Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

12/10/2016 - 16/10/2016

Production Details


Proudly Asian Theatre (PAT) presents Call of the Sparrows: a stunning stage piece that blends shadow play, masks and audience interaction this October 11-16 at the Herald Theatre in Auckland. 

Based on intimate family stories uncovered by Chinese-Pakeha writer Chye-Ling Huang and Filipino-born director James Roque – PAT Co-Founders – Call of the Sparrows draws audiences into the surreal world of The Village where old world and new world values, identities and passions collide.

Influenced by the mood, style and architecture of Chinese and South-East Asian cultures, Call of the Sparrows is Proudly Asian Theatre’s debut season of an original stage production that came to life as a ten minute entry in 2015 at Short+Sweet Auckland where the company won the Best Independent Company Award. 

Hilarious, gruesome and other-worldly, these personal stories are all presented as true. But passed so far down the generations, the line between reality and magic begins to blur, especially when viewed through the lens and lives of modern-day Asian New Zealanders.

In the tiny mountain community of The Village, gossip is the currency and tradition is everything. As an outsider, Little Sparrow, arrives to find a world driven by superstition and dark histories.

To survive crooked peddlers, invisible spirits and a mother-in-law with a hidden agenda, she’s got to learn to fly with the flock. Caught in the middle of an uprising, Little Sparrow is forced to make a choice that alters the course of her destiny and the lives of others.

Featuring in Call of the Sparrows is an energetic cast of talented Asian actors all under 30s:
Chye-Ling Huang (The Mooncake and the Kūmara; Lantern);
Alice Canton (WHITE/OTHER);
Amanda Grace Leo (Hippolytus Veiled; The Tempest);
Ravi Gurunathan (A Confrontation – Stir Fried);
Sarah Nessia (Antony & Cleopatra);
Nikita Tu-Bryant (Solo album – (Before, and After) Joshua).

Call of the Sparrows by Chye-Ling Huang
Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, 50 Mayoral Drive, Auckland
12-16 October 2016
(11 Oct – Preview Night / 12-16 October – Season)
Tickets: $15-$25. Service fees apply. Student rate available.

Call of the Sparrows is presented by Proudly Asian Theatre in association with The Oryza Foundation and Auckland Live. The season is proudly supported by Creative New Zealand, Foundation North, Unitec and Whau Local Board. 

Proudly Asian Theatre (an evolution of Pretty Asian Theatre) is an exciting new company dedicated to supporting Asian artists to create theatre in New Zealand. Past awards include Best Director (James Roque), Best Actress (Amanda Grace Leo), the Wallace Arts Trust Emerging Artist and Best Independent Theatre Company at Short + Sweet 2015.

Little Sparrow:  Amanda Grace
Joa Joa | The Heart:  Alice Canton
Lady Kou | Bosu:  Ravi Gurunathan
Pink | The Head:  Sarah Nessia
The Invisible | Tato | Grand Master:  Chye-Ling Huang
(Musician) | Fisherwoman:  Nikita Tu-Bryant

James Roque – Director
Chye-Ling Huang – Writer  
Set & Mask Design & Construction – Christine Urquhart
Costume Design and Construction – Micheal McCabe
Mask Design & Construction, Props and Wardrobe Assistant – Catherine Ellis 
Lighting Design – Jane Hakaraia 
Composer – Nikita Tu-Bryant
Allan Xia – Poster Design & Illustration
Khalid Parker – Production/Stage Manager 
Katharine Bowden – Stage Manager
Sums Selvarajan – Producer 
Kelly Gilbride – Assistant Producer  

Theatre , Musical ,

Delightful tale of old world vs new

Review by Janet McAllister 14th Oct 2016

This beautiful, thought-provoking new show from Chinese-Pakeha writer/actor Chye-Ling Huang and Proudly Asian Theatre is exquisitely staged and marvellously theatrical; it’s enjoyable even though it feels like two plays, perhaps two-thirds of a trilogy on power relations.

