Kokako's Song

Pacific Crystal Palace Spiegeltent, Havelock North Village Green, Havelock North

28/10/2018 - 28/10/2018

SIT Centrestage Theatre, Invercargill

17/05/2018 - 17/05/2018

Nelson Musical Theatre, 95 Atawhai Dr, The Wood, Nelson

13/10/2017 - 13/10/2017

St Paul’s Cathedral Crypt, The Octagon, Dunedin

18/03/2017 - 18/03/2017

Hamilton Gardens, Chinoiserie Garden, Hamilton

02/03/2019 - 03/03/2019

SOUTHLAND FestivaL of the Arts 2018


Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2019

Dunedin Fringe 2017

Hawkes Bay Arts Festival 2018

Production Details

Birdlife Productions

Searching for her dog on the outskirts of the city, six year old Angel finds herself lost in the enchanting realm of the forest where she has a delightful encounter with a real live Kokako (or is that really her Granddad dressed up in disguise?). Or perhaps this strange bird with the haunting song and black facemask might actually be a Superhero? A menagerie of critters such as Dusty the Dog, Sylvester the Cat, a Lesser Spotted Kiwi, and a Giant Snail, all play their part in this unfolding adventure, where Angel discovers Superhero powers of her own that she didn’t know she had!

This is a magically transformative story about the importance of connecting with Nature and following your heart.

Kokako’s Song is the latest offering from Birdlife Productions, a Nelson based theatre project committed to celebrating connectivity between Humankind, Nature and Spirit. Winner of Best Direction for their play Birdlife at the 2015 Nelson Fringe, Birdlife Productions (aka Roger and Bridget Sanders) are a long-standing creative partnership exploring Art, Storytelling and Theatre.

Kokako’s Song was enjoyed by over 200 children and adults during a tour of the Tasman region in the July 2016 school holidays. ‘The visual effects are magical, the story is easy to follow and it carries some important messages. My daughter and I enjoyed this intimate piece of theatre where magic really does happen.’ — Karolina Gorton, Nelson Mail, July 2016.

This show is pitched for 3 to 7-year-olds but is thoroughly engaging for all ages. Ticket prices have been kept low with the help of a generous grant from Dunedin Fringe.

Suitable for ages 3–7 years.

Nominated for ‘Best Theatre’ and ‘Best Design’ at Dunedin Fringe Festival 2017, and ‘Best Visiting Show’ at Dunedin Theatre Awards 2017.

“…while everyone laughs and joins in wholeheartedly, the message comes across loud and clear: our creatures of the bush and special, unique, and need to be cherished…” – Theatreview

Fri 13 Oct 2017, 10.30am [sold-out] & 1.30pm
50 mins, no interval


Tue 15 May, Winton Memorial Hall, 1:00pm
Wed 16 May, Fiordland Community Events Centre, Te Anau, 10:00am; Lumsden Memorial Hall, 2:00pm
Thu 17 May, SIT Centrestage Theatre, 11:00am & 6:00pm – Book: TicketDirect (service fees apply)
Fri 18 May, Otautau Sports Pavilion, 10:30am; Takitimu School, Nightcaps, 2:00pm

Tickets: $5; Group bookings by arrangement; Door sales from 30min prior

Hawkes Bay Arts Festival 2018

Pacific Crystal Palace Spiegeltent
Sun Oct 28th
Adult:  $25
Concession:  $20
Child – 16 and under:  $15


Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival
Chinoiserie Garden
Saturday 2 & Sunday 3 March 2019
11am & 2pm
$15 General Admisison
*Booking fees apply

Theatre , Puppetry , Family , Children’s ,

45 minutes

A charming introduction to birds of the bush

Review by Gail Pittaway 03rd Mar 2019

Birdlife Productions is a Nelson based company who specialise in mask and puppet theatre. This gem of a show is well-pitched for a children’s audience, introducing them to the grey ghost, kakapo. A life sized puppet of a 6 year old girl called Angel sings a song with her grandpa, and gets the audience to sing along too. Grandpa’s dog, Rusty, resembling a floor mop with eyes, performs a few tricks and then seems to bolt off into the bush, so Angel follows him and makes some new friends and so does the audience.

