Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland

09/06/2017 - 17/06/2017

Russell Community Hall, Bay of Islands

19/06/2017 - 19/06/2017

Turner Centre, 43 Cobham Road, Kerikeri

21/06/2017 - 21/06/2017

ONEONESIX - 116 Bank Street, Whangarei

23/06/2017 - 24/06/2017

Museum Theatre Gallery, Napier

24/08/2018 - 24/08/2018

Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

28/08/2018 - 31/08/2018

Baycourt - Addison Theatre, Tauranga

11/09/2018 - 12/09/2018

Production Details

Storytelling by Paolo Rotondo

Red Leap Theatre


“There’s a tale in my bones, fighting to be told” 

Delving into the lawless outpost of 1800s Russell, Kororāreka – The Ballad of MaggieFlynn introduces a heroine created from the rich and vibrant true stories of New Zealand women. Red Leap Theatre premiere their brand-new work from 9 – 17 June at Q Theatre, Auckland before touring to three centres in Northland from 19-24 June, in a celebration of the resilient and hard-working characters buried in the kiwi whakapapa.

Maggie Flynn, a fiery and unforgettable Irish woman, leaves England a convict and arrives in New Zealand’s capital, Kororāreka, the captain of a whaling ship. Her fortune twists and turns, from trophy slave to the wife of a great chief, to Madam of the notorious King Edward Hotel.One day culture and history collide, when Maggie must challenge the very world she sought to escape.

Two years in the making, Kororāreka combines the storytelling skill of Paolo Rotondo and the theatrical flair of Red Leap (The Arrival, Dust Pilgrim), led with the astute eye of Artistic Director Julie Nolan. Best known to NZ audiences for his work on Shortland Street, Rotondo has had a successful career spanning across theatre, film and television, as an actor, writer, director and producer. He made his feature length directorial debut in 2014 with the poignant drama Orphans and Kingdoms, which scooped up several film festival awards. His writing successes include theatre works Little Che, and the highly-acclaimed Strange Resting Places (co-written with Rob Mokaraka).

Starting with my mother, this story is a fictionalised homage to the strength, power, toughness, resilience and wit that exists in the character of the New Zealand woman.  I do not believe that Kate Sheppard, Helen Clarke, Lorde or Eleanor Catton, are exceptions to the rule, in fact they are a product of a long line of powerful women.” – Paolo Rotondo, Playwright.

Red Leap co-founder and Director Julie Nolan leads a strong cast of five in this bewitching tale of Aotearoa past, which includes Miriama McDowell (Cellfish, The Dark Horse, Romeo and Juliet – Pop Up Globe, Mahana, and Wellington Theatre Awards Most Promising New Director of the Year 2015 for Nga Pou Wahine), Alison Bruce (Hilary, The Events, Top of the Lake 1 and 2), Victoria Abbott (Othello and Much Ado About Nothing – Pop Up Globe, All Your Wants and Need Fulfilled Forever), Awhina Ashby (Find me a Māori Bride, The Mooncake and the Kumara) and recent Toi Whakaari Graduate, Katrina George.

This story is unique to us as New Zealanders, unravelling the legacy of the women in our past and stirring the ones too wild to be captured by history books. It is a sea-shanty, a coarse and vulgar rhyme that will make you laugh and cry to smell the sea again after so long”, says Julie Nolan, Red Leap Artistic Director

Previous shows by Red Leap Theatre have been lauded by audiences and critics alike

restlessly creative…. endlessly inventive.” – Paul Bushnell, Radio NZ

“I love Red Leap, their work is inspirational, odd, moving, challenging” – Holly Shanahan, Theatreview

Kororāreka: The Ballad of Maggie Flynn

Auckland:  9-17 June, Q Theatre Rangatira
Book through Q Theatre: http://www.qtheatre.co.nz/kororareka-ballad-maggie-flynn

Russell:  19 June, Town Hall

Kerikeri:  21 June, The Turner Centre

Whangarei:  23-24 June, Oneonesix


Contains explicit language. 



Touring to Napier, Wellington, Auckland, Tauranga, Hamilton and Whangarei.

