Ship Songs

Telecom Playhouse Theatre, WEL Energy Trust Academy of Performing Arts, Hamilton

28/06/2010 - 29/06/2010

The Pumphouse Theatre, Takapuna, Auckland

06/08/2008 - 14/08/2008

Howick Little Theatre, Auckland

17/09/2008 - 21/09/2008

Tauranga Boys College Theatre, Tauranga

24/10/2009 - 26/10/2009

The Playhouse, Glen Eden, Auckland

12/09/2008 - 14/09/2008

Pacific Blue Festival Club (Shed 6), Wellington

04/03/2010 - 06/03/2010

Arrowtown Athenaeum Hall, Arrowtown

02/05/2009 - 03/05/2009

Southwards Theatre, Otaihanga, Paraparaumu

09/03/2010 - 09/03/2010

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, The Edge, Auckland

14/08/2008 - 07/09/2008

Lake Wanaka Centre, Wanaka

29/04/2009 - 29/04/2009

Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland

21/03/2012 - 07/04/2012

Production Details

SHIP SONGS traverses the symbolic connection between the sea, the human capacity for love and everyone’s quest to reach the shore. 

The New Zealand Post season of SHIP SONGS, written and performed by celebrated actor Ian Hughes (BARE, SHORTLAND STREET, TOPLESS WOMEN TALK ABOUT THEIR LIVES), sails into port on August 6 to The PumpHouse Theatre, Takapuna before touring the Auckland region with performances in the Herald Theatre in Auckland City, The PlayHouse in Glen Eden and the Howick Little Theatre.

Alive with theatrical invention, this new solo play weaves together cutting edge animation, shipboard romances, epic tales and roguish folklore from the seven seas. With original seas shanties from award winning musician Don McGlashan (THE FRONT LAWN, THE MUTTONBIRDS), SHIP SONGS is inspired by the true story of how Ian’s mum met his dad following an amazing ocean-board adventure.

SHIP SONGS enacts three narratives spanning several centuries- from the true story of Ian’s mothers’ fateful journey on the Manchester Progress in 1963; to a British convict ship sailing the waters off New Zealand in the late 1790’s; to an Imperial treasure fleet under the command of the famous Chinese eunuch admiral Cheng Ho in 1405.

SHIP SONGS is Ian’s first play and has undergone an extensive 18 month development process.  The idea emerged from an Auckland Theatre Company Master Class in 2007 with leading Australian theatre director John Bolton, where the focus was on was on story telling and self-devised work.

Lynne Cardy, Auckland Theatre Company’s Creative Development Manager, was immediately impressed. “Everyone was enthralled by the story of how Ian’s parents met – a story that Ian had only just heard, never guessing the romantic and adventurous beginnings of his parent’s relationship. The resonance of that story, together with the ideas Ian explored in the Master Class had the makings of a very exciting piece of theatre that sang out for further development”.

SHIP SONGS is directed by Anna Marbrook and features design from John Verryt and spectacular animation and visuals developed by Michael Hodgson (PITCH BLACK) that includes art work by Ian, a graduate of the Elam School of Fine Arts.

“Fortunately we have been able to bring together some of our finest practitioners to work with Ian on this project over the last 18 months. This is a multi disciplinary, creative collaboration that blends the time-honoured art of storytelling with cutting edge animation and original music” says Auckland Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Colin McColl.

“Every family has its own story to tell about migrating to New Zealand. By touring SHIP SONGS to theatres across Auckland we’re enabling people to access a local story, at a local venue” says McColl.

Auckland Theatre Company’s Literary Unit, which supported this work through its public playreading process, plays an important role in bringing new New Zealand work like SHIP SONGS to the stage.  Over the last 7 years the Literary Unit has worked with 55 different playwrights and 100’s of actors on new scripts in development. For the last two years, New Zealand Post has been an active supporter of the Literary Unit and is the presenting sponsor of both SHIP SONGS and ATC’s showcase of new New Zealand work, The Next Stage.



