brynley Stent, Andrew Paterson and Adam Brown directed by Leo Gene Peterslight up the stage with their joyful connection to the work, to each other and to us, the audience. They work hard. Very hard. The show moves through extremes of tempo, it explores the comic advantage of this and other devices such as duration, repetition, hyperbole, the absurdity curve and contradiction. 

We are thrust from chaos to stillness. We are carted, on a very slow moving boat, to the thick of deafening and confusing war. The technical aspects of this show are excellent. The timing and profound detail of the tech adds to the humorous moments and takes us deeper into those precious moments of truth.

I now know some things about WWI that I didn’t before. The order of events. The uncomfortable pressure on conscientious objectors. The roles that a few New Zealanders played. That over 16 million people died. 16 million people.

We are left with a gentle question… “What was the point?” And then the skilful, unassuming cast casually declare the end of the show. But a flashing light and a tolling bell remain and we are left with the magnitude of what happened as the cast set about their clean up.  And it looks like this may take a very long time.


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Excellent in concept and execution

Review by Lindsay Clark 11th Sep 2017

For the third time in the course of the Christchurch Arts Festival I find myself in the transformed space at the top of the stairs at the YMCA and applauding its usefulness as a Festival venue. The raked seating means everyone has a prime view, while from  a production perspective there is ample airspace, a floor to match, but not too big for small casts, acoustically and technically appropriate, all without losing that edgy feeling of theatre-making sprung up for this special occasion.

Capital E National Theatre for Children thrives under such conditions. Their racy explanation of how World War I came about and what it meant for little New Zealand away from the hotbed of European politics, is engaging not just for its young target audience but for all with an hour to spare and an appreciation of inventive narrative.

Four intrepid actors will become everything from young men facing the ‘awfully big adventure’ of going off to war, to crusty old geezers making decisions on their deployment, to all sorts of nationalities involved. We are of course looking at a ‘handful of nations without race relations’.

In particular we are following the fortunes of one who makes it to the horror fields of Flanders via the nightmare of Gallipoli and one other who tries to distance himself from the madness early on, but is put to service as a stretcher carrier. Each has his own trajectory, but both end up in the mud of a terrible battleground.  

Brynley Stent, Adam Brown, Andrew Paterson and Jonathan Price are an impressive ensemble. They bring huge energy and impeccable timing to the full-on demands of a highly creative show, switching roles, belting out a song, diving for a prop or costume change or just preserving the right focus in a quick-moving scene.

At first all is fun as we are given the personification of nations, courtesy of accents and headgear. The positive connotations of the title are in the foreground as recruitment takes over, until the conscientious objector stakes his claim and the wider framework of war is revealed. Even then, an emphasis on slick, inventive staging – a row of helmets popping up from an improvised trench or a shadow puppet effect for scaling heights at Gallipoli – maintains a light touch, without slackening the tension of what happened.

In creative terms, the show really is an adventure, with ingenious use of coats in particular, whether laid out to form a map or strung up and dropped from serried rows to represent the sixteen million souls who perished. Statistics are treated lightly as passing commentary, but their significance is revisited when ‘What’s the point?’ emerges in the final moments, so that the overall irony of the awfully big adventure we’ve witnessed is not lost.

Excellent in concept and execution, the production packs everything a festival goer could wish for into an hour of concentrated theatre. 


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An Awfully Big Success

Review by Liz Deacle 25th Aug 2017

It takes great skill to perform a highly polished, perfectly rehearsed piece of theatre and yet still trick the audience into thinking that what they are watching is actually improvised.  

But this is exactly what the cast of An Awfully Big Adventure does. I have never before watched a show aimed at a younger audience and been so completely and utterly transfixed as I am watching this one. As are the 500 children in the theatre behind me.

The show begins with the four actors – Jonathan Price, Brynley Stent, Andrew Paterson, Adam Brown – cleverly interacting with the audience, asking us childlike questions regarding the Great War while all the while quickly gaining our trust.

