Songs of the Sea

Capital E, Wellington

07/04/2007 - 21/04/2007

Capital E, Wellington

16/04/2011 - 30/04/2011

Production Details

Written and originally directed by Peter Wilson
Directed by Lyndee-Jane Rutherford (2007); Kerryn Palmer (2011)

Composer: Stephen Gallagher
Musical Director: Laughton Pattrick

Splash into holiday fun at Capital E!

There’s a marine theme at Capital E these Easter school holidays with the return of the magical family show, Songs of the Sea to celebrate the Capital E National Theatre for Children’s 10th birthday.

Directed by Chapman Tripp Theatre Award winner (Best New Director), Lyndee Jane Rutherford, this mythical and enchanting story reveals where all the fish in the sea came from in a theatrical collage of brilliantly coloured puppets, song and dance. Children aged 2-7 will delight as they dive deep into the magical and enchanting world of the ocean.

A fun and multi-coloured compilation of myths and music, Songs of the Sea, written by Peter Wilson, shows a myriad of marine creatures coming to life. They come from The Great Shaper of the Universe, the Sun, Moon and Milky Way …children will laugh and gasp in delight as they enter this magical world!

“Every child who holds a shell to their ear imagines their own underwater world. Songs of the Sea brings that experience to life on the stage,” says theatre General Manager Stephen Blackburn,  “Our goal in bringing live professional theatre of this standard to children is to enrich their understanding of the world around them in an entertaining way.”

Four professional performers, Regan Taylor, Dushka Blakely, Jean Copland and David Goldthorpe, use brilliantly-coloured puppet characters, song and theatre illusion to bring to answer the question, “Where did the creatures of the Pacific Ocean come from?”

Large circles transform the stage into rock pools and waves, planets and stars with easy melodies by Steve Gallagher and charming lyrics, putting faces to fish names in Te Reo and English. The spectacular array of puppets is character-designed and made by Warkworth artist Sue Hill.

Songs of the Sea will tour nationally and to Melbourne following its Wellington season see for details. Capital E is managed by the Wellington Museums Trust with major funding support from Wellington City Council. The Capital E National Theatre for Children receives major funding support from Creative New Zealand.

2007 Season

7-21 April, Mon – Fri, 10am & 11.30am; Sat 11am & 2pm (Sat, 7 April 2pm only). Most suitable for 2-7 years old.

$10.50 per person. $38 Family pass (4 people, incl at least one adult). Children aged under 2 Free. Group concession, 10 or more, $8.50 per person

BOOKING ESSENTIAL, ph: 04 913-3720 or,

2011 Season
Ideal for ages 2 – 7

When: Sat 16 April 2pm, Mon 18 – Sat 30 10am & 11.30am.
(not on Sundays or public holidays)
Duration: 45 minutes
Venue: Capital E McKenzie Theatre
Price: $12 per person. $44 for a group of four. $10 per person for groups of 10 or more. Under two free.

Age 2+
Time: 9.30am – 1pm
Venue: Capital E Playground, Stay as long as you like
Price: $2 per craft

2007 season
Performed by:
Regan Taylor
Dushka Blakely
Jean Copland
David Goldthorpe 

2011 season: 

Performed by:

Chelsea Bognuda
Helen Grant
Carl Hayes
Jennifer Martin 

Puppetry Director:  Bill Guest

Composer:  Stephen Gallagher

Musical Director:  Tim Solly

Set Design:  William Wilson

Lighting Design:  Phil Blackburn

Puppet Design:  Sue Hill

Stage Manager:  Eleanor Cooke


Theatre , Music , Children’s , Family , Puppetry ,

Gorgeous puppets bedazzle and mesmerise

Review by Hannah Smith 17th Apr 2011

Colourful and cutesy, Songs of the Sea, the latest offering from Capital E, is an exuberant explanation of how the seas and all the creatures that dwell in its depths came to find their homes there. 