PumpHouse Theatre, August 6 – August 10
Wednesday 6:30pm
Thursday – Saturday 8:00pm
Matinee Saturday August 9 at 2:00pm
Sunday August 10 4:00pm

The Herald Theatre, August 14 – September 7
Tuesday – Wednesday 6:30pm
Thursday – Saturday 8:00pm
Matinee Saturday August 23 at 2:00
Sundays 4:00

The Playhouse, Glen Eden, September 12 – September 14
Friday – Saturday 8:00
Sunday 4:00

Howick Little Theatre, September 17 – September 21
Wednesday 6:30pm
Thursday – Saturday 8:00
Matinee Saturday September 20 at 2:00
Sunday 4:00

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Southern Lakes Festival of Colour 2009
When / Where
29 April,  7pm – Lake Wanaka Centre
02 May,  7pm – Arrowtown Athenaeum Hall   Book Online 
03 May,  7pm – Arrowtown Athenaeum Hall   Book Online  

Duration:  70 minutes no interval
Price:  $32 (including booking fee)

Tickets for most shows can be booked online.
See the Book Online links above.

Book by Phone
Call +64 3 443 4178

Book in Person
Lake Wanaka i-SITE Visitor Centre
(from 23 Feb to 3 May, 9am to 5pm daily)
Lake Wanaka Centre
(from 27 Apr to 3 May, 10am to 7pm)  
For the NZ International Arts Festival 2010 music is performed live by Don McGlashan, Chris O’Connor and Dave Khan, whose impassioned songs add a further dimension of emotion and imagery to the stories. Alive with theatrical innovation, this romantic, funny and visually stunning production is a true celebration of love, courage, and adventure on the high seas.



Auckland 2012 season


“Ian Hughes is a master storyteller … A hugely entertaining performance”  The Dominion Post


Inspired by the true story of how his parents met, Ian Hughes takes you on an intrepid voyage of epic proportions. Transporting you to four continents across five centuries, Ship Songs tells tales of love, discovery and fate on the high seas.


Hughes’ mother runs away on a cargo ship bound for Canada, a Mongolian explorer sets out to sail right around the world and an Irish sailor finds true love in the newlandofAotearoa. Hughes effortlessly plays all fourteen characters, weaving the three stories into one rollicking adventure, accompanied by stunning and evocative visuals.


Musical legend Don McGlashan and his band the Journeymen provide the live soundtrack of original compositions and traditional sea shanties.


Yarns from the sea. Spun from the heart.


**First week special: Top price just $35**


Venue: Q Rangatira 


Wednesday Mar 21 to Saturday Apr 7 2012 
Wed-Sat: 8pm 
No show Mon & Tue. | No show Sun except 1st Apr: 5pm  
Running Time: 1 hr 20 mins  
Ticket price: $30 – $42   

Designers: John Verryt, Michael Hodgson, Jeremy Fern and Grant Bowyer

Auckland 2012:

Set Design:        John Verryt

Lighting Design: Bonnie Burrel

AV Design:         Theo Gibson,Ian Hughes & Grant Bower

Musicians:         Don McGlashan, Chris O'Connor, Dave Kahn

Produced by      Q and Angel Rowed 


1hr 10 mins, no interval

Ship Songs Sparkles

Review by Sharu Delilkan 23rd Mar 2012

The live band on stage kick starts the voyage dramatically, promising and definitely delivering a memorable theatrical journey.

Although I am a sucker for live music, I must admit that this combination can sometimes appears somewhat disjointed. The opposite of course is true with Ship Songs. In fact the live band is so involved in the whole process, they almost represent a multitude of characters, in addition to playwright and actor Ian Hughes’ 14 characters. Their role as musicians and as the voice of reason is so effortlessly intertwined that it is almost hard to imagine them disassembled, after a while. [More


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Poignant, rollicking, tragic, lyrical, cheering and stirring

Review by Janet McAllister 23rd Mar 2012

Chameleon storyteller Ian Hughes and composer-performer Don McGlashan are likeable, well-known talents offering an entertaining, layered evening, with the assistance of superb musicians Chris O’Connor and Dave Khan. The decision to revive this well-anchored 2008 show can’t have been hard – it has wide appeal for good reason.

