Downstage Theatre, Wellington

07/09/2012 - 29/09/2012

Production Details


Kate: Absolute rubbish! You’re making it up! 

Miranda: That’s what I remember. That’s how I see you. 

We’re excited to announce the return of one of New Zealand’s most loved productions. Flowers from My Mother’s Garden is a delightfully honest and heart-warming theatre experience.  

It is charming, it is delightful, it is funny, it has pathos, it has historical content, it is just superb and brilliantly, brilliantly produced! –Radio New Zealand

Flowers from My Mother’s Garden, created by Stuart McKenzie and Miranda Harcourt, is a classic story of growing up and growing old.

“Often funny, sometimes poignant these are everyday stories of a New Zealand family. Kate talked about her parents, Miranda talked about hers and we in the audience thought about ours.”  Nelson Mail

Flowers from My Mother’s Garden is a mother/daughter conversation supported by domestic snapshots from 100 years of New Zealand’s history. Everyday moments from a shared history, including the sparring and the celebrations, are told in a documentary-style narrative.

“Flowers From My Mother’s Garden shares the experiences of a mother, daughter and extended family with an ingenious simplicity that belies the depth of insight. It’s a prime example of how universal the particular can be. – Nastional Business Review

Audiences loved the humour and poignancy of Flowers when it was first commissioned by the NZ Festival. After touring the nation it was published by Penguin Books and broadcast as a Radio NZ Christmas Day feature.

“It’s real storytelling, plain and simple. They are talking about things we want to know about and we’re grateful to these people for having the performance skills to do it for us… It really is a blend of the extraordinary and the universal. ­–Radio New Zealand

Miranda and Stuart have described Flowers as the ‘prequel’ to the 2010 hit Biography of My Skin, also written by Stuart McKenzie and directed by Tim Spite. Flowers is the first work in their trilogy of autobiographical theatre that includes Biography and the in-development Warriors in the Kitchen (scheduled Downstage 2013).


7 Sep – 29 Sep

Performance Times
Wednesday 6.30pm
Thursday – Saturday 8.00pm
Sunday 4.00pm

Preview:  6 Sep $25 
Matinees:  Sun 9, 16 & 23 Sep 4.00pm
Meet the Artists:  post show 12 Sep

Duration:  75mins 

Ticket Prices (Allocated Seating)
Opening Night + function:  $55
Adult:  $46
Book early / Book a lot / Come first:  $40
Come with friends (Group 6+):  $40
Live a long life (over 65’s):  $39
Study hard (Students):  $25 
Child (under 12):  $20  

Creative Team
Writer:  Stuart McKenzie
Director:  Tim Spite
Performers:  Kate Harcourt, Miranda Harcourt  
Original Music:  Paul Casserly 
Set Design:  Mark McIntyre 
AV & Sound Design:  Rowan Pierce 
Lighting Design:  James Kearney 

Production Team
Stage Manager:  Rebekah Mora 
Technical Operator:  Glenn Ashworth
Production Manager:  Simon Rayner
Set construction:  Tim Spite & Glenn Ashworth

By Arrangement with Playmarket 

Trip down memory lane

Review by Lynn Freeman 20th Sep 2012

You leave this mother/daughter play wanting to, or wishing you could, sit down with your own mum for a cup of tea and a chat.  

Dame Kate and Miranda Harcourt don’t sugar coat their relationship. You get a sense of honesty, on the whole, from this intimate and revealing two hander.

The Harcourts have led a public life, it comes with the theatrical territory. There are moments though, when you wonder how these two actresses can bear to revisit some wounding memories, night after night. Particularly Kate, as she shares her memories of trying to win her father’s approval and how she dealt with extreme shyness – so ironic for a woman destined to live so much of her life in front of audiences on stage.

Tim Spite and his actresses use a variety of theatrical techniques in the 90 minute show, including turning one set of memories into a radio drama. It feels like a kind of homage to the art form, as well as a very personal play.

It is a reprise, but having missed it first time around, I can’t tell you how it’s developed. I can say that it is a delight and a credit to all involved. It is a trip down memory lane, not just the Harcourts’, but some of the biggest audience responses came from mentions of Zyliss onion cutters and other long forgotten objects from earlier years.

The Harcourts’ massive contribution to New Zealand’s entertainment history, though, will not be forgotten and Flowers From My Mother’s Garden reminds us why.  


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Harcourt family’s life history full of vibrancy

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 10th Sep 2012

Although it is fourteen years since Kate and Miranda Harcourt’s Flowers From My Mother’s Garden was first seen at the 1998 NZ International Arts Festival, the telling of their life stories has lost none of its impact. 

And the way the stories are told from the mother and daughter of one of NZ’s best known theatrical families is just as vibrant and engaging as it was when first presented.

Many life stories have been put into print or onto film over the years but few have been presented as performance pieces, and especially as uniquely as the Harcourt’s story by writer Stuart McKenzie. 

While essentially revolving around the early years of Kate’s life, it is no year by year chronological exposition but using Miranda’s memories of what she was told along with Kate’s we follow not only Kate’s life but also get to see glimpses of Miranda’ early life.

And in the telling of their tales the two certainly make a formidable team totally in tune with each other, one sparking off the other that makes them close and intimate friends as much as mother and daughter.

An incredible amount of history, not just family but NZ history is covered in the hour and a half show going right back to their great grandparents being transported as convicts to Australia to Kate growing up in North Canterbury to her early work in Radio with Listen With Mother.

Miranda lovingly goads and teases, often supposedly embellishing incidences about Kate and her family, only to be remonstrated by Kate about some incident or other in her own life.