Kororāreka: The Ballad of Maggie Flynn

Napier, 24 August, 7.30pm
Museum Theatre Gallery | Tickets from Ticketek

Wellington, 28-31 August, 7.30pm
Hannah Playhouse | Tickets from Hannah Playhouse

Māngere, 3-4 September, 7pm
Māngere Arts Centre | Tickets from Eventfinda

Albany, 7 September, 7pm
Underground Theatre, Massey University Albany Campus | Tickets from Red Leap Theatre

Tauranga, 11-12 September, 7.30pm
Baycourt | Tickets from Ticketek

Hamilton, 14-15 September, 7pm & 3pm show (Sept 15th)
Meteor | Tickets from Meteor Theatre


Get a taste of what’s to come… watch the trailer: https://vimeo.com/203014565

Cast (2017): Victoria Abbott, Alison Bruce, Miriama McDowell, Awhina Ashby, Katrina George 
         (2018): Amber Curreen, Alison Bruce, Victoria Abbott, Katrina George and Hinerongonui Kingi

Design: John Verryt, Elizabeth Whiting, Rachel Marlow, Owen McCarthy, Te Aihe Butler, Robin Kelly & Poppy Serano


Theatre , Comedy ,

90 minutes

A smooth, masterful, playful, dangerous ride

Review by Vivienne Quinn 11th Sep 2018

What do we become when our bones turn to dust and our lives are long gone? We become stories, or ghosts, or memories, or legends. We become versions of versions of reality and if we are really lucky, someone will sing a song about us.

Kokorareka: The Ballad of Maggie Flynn is about a gritty time and place in our history, following the story of a woman who, while being the “historical imaginings” of writer Paolo Rotondo, is one we would very likely meet, should we take a time-machine back in time. Not that I personally, would be particularly keen to visit this period in New Zealand history, or this place – Kokorareka (later called Russell) was not dubbed ‘the Hell hole of the Pacific’ for nothing. 

This show is a smooth, masterful, playful, dangerous ride, in the hands of a group of talented women who all bring to life a variety of characters and accents (though to be truthful, the accents do slip around a bit).  While all the cast are delightful, it is Victoria Abbott and Alison Bruce who shine, as the younger and older versions of the title character.

They are helped along by effective music, lighting design and clever use of props and devices. Strong direction from Julie Nolan keeps the pace going and the transitions rapid.  I shall long remember the cloud of dust and smoke announcing the apparition of Riley, the ghost of the sea captain, as he cheerfully squints his way through the afterlife.

This is a show about power: the power of freedom, the power of oppression, the power of love, the power of propaganda and the power of powerlessness. And of course, the power we choose to use, or not to use, as a woman.


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A romp through ‘herstory’ with potent moments

Review by John Smythe 29th Aug 2018

For those who think nothing much happened vis-à-vis European contact with Māori before the Treaty, Kororāreka: The Ballad of Maggie Flynn offers a lively if fanciful insight into the sort of things that might have been going on from 1820 to 1845 around Kororāreka – “the hellhole of the Pacific”, as the Bay of Islands trading and whaling port was dubbed before it became the first capital of New Zealand (then was renamed Russell).

Italian-born Kiwi playwright Paolo Rotondo notes, in the programme, that he needs history to make sense of the present; that he has drawn on his mother’s Irish Catholic lineage to find a way of linking his tangata whenua children’s whakapapa to his mother’s. “Through theatre I can create a mythical history for my children that speaks of our origins. But don’t take the story too literally; it may be truthful but not necessarily accurate.”

The mythical Maggie Flynn owes something, I suspect, to the actual Charlotte Badger, an English woman transported to Port Jackson who (with others) commandeered a sailing ship in 1806, took it from Tasmania to the Bay of Islands and settled briefly in Rangihoua, across the bay from Kororāreka (before moving on to Tonga and thence to America on a whaling ship).

As mythologised post mortem by her older self, however, abetted by her younger self and three wāhine, Irish Maggie Flynn takes command of the whaling barque Patricia Mary in 1820, when her husband Captain Riley dies, and heads for the Bay of Islands to bury him. Intent on making her fortune by trading in ambergris (excreted by sperm whales) she discovers an Ariki (tribal chief) in Kororāreka is expecting Riley to deliver muskets, gunpowder and shot.

