Kia ora Khalid

Opera House, Wellington

14/03/2009 - 21/03/2009

Capital E National Arts Festival

Production Details

Dave Armstrong’s new work asks "How long does it take to call a place home?"

KIA ORA KHALID opens at Capital E National Arts Festival on Saturday, 14th March.  

A highlight of the Capital E National Arts Festival, New Zealand’s largest festival for children, is a heart-warming musical journey exploring the refugee and migration stories of several New Zealand children. Kia Ora Khalid, created by two of New Zealand’s most renowned creative talents, composer Gareth Farr and writer Dave Armstrong, has been in development for two years and is directed by Sara Brodie.

In the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of WWII, the National Theatre for Children wanted to create a work to look at the affect of conflict on children. Kia Ora Khalid is set over a school lunch hour and involves the stories of four students: Tom, a Pakeha New Zealander; Serena, a Samoan; Trang, a first generation Cambodian New Zealander; and Khalid, a Tampa refugee from Afghanistan. As the children’s emotional stories unravel, Tom learns that he’s not so different from the new immigrants with a refugee story in his own family to tell.

The Capital E National Arts Festival takes place every two years, with many productions sold out completely in 2007 when over 32,000 tickets were purchased by schools and families throughout Wellington.

Kia Ora Khalid
Wellington Opera House
Sat 14 March at 7pm, Sat 21 March 2pm and 7pm
$16.50 per person, most suitable for children aged 8 years +.
For tickets, contact Ticketek,  ph: 0800 TICKETEK 

Tom: Jason Chasland
Khalid: Martyn Wood
Serena: Kali Kopae
Trang: Nikita Tu-Bryant

Tim Solly:  Assistant musical director / Keyboard
Debbie Rawson:  Clarinet
Charley Davenport:  Cello
Heemi Porou:  Guitar
Fraser Bremner:  Percussion

Set Designer Brian King
Lighting Designer Jason Morphett
Sound Designer / Engineer Adrian Sealy-O'Donnell

Production Manager:  Charlotte Gordon
Musicak Director (development phase): Michael Nicholas Williams
Stage and Tour Manager:  Anna Drakeford
Deputy Stage Manager:  Lucie Camp
Assistant Stage Manager:  Miriam Sobey
Operator:  Nathan McKendry
Mechanist:  Jarren Jackson

South Wellington Intermediate School
Aini Su
Alicia Print
Anna Adam
Bryony Campbell
Christopher Visser-Fee
Erin Hildred
Emily Wood
Gabby Wixon-Taylor
Jenna Blackburn-Churcher
Julia Bush
Lilleet Marshall
Louise Nodder
Mark Metcalfe
Mia Breitenmoser
Morgan Hurley
Nancy Mulenga Kasonde
Olivia Cannell
Pearl Chapman
Pesa O'Brien
Phoebe Lockwood-Jones
Serenity Donovan
Sienna Kelly
Tepora Priest
TJ Fereti
Tyler White
Zoe Isaacs
Clyde Quay School Children:
Abby Robertson
Amelia Baker
Amelia Chan
Clare McDonald
Connaire McKeery
Crystal Amor-Ponter
Davin Gray McTaylor
Felix Usmar
Florence Comber
Greta Wilkins
Hetty Russell
Israyel Monroe
Jasmine Jensen
Josie Knight-Mclean
Lily McDougall
Lucy Edwards
Luka Francis-Murray
Maggie Hablous
Maia Ansell-Jones
Nathan McMahon
Olivia Bramwell
Ruby Comer-Hudson
Rupert McCook Weir
Sam Cunningham-Robbie
Shayhara Pather
Sinead McKeefry
Sophie Morton
Tanya Putthapipat
Whena Munn
Yvette Monroe

Sophisticated young generation

Review by Lynn Freeman 19th Mar 2009

Rose (10) : It was very funny and also very sad.

Lynn (a bit older than 10) : Rose has summed this play up perfectly.  It is indeed often very funny and at times it is extremely sad.  It entertains, it makes us all think, and it showcases an extremely talented group of young people.  All in less than an hour.

Writer Dave Armstrong has spoken to young refugees around the country and used their stories as the basis for Kia Ora Khalid.  We meet Khalid (Martyn Wood) on the school playground where he’s picked on for being Arab, a foreigner, a terrorist.  He’s bullied by Tom (Jason Chasland – Rose’s favourite of the adult actors) but championed by Cambodian-Kiwi Trang (Nikita Tu-Bryant) and Samoan-Kiwi Serena (Kali Kopae).

In a scene which had the audience, young and older, gasping, Khalid hit Trang by accident. At this point his future at the school hangs in the balance.  He tells his family’s story, of family and friends being killed by bombs in Afghanistan and the tortuous and uncertain journey that eventually brought them to New Zealand. 