Hughes brings to life three sailor adventures deemed too little or too radical for the official history books. It’s as much about mortality, and wanting to live forever through fame, as it is about the sea. [More]  


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Touching, fast and witty

Review by Adey Ramsel 22nd Mar 2012

On a wet and stormy night, when Auckland was awash in its lack of adequate drainage, the Q Theatre seemed to float on the wave of a first night buzz. 

Embarking in 2008 on his own adventure of theatrical discovery, no doubt, when it came to mounting a one man show, writer and performer Ian Hughes reaches 2012 with a show that has not lost any of its spirit, joy and zest for theatricalities.

Hughes has that cheeky appeal that makes you want to like him; the persona of a man you meet down the pub or someone you’ve only just met, yet you feel you’ve known him a hundred years. He invites you to like him and in return you don’t doubt he likes you; he talks to us as if we’re family and smiles the smile of shared memories and there you are, ready to go with him wherever he wishes to take you. Theatre has a long and winding history of story-tellers and Hughes is mastering the art that is denied to even the most talented of actors: that of telling a story simply.

There are three stories: that of Hughes’s mother, Gabrielle Barker, a heroine from Yorkshire ripe for life and adventure with a desire to ‘help Eskimo’s give birth’; the tale of 15th century explorer Zheng He, who was almost wiped out of the history books; and an Irish cheeky lad of a sailor who throws himself overboard in a desire to find a better life.

Hughes adopts the later, James Ryan, as his main persona and in turn weaves in the remaining tales, creating a magical world, evoking the characters, weather patterns, countries and times of days gone by.

Brilliant and mesmerising, the AV projections – credited to Hughes, Theo Gibson and Grant Bower – perform on a sail complete with zip doors and port holes, and that is all that’s needed in a minimal set design by John Verryt. Bonnie Burrel on lighting, as always, does an exemplary job, working with the show rather than trying to create one of her own.

Alongside Hughes – one can hardly say ‘backing’ – is legend Don McGlashan, responsible for many of the sea shanties and all incidental music, with Chris O’Connor and Dave Khan completing an integral trio. I believe the music was piped in for some touring seasons of the show but it seems right to have the trio on stage. Whilst taking nothing away from the man himself, Hughes must surely realise that the inclusion of the trio is a decision well made and hugely beneficial to his performance. A selfless act on his part to share the stage with such talent and he does well to match it.

You have to be on your toes to keep up. The narrative is something to jump onboard and cling to. I’ll hold my hand up now: I did get a tad lost somewhere about a third of the way through, became somewhat confused about the Ryan story and it’s connection to the narrator himself and stayed that way for the remainder of the show. This does highlight a potential problem, in that if one such as I is idiotic enough to ‘wander’ during the show* instead of after, then without more tying up of the three strings at the conclusion you can be left wondering what one of the threads was about. (My thanks here to Michele A’Court who explained to me my missing story link at the parking ticket machine.)  

Touching, fast and witty, Ship Songs is a one man show that needs to be around as long as Hughes has the breath and stamina to perform it. It offers a night in the theatre of classic story telling which, if you come down to it, is what we all go and sit in the dark for an hour or two to get. Isn’t it?
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*Footnote:  Why did I ‘wander’ during the show? Being truly evocative about discovery, adventure and the unknown lying beyond the road of normality, it did set my mind on its own reminiscence of a period when I too could throw caution and knapsack to the wind and go anywhere, anytime for no reason whatsoever other than to see what was there. One such whim brought me to NZ. So if such shows aim not only to entertain but to inspire, rekindle and make one think then Ship Songs is bang on the money. Not only do I want to go ‘off’ again, I want to go see Ship Songs again; its worth a second voyage to not only catch what I missed but to be steeped in that world once more.

