RANGITAHUA... The Stopping Off Place

The Academy Galleries, Queen's Wharf, Wellington

15/04/2016 - 19/04/2016

The Whangarei Art Museum, Whangarei

27/08/2015 - 29/08/2015

Production Details

A live installation experience – a breathing gallery of tales, songs, music and karakia created by Company of Giants with local performers. Exhibits will come to life to reveal the remarkable history of human contact with these rugged volcanic islands – stories of resilience, death, exploration and settlement – in a powerful investigation of the people who touched these elemental and isolated isles.

This is created in response to the Kermadec: Lines in the Ocean exhibition. 

Performers: Hayley Douglas, Damian Pullen, Kelly Johnson, Jan Fisher, Anthony Crum, Tomasin Fisher-Johnson, Vincent Nathan, Hannah White, Jazz Fisher-Johnson, Zelde Morrison, Finn Gilbert Keene, Roman Grade, Buster Fisher-Johnson, Katie Woodhouse, Elijah Revell  

The Whangarei Art Museum
Thursday 27th / Friday 28th / Saturday 29th at 6pm + 7pm
Rangitahua Installation: $10 

An immersive, breathing gallery experience of stories, waiata and music amongst the works of some of Aotearoa’s finest artists 

Discover a unique and profound collision of visual art and performance at a critical point in the history of the Kermadec Islands. Company of Giants (winners of Most Outstanding Ensemble in NZ Fringe 2016) return to Wellington with Rangitahua: The Stopping off Place – a live installation experience part of the Kermadec: Discoveries and Connections Exhibition at the Academy Galleries. 

Audiences will be treated to a live installation experience, a breathing gallery of stories, waiata and music weaving through and responding to the works of art within the Kermadec: Discoveries and Connections exhibition.

Six months after the New Zealand Government declared its intention to establish the 620,000 square kilometre Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, Company of Giants will bring the Kermadec inspired art of Phil Dadson, Bruce Foster, Fiona Hill, Gregory O’Brien, Jason O’Hara, John Pule, John Reynolds, Elizabeth Thomson and Robin White to life to reveal the remarkable history of human contact with these rugged volcanic islands – stories of resilience, tragedy, exploration and settlement in an investigation of the people drawn to the elemental and isolated isles.

Rangitahua features a collection of historical and contemporary stories and events from the extraordinary islands, woven together with live music and storytelling. From Maori voyagers to American whalers, colonial explorers to eccentric pioneers seeking sanctuary and freedom, Raoul Island has attracted many visitors throughout its history. Indifferently, the rugged, remote volcano half way between New Zealand and Tonga, has resisted human efforts to settle and tame it. Earthquakes, eruptions, extreme weather and isolation have thwarted and discouraged us – we have stopped, we have settled, though we have rarely stayed.

This is a unique, immersive experience for all ages where performance meets visual art in a profound collision that brings to life the myth, history and importance of the Kermadec Islands – at a critical point of history in which it’s unique watery surroundings stand to be protected for all. The isolation of the isles have led the evolution of a unique and fragile world, one which New Zealander’s continue to work on protecting with the creation of the world’s largest ocean sanctuary.

After seasons at the Whangarei Art Museum and Gisborne’s Tairawhiti Museum, Company of Giants bring this unique installation performance to join the Kermadec artists at the Academy Galleries, Queens Wharf, Wellington for four days only from April 16 – 19.


Company of Giants is a Whāngārei based theatre collective who specialise in new devised work, space activation, community focused processes and local collaboration. Previous works include Odyssey (first created with Northland Youth Theatre), Giant Teeth (in collaboration with Auckland Theatre Company), The Owl and the Pussycat (winner of Most Outstanding ensemble at the 2016 NZ Fringe).  

“It is about honouring those quiet, detailed, human moments that are interwoven in the history of the Islands but previously untold.  The experience appeals to all ages.  People can choose to get right up close and look at the actors, the objects and the artwork, or stand back a bit like how different people view work in a gallery,” says director, Laurel Devenie. 

