Pirates Vs Ninjas

BATS Theatre, Wellington

02/02/2010 - 15/02/2010

Production Details

Which one would you choose?

And what happens when you throw in a Gypsy, a Viking, a Guerrilla Terrorist, a Cowboy, an Aeronaut and Sasquatsch?


A council meeting crossed with a celebrity death match, Pirates vs Ninjas centres around the emergency meeting of the Clans of Freedom. Humanity’s forces of freedom and anarchy are at war, and the Clans must unite together to defeat their foe. But will they be able to bury their own grievances to unite as allies?

The Pirate King is determined to have his bride, the Gypsy will have her revenge and the Ninja must face her destiny. Tempers will flair and blood will be spilt. Love and loyalty will be tested and most will fail.

Pirates vs Ninjas is a racy new work premiering at Bats and kicking off this year’s Fringe Festival. Featuring a diverse team of hot local talent, amongst them is acclaimed actor/director Sophie Roberts, New Zealand’s only professional Cambodian Actor Sarita So and award winning Magician Jarred Fell (voted Top Senior Magician in Australasia).

Anya Tate-Manning, the show’s creator, traces its beginnings to an interest in Romano Gypsies whilst living in Finland “Gypsies in Helsinki live totally outside of society, they don’t go to school or have normal jobs. They wear old fashioned clothes and are really beautiful but also really intimidating.”

She created the show around an entire council made up of groups that live beyond societies restraints. “Then I got drawn into the Pirates vs Ninjas debate. It’s been going for ages, I’ve seen people nearly come to blows over it”. Research on the topic revealed a YouTube competition of hundreds of homemade Pirates vs Ninjas videos from all over the world.  

Fast paced and unrelenting, an hour of rich language, high passions and firebolt action. An epic scope with a cartoon twist.

Pirates vs Ninjas
at Bats
from Feb 2nd till 15th, 9.30pm.
Tickets are $10-16


Anya Tate-Manning(Writer/Director) is a graduate of Otago University and Toi Whakaari; New Zealand Drama School. Most recently she played the title role in the Fortune theatre’s productions of Jane Austen’s Emma, and Glorious. In last year’s fringe she directed Poly-Zygotic, which was selected for the ‘Pick of the Fringe’ at Downstage. A Chapman Tripp nominee for best female newcomer for Ugly Customers, she was also Highly Recommended for Best Performer at the 2008 Fringe Festival, for her role in Babycakes.  Other theatre credits include Angels in America, Whaea Kairau and Revenge of the Amazons. Anya has also toured for Capitol E, National Theatre for Children and worked for the Ryhmateatteri in Helsinki Finland, working on props and special effects for their production of The Unknown Soldier. 

Sophie Roberts (Esmerelda, Queen of the Gypsies)
 Award winning Actor, Director and Producer Sophie Roberts is a 2007 graduate of ToiWhakaari: NZ Drama School. She has performed lead roles in Angels in America, A Streetcar Named Desire, Antigone, Jeff Koons, Wolf’s Lair and Blood Wedding. Directing credits include Blinkers, the Toi  Whakaari season of Go Solo (2008 & 2009) and Mr Marmalade. Sophie is co]director of Almost a Bird Theatre Collective. Sophie won in 2008 the Chapman Tripp Award for Most Promising New Director of the Year for directing Mr Marmalade, which also won Production of the Year. In  2006 she won the standout performer award for her performance in Delicates in the Wellington Fringe Festival. In 2009 Sophie won the Chapman Tripp Award for Most Promising Female Newcomer for her performance in her Solo show Wolf’s Lair. Sophie is currently directing Vernon God Little at Downstage Theatre.

Sarita So(Seared Lily, Head of the Ninjas) is a 2007 graduate of Toi Whakaari and Victoria University. Specialising in stage combat, she starred as Richard of Gloucester in her second year production of Shakespeare’s Henry the Sixth. She appeared in the 2008 Fringe Festival in (Not) The all Indian Radio Show and as ‘the girl’ in Circa Two’s production of The Pillowman. Most recently show appeared in Gas at Bats in December.