Call of the Sparrow’s first half is about a lowly outsider grappling with village hierarchy, headed by her hostile new mother-in-law. But after interval, we’re introduced to several new characters within a more overt political fable of the risks and potential excesses of revolution. [More


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Reasons to be Proud

Review by Nathan Joe 14th Oct 2016

From their modest beginnings with productions of David Henry Hwang’s FOB and Renee Liang’s Lantern, Proudly Asian Theatre have proven themselves as a necessary presence within the local theatre scene. Developed over the last two years using Short + Sweet as a testing ground, Call of the Sparrows is the culmination of their hard work and represents many firsts for the company. It’s their first show since rebranding the company from original name Pretty Asian Theatre; it’s co-founders Chye-Ling Huang and James Roque’s full-length debut as both writer and director respectively; and the first professional debut for many of their actors.

Split into two distinct acts, the first half of the play sets up a conventional – but nonetheless entertaining – hero’s journey featuring underdog Little Sparrow (Amanda Grace Leo), who has recently been arranged to marry the head of a hidden mountaintop village. While she waits for her husband-to-be’s return, she has to prove herself worthy to her disapproving mother-in-law Joa Joa (Alice Canton). The narrative moves at an energetic and compelling pace, building the world of this village through the eyes of Little Sparrow. It quickly reveals itself to be a society with a capitalistic and class-based hierarchy, set amongst a backdrop of superstition and tradition. [More]


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Admirable blend of classic style and creative flair

Review by Nik Smythe 13th Oct 2016

The Herald stage is entirely covered with white cloth decorated with blue-green spattered paint designs, rising at the edges to make loose tent-like walls.  A raised platform runs behind a loose-hanging white curtain screen, and two more square platforms hang on ropes from the grid like pyramid-shaped cages.  In one back corner, a musician plucks on an authentic sounding Asian string instrument I don’t know the name of as we enter and seat ourselves.  The overall effect of Christine Urquhart’s appealing set design is a sense that we are truly entering another world, both old and new – essentially the crux of the ensuing story’s theme. 

Proudly (nee Pretty) Asian Theatre (PAT) was formed three years ago by Unitec acting graduates to positively address the underrepresentation of original local Asian works (Indian notwithstanding).  Directed in heightened pantomime style by James Roque, this premier would-be minor epic is the culmination of a project which has, along the way, included two Short + Sweet theatre festival finalists: 2014’s namesake Call of the Sparrows and 2015’s A Flock of Ashes.  Albeit inviting critical feedback for further revision, this self-proclaimed ‘development season’ is a full scale two hours with all the whistles and bells, including the literal ones of outstanding on-stage musician Nikita Tu-Bryant.

Utilising a range of what I assume are traditional percussive and melodic instruments of China and/or neighbouring lands, and a spot of classical guitar, the atmospheric contribution of Tu-Bryant’s musical score cannot be overstated.  Played live on stage throughout, in character as the enigmatic fisherman with a lifestyle-threatening secret, her music adroitly comprises the production’s entire sound design. 

The first character we meet is Tato, philosophical potato seller and effective chorus (Chye-Ling Huang), welcoming us in not so many words with an introduction that implies he harks from far more ancient, ethereal origins than his corporeal visage would suggest. 

Amanda Grace Leo gives an engaging and wholly committed performance as protagonist Little Sparrow, arriving at the secluded mountain village to meet her new husband Min Quán, from a recently arranged marriage.  As it happens he’s away on an expedition, leaving his spitefully elitist mother the Joa Joa (Alice Canton) in charge of the house, also the home of the ostentatious Lady Kou (Ravi Gurunathan) and the arrogantly porcine Pink (Sarah Nessia), who claims to be a conduit between the living and the dead. 

