Comedy Chamber, Town Hall, Auckland Live, Auckland

02/05/2014 - 03/05/2014

NZ International Comedy Festival 2014

Production Details


“Birdwatching is boring … yeah right” – Theatreview

Deliciously decadent – Birds of Paradise serves up its “sumptuous sensory feast” as part of the 2014 NZ International Comedy Festival. For two nights only, Birds of Paradise plays at the Comedy Chamber, Auckland Town Hall on Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd May.

Hatched by the multi-talented Morag Magnolia Brownlie, with a stunning cast, this quirky comedy is an unforgettable show.

“Ms Brownlie is to be applauded for her originality – which borders on eccentricity – as this work mixes cabaret, burlesque, dance, comedy and ornithology into something that quite defies any genre of its own.” – Theatreview

Birds of Paradise features a “most stupendous menagerie” of artists including award-winning New Zealand comedian and Billy-T nominee Simon McKinney, song-bird Caitlin Smith and sizzling dancers Georgie Goater, Mike Holland and Julie Van Renen.

This witty comedy about love and sexual chemistry explores the lost art of wooing through the courtship rituals of some bizarre and ornately costumed feathery friends with a stunning soundtrack and original compositions by Taite award winner Sean Donnelley (SJD).

The birds and their feathers have featured in New Zealand Fashion Week and audience members are invited to dress for the occasion with a feathery fascinator or cravat.

“Birds of Paradise is amazing. I think I am in heaven” – David Farrier, TV3

As part of the 2014 NZ International Comedy Festival in cahoots with Old Mout Cider, grab some mates and join us for a great night of laughs from 24 April – 18 May.

For the full Comedy Fest show line-up head to

Dates: Fri 2 & Sat 3 May, 8.45pm
Venue: Comedy Chamber, Auckland Town Hall, 303 Queen St
Tickets: Adults $42, Conc. $36
Bookings: 09 970 9700 or  

Diva: Caitlin Smith
Birds: Mike Holland, Julie Van Renen, Georgie Goater, Vivio Ramos, Nicole Steven, Ben Temoku, Ewa Chmurzynska 
Homosapien: James Crompton, Morag Brownlie 
Long legs: Tarja Pabruwe 

Designer: Morag Brownlie 
Collaborators: Brooke Tyson, Susie Milner (Missy Milner) & Flo Foxworthy. 
Victorian items sponsored by Trelise Cooper 
Construction: Tarja Pabruwe, Fiona Copland, Sophia Lee and team 

Paintings: Doug Ford 
Special thanks to: First Scene, Joe Bleakly, Michelle and Tane Jaret 

Original Compositions: Sean James Donnelly (SJD) 
Music Selection: Morag Brownlie 
Featuring SJD, Gold Frap, Bonobo, Sola Rosa, Michael Nyman, Cinematic Orchestra and more
Thanks to Sean Donnelly for his suggestions, and to our Songbirds 

Producer: Morag Brownlie 
Production Assistant: Nicole Steven 
Show Caller: Liz Kirk Stage Manager: Michelle Hesketh 
Back Stage Assists: Nikita Hesketh, Wendy Bradford 
Lighting: Brad Gledhill (Design), Calliope Newman Ryder and Jo Curtis (Follow Spots)
Sound Operator: THE EDGE 
Extra lights: OCEANIA 
Photography: Frances J Melhop
Marketing and Publicity: Sally Woodfield—SWPR

2hrs including interval

Triumphant extravaganza could be tightened

Review by Nik Smythe 03rd May 2014

This production is the latest outing of a project ongoing since 2009, under the ambitious eye of visionary auteur Morag Magnolia Brownlie. It’s my first time seeing it, jam-packed as it is with outstanding costumes, exhilarating and sensual dancing, evocative and playful music, informative narration, cheeky interplay among the cast and with the audience, and plenty enough humour to warrant being in the Comedy Festival. 

The Town Hall Concert/’Comedy’ Chamber’s lush green-lit deco-style curtains framing a stage decorated with paintings of a few of our treasured protected, endangered and extinct bird species offer an ideal introductory vision. 

In principle the Chamber’s general décor is perfectly suited for this sort stylised floor-show.  This production struggles with a few issues I’ll come back to later, resulting in its feeling kind of jammed-in rather than harmoniously integrated – possibly an unwitting reference to mankind’s impact on countless wonderful avian species’ territories the world over?

In true burlesque spirit the primary focus of the elaborate set pieces is on the mating rituals of the variant featured anthropomorphic samples of flamboyant bird life.  This is, of course, also in the interest of the ongoing survival of the numerous endangered species that we are privileged to witness the ‘natural’ dance-theatre behaviour of, within their Cabaret burlesque habitat (Caburtat?).   

Brownlie’s bubbly, slightly skittish alter ego Ms Mm enters on stilts, literally larger than life in a long lush, funereal black Victorian dress and bonnet that make me wonder whether her surname might be Poppins.  Breaking the ice with some salacious suggestions as to the meaning of certain patrons’ body language, Ms Mm is one half of our portal into the wondrous world of our feathered friends and neighbours. 