“When you listen to a speech or read a book or watch theatre, it’s not always strictly necessary to get out of it what the author, speaker or performers intend. It is just as important to extract whatever you wish, whatever is relevant to you, and embark on whatever journey that particular thought train takes you on. If that occurs neither the ‘piece of work’ nor its audience have failed.” – from Angels Never Shit Upwards by Adey Ramsel. 


Raewyn Whyte March 22nd, 2012

I lost the thread of the interlocking tales at about just that same place too, Adey -- I think because I wa struck by the improbability of a young Irish lad throwing himself overboard on the hint of land, with just a biscuit barrel to cling to,... and then finding him ashore somewhere in NZ... and my mind went off on the "why haven't I heard of this story?"  trail. Later I had it explained to me that the "lost tale" is obviously untold because the survivor actually didn't survive ( as you listen further you hear how he demised.) 

But a small matter -- this is a milestone production -- live band with actor instead of vocalist,  improbable tales that interlock so intricately, scene-enriching music, brilliant use of space and such a clever set (John Verryt is a genius)... bravo to the team. 

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Passionately told at efficient pace

Review by Ben Stanley 29th Jun 2010


I’ll start this review with a confession. It’s one that the producers of Ship Songs, a cleverly crafted 90-minute show performing as part of the Fuel Festival in Hamilton this week, probably don’t want to hear.

I was interested in attending only because of the presence of Kiwi musical genius and long-time personal hero Don McGlashan in the one-man performance’s backing band.

Yet last night, I was in for more than just a brush with Kiwi rock royalty, getting as well a showcase of the skills of a very talented young Kiwi actor, Ian Hughes (former Sticky in Shortland Street).

Ship Songs, performed in the Telecom Playhouse in Waikato University’s ever-impressive Wel Academy of Performing Arts, ties together three very different sea shanties, mixing the story of how Hughes’ mother and father met with the stories of Zheng He, a 15th-century Chinese naval leader, and a runaway Irishman abandoning ship in New Zealand 150 years ago and falling in love with a local Maori girl.

All three tales, written by Hughes, are passionately told, though you have to keep up as the one-man band maintains an efficient pace.

Hughes’ energy is impressive, along with his knack with accents and pure physical comedy, making Ship Songs a real feel-good hit.

McGlashan and co (Chris O’Connor and Dave Khan) didn’t strike up an impromptu version of White Valiant (I had my fingers crossed), but sing and play with real gusto, giving Hughes a rousing and buoyant base to tell his tales of adventure on the high seas.

A pat on the back to Michael Hodgson and Grant Bowyer, creators of the film effects on Ship Songs’ sail backdrop they gave the performance that extra pop. Not a bad way to escape the rain on a miserable Hamilton night. 


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Songs in the seas of life ride a captivating wave

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 05th Mar 2010

Ian Hughes is a master storyteller. In Ship Songs he tells three stories about people who refused to live contained safe lives but went in search of new worlds, the unexpected, and living their lives with relish.

Ship Songs could easily be described as a solo show but, of course, it isn’t. Ian Hughes is supported by musicians Don McGlashan, who wrote the music and songs, Dave Khan, and Chris O’Connor who play not only a variety of instruments but also provide some sound effects and voices off, and at one key point remind him that while he’s engrossed in telling one story there is another story that he needs to get back to.

He is also supported by a brilliantly produced audio-visual presentation on an unexpectedly flexible screen that is not only colourful but also wittily supports the stories with photographs, cartoons, and visual effects that in one case movingly underlines the stunted emotional life of a sailor as he attempts to dictate a letter.

The central and most enthralling story is about Ian Hughes’s mother who left drab post-war England on the cargo ship Manchester Progress bound for Canada where she hoped to help Eskimos give birth in Hudson Bay. Her nursing skills were, however, stretched to the limit on board ship when the First Officer met with an accident. When she arrived in Canada she met a young Irishman and never got to Hudson Bay.

The other two stories are, like the first, about people whose lives have been neglected and never properly recorded yet they lived life to the full. The 15th century Mongolian eunuch and explorer, Zheng He, sailed around the world and brought back a unicorn (actually a giraffe) for his emperor who was not appreciative of his efforts, and Magellan in the end earned all the plaudits for supposedly sailing round the world first.