Put to work as Joa Joa’s housekeeper, Little Sparrow’s new life is at first something of a rude awakening.  Abused and exploited by almost everyone she crosses paths with as she works hard and patiently awaits Min’s expected return, her only ostensible allies are her household predecessor Bosu (Gurunathan) and later the intriguing ghost-bird guardian ‘the Invisible’ (Huang), whom only Little Sparrow is able to see. 

The predominant obsession in the village is a traditional form of gambling, perfunctorily called ‘the Game’, through which it seems its Grand Master (Huang again) holds society in general in his thrall.  As she gets to grips with the way things are, Little Sparrow manages to rise up in authority and status to a level more suited to the wife of the head of the richest family in town. 

Act 2 sees dramatic transformations in the village’s established way of life, with the arrival of a band of marauding nomads known as ‘the Flock’.  Ostensibly proclaiming and enforcing a benevolent equalisation of resources and opportunities across the social spectrum in a none-too-subtle reference to Communism, the Flock’s ‘Head’ (Nessia) nonetheless clearly holds the veto on any contentious issues.  Rejecting this hypocrisy, inevitable rebellions ensue culminating in a climactic showdown between the split factions, each committed to protecting their perceived better way. 

As indicated, the story carries an overarching political theme, addressing the notion of social equality, familial loyalty and most significantly, tradition versus reinvention, or status quo v revolution if you prefer.  The broadness of the performance style belies the complexity of the characters and the lack of any ultimate definitive moral conclusion.  Indeed, having observed so many defined characters over two hours, it’s mathematically jarring when only six players take the curtain call.

Jane Hakaraia’s laudable lighting design adds further detail and depth to Urquhart’s substantial set, not least by its utilisation of stylised projections and eerie shadow-play serving the story’s prevalent mystique with aplomb.  The costume designs of Michael McCabe fit the bill – key characters such as Joa Joa and the fisherman being notable standouts; generally more than satisfactory, with scope for further refinement. 

The appealing commedia-esque half-mask designs by Urquhart and Catherine Ellis neatly differentiate the village locals from the outsiders.  The animal-like aspect of Pink and Lady Kou’s facial adornments, covering the cheeks but not the eyes or nose, are particularly original and clever.  Ellis also furnished the props, generally functional with the curious innovation of what appears to be rolled and twisted hunks of fabric representing numerous articles such as Tato’s potatoes and Joa Joa’s teapot, etc.

Playwright and key player (as they all are of course) Huang has developed the text with dramaturgical advice from Robin Kerr, and presumably some degree of cast input during development workshops.  The present result is a somewhat verbose script. While simplistic enough to follow in its entirely English vernacular, the fairly sprawling and convoluted narrative is quite a lot to comprehensively process.  For instance, it’s possible or probable I missed some crucial detail as it confuses me that Bosu claims to be an outsider like Little Sparrow, and others are said to have made the journey when elsewhere it’s declared that no-one else has ever done so, besides Min and Little Sparrow.

Confusing convolutions aside, it’s certainly interesting and engaging enough to grasp the essential plot points at the very least, thanks in large part to a very capable cast and exemplary production values.  The myriad backstory details and reports of offstage action evince the rich complexity of a fully realised world, while ongoing distillation of the script and production could serve to sharpen the play’s clarity and thereby strengthen its overall charm factor.

Without being excessively rushed as such, a sense of hurriedness permeates the performance, perhaps in an attempt to keep the running time to as much of a minimum as the expansive dialogue permits.  To heighten clarity and deepen the emotional impact it would be helpful for the cast to relax and let the action breathe more at key points, particularly when introducing and establishing characters.  Huang’s silent ‘Invisible’ character achieves this best, making her a comic highlight.

On the whole this impressively ambitious work-in-progress is professionally conceived and mounted, with an admirable blend of classic style and creative flair.  Given the evident expanse of the world Huang and company have created, not only is there great promise for this tale’s future, but also strong potential for sequels and/or spin-offs. 


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