For the other half, the advertised main man, comedian Simon McKinney, unfortunately couldn’t make it on the night for the pivotal role of a young David Attenborough.  James Crompton steps into the role – and the safari suit and pith helmet – to deliver the great naturalist’s familiar dulcet enthusiasm with conviction, as well as an amusing ineptitude when it comes to his own would-be mating rituals. 

Caitlin Smith takes on Diva duties, frequently underpinning the spectacular goings-on with her rich, powerful voice while sporting some of the most splendid frocks and gowns, which is saying something. 

The array of birds portrayed by the flock of seven highly skilled dancers – three male and four female – are defined through their accomplished fusion of ballet, burlesque and other exotic forms.  Each family have their specific actions and vocal manner, presumably based on research of the species’ actual behaviour and reinterpreted in distinct stylised movements and song, embellished with comedic satirical chatter. 

The species featured are predominately native to this land.  Dave’s trademark educational banter provides interesting and worrying background facts, particularly on each one’s present status within the protected / endangered spectrum.  Also featured, however, are international superstars such as the grandstanding Peacock and the mighty Buzzard, which – did you know? – is the most rapidly declining animal species in history, due to their feeding on livestock treated with a certain disease-prevention chemical I can’t pronounce which is deadly for birds. 

Unsurprisingly the dominant visual feature is the outstanding wardrobe and costume design by Brownlie and a handful of collaborators.  The ‘Bird-lesque’ outfits are especially delightful, from the rich green of the Kokako and the gracefully gothic black Tui, to the graceful simplicity of the critically endangered white Kotuku and the overbearing majesty of the black-and-white Buzzard.

As it stands, the only outfit that conspicuously falls short of the established grandeur is the tall blue Paradise Butterfly.  The large blue wings, awkward-fitting black bodysuit and adorning jewellery are perplexingly mismatched, and the situation isn’t helped by the difficulty stilt performer Tarja Pabruwe has in attempting to manoeuvre through the tightly packed table-seated auditorium with any degree of elegance.

The other celebrated facet of the whole extravaganza is the soundtrack, comprising the gently earnest original compositions of local legend SJD with an assortment of eclectic tunes, both popular and obscure, as curated by Brownlie.  Plus of course the stupendous live vocals, maximising the extraordinary operatic talents of Smith and Brownlie, the remaining cast pitching in with admirable harmonies. 

Having been mounted a number of times in different venues over the last five years, I’d expected the overall production package to be somewhat slicker, with less meandering between and during the various intriguing showpieces. The festival programme states the running time is 1 hour 30 minutes, but it’s a little past that when the interval occurs. 

The second half is considerably shorter with the show concluding at almost eleven o’clock. I feel a bit fuddy-duddy complaining, given the energy remains high throughout and the audience clearly more than appreciates getting more than what is promised. It’s definitely effective as an all-evening table-seated social performance event, complete with the not inconsiderable prize offerings for the most eye-catching plumage. 

Still, I can’t help wondering how it would go tightened down to the advertised 1½ hours, all the routines fine tuned and polished with no messing about, leaving the audience wanting more; playing into the power of less-is-more, or an unnecessary clipping of wings? 

What the performers struggle with most is the mechanics of the Concert Chamber space. The stage area is fairly distant from the middle of the room back, and there’s some floor action with the hapless Buzzard that only a limited number of the audience gets to see. Perhaps they may have included a catwalk, if not limited by the requirements of other festival acts performing in the Chamber. 

The sound is also quite an issue to begin with, particularly as Ms Mm first introduces herself – I only just catch the name – and it takes a while to figure out her place in the order of this curious hybrid ecosystem: that of Bird Whisperer.  In time the sound issue is deftly sorted by the Edge’s appointed sound operator, and thereon the acoustics are fortunately clear for the most part. 

The phenomenon that is Birds of Paradise is unquestionably a triumphant achievement in our fair Nation’s low-population economy.  There really ought to be a strong international appeal for this work, particularly with some further rigorous refinement on a realistic budget for doing such a large-scale multi-media concept justice.  

Links to reviews of previous seasons: 2009; 2010; 2011; 2013


nik smythe May 7th, 2014

LOL! For the record, that's a grammatical oversight, not just bragging (if only!). Good to learn what intrigues you though...

B Traven May 7th, 2014

"Having been mounted a number of times in different venues over the past five years, I..."   is an intriguing way to commence a paragraph.

Nik Smythe May 6th, 2014

My esteemed guest from this night has pointed out to me that the incredible work of the bird dancers has been sadly under-emphasised in my review, given that for her they were the most impressive element in the whole production.  I quite agree: the above-and-beyond efforts of Mike Holland, Julie Van Renen, Georgie Goater, Vivio Ramos, Nicole Steven, Ben Temoku and Ewa Chmurzynska cannot be understated, therefore I apologise for doing so.

Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council