“It has been a fun challenge to mix the performative aspects of theatre with the representational nature of visual art – a character can be a classical museum exhibit and at once transform into a live heroine and back again. In much the same way, set pieces are also exhibited sculpture, drifting between objects in a cabinet of wonder and practical tools of story-telling,” says Designer, Ash Holwell 

Directed by Laurel Devenie (On The Upside Down of the World, The Owl and the Pussycat, Shortland Street), designed by Ash Holwell (The Owl and the Pussycat, MAMIL), the cast includes Kelly Johnson (Goodbye Pork Pie, Utu), Tomasin Fisher Johnson, Anthony Crum and Mataara Stoked (all The Owl and the Pussycat), and a diverse range of Company of Giants members across all ages. 

Rangitahua: The Stopping Off Place 

15 APRIL, 7pm (preview)
16 -19 APRIL @ 2pm + 7pm Daily   
The Academy Galleries, Queens Wharf, Wellington
Tickets: Adult $18 / Concession $12 / Child $10
Book now at www.iTicket.co.nz or phone 0508 iTicket 

Theatre , Promenade , Family ,

An effortless absorbing of history through artistic symbiosis

Review by John Smythe 16th Apr 2016

Whangarei and Gisborne have already had the pleasure; now it’s Wellingtonians’ turn, every day until Tuesday (2pm or 7pm), to immerse themselves in the story of the Kermadecs – Aotearoa’s northern-most islands – amid some of the artworks that have inspired this Company of Giants production.

Described as ‘a live installation experience’ and directed by Laurel Devenie with a multi-generational cast headed by Kelly Johnson and Jan Fisher, RANGITAHUA: The Stopping off Place is a dramatic response to elements of the Kermadec: Discoveries and Connections exhibition currently at the Academy Galleries at the entrance to Queens Wharf.

Live tableaux ranging from 14th century flax-weaving to 21st century bird-cataloguing adorn the gallery as we take our first opportunity to survey the works*  and gain a sense of the human history (there’s more time to engage with them after the show). A conch draws us to the story of the first arrivals, by waka, of those we now call Māori, who brought all they needed to start a new life, including plants and animals.  

We are treated to part of the legend of Turi (progenitor of the Whanganui iwi); the tale of portents, slaughter and revenge that provoked this migration and brought them to this ‘stopping off place’: the island they named Rangitahua.

Of course the British and French knew nothing of this history when they ‘discovered’ the volcanic arc of six islands and renamed them the Kermadec Islands, calling the main island Raoul (the French) then Sunday Island (the Brits).

A massive rope evokes the entry of whalers to the islands. Song and dance blends the cultures. Then comes the dumping of diseased and dying slaves from Tokelau, being traded by Peruvian blackbirders who told then they were being taken to a ‘better life’. On Rangitahua/ Raoul/ Sunday Island, the basic instinct of human compassion clashes with the danger of further infection.

By now I am sensing how much of this microcosmic story resonates into the timeless stories of how humans seeking out new opportunities, or otherwise finding themselves in new environments, interact with each other. The same themes permeate the daily news now.

Although attracted by the idea he could be “king of his own island”, the pioneer spirit is captured in the substantive story of Thomas Bell (Kelly Johnson), his wife Frederica (Jan Fisher) and their many children. Sustained in the evenings by the Bible and a volume of Shakespeare’s plays – which allows juicy quotes from the Bard to be dropped into the text at appropriate moments – Bell and his family toil for 36 years (1877-1913) through much adversity, famously establishing a substantial garden.

“Remember, pride is a sin,” Thomas tells is family as they pose for a photograph, before dispersing to various parts of New Zealand.

The final phase of the ‘live installation’ shows and tells of more recent activity on the Islands, by DOC workers and volunteers, leading up to their being declared an ocean sanctuary just last year. Here we are reminded of the force of nature and our place as part of it, not its dominator.

Likewise RANGITAHUA: The Stopping off Place is presented without ego, in symbiosis with the art works and its ever-mobile audience. Beautifully rendered waiata flow throughout the storytelling too. It is astonishing to realise how much history, hitherto unknown to so many of us, we have absorbed so effortlessly in less than an hour through engaging with performing and visual arts.