Natano Keni (Olaf, King of the Vikings)is a 2007 graduate of Toi Whakaari also. He has worked in Uganda, in theatrical workshop seasons for troubled youth, in Auckland with the Killer Kokonut Krew in their production of Once were Samoans. In 2008 he toured all over New Zealand with the Duffy Books in Homes Tour.

Sam Bunkall (Trevor) is a 2008 graduate of Toi Whakaari, originally from Wellington. In 2009 Sam created and stared in A Mime to Kill in the fringe festival. He produced and stared in Aoterroroa written by Jo Randerson at Te Whaea in 2008. Sam is currently writing a feature film being shot in Wellington in 2010.

Thomas Lahood (Sasquatsch/Don Pedro) most recently starred in Good Night The End at Downstage in 2009. Experienced in clowning and mask work, Thomas trained in Ibiza and traveled with Circus Ronaldo in Belgium . He has worked for Capitol E in A Dog’s Tale, and co-created and performed in the renegade theatre experiences Ye Olde Horror Walk and Barry’s Bush Walk

Jon Coddington (designer and animator) is a graduate from Massey and Toi Whakaari’s Stage and Screen Design course. He specialises in industrial set design, has a keen interested in animation is currently filming and stock motion short film. He particularly enjoys using recycled materials for set construction.

Thomas Press – Sound Designer

A graduate of Toi Whakaari:NZ Drama School with a Diploma in Entertainment Technology (2005), Thomas has worked as a sound and lighting designer for company’s such as Java Dance Company and SEEyd Company. He has worked for Almost a Bird on the previous season of ‘Wolfs Lair’ earlier this year. Throughout 2006, Thomas was house Technician for Downstage Theatre and composed music and sound design for the Chapman Tripp nominated production of ‘Dracula’. In 2008, Thomas was the composer for the Capital E touring production of ‘Kiwi Moon’. He is currently in the third year of study towards a Bachelor of Music in Composition at the New Zealand School of Music.

Jarred Fell (Special FX) is an award winning comedian magician . He specialises in special effects and is known throughout New Zealand for his dark and quirky comedy routines. Awarded Best Newcomer at the 2008 Comedy Guild awards, in 2009, at the age of 18, he was awarded as Top Senior Magician in Australasia by the International Brotherhood of Magicians. He has recently completed working on special effects for on his first feature film, a zombie thriller.

Ahilan Karunaharem (Dramaturg) is a graduate from Toi Whakaari, and Victoria University, and has recently starred in Centrepoint’s production of Awhi Tapu. Ahi is currently working on a solo show and has been mentor and dramaturg for the script since in conception early last year.

A complete and total blast

Review by Uther Dean 15th Feb 2010

The Fringe is almost upon us. What a wonderful thought. Especially if you take the early opening Pirates vs. Ninjas as a measure for the monsoon of theatre to come in the next few weeks.

An emergency meeting of the Clans of Freedom has been called. Everyone is there.

Esmerelda – played on the night I saw it by Anya Tate-Manning, also the writer/director, but also credited to Sophie Roberts so one might assume that Roberts will be taking over the roll when Vernon God Little which she is co-directing is up and running – the feisty queen of the Gypsies. Trevor the Bastard (Sam Bunknall) , a Scottish lothario. Captain Pain (Hadleigh Walker), the dashing if conflicted king of the Pirates. Seared Lily (Sarita So) a pregnant ninja. Olaf the Viking (Natano Keni) who appears to be more alcohol than human. Vittoria the Maori (Maria Rose MacDonald) who is… a Maori. Cliff the Cowboy (Thomas La Hood) makes an appearance too. As does Sasquatch (La Hood again). Don Pedro (La Hood a third time) can’t make it. Because he’s dead.

Tempers will rage. Weddings will be arranged. And, most importantly, a lot of people will die.

Now, before I get to all the good stuff about Pirates vs. Ninjas, and there is a lot of it, I need to explain why the above plot summery contains so little plot. It’s not because there isn’t one. Quite the opposite. Pirates vs. Ninjas is thick with plot, sub-plot, sub-text and back-story. So much so that it becomes really rather hard to follow exactly what is going on. The story is spun so swiftly that its particulars sailed right by both me and the person who came with me. I kept wishing for one character to just sit down and tell another just what was going on. But it speaks incredibly highly of the success of the rest of the production that not really knowing what was going on did not detract from our enjoyment one iota.