That allows the others to tell the stories of their parents and grandparents, also migrants, which is the point of the play – we are all migrants to this country, all of us who live here ‘true Kiwis’. 

Armstrong also fronts up to the fact that we have a beautiful country but that racism is an issue that is still very much alive, be it in the playground or in the streets.

It’s a big message for youngsters to take in, especially talk of the Khmer Rouge, shootings in cold blood, fatal bombings and the like.  But this young generation is sophisticated, being bombarded with media, and seemed well able to think about the sad bits and laugh at the funny bits. 

An excellent adaptable set by Brian King allowed the action to flow from schoolyard to a remote Cambodian village, with the help also of great audio-visual work and of course Sara Brodie’s direction.  The music in places was just lovely, notably the chorus work when the full, sweet voices of Clyde Quay School and South Wellington Intermediate School filled the Opera House. l


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Childs-eye view of racial intolerance

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 16th Mar 2009

Kia Ora Khalid, the flagship production of Capital E National Theatre for Children Arts Festival for 2009 (7-21 March), is a knock-out, not just because it’s topical, energetic, musical and a whole lot of other things too but because high quality professional talent has been lavished on a full-scale production for children (8 years and up) at The Opera House.

And what’s more, apart from the four leads, the large cast is made up of children from South Wellington Intermediate School and Clyde Quay School who have thrown themselves with well-controlled enthusiasm and well-drilled voices into a chorus of typical Kiwi school kids as well as Cambodian victims of the Khymer Rouge, Afghani refugees, Samoan villagers, and Polish orphans.

Remember, this is a 55 minute mini-opera, not unlike a Brecht/Weill Lehrstucke, with a didactic purpose (a plea for racial tolerance) but Dave Armstrong’s strong, varied and often amusing libretto and Gareth Farr’s driving rhythms played by Mark W. Dorrell’s band and, of course, the four leading players kept a full house made up of all ages and races spellbound.

Khalid (Martyn Wood) is picked on by Tom (Jason Chasland) who won’t let him play touch football at school because he’s probably an illegal immigrant or worse a terrorist. Serena (Kali Kopae) and Trang (Nikita Tu-Bryant) stand up for Khalid and we then follow Khalid’s journey from his father’s bookshop in Kabul to New Zealand and then we discover why and how the other three found sanctuary here.

The message is driven home in a song which is undercut by the characters as they recount their experiences of racial abuse in New Zealand. The song is called It’s Such a Beautiful Country. All four leads are excellent.

Sara Brodie has cleverly integrated the talents of lighting designer Jason Morphett, sound designer Adrian Sealy-O’Donnell, and set designer Brian King whose three container-like structures morph into a prison, a ship’s cabin, a railway carriage, and screens for images of faraway places. The use of shadows on the backdrop is also highly effective.

There are two more performances next Saturday. Highly recommended.


kayz Fart_poo April 4th, 2009

i have got to say it is truely a beatiful country!! i went to th auckland one at telstra clear and it was the best experience i have ever been to well done everybody.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Thrilling music and a strong story

Review by Peter McKenzie 15th Mar 2009

[I am ten years old. I’m in Mr Holmstead’s class at Houghton Valley School. Last night my friend Hilary took me to Kia Ora Khalid  at the Wellington Opera House, a Capital E National Arts Festival production.]

Kia Ora Khalid is a show devoted to telling stories of refugees from war torn or poor countries without the economy to sustain large numbers of people.

The four things which most appealed to me were:

— the number of children and their important roles in the opera. Their acting and singing was inspiring! I loved the way the chorus wasn’t pushed into the background, they were an important part of the story itself.

— the amazing story-line. I was caught up in the story and eager to find out what would happen next. Would the bully admit his own lineage and discover what he had in common with the recent refugees at his school? I was fascinated to learn about all the different places New Zealanders come from. (I love reading about ancient Rome and all the different countries its citizens came from to make it the most powerful empire in the world at that time. It was exciting to me to think that New Zealand might find greatness in a similar way.)

— the clever production design. The opera was set in a school yard just like mine. But the action would cut to the various countries the different characters’ families had arrived from. There was only one set – 3 shipping containers – but with the help of film projected on their sides these magically turned into all the different locations of the story.

— the music which helped tell the story and give it emotion. Sometimes the music was quiet and subtle. At other times it swept the actors up in their song.

Perhaps my only criticism is that sometimes some of the refugee stories were a bit hard to follow. Maybe there should have been fewer characters to make it easier to know what was going on. But on the other hand, having so many people on stage gave it great energy!

I would recommend this show to people who love adventure and a sense of thrill and suspense. And also for people who want to know more about the country they live in. People who love thrilling music and a strong story should also go and see Kia Ora Khalid.

