Regent Theatre, Greymouth, Greymouth

20/07/2017 - 22/07/2017

Old Lodge Theatre, 11 Revell St, Hokitika, West Coast South Island

05/08/2017 - 05/08/2017

NBS Theatre, Westport, West Coast South Island

12/08/2017 - 12/08/2017

Production Details

A history of native logging on the West Coast, from 1970 t0 2000, as told by the last punk band in town.  

In Helen & the Ferals we tell the story of the battle for and against native logging on the Coast. The issue has been the one that has generated the most environmental controversy in the region and led, for a period, to an intense anti-Green feeling amongst many Coasters.

In the play, which is something of a musical, a local Punk Rock band called Helen & the Ferals (named after Helen Clark’s infamous description of Coasters) tell the story of the controversy, which spanned thirty years, beginning in 1970 with the National Government’s plan to chip a sizeable portion of the beech forest, continuing through to the Maruia Petition and the West Coast Accord, then to the saga of Timberland’s attempt to introduce a sustainable beech logging scheme, ending with the breaking of the Accord by the Labour Government at the turn of the century and the ban on native logging in state owned forest.

We call the play a tragi-comedy, for while the story has the elements of tragedy: all the parties sometimes challenging the gods of common sense and a hero (Timberlands) with a fatal flaw (its romance with a PR firm); there are elements of farce as well.

The play proposes a solution to the continuing conflict between extractivists and Greenies on the Coast by looking at the concept of extractive reserves developed in the Amazon by the rubber tappers and the indigenous tribes.

Each performance will be followed by a discussion with the audience.

It is extraordinary that as we began rehearsing Helen & the Ferals, the issue should rear its head again with the proposal by Grey District Council to allow sustainable logging in its forests receiving 14,000 submissions. Suddenly the story is absolutely topical.’

Regent Theatre, Greymouth, July 20-22;
Old Lodge Theatre, Hokitika, August 5th;
NBS Theatre, Westport, August 12th;
Oddfellows Hall, Reefton, August 19th;
Mapua Community Hall, September 9th.
(All performances at 7.30pm) 

Theatre , Musical ,

Impressive depth of diverse talent

Review by Catherine Woollett 21st Jul 2017

With an explosion of punk, the premier performance of Helen and the Ferals kicks off. Held in Greymouth’s Regent Theatre the multitalented Kiwi/ Possum Productions troupe stage a wry comic tragedy: a politically retrospective saga of West Coast native timber logging between 1970 and 2000.

Helen and the Ferals is an original play written by local playwright Paul Maunder who once again examines important historical and contemporary issues that contest and shape life on the West Coast. It uses a punk anti-establishment theme to try and tear down the distance between performers and the audience and also the dichotomy that has long existed between conservationists and those who make their living form extractive resources.

Having Helen Clark (played to the strident hilt by Elisa Wells) join the West Coast’s last punk band, The Ferals, characterises this play’s ambitions. Interspersed with punk numbers such as Vinnie (Vincent Best) belting out a comic tirade against our national icon, it carries the audience though the first act at breakneck speed.

Largely set in the offices of the many National and Labour Prime Ministers of the 1970s and 1980s, the Ferals impress as they transform into a densely canopied stand of political characters. Norman Kirk is played in a life and death performance by Jason Johnson. Surrounding the set fringes and moving to occupy centre stage, the cast members play a variety of protestor parts such as when Robert Muldoon, sneeringly played by George Super, batons invading Springbok tour protestors.

In act two there is a musical shift into the blues, reflecting community sentiment in the 1990s. Timberlands tries to secure itself a future, hiring a PR firm smoothly portrayed by Elisa and Frank Wells to promote a sustainable ethic. Francis Darwen convincingly acts the invested Timberlands manger and Paul Maunder delivers an impressive rant as a Timberlands executive who has had gutsful of green “birds and bees people” and their manipulation.

The standoff between protestors and loggers is cleverly portrayed in a scene mimicking the Charleston site of protestors camping in trees to highlight their environmental cause. The conflicting sounds of birds and chainsaw set the scene. Rose Blair shines in her part as Gaia, an eco-warrior. Helicopter sounds herald the arrival of Jenny Shipley, played by George Super with an intensity which matches her shade of magenta lipstick. Helen Clark’s government comes into power ending the Accord.

Through the political smoke and mirrors of this play emerges Mikaere Hanna, doing a superb job in acting the ghost of Chico Mendes Filho, the murdered Brazilian rubber trapper whose actions led to the setting up of Extractive Reserves where forests were returned to the guardianship of local people. Chico disappears into the mist as Helen Clark leads the Ferals in the show’s climactic finale.

The clever set design by Paul Kearns, constructed from scaffolding with a backdrop of graffitied slogans, plays a large part in this play’s success. The lighting by Shona Preston and sound production by Paul Kearns are also critical to the gelling together of the many and varied set changes. Costume details and props work well to situate the actors in a definable place and time. I am very impressed by the depth of talent from this diversely talented band of actors and crew.  

Community performance art like this is a lens for seeing our place in both history and the present and this can open us into future possibilities. Jane Goodall, the environmental activist, recently said change will not be created by confronting something head on but by telling stories, meeting with people, listening to each other and then trying to find a way to the heart so we begin to think locally and get together with like-minded people to take action. The discussion around Extractive Reserves as an alternative to old thinking may inspire us.

Go see Helen and the Ferals for the entertainment, it’s an immensely fun night out, but also go for the regenerative discourse.


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