Pirates vs Ninjas is a blast. A complete and total blast. The jokes are pitched wonderfully dark. The design is astounding for a Fringe show. Every single one of the performances could be plucked out of this and planted in almost any other show and they would steal the play. Here they simply all merge into one of the best ensembles in recent memory.

Pirates vs. Ninjas is not simply happy with being a piece of fluff. It has some real moments of satirical bite. It is a dumb show for smart people or a smart show for dumb people. Or maybe it’s just a show for everyone.

The night I saw Pirates vs Ninjas the audience was dismally and unwarrantedly small. Pirates vs. Ninjas seems to be running the risk of being that cool show in the fringe everyone heard about but no one saw. You know how you can change that? By going to it. You’ll have a great time. I promise.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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Wild ride

Review by Lynn Freeman 13th Feb 2010

I mentioned Hamlet in the Vernon God Little review and there’s a hint of it in Anya Tate Manning’s play too, with a high death count by the end. Mind you that was always on the cards, given she brings together the heads of the world’s most fearsome clans – the Scots, Gypsies, Vikings, Maori, Cowboys, and, of course, Ninjas and Pirates.

They gather round a half round table to fight it out for the top job. They all have vengeance on their mind, though past hurts of the heart or betrayals or family slaughters. The stakes are high.

Tate Manning has written, directed and stars in the play. That’s sometimes a recipe for disaster but she’s done a fine job on all three counts with Pirates vs Ninjas. Sarita So has the saddest eyes and her Seared Lily Ninja is the one clan leader you’ll find yourself cheering for. Sam Bunkall’s Scots Trevor the Bastard is all charm, and the scene between Olaf the Viking (Natano Keni) and Vittora the Maori (Maria Rose MacDonald) is one to look out for.

It takes a while to get your head around what’s happening, as the hour long play unfolds at breakneck speed, but it’s a wild ride well worth taking.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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Action-packed show is not for the faint-hearted

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 05th Feb 2010

Although this year’s Fringe Festival doesn’t officially start till next week, Bats Theatre has got in early by labelling its current productions as part of their Fringe programme. And if Anya Tate-Manning’s production of Pirates vs Ninja is any indication of what is in store then it bodes well for a great Festival, at BATS at least. 

Power, revenge, loyalty, love and betrayal are but some of the many themes running through this hour-long action-packed show of the type Shakespeare was a master at. It is also reminiscent of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls – a group of archetypal women coming together around a table for a meal. And although the writing of Pirates vs Ninja is tight and terse, like Churchill’s, the comparison stops there; Shakespeare’s Titus and Andronicus is a more similar play that comes to mind, with the stage, in the final moments, being littered with blood and bodies. 

The Clans of Freedom have come together from various wars in an unspecified time to elect a new leader. Initially presided over by Cliff the Cowboy (Thomas La Hood), he meets an early demise. Factions soon develop between Captain Pain the Pirate (Hadleigh Walker) and Seared Lily the Ninja (Sarita So) ,as each tries to get the votes of the rest of the group sitting around Jon Coddington’s impressively designed table. 

Vying for attention are Esmeralda the Gypsy (Anya Tate-Manning), Trevor the Scottish Bastard (Sam Bunkall), Olaf the Viking (Natano Keni) and Vittoria the Maori Warrior (Maria Rose MacDonald). Within the global sphere of the various clans at war, and the power struggle of one clan over another, are the interactions of each individual, through the bond of brotherhood between the men and the power of seduction between the men and women. 

But none of this is at a subtle, romantic level. Raw energy and physical strength is the name of the game throughout this production, and the young cast have this in abundance, so much so that at times the physicality takes over, to the detriment of the diction. But the professionalism and confidence the cast have in bringing Anya Tate-Manning script to life, and her assured direction, aided by the excellent costumes and realistic special effects – this play is not for the squeamish – make it a thoroughly engaging and entertaining show.


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The essence of human conflict distilled

Review by John Smythe 04th Feb 2010

More than just a bloodthirsty romp, Pirates Vs Ninjas is a savage satire. It confronts us with all the flaws that are fundamental to so-called humanity’s endless compulsion to wreak vengeance, violence and tribal war at every level of society, in spite of all the cautionary tales that prove it’s a lose-lose scenario. 