We are led to believe that the players are as ignorant as any young audience member, discussing childlike suggestions of how WW1 might have begun. “I think they threw a carrier pigeon carrying the King over the sea to New Zealand” suggests one cast member to another. This continues over 5 minutes or so, and I am starting to question whether or not these actors actually know anything about their subject matter.

Until they step onto the stage. Of course, they have bamboozled me beautifully, and from here on in my love affair with this show begins as the magic unfolds. The cast of three men and one woman discuss with each other the possibility of producing a play, to show exactly what happened in WW1.

And this is just what these brilliant four actors do.

From start to finish, we are treated to the most powerful history lesson we are ever likely to see. The energy they produce is unstoppable, moving through one part of history to the next, using humour, songs and clever lighting effects. 

The set, by Rose Kirkup, is an array of messy props, a wonderful way of depicting the shambles and mess that was the ‘Great War’. With a selection of different sized containers on wheels serving as a variety of locations, in any given moment I am taken to a sheep farm in New Zealand, over to the war office in Great Britain and back to the trenches in France. One wonders how the cast will find what they need amongst the piles of items in such a fast paced show, but of course this, along with every other aspect of the piece, is executed with perfection. A sophisticated pulley system holds an enormous interactive map of the world up to the audience, each country made up of old pieces of clothes. Every country represented in a different colour. It’s truly delightful.

The clever use of simple props makes this show all the more relatable. Only actors with the skill set these four have could convince a full grown woman that the pile of coats she sees in the middle of the stage is, in fact, a hill in Turkey. 

The audience with me today are young and giggly and I question whether they will be able to sit through a history lesson on the ‘Great War’. Yet when faced with scenes that called for silence you can hear a pin drop in the theatre. The whole audience is truly transfixed.

There is something quite extraordinary about witnessing an authentic bond between actors on stage. One not only feels slightly envious but in awe. It is not a skill that can be taught at drama school. It happens organically when all involved trust their director their material and each other, unconditionally. Credit must rightly go to the director, Leo Gene Peters (also the credited writer), for aligning a company who are quite clearly in unison and unbreakable. This bond is apparent throughout the entirety of the show, but never more so than in the first Gallipoli scene when we see a terrified New Zealand soldier running from the boat into the open fire. Four actors, using simple but beautifully executed sound effects, combine the energy of the characters and the cast to produce a scene that is utterly electrifying.

I could write forever about this exciting piece of theatre. The acting, the set, the props, the writing … Everything. The show is 60 minutes long and is one of those rare pieces that when it finishes, I wish I could sit and watch it again and again. 

If you’ve never seen world class theatre, you are in for a treat. It has arrived at the Taranaki Arts Festival. It is called An Awfully Big Adventure and it’s An Awfully Big Success. Go and see it. Now. 


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Endless invention underscores both heartbreak and hilarity

Review by Aaron Alexander 25th Apr 2017

Capital E is a national treasure. To create a show for children on a subject as emotionally weighty as our ANZACs is a daunting task. To do so balancing an unflinching eye for tragedy with an astute ear for comedy, is a marvel.  And to share this story with kids without an ounce of condescension, makes a powerful case for a National Theatre for Children as an essential cultural institution for any enlightened society.   

An Awfully Big Adventure is back in the capital for a short season around ANZAC Day, three years after its premiere. Through several seasons in the intervening years the show has tightened into a well-oiled theatrical machine. Despite a few cast changes along the way, the ensemble’s timing has reached that beautiful point where the many changes of rhythm feel effortless; instinctive. Jonathan Price, Brynley Stent, Andrew Paterson and Adam Brown clearly enjoy the storytelling and feel deeply connected to the material.

The staging is transparently theatrical, with ‘CAP E’-printed road cases, visible rigging, and audible calls to the crew. It’s a style that seems well-suited to New Zealand storytelling: casual and egalitarian, dryly comic and irreverent. And it creates an environment where moments of pure theatre magic can blossom. 