First up is a pair of fantails, cleverly made glove puppets, which flit and swoop and change the simple set from a domestic back drop, and bench, into a green bushy setting, with a few drops of appliquéd screens and a flick of a green cloth on the bench. There’s a huge native snail, also a glove puppet but more of an arm affair – which peeks out of the screens and plays hide and seek. There are bird sounds, off stage and then in hops the kokako, in this incarnation as a twitchy little old lady with blue apron and bonnet.

It’s a cute personification by Roger Sanders, especially when the bugs and insects she is about to eat jump out of her claws when she tries to have for a tidy little picnic, with gingham napkin on her lap. Mrs Kokako gives Angel a kokako mask, so she can use it to give her confidence and to find her powerful singing voice.

Devised, created and performed by Jane and Roger Sanders, who also designed and made the puppets, sewed the set and provide the live music, this is a charming introduction to birds of the bush, without being too pushy or preachy about the rare and declining species. They are a talented duo, taking on all the characters and displaying beautiful singing and speaking voices and a lovely manner with the audience.

Although this might be more of an inside show to perform, and a challenge to stage outside, it works a treat, in the pretty tea house set of the Chinoiserie Garden. It’s another great production for a younger audience, that’s part of the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival. 


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Amusing but a missed opportunity

Review by Kim Buckley 28th Oct 2018

Kokako’s Song is gorgeous puppetry performed by Birdlife Productions.  It has the 30 or so children sitting on cushions in front of the small stage, giggling and shouting.  The mums and dads in our audience are also smiling. 

It is unfortunate that Granddad, performed by Roger Sanders, has the incorrect pronunciation in the waiata he is singing – even more so because this is how he teaches his young audience Te Reo: incorrectly.  It is also unfortunate that although he is looking out to the audience, his eyes are not on the children in front of him.  They are up and over even the adults’ heads.  He seems on autopilot in this role.  I cannot detect the intimacy this Granddad needs to achieve. 

Bridget Sanders manipulates young Angel, who wants to be a superhero songstress. She finds a Kokako in the forest who teaches her how to sing.

The main thing maybe, is the idea of the Kokako and its forest friends. The piwakawaka (fantail), the pūpū harakeke (giant snail), kēkēwai (blue damselfly), along with young Angel’s friend Dusty the kurī (dog).

Overall, amusing but a missed opportunity for the performers to utilise Te Reo for their young audience. 


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Funny, gentle, quiet and sweet

Review by Sarah McCarthy 18th May 2018

Kokako’s Song is a charming, gentle sweetly old-fashioned offering from Birdlife Productions.  

Over two separate sessions I see the show with my almost 2 year-old, Rory, who has a lot of feelings about everything, and then my well-past 6 year-old, James, who finds it hard to sit still.

Rory and I come to the morning session, which is pleasantly humming with little kids from local early childhood centres, rowdy and relaxed. I immediately feel that bringing Rory to a show just on naptime perhaps isn’t the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. I have a lollipop in my bag, just in case.

To my surprise, when the lights go down, Rory is happy to sit on my knee. I keep up a constant stream of whispered questions and observations into his little ear, but after 10 minutes or so (and the lollipop) he is surprisingly engaged with the show.

It’s the story of Angel, who lives with her Grandad and their dog, Dusty. Angel gets lost in the forest and meets some endangered animals – especially, Mrs Kokako, a sort-of guardian spirit of the bush. 

It’s a gentle story, supported by wonderful and inventive puppetry and storytelling from Nelson-based Bridget and Roger Sanders.

