Carter Observatory, 40 Salamanca Rd (or near top of Cable Car), Kelburn, Wellington

16/03/2019 - 16/03/2019

Ghost Light Theatre, 146 Bridge Street, Nelson

15/09/2018 - 15/09/2018

New Athenaeum Theatre, 24 The Octagon, Dunedin

30/03/2019 - 31/03/2019

NZ Fringe Festival 2019

Dunedin Fringe 2019

Production Details

A family show with Masks, Puppetry and Music 
A story about loss, longing and finding the way back home! 

Masks, Puppetry and breath-taking original music by Wellington composer David Sanders – a story told with absolutely no spoken word. This newly updated show (originally called ‘Heron’s Feather’ and performed in Nelson in January 2018) has been greatly developed in advance of a European tour next year, with a deeper more dynamic storyline, beautiful costumes and additional characters.

Māori believe that seeing just one White Heron/kōtuku in your life will bring you good fortune – but what if your sister got captured by a bad one and it was your fault so you went after her and got captured as well? How could this possibly be seen as ‘good fortune’ – unless of course your adventure turned out better than expected and some really cool stuff happened on the way . . . .

Created by Nelson’s own professional theatre company Birdlife Productions, ‘Kōtuku and the Moon Child’ will be thoroughly enchanting for everyone aged 5 years to 95 years!

“This is an absolutely brilliant production. The wonderful storytelling abilities of Roger and Bridget [Birdlife Productions] will take you on a journey of exquisite artistry and simplicity that will leave you wanting more. True story telling at its finest.” Joel Bolton QSO, Conductor. 

Enchanting for everyone 5 years and over! 

Ghostlight Theatre, 146 Bridge St, Nelson
Sat 15th September 2018, 11am and 6pm
Suitable for ages 5 to 95, 50 mins duration
Tickets $10 and $35 (Family x 4)
Door sales or https://www.eventfinda.co.nz/2018/k-tuku-and-the-moon-child/nelson
(booking fees may apply) 

“I have never seen a group of children sit so still and so quietly for so long. Their parents behaved really well too. We have all been entranced” Katie Hindle, Theatreview

Ideal for Families and school children both primary and secondary, Drama students, the Deaf community – and anyone with a love of stories and puppetry and especially, anyone searching for a sense of other-worldliness!

Not suitable for under 5 year olds

NZ Fringe 2019
Space Place at Carter Observatory, 41 Salamanca Road, Wellington
Saturday 16 March 2019
11:00am, 2pm & 4:30pm
General Admission $8.00 Concession $0.00 Fringe Addict $6.00

Dunedin Fringe 2019
New Athenaeum Theatre, 23 The Octagon, Dunedin
SAT 30 & SUN 31 March 2019
10:30am, 01:30pm
$8.00 – $10.00
*Fees may apply

Assistance from Master Puppeteer Akikio Miyamoto
and Teacher/Director Donna Chapman

Theatre ,

50 mins

Empathy and compassion

Review by Terry MacTavish 31st Mar 2019

Balm for the spirit, and it could not be more timely. After the tumultuous fortnight New Zealand has experienced, this spellbinding mime to music comes as a gentle caress from a trusted hand.

It is particularly appropriate that Kotuku and the Moon Child can be understood and shared by all, even those who do not speak a common language. The lovely rippling piano music by David Sanders has been composed along with the scenes, inspiring and reflecting the moods and themes of the story. The set consists of a black box built within the bigger black box of the Athenaeum, with cushions placed before it for a couple of rows of excited small children.

I observe that tutus and rainbow unicorn headbands are nowadays the fashionable choice for theatre going, with my sweet guest Silvi, more sophisticated now she is nine, opting for a fur jacket. If Birdlife Productions were as well known here as in their home of Nelson, the theatre would surely be full. I myself have been looking forward to this since seeing their charming Kokako’s Song at a previous Fringe Festival.

The white Basel mime masks are a lovely choice for Moon Mama and Moon Papa, worn with black clothes and white gloves. It is quite amazing how expressive they are with just black dots for eyes and a suggestion of a nose. Bridget and Roger Sanders are artists of no mean order. I am amazed by the imagination that has gone into the staging of the beautiful, simple story, and the skill employed by the puppeteers, who control rod and hand puppets as subtly as they move their own bodies in the Basel masks. The puppets themselves are deliberately created from everyday objects, while stage lighting catches the magical effects of underwater exploration, and star-spangled flight between earth and moon.