The staccato tapping of a biscuit tin to create a machine gun burst, empty coats dropping as fallen soldiers, dented bowls on soldiers’ heads peeking above a trench, the show is full of deft object manipulation. This endless invention illustrates and underscores moments of both heartbreak and hilarity. It’s far funnier than a show about that war has any right to be, yet the silliness seems somehow respectful, a fitting tribute to the exuberant young men who sailed away from Wellington harbour in search of adventure. And it keeps the kids on board.

The technique bears all the hallmarks of writer/director Leo Gene Peters, who has proven a master of this playful ‘poor theatre’ in productions like Awhi Tapu for Taki Rua. We get a staging of the Gallipoli landing with boxes and sticks that hits home as powerfully as any cinematic epic. A message that all foxholes are the same regardless of which side they’re on is beautifully delivered through an absurd Pythonesque scene repeated in two languages. Teddy bears become empires, and sheep are a farm boy’s family.

It’s not purely ‘poor’, though, thanks to the technical elements skilfully woven throughout. Rose Kirkup’s stage design seems at first glance chaotic, but conceals a range of a carefully placed tricks and storytelling tools. James Kearney’s lighting design makes artful use of shadow to transform a battlefield from the physical to the psychological. The jaunty, vaudevillian songs by Gareth Hobbs are a tragi-comic soundtrack, evoking both the naïve optimism of the doomed soldiers and bloody-minded ignorance of their generals.

A breath-taking final sequence on the Western Front showcases all the production’s technical and practical theatre-making. The coda which follows strips it all away and is even more powerful: a simple moment of reflection between cast and audience, together in the shadow of our forebears. Jonathan, Brynley, Andrew and Adam sit subdued and thoughtful. They’ve told a story that is bigger than all of us, from a part of New Zealand culture that is literally monumental, to a generation who may yet inherit a world as fractious and fragile as a century ago.

And as for the kids…

I can only speak for my sons (and myself). Emerging from Soundings into Te Papa, one of their favourite playgrounds, we find ourselves walking past the exhibits and talking instead about the rights and wrongs of conscientious objection. Or rather they talk, while I quietly pray that this will be as close as they’ll ever come to a war.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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Theatrical clarity with flashes of brilliance

Review by Vanessa Byrnes 25th Mar 2015

This fantastic show for kids and adults alike is a clever, funny, highly accessible piece of theatre that deserves to be seen far and wide. 

The preshow warm-up conversation with selected young audience members about World War I is warm and unintimidating. This sets the tone for the creative and endearing hour ahead. Director Leo Gene Peters and company have created a very funny, at times self-deprecating show that provides an insightful journey through history and politics surrounding World War I.

Using meta-theatrical, musical, symbolic, semi-Brechtian and other performance devices, the work centres on how to explain war and its effects to children. This is no mean feat, but it’s in the telling and playing that the real genius soars. All these different styles intersect like the cultural melting pot that can start any war. The great gift of drama is that conflict provides story, so points of difference amongst the actors and characters are propelling forces in this context.

Three men and one woman (Andrew Paterson, Adam Brown, Brynley Stent and Jonathan Price) work seamlessly to shed light on the loose story of two men who go to fight for New Zealand. One is a first-time soldier and the other is a conscientious objector (“Conchie”). Chunuk Bair gets a look-in, as do Flanders Fields.

The four actors offer an open, well-designed show that is interspersed with moments of fine theatrical clarity. Amongst the Pythonesque absurdity and just-right-tone-of–humour, there are some touching flashes of brilliance. One sequence that’s repeated in two different languages is hilarious.

Lively compositions by Gareth Hobbs counterpoint Rose Kirkup’s resonant set design. Coats symbolise countries and bodies. One particular coat is used to haunting effect. James Kearney’s lighting design also skillfully locates images in a certain place and time.