The third story is about a pressed-ganged Irish sailor, James Ryan, who escapes his floating prison and lands in Aotearoa in 1795. All three stories are intermingled in the telling and like the words of Don McGlashan’s fine song The Waves Roll On, which he sings with a surging passion, they are gripping and full of exciting life.

The cattle-class seating of the Festival Club is quickly forgotten once Ian Hughes has drawn us into the stories which he performs with charm, wit, agility, a good singing voice, and theatrical daring. A hugely entertaining performance and production.
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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Witty, generous, simple, surprising, magical, stirring …

Review by Hannah Smith 05th Mar 2010

The sea is a cruel mistress. But if you’re brave or fool enough to ride the ocean wave then you will return with a tale to tell. In Ship Songs spellbinding tales, beautiful audio-visual imagery and toe-tapping sea shanties are woven together in a funny, moving and heart-warming evening of theatre.

Perhaps as a nation that is almost all coastline we have a particular affinity for the sea. In any case performer Ian Hughes and musicians Don McGlashan, Chris O’Connor and Dave Khan have created a work that travels widely in international waters but still feels distinctly like home.

This one-man show sprang from an acting workshop attended by Ian Hughes in 2007. Since then the work has developed under the wing of the ATC and been performed at various locations around New Zealand. With a set comprised of nothing more than a large sailcloth (used for AV projections) and a tarnished barrel, this is a show designed to tour and that is just what it’s doing – and what a delightful piece to be a Kiwi contribution to the International Festival.

Hughes does a masterful job. The play weaves together three storylines: an ancient legend of Chinese explorer Zheng He, the tale of James Ryan a lovable Irish scamp, and the gripping tale of Gabrielle Barker, Ian Hughes’ own mother, a nurse who finds adventure and love on the high seas.

Hughes embodies this diverse range of characters with aplomb – characterisations that are witty, generous and a pleasure to watch. A talented and accomplished performer like Hughes makes these swift transitions and transformations appear effortless.

I am particularly impressed with a male actor creating a work in which the lynchpin character is female. It is an ambitious call, and one that is largely successful. Hughes’ portrayal of Gabrielle Barker plays for truth and humour and never descends to caricature. Barker does come across as somewhat stilted in comparison to the male characters, but this seems appropriate considering the time period in which the story is set.

The three storylines are both separated and woven together by the audio-visual projection (a combined effort on the part of Grant Bowyer, Ian Hughes and Theo Gibson). This is a vital part of the work: different backdrops signify different locations, subtitles indicate the progression of chapters of the story, as well as offering the opportunity for some exciting transitions. The entrances and exits through the screen, or the moment went Gabrielle Barker boards the ship, are just the kind of transformations that theatre does best: simple, surprising and magical.

The three musicians sit centre stage and are endowed as a trio of salty seadogs on shore leave.   They provide much beautiful incidental music for ambience as well as contributing several sea shanties, which combine traditional melodies with a modern lyrical bite. The music is woven seamlessly into the action and supports and extends the stories beautifully. 

Dave Khan and Chris O’Connor perform extremely well and Don McGlashan (complete with a beard which according to the papers he grew specifically for this occasion) is a legend. Every time he sings the audience sigh contentedly and shift in their seats. It is stirring stuff. I wish there was a CD. 

A really lovely piece of theatre and music. Go and see it if you can.
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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A ripper of a yarn, beautifully told

Review by Vanessa Byrnes 28th Oct 2009

Everyone has a great story in them, but only a few can really tell it. Ian Hughes releases his mother’s great adventure with a deft touch, sailing and winding through three legendary adventures over several centuries with nothing but his talented self, a lot of breath, impeccable timing and some wonderful projections on a very cool sail. This is a perfect touring show that is lovingly, wittily, and gently shaped. It’s a neat package all round.