Her life is spared as long as she proves useful but ‘Makarita’ (Maggie) doesn’t take kindly to being made the mōkai (slave) of the Ariki’s sister, while the chief commandeers the Patricia Mary to go to Port Jackson. She’s determined to regain her freedom. Meanwhile she decides it’s time for the deceased Riley, who keeps popping up out of a barrel, to learn the truth about her past …

Directed by Julie Nolan (co-founder of Red Leap Theatre), the story unfolds through robust theatrics whereby Alison Bruce’s older Maggie hands over to Victoria Abbott’s younger Maggie while manifesting a hirsute Captain Riley; Hinerongonui Kingi brings impressive mana to the un-named Ariki; Amber Cureen is formidable as his sister – and Katrina George moves effortlessly through a range of roles. Indeed all five display great versatility as they whip through the rollicking tale with playful energy and the odd song.  

A splendid anachronistic touch sees a microphone used to create an echo effect for voices from the past. Red ping-pong balls were never so menacing. When time leaps forward to 1945, a chalked Union Jack is rubbed out and redrawn, rubbed out and redrawn … If you know your NZ history you will get that reference to Hone Heke’s felling of flagpoles and catch whiffs of Hongi Hika and other Ngāpuhi chiefs; you may glimpse William Hobson and Baron Charles de Thierre… But the minute you think you’ve identified someone, something invariably negates that possibility. (This, I assume, is Rotondo’s strategy for avoiding offence or opprobrium.)

A ‘popular theatre’ romp through ‘herstory’ as she might have been, Kororāreka: The Ballad of Maggie Flynn has potent moments that distil an essence of truth, both at cultural and personal levels. Most memorable for me is when Abbott’s ‘Makarita’ tells the Ariki she can’t have children.

Oddly the Bay of Islands missionaries are barely referenced – but they tended to keep away from Kororāreka, where the mythical Maggie becomes the madam of a brothel at the actual Duke of Marlborough Hotel. It is the burning of this hotel (during the Hone Heke v Colonial Forces ‘Battle of Kororāreka’) that brings Maggie’s life to its end and the play to its climax. But of course she lives on in every performance.

Only three more shows in Wellington before it continues on tour (to Māngere, Albany, Tauranga, Hamilton).


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Funny, crude and bold

Review by Terri Ripeka Crawford rāua Whare Isaac-Sharland 25th Aug 2018

Te waiata paki ō Makarita: Explosive and Impactful Theatre Aotearoa. 

This is the bold tale of Maggie Flynn, a feisty, stubborn Irish woman whose guilty sins enthrall and capture audience imaginations. Maggie Flynn has a story to tell, and oh what a story it is.  Set in the 19th century, Kororāreka, once the largest whaling port in the southern hemisphere, provides the backdrop and mainstay of historical significance throughout the plays entirety.

The collaborative abilities of storytellers Paolo Rotondo, Red leap Theatre, and director Julie Nolan ensure a compelling, physical drama.  Paolo weaves together parts of his Irish whakapapa, whilst openly manipulating factual histories’ of Māori and Pākehā into a compelling and enlightening play. The feminine power he brings to light is profound, whilst confrontations of racial issues portrayed, thought provoking. 

Both Victoria Abbott and Alison Bruce – who play Irish Maggie Flynn, a convicted, lower class feisty, shrewd and carnal character – give stellar performances. Abbott’s explosive physical and oratorical performance expresses her every emotion so vividly. This actor knows her craft and is most exceptional in her delivery.  Her exploration of raw female strength is explored deeply within this production.

Novice actors Hinerongonui Kingi and Katrina George bring a fresh and distinct energy to the work.  It is really powerful to see them hold their integrity alongside the more experienced actors. Amber Curreen plays authoritarian Pakeha male characters such as the Australian wharf master really convincingly, and competently delivers the drama comique throughout. 