All peoples build myths around the moon, some seeing a man in the moon, some a lady.  Why should not Birdlife imagine a whole family? Moon Child, put into its crescent-shaped cradle with a tiny glowing ball that represents the Moon Baby, is composed of white cloth and a balloon with squiggly mouth and round eyes, but because of the tender way it is handled by its loving parents, we believe in its reality, as a child believes in a rag doll or teddy bear.

The children in the audience are committed enough to gasp when the baby falls from the window, and anxious that Moon Child should succeed in the vital quest of recovery, floating off through the sparkling night sky attached to a parasol. There are giggles as a rocket shoots by.

The design work is altogether lovely. The set changes are effected dexterously, with seagulls tossing aside black curtains as Moon Child lands on Earth, to reveal a mountain range, a tree, a sandy shore, all of soft fabric. Moon Child delights in every discovery: silvery fish, paua shells, and a friendly crab that is ingeniously constructed from wire-wrapped material attached to the puppeteer’s wrist, all ten fingers wriggling as eyes, claws, legs. “It’s a hermit crab!” says Silvi, who lives by the sea. She and the little rainbow unicorns are distressed when it is attacked by the seagulls.  Although the narrative may not always be clear to the children, the emotional story engrosses them.

Kotuku, the mystical white heron, turns out to be a bossy beachcomber reluctant to exchange its new toy, Moon Baby, for the hopeful offerings of Moon Child.  It will take a storm and a man-made disaster to demonstrate the innocent kindness of Moon Child, and cause Kotuku to have a change of heart.  

Because of the Mosque shootings and subsequent national grieving, the Fringe team, led by Director Gareth McMillan, has had to cope with more than the usual Fringe frenzy, by sensitively responding to events and adapting its programme. We are so grateful for the extraordinary work done, from dedicated Director Gareth McMillan to volunteers like Sofie baking muffins for the exhausted team. Thanks, Gareth and all, most especially for Kotuku. I had anticipated its serenity would provide respite from the country’s grief, but it gave me far more.

In the midst of the mayhem in Christchurch, two of my ex drama students video-messaged me, to say they were safe on the top floor of NASDA, and more than ever aware that this was why theatre existed, to make people aware. Yes, I thought, but how? – it is centuries since Shakespeare put his unforgettable words on discrimination, “Do we not bleed?” into Shylock’s mouth, while contemporary works like Punk Rock have allowed us to glimpse the distorted mind that can conceive of such horrors – and still evil exists.

Kotuku gives me my answer, as the rainbow unicorns cuddle each other for comfort in the scary bits, and clap when the Moon Child extends pity even to an enemy in trouble. These alien black figures with moon faces, strangers with no oral language to share their thoughts, have been completely accepted as friends who merit the children’s concern and their love.  Empathy and compassion.  Perhaps for an hour, perhaps for ever, Kotuku and the Moon Child makes “They Are Us” a reality. 


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Two puppeteer performers create an entrancing experience

Review by John Smythe 17th Mar 2019

Billed as “a puppet show for everyone age 5 to 95 years”, it must be noted it’s a childlike imagination any adults need to bring to this. Astronomical science has nothing to do with it – unless I am being too Earthcentric and we are talking about four of Saturn’s 62 moons …

Ideally located at the Carter Observatory Space Place, the black-draped puppet-stage, its night sky backdrop flecked with golden stars, is instantly fascinating to the young audience. Full of anticipation they probably have no idea why, when the puppeteer duo Bridget and Roger Sanders welcome us, they quietly dedicate this day’s performances to the people of Christchurch, but we adults understand and we appreciate it.

The story that magically unfolds, to David Sanders’ gentle music, involves a Moon family. Long-faced Father Moon and, well, moon-faced Mother Moon are personified with Basel masks (aka Larval masks). The titular Moon Child is a white balloon with two dots and a squiggle – astonishingly effective.  

There is also a much smaller ball that glows with magically changing colours and I have to confess that it is only when I re-read the production information afterwards that I realise this is the Moon child’s baby sibling. So only in retrospect does it all fall into place.