The story is framed as a collection of creation myths; the dreams of a taniwha who sleeps in a conch shell. And as he sleeps, he sings. His songs become tales brought to life by the four performers: Helen Grant, Carl Hayes, Chelsea Bognuda and Jennifer Martin, in a combination of narration, puppetry and song. 

The performances are energetic and the singing is nice, in the classic chipper enthusiastic style that marks much children’s theatre. It toes the line of seeming condescending, but is successful at holding the attention of the audience, particularly the younger members. 

The stories are sweet, if not particularly dramatic, but the stars of the show are definitely Sue Hill’s puppets which are gorgeous: myriad fish, multicoloured and glittering with sequins, and cheerful cartoony masks representing sun, moon, wind and rain – the lively design providing plenty to bedazzle the eye.

My favourite sequence was the ‘Shaper’, a charming bearded old man puppet who arrives on a boat sailing across the Milky Way. The use of lights and the manipulation of scale made this moment magical. The Shaper crafts seashells to fill the oceans, and the glow-in-the-dark sequence that follows, in which luminous clams and cockleshells dance in the dark waters, is mesmerising and has an indisputable ‘wow’ factor.

The set consists of three large wheels which are rolled from side to side and manoeuvred into various positions to act as hills, rock pools and waves. Although their use is ingenious, they seem somewhat awkward to manipulate, and I am sure they will look better on a slightly larger stage.

Just after the curtain call a torrent of bubbles is released above the audience. The kids go wild. 

On leaving the theatre I ask my child companions which parts they had thought the most interesting. The bubbles, they answer. I ask them what they thought had been the funniest moment. The bubbles. And the best part of the whole show? The bubbles, is the answer, definitely the bubbles at the end. 
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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Vibrant and entertaining but children kept at bay

Review by Melody Nixon 02nd Oct 2007

Songs of the Sea is a captivating 40 minutes of high energy storytelling, focusing on the myths and legends of the creation of te moana. Drawing heavily on Maori lore and illustrating its tales with puppets, bouncy foam circles (think rock pools, the ocean surface, even waves) and glittery props, this beautifully produced piece of children’s theatre is well-suited to its target audience of 2-7 year olds.

The series of stories is narrated by four ‘big people’: Dushka Blakely, Jean Copland, David Goldthorpe and Regan Taylor: with the aid of a large, singing shell. Dushka Blakely shines as a most genuine performer; in a genre where facial expressions can be overdone, Blakely manages to time her smiles for when they matter most. Regan Taylor also performs sincerely, with a relaxed yet warm and open manner. David Goldthorpe fits well into his role as the cheery, goofy character the kids like to laugh at; and Jean Copland is all bounding energy and smiles, though perhaps a little more facial inflection would charisma to her role here.

Puppet design and creation by Sue Hill is careful and attractive, and her hanging puppets are particularly well-crafted and coordinated. The full size puppet in scene three or four; a ‘shape shifter’ who makes shells and creatures for the ocean; is delightful to watch for the way it conveys human expression and mannerisms so well. Costuming by William Wilson matches this plethora of puppets, often pairing up props like the yellow sun god Ra with a similarly clothed yellow/green actor.

The final scene is the most vibrantly coloured, filled with all manner of brightly painted sea creatures. As Goldthorpe describes the whirlpool wind God Tawhitimatea has stirred up in the oceans, the sea creatures are ferried in by the cast to adorn the rock pools and shoals onstage. The stands of fish however remain static and unmoving, hanging lifelessly from their poles. It would have been great to see these fish move; perhaps twirled on their poles by cast, or blown by a generated wind; to add to the liveliness of the ending.

This final scene also offered a great opportunity for children to come onstage and join in the singing, swimming and dancing; as they seemed eager to do. In such a vibrant and entertaining show, a little audience engagement would make Songs of the Sea even more of a memorable experience than it already is.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


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Enjoyable, educational and upbeat

Review by Thomas LaHood 01st Oct 2007

This gleeful celebration of the sea and how all its denizens came to be is a bright and brief one: 40 minutes of colourful activity that is geared towards keeping its junior audience’s full attention.  The show is structured as a series of short folk-tales, told to childlike characters by a gigantic conch-shell and relayed to the audience through song, dance and puppetry. 