Actor Ian Hughes bookends the piece with song, and in-between gives us our roguish Irish narrator, who has his own blistering romance of a tale to tell. But that story soon skilfully segues into the central tale of Gabrielle Barker, nurse and would-be adventurer, who also happens to be Ian’s mum. This fiction-meets-fact paradigm is the real wind in the sails of this story; life is indeed stranger than fiction and it’s a wonderful distance that Hughes creates to spin this yarn.

The absolutely beautiful projections (by Michael Hodgson, Grant Bowyer, Theo Gibson) create a world of detail, wit, and fantasy. They are wondrous to behold, and it’s fantastic to see Hughes perform so skilfully with the visual world they provide. Great timing and so creative. I loved the Morse Code sequence – you have to see it to behold its sheer genius.

The storyline of Chinese admiral Cheng Ho is not as compelling for me as the other 2 yarns, as I struggle to see the direct connection with them. Granted, it does contain a ritual and formality that counter points nicely with the loose wit of our Irish rogue and the almost Naturalistic dilemma of nurse Gabrielle. And of course the symbolism of human endeavour, and finding the shore, is pan-cultural. But I question the strength of this narrative thread.

This production boasts a talented team all round and its production values are accordingly very high. Anna Marbrook has skilfully directed a work that should be seen by many NZ audiences. John Verryt’s design is sophisticated and strong. And maestro Don McGlashan’s songs and music so perfectly underline the flow that they should be released on CD.

Ian Hughes is sharp, playful, accessible and emotionally wired into his audience. He’s a lovely actor to watch. This is a ripper of a yarn, beautifully told, and highly recommended. A little gem in the 2009 Tauranga Arts Festival.
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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Remains a gem in our treasure trove of tour-friendly works

Review by John Smythe 30th Apr 2009

"With your breath we will not be forgotten." Thus storytelling is embedded as the motive force that sets Ian Hughes’ Ship Songs on its 70 minute journey through three lives over six centuries. Here, in truth, lies the existential imperative for life after death.

Initially developed in a John Bolton workshop, "using performer skills – improvisation, character, physicality, movement …", it was brought to fruition by writer/performer Hughes with director Anna Marbrook, their design team (see below), and composer Don McGlashen whose salty songs set the mood and themes, and punctuate the interwoven yarns.

Rather than narrate the tales with his own voice, from his own alive and present perspective, Hughes chooses to use his breath to personify James Ryan, a long dead late 18th century Irish whaler, employing him to spin the three yarns that fabricate the ‘mainsail’ of his vessel.

On an otherwise bare stage backed by designer John Verryt’s sail cloth screen, ingeniously zipped and slitted, all superbly lit by Jeremy Fern, the 40-gallon drum Hughes perches on to sing his opening ballad turns out to play a key role in Ryan’s own story. It will be the biscuit barrel he uses to affect his daring escape from the prison-like whaling ship; clinging to which he will wash up on a far-flung Pacific shore inhabited by "Fuzzy Wuzzies", namely the beautiful Pania, her "homicidal brother Hemi" and their tribe …

But first he wants to tell us of two other intrepid high seas adventurers:

Chinese eunuch admiral Zheng He, the first and greatest sea-faring explorer ever (1405 – 1433), was, Ryan will eventually reveal, obliterated from history by the emperor who commissioned further work on the Great Wall of China to define and confine the only world he wanted to know about, consigning all else – including Zheng He – to oblivion. (No mention is made of how Zheng He’s exploits were meanwhile appropriated and mythologized by the Persians in their Sinbad the Sailor stories.)

Gabrielle Barker, a Catholic nurse from Yorkshire, was desperate to liberate herself from the predictably safe and secure post-war life that awaited her ilk in the early 1960s. She is Ian Hughes’ mother and it was the revelation of her story, of how she came to meet his father Robert Hughes in Ontario, randomly at a fish and chip shop, that inspired this remarkable solo show.

