National Library of New Zealand, 70 Molesworth St, Thorndon, Wellington

25/07/2015 - 26/07/2015

St James Theatre 1st Floor Gallery, Wellington

06/03/2016 - 06/03/2016

Capital 150 birthday celebrations

New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2016

Production Details

Five famous historical Wellingtonians have come back to give us fresh perspective on life in this city:

Te Rauparaha  
performance by Jim Moriarty,
written by Jim Moriarty

Robin Hyde 
performance by Isobel MacKinnon,
written by Jo Randerson (using Robin Hyde’s own words)

Nancy Wake 
performance by Jean Sergent,
written by Jean Sergent and Isobel Mebus (using Nancy Wake’s own words) 

James K. Baxter 
performance by Andrew Paterson,
written by Jo Randerson (using James K. Baxter’s own words) 

Carmen Rupe 
performance by Borni Te Rongopai Tukiwaho,
written by Jane Yonge (using Carmen’s own words)

This year marks 150 years since Wellington became the capital city. As part of the Capital 150 birthday celebrations, the National Library is presenting Page Turners, a free theatrical event in which five famous Wellingtonians from the past present their stories before the backdrop of an enormous, operating pop-up book.

Celebrate the people whose histories made our colourful capital city and acknowledge the wealth of stories held by the National Library.

Free at The National Library
25 July – 26 July 2015 
National Library of New Zealand
70 Molesworth St, Thorndon, Wellington
11am, 1pm, and 3pm daily in the Main Hall.

For more information see 
Sponsored by Wellington Community Trust. 

New Zealand Festival 2016
Upstairs at St James Theatre, Wellington
Sunday 06 Mar, 11:00am, 1:00pm & 3:00pm

Set designed and created by Glenna Matcham and Struan Ashby 
Costume design: Sophie Sargent
Lighting design: Jeremy Larkin

Te Rauparaha (Jim Moriarty),
Robin Hyde (Isobel MacKinnon),
Nancy Wake (Jean Sergent),
James K. Baxter (Andrew Paterson) and
Carmen Rupe (Bourni Te Rongopai Tukiwaho)

Theatre , Spoken word ,

1 hr

Stunning performances of enchanting words from multi-layered pages

Review by Saran Goldie-Anderson 07th Mar 2016

What do Te Rauparaha, Robin Hyde, Nancy Wake, James K Baxter and Carmen Rupe have in common? They were all Wellingtonians – and all trouble-makers.  

The premise of Page Turners is as simple as this: these are people who shared the same land and broke new ground. Five people, five stories, all delivered from the pages of a book. 

In the upstairs foyer of the St James the sightlines from some of the seats to the low stage are not the easiest, particularly when the actors are seated, but both the pop-up book set and the stories set in front of it are rich and engaging, and when I can’t see I am content to listen.

The stories are all beautifully written, some put together by the actors themselves, some by other writers (Jo Randerson, Isobel Mebus and Jane Yonge), and most use the historic characters’ own words. With such beautiful pieces to work with, actors’ delivery is engaging and delightful, with fantastic emotional range. 

Jim Moriarty (Te Rauparaha) brings us back to the land where the stories all start with a sense of mischief, fire, passion and pain, setting the scene for the characters that follow with the story of his struggle to protect the place he loved as it changed around and despite him. He also quite literally sets the stage, turning the pages of the beautiful book with stunning paper cut-outs and movable parts to complement each story. 

Isobel MacKinnon (Robin Hyde) quickly gets us on side, eliciting audience groans at the oppressions she fought and faced down, chuckles at her wry observations and applause for the steadfast celebration of her achievements.

Jean Sergent (Nancy Wake) makes us laugh and laugh with her strong character, bawdy humour and surprising, sudden vulnerability as she defends her humanity, her name, and the actions times of war make necessary – but never easy.

Andrew Paterson’s performance (James K. Baxter) is riveting, poetic and human, with his energy, stage presence and voice bringing to life the writer’s attempts to see the world as it is but not as it has to be; his wholehearted acceptance of flaws and foibles and despair delivered with a kind of hope. 

Finally, Borni Te Rongopai Tukiwaho (Carmen Rupe) is the audience’s darling, coming on stage to a warm reception as a woman well-loved in their living collective memory. Tukiwaho brings Carmen’s story to life with a smile, grace, and the dignified but cheeky humour of a woman who knows who she was and asks everyone else to catch up – not with fear or anger, but because she truly wants everyone to enjoy the party.

The set is a simple but many-layered piece of art, the words are enchanting and the performances are stunning. I go to Page Turners knowing all the names, and leave feeling like I’ve met the all; these five people who put down roots and broke down walls and together helped build the city we call home. 