Through a Māori lens, swirling conversations in te reo Māori, craftily translated by mokai whilst not in a literal sense, evolved to be creatively interpreted. Ceremonial reo used was left for dramatic interpretation and pockets of commentaries can be heard alluding to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. There are very few plays, written by non-Māori, where te reo Māori is also being used as a tool to enhance character artistry in such a way.   Waihoroi Shortland has provided authentic dialogue that remains true to the overall fabric of the play and for the intended purposes. Although there are minor concerns over the mispronunciation of a few words, this does not distract from the plays content as a whole.

Beautifully charged scenes, physical theatrics and well thought-out choreography stimulate and intrigue throughout. Julie Nolan’s expertise in physical theatre and collaborative devising is really evident. You get the sense that the devising process further invited participation of these actors. 

Although some physical connections are a little awkward at times, there are some incredible visual moments. Alongside the vigorous physicality of hair pulling, box climbing, pelvic thrusting and slave wrangling there exist suspended and still moments of endearing aroha, grief and spirit-world connections.

Hawaiki Tu directors Kura Te Ua and Beez Ngarino are acknowledged as Māori movement advisors.  Although the opening choreography feels disconnected from the overall intention and groundedness of performances in the play, overall the use of Māori movement permeates and feels more natural as the play unfolds. 

One of the most dynamic, physical yet silent stories told in this epic is the famous cutting down of the flagpole.  Wondering how the production is going to address this major historical act of resistance to colonial rule by Hone Heke, a deeply loaded moment in the lead up to the surrender of Kororāreka to British, it is cleverly symbolised with white chalk on a black box (board): a serious and powerful moment in Māori Pākehā histories, expressed in a childlike and playful manner. The ease of this style is a huge testimony to Red Leap Theatre, and their storytelling approach.

The set for touring is simple, dynamically using black boxes as the ship’s deck, the Pā, and the infamous brothel: moveable, and moved often by the cast. Chalk, dust and balloons further illustrate scenes. The amazing costuming by Elizabeth Whiting reflects the elaborate layers of corsets and petticoats of 19th century with layers of beautifully cut, off-white linens.  These combined layers work to smooth over swift character and gender transformations.

There are approximately 150 people present, in a 330 seat capacity at Museum Theatre Gallery – Century Theatre.  The majority are Pākehā and Māori represented at least 25% of its makeup. This seems to express a keen desire of Māori to support key concepts within the play, to support the Māori actors involved, or perhaps even to support their own Irish ancestry. 

Funny, crude and bold, many stories are woven into this ballad that create robust discussion long after the play ends. It utilises anecdotes and recrafts known histories whilst maintaining current complexities of Māori and Pakeha politics today. There is no doubt that you will connect somehow and be impacted with reflections in some way, for some time after. It is really worth attending and supporting this daring collaborative and creative voice in NZ theatre. 


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Adventurous and striking if sometimes confusing

Review by Alan Scott 22nd Jun 2017

It is a full house at the Turner Centre in Kerikeri for Red Leap Theatre’s production of Kororareka: the Ballad of Maggie Flynn. The auditorium is so crowded that members of the audience are practically hanging off the rafters. And so they should be, for here is a very New Zealand story, from the early part of the nineteenth century, set in Russell: the town across the water they all know so well. 

If it is a Northland story, it’s a diverse Northland crowd who have packed in to see it, with ages ranging from the very young to the very old. And what a story it is, epic in both the content and its telling; the tale of Maggie Flynn, an Irish convict dispatched to Australia who ends up running a brothel in Kororareka (Russell). Along the way, she marries a whaler, captains his ship when he dies, is enslaved by Maori, and marries a chief.

There are twists and turns in all directions in the life of this Victorian adventurer and, to unfold them, Red Leap Theatre take their name to heart and make real leaps in imagination and creativity. Paolo Rotondo’s somewhat meandering but interesting script is transformed into exciting theatre through visual images which are often striking and always enthralling. In particular, the cascading of water onto the characters and the stage produces some highly dramatic moments.

This poetry of the theatre is often offset by robust comedic moments which some might find disconcerting. There is a cartoonish element to the comedy which produces some very funny scenes, but sometimes comes close to breaking the magic.

At the same time, the fact that you never know what is coming next produces some exciting theatre. There is an anarchic dimension to the whole production which is both unsettling and entertaining but in the end makes for stimulating drama.