Bloody funny in the process, it is somewhat Pythonesque in its ability to make us laugh at its horrific expose of the petty self-defeating bullshit we buy into in the mindless quest for power. 

With it antecedents in producer-writer-director-performer Anya Tate-Manning’s Go Solo 07 (Group D) offering – then entitled Susi Saari (Wolf Island) – the play now employs seven actors in nine roles. It takes us back to something like the “gruesome rout” that her mortally wounded woman had fled, living just long enough to tell her tale.

A prologue to the emergency meeting of the Clans of Freedom finds peace-loving leader Don Pedro trying to stop Seared Lily – the Ninja, pregnant with his child – from heading off on a mission of some kind. When she doesn’t buy that her fear of transgressing the will of the Gods is simply conditioning, he flips to the prophecy that she was born to lead, not follow. (I suppose it is up to us to decide, in the end, whether the outcome is a fulfilment of that prophecy …)

Enter the Pirate, Captain Pain, who has decided “the reign of peace is over!” While Don Pedro’s martial arts may be equal to Pain’s sword play, the added arsenal of the broadsword of kilted Scotsman Trevor the Bastard and the handgun of Vittoria the Maori, got up like Rambo, renders Pain’s assertion true.

And so to the 278th meeting of the Clans commences, with Olaf the Viking, Cliff the Cowboy and Esmeralda the Gypsy joining the above, except for Don Pedro (who does in a way take his position as head of the Clans, although his position is declared vacant). The announcement they have “a problem” provokes a spontaneous outburst of violence that inadvertently kills Cliff.

It is the formidable – and desirable – Esmeralda who brings them to order. The spin of misinformation and duplicity Captain Pain brings to his tale of Don Pedro’s demise is all-too-redolent of world history through the ages. Despite the invocation to put their “hatreds and conflicts” aside in order to elect a new leader, the toxic mix of unresolved grievances, secret alliances, hidden agendas, self interest and outright treacherous deceit ensures an outcome that was ever thus.

Even the late arrival of the benign Sasquatch cannot stem the flow. En route to his thrice inflicted demises, Thomas LaHood brings physical dexterity, an excellent facility for accents and sound characterisations to Don Pedro, Cliff the Cowboy and Sasquatch: an especially compelling presence. 

Sarita So’s inscrutably centred Seared Lily, the pregnant Ninja, captures beautifully the deadly supremacy of the truly focused warrior: the still centre of a doomed world.

As the sword-happy Captain Pain, Hadleigh Walker epitomises the obsessive force of ‘might is right’ – in love, war and politics – who manages to capture the odd endearing moment until he get his spurting comeuppance.

Sam Bunkall’s Trevor is the suavest Bastard to tread the boards since Jacobean times. His duplicity, unrequited love (for Esmeralda) and premature crow of victory and self-justification effectively echoes Shakespeare’s bastard avengers. 

The staunch bravado of Vittoria the Maori is tellingly counterpointed, in Maria Rose MacDonald’s tragic-comic performance, with her vulnerable need to form a protective alliance with someone. She too has empathy-prodding moments.

As Olaf the Viking, Natano Keni navigates to great dramatic effect between formidable fighter, drunken no-hoper, cold-blooded killer and fish-out-of-water who really just wanted to be a farmer.

Completing a cast who all inhabit their roles as if born to them, is Anya Tate-Manning’s deeply embittered Esmeralda.* Embroiled in ancient but unforgotten hurts, she has to choose between multiple suitors where political expediency holds undue sway. The result of her angry confrontation with Sasquatch provides the most poignant moment in her play of swirling passions.

Packing it all into 50-odd minutes brings a comic book feel to a performance-driven production that may not yet have fulfilled its potential. Further development from a playwrighting perspective could enrich the audience experience by engaging us more empathetically in each character’s wants and needs, seducing us into taking sides and switching allegiances, in order to confront us with our own roles and susceptibilities in the continuing madness.

As it stands, Pirates Vs Ninjas distils the essence of human conflict in a potent shot-glass scooped from a blood-bath.
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*The role of Esmeralda will be played by Sophie Roberts Tues 9 to Friday 12 February.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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