Hughes role-plays his mum as a quietly innocent lass whose gentle voice belies her thirst for adventure, channelled into a desire to "go to Canada to help the Eskimos give birth." It is her telling the story of her voyage to English engineer Robert ("running oil pipelines across the tundra") that makes him propose …

AV projections (concept, Michael Hodgson; content, Grant Bowyer; interface, Theo Gibson) on the aforementioned screen superbly evoke the Manchester Progress – consigned to carry wool and tractor parts plus 11 passengers, of whom Gabrielle is the only woman – and the storm she insists on experiencing first-hand from the foredeck.

Knickers play an important part in her story. Her mother’s parting gift of sensible underpants epitomises the very values she has to escape from, so stripping them off in the storm becomes a symbolic act equivalent to bra-burning. But it is her trespassing beyond the "No Admittance" sign that directly leads to First Officer Cullen sustaining the near-fatal injury she is then obliged to nurse him through. And when she finds herself standing between him and his desire to end it all in the raging seas, it is her mother’s edict about always wearing clean knickers in case of an accident that gives her the wherewithal to keep him alive (obfuscation intended: see it when and where you can).

It is such twists in the tale-telling that bring the (w)ring of truth to Ship Songs: there bare no simplistic heroes here. Our underlying awareness that, in the process of telling these tales, Hughes is exploring his own heritage and that of his adopted homeland, along with the heritage of exploration itself, also has everything to do with what makes Ship Songs so compelling.

Beyond our engagement with his stories, we inevitably leave knowing each of us also has such stories to tell, and it is in our breaths that our forebears will not be forgotten. In short Ship Songs remains a gem in our treasure trove of tour-friendly works. (An Auckland Theatre Company production, it plays the Arrowtown Athenaeum Hall this Saturday and Sunday, is headed for Wellington’s Circa Two in August and may play other venues in the meantime but strangely the ATC website makes no mention of this venture.)
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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Hello Sailor

Review by Frances Edmond 01st Sep 2008

Before a full house in the intimate space of the PumpHouse Theatre in Takapuna, Ian Hughes premieres his one-man show, Ship Songs, entering casually and setting the tone with a sweet sad ballad of a maid’s enduring love.

"You think you’re telling one story and you walk right into another," Hughes says. Using as a foundation the romantic story of his parents meeting and falling in love in Canada, he weaves together three differing but complementary journeys of exploration and discovery: his mother’s escape from stultifying Yorkshire to sail across the Atlantic with a dream of helping the Eskimos give birth; an Irish whaler who jumps ship and falls in love with a Māori maiden before being recaptured and punished with 60 lashes; and the story of Zheng He, the great Chinese explorer whose extraordinary exploits were expunged from the records when the emperor decided he no longer existed. [More]


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A sweetly mesmerising performance

Review by Renee Liang 30th Aug 2008

From the moment Ian Hughes steps on stage, he’s on intimate terms with us as an audience. That he manages to do this in the steeply raked space of the Herald Theatre is testament to his craft and of the stories he tells. There’s something friendly, even familiar, about Hughes. He looks like someone you’d see in the corner of the pub and not even notice. An ordinary bloke. But for 75 minutes, he has us entranced.

It’s hard to believe that Hughes is a first-time playwright. The show, which was developed through a devising process, is ambitious in its delivery and in the way four different narratives are woven together – his mother’s love story, that of ill-fated 15th – century explorer Zheng He, that of an Irish convict in the 1790’s, and finally that of Hughes himself. Although initially it’s hard to follow the wild swings in time and character, it’s amazing how quickly the mind acclimatises when the stories are good. The tales are laced up with sea shanties written in the old style by Don McGlashan – the wittiness of the lyrics give them away as modern copies.

Hughes is a wonderful storyteller, the kind who can draw people in and make them feel as if they are living the story. The one involving his mother is improbable, almost unbelievable and because of that, compelling. Of all the stories, that of the Irish convict tugged at the heartstrings the most. This, despite the slightly tacky storyline involving the Maori dusky maiden (much is made of her beauteous boobies) who rescues the sailor, Pocahontas-style, from the men of her tribe. I suspect a touch of satire there, though it was hard to tell under Hughes’ friendly smile.

