SILENT SPRING REVISITED: Rachel Carson’s Fight for Nature

NORTHLAND COMMUNITY CENTRE, 5 Woburn Road, Northland, Wellington

13/08/2021 - 15/08/2021

Refinery ArtSpace, 114 Hardy St, Nelson

26/03/2023 - 28/03/2023

Production Details

Touring Wellington suburbs 7th August – 26th September 2021 

Senior figures from theatre and dance have come together to premiere an environmental work to Wellington City community centres.   With support from Wellington City Council, Silent Spring Revisited runs from 7th August to 26th September with aim of developing local community through art in shared suburban buildings.

Rachel Carson, the great American environmentalist, has been in Jan Bolwell’s life since she was nine years old. Her conservationist grandmother introduced her to Carson’s famous book Silent Spring that exposed the dangers of the chemical pesticide DDT. Jan revisits this book through adult eyes, creating a solo theatre work on Rachel Carson’s fight for nature.

Audiences find out about Rachel’s struggle to bring the insecticide issue into the light. We are challenged also to consider current issues in our own backyard. New Zealand ecologist Dr Mike Joy is interviewed, and Jan has a ‘virtual’ conversation with him during the work.

Bolwell states ‘While I delve into Rachel Carson and her life, I try also to make her work relevant to a 21st century New Zealand audience. These are cataclysmic times with Covid and climate change, so it feels timely to look again at Carson and the environmental and ecological movement that she helped spearhead through her writing. We will have post-show discussions with our local audiences to discuss ecological challenges in their own communities.’

An exciting and esteemed creative team has worked collaboratively on this work – director Annie Ruth, composer Jan Bolton, lighting designer Helen Todd and set designer Trish Stevenson. Bolwell again: ‘We have built this work together in its first iteration, and we are all keen to develop it further in the future.’

Wellington City Council is supporting this custom-built tour of Silent Spring Revisited to local community centres, as an arts community development pilot, exploring ways in which artists might build and extend community within some of the city’s shared suburban buildings. In touring local venues, Silent Spring Revisted emphasizes that the local level is where we notice the impacts of climate change on our everyday environment, as well as the place from which we build hope and collective action to address these issues together.


Fri 6 August at 6.30pm | Sun 8 August at 3pm

Fri 13 August at 6.30pm | Sun 15 August at 3.00pm

Sat 14 August 3.00pm & 6.30pm

Sat 21 August at 3.00pm & 6.30pm

Sat 25 September at 6.30pm Sun 26 September at 3pm
Concession: $10.00
Children: $5.00
Adult: $16.00 ($15.00 + $1.00 fees)
Book online through eventfinda:
All Welcome

Nelson Fringe 2023

Refinery ArtSpace114 Hardy Street, Nelson
Sun 26, Mon 27 & Tues 28 March at 7:35pm

Writer/Actor- Jan Bolwell
Director – Annie Ruth
Composer – Jan Bolton
Lighting Designer – Helen Todd
Set Designer – Trish Stevenson
Production – Neal Barber
Publicity – Sasha Francis  

Theatre , Solo ,

Fri & Sun only

Entertains, educates and shakes us out of our complacency

Review by Melanie Stewart 27th Mar 2023

Jan Bolwell has something to say. She uses a mixture of media – song and dance, role play, narration, audience participation, flip charts and voice overs – to deliver a simple message: if we are at war with nature we are at war with ourselves.

Bolwell begins the performance by introducing us to her Gran, a women of the land who in turn introduces us to Rachel Carson, an American scientist and environmental activist from the 60s and author of Silent Spring, the book that became the catalyst for a number of environmental initiatives including the banning of DDT.

Much of the performance focuses on Carson’s life, her fight to ban DDT and other pesticides, her environmental activism and her writing of Silent Spring. It is interspersed with parallels in New Zealand today and the work being done and needing to be done.  She introduces us to the words of Dr Mike Joy through voice overs and we are witness to the similarities in the negative reactions from politicians and others in power.

Bolwell’s performance is relaxed and informative. She manages to deliver her important message in an entertaining and non-confrontational manner through her variety of delivery styles and her animated, amicable manner. Her message is an important one and her passion and commitment to the cause is apparent.  She has carried her admiration for Rachel Carson from her childhood and obviously relishes this opportunity to tell her story. The following quote from Silent Spring sums up the choices we as a planet need to make.  

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost‘s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less travelled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.” 

This performance is well worth seeing. She entertains, educates, knocking us a little bit out of our comfort zone and shaking us out of our complacency.


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An unthreatening wake-up call

Review by John Smythe 14th Aug 2021

The dead bird that adorns the programme cover for Silent Spring Revisited: Rachel Carson’s Fight for Nature quietly focuses our attention on what Jan Bolwell and her creative team will address over the next hour. But she opens the show by making a song and dance over a buzzing blowfly, swatting at it, spraying it (haven’t we all done this?) then breaking into a celebratory commercial for Hansen’s 22% DDT.

The showbiz trope gives way to a friendly chat about the hall we are in (the Northland Scout Group Den, in this case, downstairs in the Northland Community Hall): part of a City Council initiative to utilise civic amenities more and make arts-driven events more accessible.

Bolwell draws us into the story by re-enacting, with a little help from a volunteer, the moment when her farm-raised grandmother Hilda – introduced to us 15 years ago in Here’s Hilda! – alerted Jan, aged 12, to US marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson’s alarm-raising book, Silent Spring, hot off the press in 1962.

Nearly 60 years on we would like to think a lot has changed when it comes to the use of toxic chemicals in land and pest management for food, housing and commercial gain, but the more things change the more they stay the same. Bolwell skilfully interweaves the personal, political, local and global dimensions of this issue, as she morphs in and out of being Hilda, Rachel and herself. And it becomes very clear there is still a lot to be done.

The just-released 6th IPCC Report on climate change, declaring ‘red alert’, and the recent furore over university scientists claiming indigenous knowledge of nature has no scientific validity, are further testaments to the fact that essential truths have always been known and humankind has wilfully ignored them in its pursuit of wealth and an illusion of health and wellbeing.

Not that Bolwell is in the least bit hectoring as she confronts us with these realities. She and director Annie Ruth facilitate a friendly relationship with the audience that exemplifies ‘he waka eke noa: we are all in this together’, not least by enrolling us as reporters questioning a besieged yet calm Rachel Carson, back in the day.

The condemnation and scorn heaped on Carson by farmers, big business and politicians is as toxic as the pesticides she is warning us of – a syndrome reflected in the animosity our own freshwater ecologist and science communicator Mike Joy is routinely subjected to right now. The addition of his voice and image adds to the immediacy of this important conversation.

Although we are confronting scientific imperatives here, it is relationships – between people; between people and nature; within the nature of which we are part – that carry the story. The script brings everything into present action, including excerpts from Rachel’s public writing and her heartfelt letters to a clandestine lover. Eschewing an American accent for Rachel, Bolwell and Ruth keep the focus firmly on the play’s central theme.

The performance space is made intimate and subtly welcoming by Trish Stevenson’s five painted panels which evoke the hidden dimensions of nature. Helen Todd’s simple lighting design brings warm illumination to it all and Jan Bolton’s compositions, augmented with a bit of Beethoven and authentic soundscapes (operated by Neal Barber), add to the overall honouring of natural forces.

For a performance work that deals with what the programme calls “these apocalyptic times”, Silent Spring Revisited: Rachel Carson’s Fight for Nature is an unthreatening wake-up call and somehow reassuring in that all those present, at least, are ‘on the same page’. The question, as ever, is how to enrol the naysayers.

Go for the show and stay for more conversation and Hilda’s scones.


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