Kia Ora Khalid will help me revise my opinion of any person’s background, be they black or white, red or brown or even green. Everyone, I repeat everyone has a story or heritage that has a refugee in its midst. As Tom discovers it is nothing to be ashamed of – rather you should be proud of your family history. Refugees are very brave. Think how scared they must have been and how brave and determined they would have had to be to make a new life for them and their family. Look back and be proud.


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A masterpiece that contributes at many levels

Review by John Smythe & Pepe Becker 15th Mar 2009

We are instantly hooked by Gareth Farr’s composition and its execution by the band and cast, and equally impressed by Dave Armstrong’s characters, story and libretto; at the way these creators have worked together to place the right word on the right note and beat: not a simple task.

The after-show buzz confirms that as an operetta for children that also speaks to adults – the bigoted ones especially and lord knows there are plenty of those, both overt and covert – Kia Ora Khalid is a triumph. 

The premise is simple: four school kids are playing touch rugby; girls v boys. But Tom, the Pakeha Kiwi boy, who is being out-played by Samoan Serena and Cambodian Kiwi Trang, would rather bully Khalid, a Tampa refugee from Afghanistan, than enlist his help. Besides, don’t all foreigners play soccer?

One by one their four family stories are revealed, with each having a unique musical motif that blends cleverly with the others in a rich quartet near the end. But not before some serious confrontations and collateral damage have been experienced. All meanings of ‘touch’ are apt: touch as a sport; to be touched in the head, as in irrational; to be touched emotionally. But there is no sentimentality; just good learning curves, presented with direct openness, realism and a touch of well-scripted humour at times.

Khalid’s father owned a small bookshop which offended the Taliban, as did the schools, but you can’t close down a person’s brain. His family got here via the doomed Tampa and a refugee camp in Nauru and now survive by making kebabs and delivering newspapers. Martyn Wood matches Khalid’s strength of character with a strong yet sweet singing voice.

Trang’s Cambodian granddad, a teacher, narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. In her first professional role, Nikita Tu-Bryant brings a clear and true voice to her vivid portrait of peacemaker and would-be friend.

Serena’s favourite uncle drove a truck in Iraq to provide for his extended family and was killed by a suicide bombing; now her family has had to find work in NZ. Kali Kopae’s warm and sure vocal skills clearly express Serena’s concerns as she is tested by bully Tom’s attempts to get her to side with him against the refugees.

Tom takes the line that he is superior because he is European, with all the intelligence and sophistication that implies – not that his ignorance-based fear and bigotry is any proof of this. Only when it emerges his family name is Dobrowski and his grandfather was a Polish refugee from German occupation does it begin to sink in that deep down we are all the same. Jason Chasland nails the character superbly, using his impressive vocal range (in terms of both pitch and timbre) to reveal the complexities that lurk beneath his tough-guy façade. 

All four role-play with conviction in each other’s stories – Chasland being especially memorable as Serena’s favourite uncle – and the chorus of children from South Wellington Intermediate and Clyde Quay Schools add excellent depth to the vocal textures and the scenarios that evoke the places and events that brought each family to New Zealand.

Under Sara Brodie’s assured direction – within Brian King’s ingenious 3-box set (a container flanked by a ship-like box and a train-like box, utilising folding panels and back-projection), expertly lit by Jason Morphett – the conflict resolves dramatically with Tom allowing Khalid to join him in fending off an embarrassing defeat by the girls in their playground game of touch (the boys are 4-1 down!). A predictable ending is mercifully (and literally) saved by the bell.

Musical Director Mark W Dorrell with Michael Nicholas Williams and sound designer / engineer Adrian Sealy-O’Donnell ensure that every word is heard as Farr’s richly textured score is brought to life by a splendid 4-person band: Assistant Musical Director and keyboard player Tim Solly, with Fraser Bremner (percussion), Debbie Rawson (clarinet), Charley Davenport (cello) and Heemi Porou (guitar).

The success of this first professional opera to be created especially for children is no fluke. Capital E National Theatre for Children has developed Kia Ora Khalid over two years beginning with extensive research (in Auckland schools) and refining the script, score and production through feedback gained from trial performances to young audiences.

Even more impressive is their aim of using such projects to stimulate the creative interaction of children. In their programme they claim Kia Ora Khalid is "about and from material that doesn’t speak down to its audience but greets them with open arms as intellectual equals" and quote renaissance writer Rabelais: "A child is not a vase to be filled, but a fire to be lit." 

As a follow-through, Capital E’s Creative Technology department has created a living learning resource on a Wikispace webpage – – where visitors can view and respond to the initial recorded interviews, add their own footage and connect up with migrant / refugee networks. I applaud this strategy of taking positive, constructive action to overcome the cultural ignorance and intolerance that produces not only bullying in the playground but political extremism, terrorism and wars throughout the world.

In short, Kia Ora Khalid is a masterpiece that contributes at many levels.


Jo Hodgson March 15th, 2009


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