The audiovisual element of the show complements the images conjured up by his poetic words. Designed by Michael Hodgson, Grant Bowyer and Theo Gibson, and projected onto a simple sail-shaped screen, they add to the narrative without being too clever. The use of projected rain, a gently bobbing ship side and a hospital bed is simple and effective. John Verryt’s set design is sparse and suited to the tradition of storytelling –the sail, with some built-in zips for entry and exit, a raised platform and a barrel which is rolled, sat on, stood on and fallen off. Hughes is a physical performer – at one stage he has a perfectly credible fight with himself – and you have to admire him for sustaining such a performance for so long without an interval, and for such a long season.

All in all, a sweetly mesmerising performance by a veteran performer, and one well worth seeing.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.



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Sea Shanties set scene for nautical nostalgia

Review by Shannon Huse 11th Aug 2008

High seas adventures, epic and small, are lovingly retold in Ian Hughes’ new one-man-play Ship Songs, which had its world premiere at the Pumphouse Theatre on Friday night.

Hughes’ slice of nautical nostalgia ties together three tales of people leaving their comfortable home shores for an ocean of adventure. The action shifts from the epic story of 15th-century Chinese explorer Zheng He to an Irish convict who jumps ship and falls in love with a Māori maiden, to the true tale of how Hughes’ parents met and fell in love en route to Alaska. Interspersed with the narrative are traditional sea shanties and new songs and evocative incidental music from Don McGlashan. [More


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Gripping yarns

Review by Nik Smythe 09th Aug 2008

The title suggests a concert of sorts, and indeed to be sure, a concert of sorts it is.  From the opening shanty-esque intro tune accompanying the animated title, projected on the centre stage audio visual wide screen, the timeless original music – which local legend Don McGlashan has composed for writer/actor Ian Hughes’ solo show – drives the play, as well as evoking a recital of historic nautical tunes and songs.

Ian Hughes conceived and wrote Ship Songs based on the story of his mother-to-be Gabrielle Barker’s search for adventure and identity in a male dominated world.  Her journey begins with a quest to reach Canada (to help the Eskimos give birth) and follows an often hilarious, sometimes shocking sequence of events upon the high seas, culminating in the meeting of her husband-to-be, Robert Hughes. 

Her story is interwoven with the classic Chinese legend of Zheng He (pronounced not unlike Ben Hur), a man who was stricken from history by the Emperor of China simply for daring to explore beyond the boundaries of his own land.

The narrator of these tales, young James Roy, further recounts a third intriguing yarn about his own exotic Pacific adventure in the late eighteenth century, when he attempted to escape the navy and settle among the native ‘Fuzzy Wuzzys’.  Curious to note that Gabrielle and Bob’s story took place over a century and a half in the future from when this fellow telling us all about it was around…

John Verryt’s minimal set and singular costume design provide a partially literal blank canvas for the bounty of displays and effects of the audio visual crew (Mike Hodgson, Grant Bowyer and Theo Gibson).  These are used in conjunction with Jeremy Fern’s excellent lights to great effect, in numerous ingenious ways; enhancing the powerful tales and Hughes’ strong and versatile performance. 

One slightly jarring element is Hughes’ remote mic, which no doubt greatly assists the clarity of the stories, particularly when touring all manner of venues around the country, as is on the schedule for Ship Songs.  The downside is it detracts a little from the intimacy of presentation as a casual bunch of exceptional stories told to us as if by a friendly stranger we bought a drink for. The mic adds a touch of a seminar presentation feel to the delivery. 

That said, in the capable hands of director Anna Marbrook the yarns are truly gripping, the characterisations spot on (watch for the daringly interpretive Māori folk encountered by Roy at the height of his escapade), and the technological wizardry never upstages the heart of the stories or the humanity of the people in them.
As for the definitive soundtrack of Don McGlashan, I’m of a mercenary enough mind to suggest they make it available on CD for that extra merchandising dollar, ’cause why the heck not? 


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