No Moa

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

15/04/2006 - 24/04/2006

Production Details

By Greg Cooper
Directed by Rachel More

Set and costume design by Gene Peters

Sam goes camping with her Dad, however this year’s trip is one she’ll never forget. When she finds herself lost in the Rimutaka Forest Park, she can’t believe her eyes when she finds … a real live moa!

Mel Dodge
Timothy Bartlett
Gene Alexander

Theatre ,

50 mins

Family frolics with a most entertaining moa

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 17th Apr 2006

Periodic "sightings" of moas in the New Zealand bush has prompted Greg Cooper to come up with an innovative and imaginative scenario for a children’s show.

Tama the moa is captured and put on show after he is discovered by Sam and her Dad when they go tramping in the Rimutuka Forrest Park.  The environmentally conscious Sam didn’t intend this when she told the media of her discovery – but she didn’t reckon on Mr McNasty, who wants the moa for his animal emporium. 

Having tricked Sam into showing him where Tama is, Mr McNasty captures him and makes him the star exhibit of his collection.  Sam then has to trick Mr McNasty in order to get Tama released. 

With only three actors playing all the parts writer Cooper and director Rachael Moore have come up with many clever and inventive ways to get their story across, including recruiting members of the audience to become mountains, rivers, trees and lots of different animals. 

The production is served well by the actors. Mel Dodge as Sam gives a very lively and animated performance as Sam, while Timothy Bartlett brings all his experience and comic skills to the parts of Dad/Mr McNasty, to the delight of both the younger and older members of the audience. 

Gene Alexander, with his long sinewy legs, animates Tama the moa to great effect. However it did seem rather incongruous having Alexander, an American, speak the moa’s lines with an American accent rather than trying for a kiwi one.  The result is that Tama is more like a brown Big Bird from Sesame Street than the unique New Zealand icon that the moa is.  

Nevertheless the production as a whole works well and should prove a hit.


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Outrage at Downstage

Review by John Smythe 16th Apr 2006

At Downstage Greg Cooper’s No Moa, pitched at ages 4 to 11, is fine in principle.

Sam (Mel Dodge) is reluctant to go camping with her boy scout stumble-bum Dad (Timothy Bartlett). When she does, she gets lost and is found by Tama the moa (Gene Alexander) who impresses upon her the importance of keeping his existence a secret. But news hound Snoopy Scandals (Alexander again) is on the prowl for a scoop and tricks her with promises of media fame.

When Harry McNasty (Bartlett), entrepreneur of the ailing Caged Animal Emporium, gets in on the act, and captures and cages the moa, Sam feels obliged to save Tama. And – with the help of the audience of course, she does – leaving McNasty to the mercy of his own very hungry and  politically active Tiger (Dodge).

Gene Peters’ set and costume designs, and the Moa itself, are excellent, and the performers are fine, if a little patronising in their tone. Audience participation is requested as a nice little fun thing to do rather than required as a matter of life or death and therefore offered spontaneously. By comparison with On Our Street and The Gingerbread Man (also reviewed today), it’s rather old fashioned in its approach.

Mel Dodge is suitably child-like as Sam and stroppy as the Tiger, although why the latter has a Cockney accent is beyond me. Why not Indian or African? Timothy Bartlett is wonderfully incompetent as Dad and malevolent as McNasty. While I’d have preferred to see McNasty characterised as a Kiwi bloke, I accept that his Victorian values when it comes to exotic species do justify his being played as a safari-suited and pith-helmeted Yorkshire man.

What I cannot forgive is that Tama the Moa is played with a Bronx American accent. Well played, sure, in every other respect – but why on Earth American? Likewise Gene Alexander’s news reporter is American. Again, why? Here are great opportunities to stake a claim for our own cultural identity in the face of a constant TV and movie diet of American product – not the least being Sesame Street – and this is what get? It’s outrageous!

That Gene Alexander himself is American is completely beside the point. Any a Kiwi actor who has found work in the USA and the UK has earned that right by perfecting the appropriate accents. It’s one advantage we gain from growing up so immersed in their cultural product. I therefore say that any US or American actor who wants to take a Kiwi roles in a New Zealand play may only do so if he can get the voice right.

Yes I know, Moa’s don’t have a voice and if they did, who knows what it would sound like. But it’s fair to say, e hoa old mate, it wouldn’t be American. Did nobody stop to consider the message this send to their audience: that all things wacky, wonderful and really important come from elsewhere? How sadly retro is that?

I want answers, please. And if anyone thinks it’s justified, please use ‘post a comment’ to offer your rationale.

[I note that in the Court Theatre production of 2003, Romanian actor Teodor Surcel played the Moa. Did he do so in his own strong accent or what? I’d love to know. I’m all for authentic ‘own voice’ acting in translated classics or Shakespeare set in foreign lands, but when it comes to our own native fauna, it’s a great creative opportunity, surely, to invent an idiosyncratic voice for it.]


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