Mary Bumby's HIVE OF STORY

Hamilton Gardens, English Flower Garden, Hamilton

24/02/2024 - 25/02/2024

Hamilton Arts Festival Toi Ora ki Kirikiriroa 2024

Production Details


A prophecy, a hive of story and plenty of cross pollination.

Meet Mary Bumby, Aotearoa’s honey bee pioneer, re-imagined and returned to earth to re awaken the bee-ing in humans.

A highly interactive and humorous excursion into a world where New Zealand’s past & future meet to make something sticky, sweet and musically punctuated.

The perfect show for all ages.
English Flower Garden, Hamilton Gardens, Hamilton
Sat 24 Feb 2024, 1:30pm–2:30pm
Sat 24 Feb 2024, 4:00pm–5:00pm 

Hamilton Arts Festival Toi Ora ki Kirikiriroa

Theatre , Family ,

1 hr

Power and inspiration in the great traditions of storytelling

Review by Gail Pittaway 25th Feb 2024

Although the name has changed to Hamilton Festival of the Arts, losing ‘Gardens’ from the title, it’s a treat to know that so many performances and events for the festival remain in the glorious Hamilton Gardens. The setting for this delightful entertainment, the English Flower Garden, is perfect for an encounter with bees through music, audience interaction and glorious storytelling.

A bee even lands on the finger of a young man in the audience, to the delight of his neighbours and, of course, Mary, who incorporates this interference into her act with great enthusiasm.

Mary Bumby, an historical figure, was a bee pioneer in the early settlements of New Zealand, even before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. She came at the invitation of her brother, John, a Wesleyan minister in the Hokianga, bringing two skeps of Scottish black honey bees, as he was missing the taste of honey.

In the first two minutes of this solo show, we meet the exuberant Mary Bumby, hear of how she came to be in Aotearoa and learn the new word, skeps, the name for a woven domed beehive. Recalled from her eternal rest in the great beehive in the sky, she is tasked by the Great Queen Bee herself with the mission to come to Aotearoa and tell the people “What you know, and what you know you know.”

This mysterious knowledge unfolds through a lively paced show full of music, digressions and games as Mary incorporates the history of the interactions between humans and bees since prehistoric times, a nature lesson on the whakapapa of the honey bee, and bee lore from many lands.

Tanya Batt is an accomplished and inventive storyteller and through her characterisation Mary B is a joyful, vibrant character who interacts with the audience, engaging them in unexpected and imaginative enactments, group humming, songs and chants. She’s a force, not to be refused as she coaxes audience members to enact the collection of pollen and nectar collection and delivery to the hive, or to create tableaux of key bee moments in history: prehistoric cave paintings in Spain, Egyptian tomb arts, Greek drunken symposia, even Napoleon wearing a cloak embossed with images of the bees.

Appropriately, each participant is gifted with a packet of flower seeds to sow and grow for future pollination.

Not all the birds and bee stories are tasteful, despite her Wesleyan background. There is the mating of the drones with the Queen Bee, an aerial orgy after which the penis of the drone snaps off.  There’s also the Greco Roman myth that bees arose out of the decaying carcass of a bull and the irrefutable fact that honey is manufactured in a series of regurgitations by the busy bees. Well done to the brave audience member who enacted this scene with Tanya. Upon reflection I wonder if they weren’t inadvertently rewriting Shakespeare as “Where the bee chucks, there chuck I?”

Batt is also a wonderful singer and researcher, so her performances are always rich with stories she transforms into music and lively theatre. Her final story is from Borneo, about love transitioning across species and creating human bee-ing, a creature which unites to create something beautiful and good for its own community. The last hymn or hum of the show invites us all into a marriage between bees and humans, and above all, “To dwell in accordance with the interconnectness of all life.”

Backed by Peter Forster’s perfectly timed musical accompaniment, on accordion, guitar, cello and backing voice, Batt’s own voice captivates and illuminates, with versatile charm. It’s a performance that rises above entertainment and reminds us of the power and inspiration in the great traditions of storytelling.


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