Parents considering this play, this is all you need to know; that child sits there for 36 minutes before he wriggles off and wanders away. 36 MINUTES. AT NAPTIME. 

James enjoys the session just as much at 6pm. There is much made of the “he’s behind you” trope which, let’s be honest, the kids really love.  It’s my favourite bit of the show – the children are so desperately caught up, they have suspended all disbelief. That’s where the magic is. 

Afterwards, I ask him what his favourite bit is. He’s not sure. Least favourite? “When Mrs Kokako couldn’t see the snail. It was right behind her!” 

At just over 45 minutes, this is a perfect entry to theatre for your little ones. There’s plenty to keep them involved, although if you have particularly rambunctious children you may need to work to keep them interested. It’s funny in parts, but gentle and quiet, too. A very sweet offering.


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A show and creatures to be cherished

Review by Gail Tresidder 14th Oct 2017

Delicious really. The children love it all. Roger Saunders gives, to say the least, an unusual interpretation of this special bird.  His kokako is a she, wearing the silliest bonnet and a pinnie, knitting away and high-stepping around the stage.   The children’s giggling then shouting becomes louder and louder as Mrs Kokako gropes in her kete for munchies and produces spiders, grasshoppers and other wriggly creatures which one by one escape her.

By this time, audience participation is 100%. Finnbarr, my eight-year-old fellow reviewer, comments “that is the funniest and biggest kokako I have ever seen.” 

Bridget Saunders is an excellent puppeteer.  How clever to give the little girl, Angel, a broken-arm, thus being able to manipulate the other arm, and everything else with both hands. Dusty the dog, bearing a strong resemblance to a floor-mop, is delicious and yaps satisfactorily. We meet fluttering fantails, a huge snail with feelers (quite scary) and learn a waiata. For the little ones sitting on the floor, perhaps the highlight is a rap song and dance performed by Angel and Mrs Kokako.

The set (simple, easily pack-up-able) is utilized very effectively, as are the hangings, the colours of the bush quite lovely after the monochromic intro curtain. 

Finnbarr’s opinion? “The kiwi is amazing.”  He gives the show a four out of five. While everyone laughs and joins in whole-heartedly, the message comes across loud and clear: our creatures of the bush, many of them endangered, are special, unique and to be cherished.  


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Review by Reuben Hilder 20th Mar 2017

According to the mission statement of Birdlife Productions, the Nelson-based children’s theatre company is “committed to celebrating connectivity between Humankind, Nature and Spirit” and that ideology is very evident in their latest show: Kokako’s Song. Real effort appears to have been made towards capturing a feeling of awe and reverence towards nature, and that effort has paid off.

The crypt at St Paul’s Cathedral is an admittedly odd choice of venue, with the small handmade set seeming all the smaller for sitting in the middle of a large empty space. However as soon as the show starts the surrounding emptiness vanishes from one’s mind as Roger and Bridget Sanders successfully create a captivating world to tell their story in.

If there is a single word for Kokako’s Song, it is charming. Its charm derives from all the little details: the beautifully sewn fabric backdrops, the fantail puppets that use the fingers of gloves as tail feathers, and the music. The live music is the real highlight of the show. It is simple and elegant and creates the perfect atmosphere of whimsy for the story to unfold in.

The story itself is simple by matter of necessity, considering its target audience (three to seven-year-olds): a girl goes into the forest to look for a lost dog, along the way learning some wildlife facts and the value of self-confidence. It is competently told and is sprinkled with enough of those charming little details to keep the magic up. 

I can’t help but feel a little more could be done with the puppets however. They are all excellently made, especially the forest animals, but could have been operated a little more expressively to truly cement the sense of wonder they worked so hard to create. For example, the aforementioned fantail puppets were gorgeous but they were simply waved around instead of mimicking the darting flight of the birds themselves.

That aside Kokako’s Song will keep those in its target age range enthralled and provides enough charm to keep those that accompany them entertained as well. 


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