Put to bed – in a crescent moon crib – by their parents, it is the one I will now call Baby Moon who floats away first, followed by Moon Child. A Kōtuku (white heron) – made from a plastic funnel and orange stick, flexible ducting and floaty fabric – is also afloat in outer space. And Kōtuku (acknowledged in the production notes as an exception from the bird of Māori myth) steals baby Moon!

Now at the time, I (and my companions) think the little magic ball is maybe Moon Child’s favourite toy and s/he is understandably annoyed to have it pinched, so the necessarily floaty pursuit that follows simply makes for a good excuse to go on an adventure. But reframing it as a child needing to retrieve the younger sibling entrusted to its care raises the stakes considerably!

Either way, I’d have expected the parents to be more shocked and upset to discover the crib is empty (those masks are entirely capable to expressing such emotions – more ‘frozen moments’, facing the audience directly, would make a big difference). I realise Father removing the crib is necessary stage management but it reads like, ‘oh well, they’ve gone, better clear this away and get on with our lives’.

After passing a very sparkly Saturn and a brightly coloured rocket, Moon Child follows Kōtuku to planet Earth – cleverly signified by green fabric hills, sandy-cloth-draped dunes and squawking red-billed seagulls. And it becomes apparent Moon Child is tethered by a tape.

Nevertheless a hermit crab is befriended, a black-backed gull soars above, the joys of a bucket and spade are discovered … But nasty Kōtuku confiscates the bucket and spade and sets Moon Child to work sweeping the beach! (Shades of Cinderella?). Even so, the black-backed gull is befriended via treats discovered by Moon Child.

An underwater sequence, while entrancing for its puppetry, does not involve the protagonists so the youngers in the audience become a bit restless – until the Moon Child dives in for a fish and gets to explore this new world. I’m surprised there is no ‘are we related?’ recognition when a white-domed jellyfish is encountered.  

Eventually the Moon Child’s kindness to the hermit crab and black-backed gull pays off – and our young hero also shows compassion to Kōtuku when it is trapped by a net … Moon Baby rises, the siblings soar into space, the blue planet earth recedes … and a happy family reunion ensues.

It is remarkable that all this illusion-by-puppetry has been achieved by just two performers.  All-in-all it has been an entrancing experience for young and older. 


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Entrancing for all ages

Review by Katie Hindle 16th Sep 2018

The queue stretches out the door and down the road, and those who are able to get in without pre-booking are lucky. It’s a full house and children sit on cushions on the floor in front, with adults in chairs behind them. We look at the beautifully simple stage set, of star-studded blackness, expectantly…

A moon Mama appears. Her figure is dressed in black with gauzy white cloth flowing from her mask to lend her arms. The mask is a white plate-like circle with two holes for eyes and a cute blob of a nose. Her posture, and the way she moves her white gloved hands and holds her head are eloquent. There are no words spoken during this entire performance, with the exception of ‘mama’, this being the universal first calling out for all mothers everywhere.

Bridget and Roger Sanders have created a play which can be followed by audiences of any age and any culture. It can be understood on many levels and the absence of language allows us each room to interpret this work in a way that is relevant to us personally. Emotions are carried in laughter and bird cries and the humming of inter-lapping tunes, and through body language. The masks are perfect in their simplicity, and Bridget and Roger acknowledge Donna Chapman and Akiko Miyamoto for sharing their skills in mask work and puppeteering.

A moon Papa joins his mate. His face is long, with a suggestion of the new moon in it. They are doing their housework and rejoicing in their moon baby… but the Moon Child travels far, far away, and becomes lost. We feel these parents’ grief through their mime and through the flowing piano music of David Sanders.

There are skilfully executed scene changes – night becomes day, sky becomes sea becomes beach becomes trees.

The Moon Child meets creatures of the sea and a Kotuku. In Māori culture the Kōtuku, or white heron, is a beautiful and very rare bird, and you are blessed if you should ever see one.  I am fascinated by the way all these creatures have been created out of household items we recognise, and arranged and manipulated in such a way that we understand not only what they are representing, but also their character. We see the long legs of a heron stepping as Roger moves. This Kōtuku has a mythical, slightly sinister quality.

The Moon Child finds friends and has adventures. There is danger and a rescue, and ultimately a home coming.

Throughout the fifty minutes of this play the audience has been spell-bound. I have never seen a group of over twenty children sit so still and so quietly for so long. Their parents have behaved really well too. We have all been entranced.


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