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A priceless theatrical taonga

Review by John Smythe 25th Jul 2015

Named for Five Wellingtonians who turned significant pages in history, Page Turners is an absorbing, intriguing and informative contribution to this weekend’s Capital 150 birthday (since becoming the capital). The monologues are set against a large and extremely impressive popup book – designed and created by Glenna Matcham and Struan Ashby – in the popup performance space deep inside the main hall of the National Library.

Te Rauparaha offers a warm welcome and is our host. “I am not he,’ says Jim Moriarty, who wrote and performs this poetic piece, “yet he is in me.” He takes an omniscient view, speaking of his campaigns as a warrior in the region and of Wellington as it is now: “Sky-reaching whare stacked one atop the other … waiting for Ruamoko to strike.” There’s a good gag in there about EQC, WCC and ACC.

While he makes no secret of the vengeful nature of his most bloodthirsty escapades, we get the impression Te Rauparaha has mellowed (as he did, later in life). His silent haka has us nodding knowingly and as the intonations rise to the surface we are invited to join in: “Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora! …”     

Isobel MacKinnon physically represents Robin Hyde as thin and frail (an injured knee at 18 left her lame; she also suffered from depression, dysentery and anaemia). The text curated and edited by Jo Randerson, from Hyde’s own words, skims a lifetime while dropping depth-charges of profound interest.

She is fully present to every moment no matter where it lands on her historical timeline. “I hate my safety and spit on it,” she declares at one point. The opening image of feeling trapped in the women’s parliamentary press gallery is the set up for a series of inner conflicts, between being a journalist and poet, a writer and solo mother, a New Zealander and questing traveller …

Suicidal feelings vie with lively anticipation as her next book of poems nears publication. Her opinion of herself as a great writer is counterbalanced with concern for the homeless, and a call to embrace our Pacific identity and move on from racial intolerance (she dies in 1939).

Jean Sergent takes no prisoners with her charmingly forthright Nancy Wake. Again her own words have been crafted by Sergent and Isobel Mebus to create this snapshot. In her strong Australian accent she reveals how her first encounter with the Nazi’s in Vienna – flogging Jews in the town square – sparked the deep hatred that motivated her wartime activities with ‘Special Ops’.

Like Te Rauparaha she makes no apology for her actions. Whether it was riding a bike 500 kilometres or executing a Gestapo spy, she did what she thought she should at the time in order to help.

Barefoot in a raincoat and clutching a beer in a brown paper bag, Andrew Paterson gives a compelling account of James K Baxter in the poet’s own words, once more distilled to a piquant essence by Jo Randerson.  

“Auckland you great arsehole” (from ‘Ode to Auckland’) is an ideal opening for this Wellington audience. He tells us he has to believe in ‘God the father’ because it offers us more hope than owning multiple refrigerators ever could; speaks just as respectfully of his own mortal father (Archibald, the committed pacifist); explains the writers’ need for demons – and launches into a brilliant rant about what it is to be a poet.

‘Begin The Begine’ heralds the final theatrical thumbnail: Carmen Rupe – in her own words, curated and edited by Jane Yonge – performed by Borni Te Rongopai Tukiwaho with impeccable grace and style. The impersonation is spot-on, made all the more interesting at this opening performance by having Trevor Morley in the audience who, as a police sergeant, arrested Carmen a number of times.

Her anecdotes range from the insightfully amusing – her earning rate compared to that of a plumber; the code of ‘The Cups’ by which customers at Carmen’s International Coffee Lounge indicated their sexual preferences – to the painful: being made to dress as a male for her first court appearance in 1966.  

Most impressive, however, is the list of reforms she campaigned on when running for mayor of Wellington (in 1977): bars to stay open until midnight or 1am; drinking age reduced to 18; legalising prostitution, abortion and homosexuality; good sex education in schools. All have come to pass.

Carmen’s respectful explanation of the difference between a female impersonator (which Tukiwaho is) and a transgender woman (which Carmen was) becomes poignant when she speaks of her feelings about the law blocking her desire to adopt children. 

That all this has been covered in just one hour is remarkable. Producer Isobel Mebus, director Jane Yonge, the subjects, the writers and the performers have given us a priceless theatrical toanga.

All five tantalising character sketches cry out for full dramatised portraits in some form or another. Meanwhile many audience members will be inspired to discover more – and with information at our fingertips, that is easily done.  

There are only three more opportunities to see them live – 11am, 1pm and 3pm Sunday – and if you are in Wellington, I recommend you do.


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