Put simply, An Awfully Big Adventure is a treat. An estimated 16 million people died in WWI. This is referred to in the closing remarks, and really, there’s no way to justify this almost-incomprehensible fact to young generations now. But theatre like this can make sense of the absurdity of war.

My only gripe that is Q Theatre wasn’t packed to the gunnels on opening night; it deserves to be. Take the kids, enjoy the humour, learn something new. Come out feeling renewed and uplifted by the sheer quality of good theatre.


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Entertaining, educational and accessible

Review by Elle Wootton 17th Mar 2015

“To die would be an awfully big adventure.” J.M. Barry, Peter Pan.

To begin a review of a children’s show with a quote about death doesn’t always bode well, but it is the subject of death that is of the utmost importance in this performance about the First World War (also known as ‘The Great War’). Although it doesn’t always reach every single little heart in the room (a child behind me spends the entire performance shooting the actors in moments of stillness or silence), the message that war is not all ‘glory’ but rather more ‘gory’ is clear.

The performance jumps between the four talented actors (Andrew Paterson, Adam Brown, Brynley Stent and Jonathan Price) collating historical facts, arguing about who is going to get the best role in reenactments, transforming into characters and caricatures and breaking into joyous (transition-covering and plot-driving) song.

The story itself follows two young men in their wartime journey. In moments it is entertaining and light, fast-paced and energetic, yet in others chaotic, messy and anti-climactic. These are all (seemingly) intentional and when done well they are highly effective. The performers take a little while to get into the groove and the beginning has a casualness that is appealing in many ways but lacks a bit of the hutzpah needed to more easily grab the rather distractible audience.  

The stage is littered with props and set pieces that transport us into lecture halls, torture rooms, battlegrounds and… farms. There is a magical element to many of these scene changes and the use of song assists the transitions and injects energy into the performance as well. My personal favourite is the conscientious objector sequence with the catchy song ‘C’mon conchy!’

Devised by the original cast with director Leo Gene Peters, the play deals with the subject of death, torture, and the pointlessness of the loss of life in an entertaining, educational and accessible way for children and adults alike. This avenue seems an appropriate one given the kind of media consumption that is popular today. News media (such as The Daily Show, or John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight) utilize satire to talk about large and oftentimes depressing problems. By focusing on the absurdity of the situation (for example “the long stretches of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror”) the performers can touch on these big issues.

Overall I thoroughly enjoy An Awfully Big Adventure. It humanizes the inherently dehumanizing nature of war. It is theatrically interesting, aesthetically pleasing, and educationally entertaining. Aspects of the performance could certainly be sharpened up to create slightly cleaner narrative progress and ensure gags get their deserved laughs. And there is perhaps a slight lack of focus and energy in some moments, but the performance as a whole is exactly the sort of show I would have loved as a child, and one I absolutely love now as an adult.


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Entertainingly potent and poignant

Review by John Smythe 27th Jul 2014

Ignorance, naiveté and an engaging inquisitiveness are the keynotes for the start of An Awfully Big Adventure, devised and developed over nearly three years through “a huge collaborative effort from many artists … guided by [director] Leo Gene Peters,” according to Capital E National Theatre for Children’s Creative Producer Stephen Blackburn.

The ensemble cast – Barnaby Olson, Andrew Paterson, Brynley Stent and Chris Swney – has been mixing with the audience, presumably to share (mis)infomation about World War One (I wasn’t privy to any such chat) and this segues into a conversation across the auditorium. Clearly pitched at young people (aged 8 and above but entertainingly informative for adults too), their amusing misapprehensions – e.g. “How did the King of England ask New Zealand to join the war?” “He sent an email” – set the four actors off on their dramatic enquiry into what really happened 100 years ago.