Kororareka: the Ballad of Maggie Flynn is a woman’s story and it is an all-female cast which tell it. Victoria Abbott, Alison Bruce, Miriama McDowell, Awhina Ashby and Katrina George play a variety of characters, male as well as female, with conviction. They are always in the moment, but being there requires a boundless energy that is demanded by the script, the direction and the imaginative dynamics of the piece which, at its heart, is physical theatre.

They scamper up and down a large rig on wheels which they have to move all over the stage, as it transforms from a ship to a pa to whatever the play demands. They dangle from a rope, they hang upside down, they move this way and that. The rig is sometimes covered by a sheet which acts as a screen for projected graphics. The black and white graphics, along with the soundscape, help to illuminate the action or set the atmosphere.

There is a drawback to the production, I think, which lets it down to a degree. At times, I could not really follow the action. There were confusing moments when the narrative did not seem very clear and I was not certain what was really going on. Whether this fault lay in the script or in the devising and the depiction, I am not altogether sure.  

Still, drawback or not, Kororareka: the Ballad of Maggie Flynn is an adventurous and striking theatrical piece which was well worth seeing.


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Rollicking yarn offers a lot to love

Review by Janet McAllister 16th Jun 2017

This is a rollicking yarn, with real heart and a charismatic heroine, although the presentation isn’t as clear as it could be. Maggie Flynn’s journey through interesting scenes of prisons, whalers, brothels and Maori village life in 19th century Kororareka (Russell) is almost Shakespearean in its shifting fortunes – comedy, tragedy and drama unfold one after the other in this life lived to the full.

One can forgive some uneven pacing and a vague ending, as Paolo Rotondo’s script is peppered with lovely bon mots. [More]


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A brave offering

Review by Candice Lewis 10th Jun 2017

The cast of Kororareka: The Balland of Maggie Flynn move towards us in a deliberate walk/dance incorporating Māori movement. A light pattern works a wave on the floor and looks like a DNA strand; the movement of the feet seems to echo the strand, the sea, the story.

An impressive looking ‘ship’ on wheels is enthusiastically pushed around onstage as the actresses take on the role of men at sea; this is where the cartoon humour first kicks into gear. Alison Bruce and Victoria Abbott share the role of Maggie Flynn as she bellows out her tale.  Maggie’s husband is dead, and since he was the captain of the ship, she’s now taking the title and sailing to New Zealand. There’s whale oil on board and she plans to make her fortune.

As the younger Maggie, Abbott takes on most of the role and is bold, talented and strong. Strong you say? Well yes, the level of physical exertion required to be part of this show is extraordinary and each actress is pushed hard. Katrina George, Alison Bruce, Awhina Ashby, Miriama McDowell and Victoria Abbott command my attention as they leap, swing, swagger and sing their way through each scene.

There is the heartbreak of Maggie’s back story, her comical relationship to her dead husband, defiance towards the Māori Chief (Miriama McDowell) and her subsequent slavery to him and his sister (Awhina Ashby). Her relationship with the Chief and his sister is what intrigues me most; this is the part that feels relevant and exciting.

During one of the most intense scenes, water is involved (I won’t say how as it would spoil it) and I am tearful. Unfortunately, the water sprays onto some audience members and a few people are laughing uncontrollably. Water is used liberally throughout the show and provides a dangerous ground for the actresses to work on. I assume this will be rectified for the rest of the show’s run. 

We lurch from scenes that are as beautiful as a dark oil painting to sudden, bawdy outbursts. In one moment I’m feeling very moved, then an absurdly comical Frenchman and Jew turn up to ‘do some deals’ and it’s jarring.  

Red Leap Theatre is attempting to push the boundaries and create something different; there’s no doubt that this is a brave offering with a talented cast.

In the writer’s note Paolo Rotondo refers to the creative mish mash drawn from a real and imagined past as “messily interwoven and inextricably knotted with the creative spirit of Red Leap Theatre Company.” As they continue to experiment and explore, it will be exciting to see how they might make this creation more cohesive – a chance for the tenderness and beauty to shine.


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