*Works by Phil Dadson, Bruce Foster, Fiona Hill, Gregory O’Brien, Jason O’Hara, John Pule, John Reynolds, Elizabeth Thomson and Robin White.
See Bronwen Golder’s essay here


Andrea Hunt April 23rd, 2016

If you are interested in more on the Kermadecs,  in Christchurch  Eleanor Cooper's exhibition of new sculpture opens soon.  Her surprising works were created during a recent four-month stint on Raoul Island as a conservation worker.

Exhibition details: 

They say this island changes shape, by Eleanor Cooper

Opens: Friday 29 April, 5.30pm

Artist talk: Saturday 30 April, 11am

Closes: Saturday 28 May 2016

 Location: The Physics Room, Levels 2 & 3, Old Post Office Building, 209 Tuam Street, Christchurch

Hours: Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm,  Saturday 11am-4pm


Make a comment

Fascinating and quite disturbing

Review by David Stevens 29th Aug 2015

I am always pleased to see the work (any work) of Laurel Devenie and her latest offering – Rangitahua, the Stopping-Off Place – proves to be no exception to the rule. 

It isn’t a play; it’s probably best described as an exhibition, a series of tableaux vivants, illustrating the often unhappy history of Rangitahua – the Kermadec Islands – which lie about midway between northern New Zealand and Tonga. 

It is a terrific metaphor for all the islands of the South Pacific, and the almost fatal collision with the arriving colonisers.

I suppose very few of us know much about the Kermadecs, other than they are there, and Ms Devenie and her group do us an enormous favour by showing us the history. It starts with arrival of Māori on the waka and goes on to the coming of the whalers and traders and missionaries, all finding a small paradise and gradually destroying the very thing they might have sought: heaven on earth.

Originally, just a stopping-off place for rest, water and ship repairs, with human beings came rats, which none-too-gradually almost overcame the native fauna. There were attempts at creating a community, most notably by Thomas Bell and his family, and this, perhaps, is the most disturbing part of the history. 

The suggestion is made that Bell’s attraction to the islands is that they were essentially uninhabited, a place where he could be king. Such stories litter the history of the islands and it wasn’t just men, nor were all the islands un-inhabited. There is the extraordinary tale of Emma Coe, a Samoan princess who became known as the Queen of New Guinea. 

They were all guided by similar if differing impulses: the desire to make money in an unfettered, unstructured location or the missionary zeal to create a ‘perfect’ society, meaning a society where their ideals ruled. These are rich and complex tales, but often deeply disturbing, and perhaps that is the reason we know so little about them. A shroud of moral decency has been wrapped around them, and perhaps we prefer not to have to make moral judgements. (The world was outraged by the activities by of Joseph Hatch, who made a fortune killing penguins for their oil on Macquarie Island, but he couldn’t see the moral difference between slaughtering sheep and cattle and slaughtering penguins. I’m not sure that I can see that difference.)

With hindsight, we can say that Thomas Bell’s experiment on ‘his’ Karmadec island was doomed to failure (who were his children going to marry?) but these explorers and entrepreneurs – and missionaries – gave us the world in which we live today. The terrific Kelly Johnson, as Bell, sharpens the paradox because we can be filled with admiration for his guts and determination, and even some of his ideals, but we also understand that what he sought was probably both unachievable and undesirable – an island where he was king. 

The exhibition doesn’t attempt to answer these questions; it is content to show the history and let us draw our own conclusions, and some of our answers might be disturbing to us. Eventually, Bell was banished by bureaucracy and the Department of Conservation carpet-bombed the islands with poison to get rid of the exotic species – the destructive rats and feral cats – and all the goats were shot. But even as I applaud the extinction of the rats and cats, I wonder what native species were destroyed along the way? Isn’t 1080 indiscriminate?

So it was a fascinating and quite disturbing hour of my life. It isn’t great drama in any usual sense but the tale it tells is essentially dramatic and important: an hour of moral complexity to which I can find very few answers. Part of me now wants to go there and see for myself, and part of me is certain that we’ve done enough damage already and should leave ’em alone. 


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council