This initial lack of understanding, of course, combined with a tendency to make light of it all, mirrors the attitudes of many who joined up for the “awfully big adventure”. The play’s title captures that naïve spirit and later, at a well-timed moment, the full quote and its origin, in J M Barrie’s bravado-riddled Peter Pan, is revealed: “To die will be an awfully big adventure.”

The jaunty vaudeville-style songs composed by Gareth Hobbs (shades of Oh! What a Lovely War, devised by Joan Littlewood and her ensemble around the 50th anniversary) include ‘And That’s How World War One Began’, a paean to New Zealand, ‘Hey There Conchie’ and ‘Our Man is William Malone’.

What looks like a backstage jumble of packing cases, props and bits of costume, beneath a rig of lines and pulleys, play their parts in getting the story told. Designer Rose Kirkup has also created an ingenious map of Europe from different coloured shirts stitched to a backdrop, which helps to illustrate the potted history lesson involving silly hats and accents. And where we are heading is presaged with a tubular bell chime and the brief glowing and dying of a light (lighting designer James Kearney) each time a death is mentioned.

Juxtaposed with the Pythonesque ‘big-wigs’ is a young soldier called Robert, who embodies the Kiwi experience. He’s from farming stock and the monosyllabic Kiwi farming community is but one of the many beautifully crafted ensemble cameos. We follow Robert’s progress on the troop ship to training in Cairo and, just when I am beginning to think the light-hearted treatment is inappropriate, we are plunged into the horror of the botched landing at Gallipoli.  

The story of a conscientious objector called Tom is also played out, with three days of ‘Field Punishment No 1’ hauntingly depicted using a dummy. Unlike Archibald Baxter, whose experience was dramatised on television recently, Tom succumbs to the order to don a uniform and becomes a stretcher-bearer – which allows the stories of Robert and Tom to converge at Flanders.

But first the debacle that was the Battle of Chunuk Bair is cleverly dramatised utilising, in part, shadow play created from a pile of shirts and toy soldiers. Tin hats (battered stainless steel baking bowls) poking just above the trenches, and some very clever acting, give us a sense of how many very different types of men have been drawn into the war – then an identical routine involving Turkish soldiers makes a very good point about how so-called enemies are more the same than different.

It is only in this sequence that I feel some gratuitous humour about needing to go “to the bathroom” hits the wrong note for where we are in the story. I would also suggest, while I’m quibbling, that technical operator Morgan Whitfield and stage manager Elaine Walsh be identified much earlier so that reference to them at highly dramatic moments is not so distracting (“Who’s Morgan?” the little boy behind me wanted to know.)

Lieutenant Colonel William Malone is rightfully lauded for resisting lethally idiotic orders from the British command and he goes on to lead a successful capture of the hill. But its defence becomes a bloodbath and his own death from ‘friendly fire’ pretty well sums up the futile stupidity of it all.  

And so to Flanders, where the toll is massive, so the bells and dying lights go into overdrive. The horrifying statistics are given, along with the fact that “20 years later we did it all again” – and the key question is asked: “What was the point?” Their bafflement and the utterly non-theatrical ending are perfectly pitched to ensure our attention remains on the subject matter rather than the performance – which nevertheless is resoundingly applauded by a very appreciative world premier audience.

An Awfully Big Adventure is presented with a lightness of touch that belies the effort that must have gone into its development. The actors’ ensemble work is faultless; the music, design and technical elements all support the judiciously devised script to offer an entertainingly potent and finally poignant insight into the WWI experience.


John Smythe July 28th, 2014

By which you mean no woman characters, I take it, Hannah. And yes, good point. There were none in Once on Chunuk Bair either but Geoff Allen’s Sister Anzac reveals the role women played at Gallipoli and, along with her authorial voice, Jan Bolwell’s Bill Massey’s Tourists touches on the role of women in recruiting soldiers and shaming those who didn’t join up. 

Hannah Smith July 28th, 2014

I really enjoyed the show, but I was suprised (and a bit disappointed) that there were no women in it at all.

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