Peppered with humour, there are also many poignant moments, especially in relation to Kate’s late husband Peter. Both performers are to be commended for having the courage to present so many personal moments in such a public arena, many that most people would prefer to keep in a closed book.  

The performances are both outstanding, Kate in particular, still as animated and pulsating with life as if she had never left the stage, and Miranda strong and strident being a perfect foil to Kate’s more measured comments, making this show, even if seen before, one well worth a repeat viewing. 


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A wonderfully rewarding sharing of experience

Review by John Smythe 08th Sep 2012

The programme for this iteration of what has become the first part of a biographical trilogy (the second being Biography of my Skin; the third, entitled Warriors in the Kitchen, scheduled for next year at Downstage), quotes my National Business Review summation of the 1999 pre-tour return season, directed by Roy Ward, at Te Papa’s Soundings Theatre:

Flowers from my Mother’s Garden shares the very personal experiences of a mother, daughter and extended family with an ingenious simplicity that belies its depth of insight. It’s a prime example of how universal the particular can be.” 

Fourteen years on (it premiered at the 1998 NZ International Arts Festival), that still applies, as does the next bit:

“On the surface, Kate and Miranda Harcourt treat us to a life-story slide-show tempered with inter-generational tensions and the odd confidential aside. Familial territory. Beyond that they connect us with our own quest for a distinct identity, an authentic voice, a place to stand. And they stake a claim for the middle class, Pakeha dimension of our cultural identity.”

Flowers differs from earlier plays in the biographical or autobiographical genre – like John Mortimer’s A Voyage Round My Father (radio 1963, TV 1969, stage 1979) – in important ways. While other actors played the Mortimer father and son, here the Harcourts play themselves and personify others. The same could be said of Bruce Mason performing his own The End of the Golden Weather, although that is arguably a heightened and somewhat fictionalised version of his own childhood, and there is much more focus on the whole idiosyncratic community that hosted the boy’s rites of passage.

Of course questions of accuracy are raised throughout Flowers too, mostly by Kate, and Miranda is certainly given to hyper-dramatising aspects of her mother’s life. But actual tape recordings of early family life are also used to verify her claims, e.g. that Kate was always telling her not to do things and was therefore “a terrible mother”. The liberal use of old slide photos, first via an old carousel projector worked by Miranda then data-projected onto the pane-and-panel set, also adds veracity from the days when cameras were purported not to lie.

Another key difference is that Stuart McKenzie (Miranda’s husband) wrote the script. He used ‘verbatim’ principles by setting them up to look at old photos and share their memories, then gave their own words back to them in an astutely edited and structured form. And he has interpolated some wonderfully playful dramatisations.

So this is Stuart distilling and scripting Miranda’s quest to tell Kate’s story from her earliest memory until around the time Miranda left home; when the daughter’s ‘finding herself’ in Australia echoed her mother’s young adult adventures in Britain, where she’d gone by boat to learn singing.

The touchstone for many Kiwis is Kate’s singing and speaking voice on radio, in the NZ version of the pre-school programme Listen With Mother. It is this which gives us our entry point into the play and recurs as a motif throughout.

Kate’s husband, Miranda’s father, Peter Harcourt (who died in 1995) is a key part of the story and son/brother Gordon is briefly mentioned, as are Kate’s father and grandfathers. But although Kate’s father’s throwaway comment to his daughter singing in a barn sat like a lump in the guts of her self image, and she suffered by comparison to her sister, the major focus is on the mother-daughter relationships. And it is here that the particulars resonate most profoundly, and entertainingly, at timeless and universal levels.

It is extraordinary how much history is covered in 85 minutes of deceptively relaxed, non-linear storytelling. Kate’s heritage – her father was a Fulton and her mother an Austin – takes us right back to the transportation of convicts to Australia and reveals a shocking fact about the importation of rabbits to that continent.

Given how large radio drama loomed in their working lives ‘back in the day’, the radio serial dramatisation of The Curse of the Austins, performed live at the mic by Kate and Miranda, is an inspired sequence. So too is the scene where Kate interrupts her mother’s high society bridge game in Melbourne, with very unexpected results.

A dispassionate mention of how none of the boys seen with Kate in a childhood photo came back from the war, links later to a moving recollection of seeing just one name memorialised in London. Flower gardens in Australia and New Zealand are an important theme, not least for giving the play its title. Changing lifestyles also add to the social history implicit in the family saga. And Peter and Kate’s work as ‘freelancers’ presages something that has become much more common since.

There are countless riches to be mined from the minutiae. Radio actors will love the turning of script pages away from the mic, the kissing of own wrists to evoke passion, the live interpolation of sound effects. Older audience members will personally recall the ignominy of soggy, saggy, sandy hand-knitted bathing suits, and the embarrassment of ‘combinations’. Miranda’s adoration of her mother’s demonstrating new-fangled kitchen gadgets – e.g. onion choppers – at Kirkcaldie & Stains will strike chords on many levels too.

The hippopotami which Peter collected to give to Kate – “He just loved to make Mum laugh” – are another recurring motif and the play ends with the final posthumous gift provoking a series of extraordinarily ambiguous tragic-comic images: is she laughing or crying?

Director Tim Spite – with designers Mark McIntyre (set), Rowan Pierce (AV & sound) and James Kearney (lighting), and composer Paul Casserly – has ensured the authentically disparate and cleverly scripted elements of Kate’s story, as told by her and Miranda (up to where Biography of My Skin, which Spite also directed, takes over) cohere to ensure a wonderfully rewarding sharing of experience. 


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