The four exuberant hosts are Wiggles-esque, with colour coded outfits and the kind of bright and cheery presentation technique that grates after a while, but keeps the children engaged when the story can’t or doesn’t.  They sing and dance with confidence and cohesion, and keep the energy up.

The girls, Jean Copland in pink and Dushka Blakely in orange, do at times get a little screechy, and Copland especially forces her emotions a touch too hard, while Blakely conveys an easy good humour.  David Goldthorpe in green gets most of the gags and plays them ably for plenty of laughs.  Regan Taylor in blue projects more of a quiet onstage persona, at times almost seeming a bit unenthusiastic, but nonetheless delivering some softness that is sorely needed alongside all the grinning and bopping of the others.

For me, and also for my two-year-old companion, the magic was largely contained in the puppets designed and built by Sue Hill.  The Sun and Moon (played in mask) and their children Sunfish and Moonfish, born out of their respective reflections, are all sparkly sequins, bright and shiny and totally riveting for little eyes.

The indisputable highlight is the Shaper of the Universe, sailing his boat across the stars.  From the moment the lights dim and the Milky Way appears across the back wall the tone of the show becomes magical.  The puppet for the Shaper is beautiful, full of character, and given the voice of a genial, wisecracking Tipuna by Regan Taylor.  The dancing sealife here is coated with luminescent paint in psychedelic colours and it’s dazzling to watch, even for grown-ups, especially the little clams as they clop their shells to the pretty pop tunes crafted by Stephen Gallagher.

The song and dance numbers are tight and crisp, although not exactly memorable.  My favourite was the fruity marriage between the Sunfish and the Moonfish.  The lyrics and the storytelling are dedicatedly bilingual, ensuring that we are introduced to all the creatures of the ocean in both English and Te Reo.

The staging involves three large circular discs that serve as projection screens.  Some pleasant effects are conveyed using this system but overall I found their constant shifting and manipulation by the cast a little clumsy, despite the variety of environments they are able to successfully convey. 

This is the second Wellington season of Songs From the Sea; from here it goes on to Melbourne.  It is an attractive show, representing a general standard of high quality recognisable in most Capital E fare, yet somewhat lacking in the dramatic potency that could distinguish it further from the franchised feel of mega-brands like the Wiggles.  Nonetheless it is enjoyable, educational and upbeat, and essentially a highly successful piece of children’s theatre.


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Strange fishy tales

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 14th Apr 2007

Parents looking for holiday entertainment for their children (2 to 7 years old) have until April 21st to see Songs of the Sea before it sets forth on a national tour to celebrate Capital E’s 10th Anniversary.

First performed in 2004, and directed by Peter Wilson, Songs of the Sea has now been given a new production directed by Lyndee- Jane Rutherford. Under her direction and with an enthusiastic cast of four the magical mystery tour into the depths of the ocean still retains its freshness and imaginative blend of myth and fact with a riot of theatrical colour.

The 45 minute show starts with three large drums, which look like circular trampolines on their sides, mysteriously moving back and forth across the stage with the four performers appearing and disappearing as they introduce themselves in the jolly, show biz manner that their young audience would be used to when watching shows like The Wiggles.

Throughout the performance the drums become rock pools and waves and stands on which are displayed numerous mobiles of colourful fish and sea creatures. A very large conch shell whispers stories to the four performers and these stories are acted out with the aid of brightly hued hand-held puppets and masks (Sue Hill), clever lighting (Natasha James), and lively songs composed by Stephen Gallagher.

The main story is about the marriage of the Sun Fish and the Moon Fish and their children who all turned out to be yellow until a rainbow’s colours were absorbed into the sea and fish of many colours were created. There’s also an old bearded man (a superb puppet) – the Great Shaper of the Universe – who sails the oceans in a wonderfully rickety boat and seems to have had a hand in all these strange fishy tales.

Happy Anniversary. May there be many more so live performance continues to flourish and charge the imaginations of the young.


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Myth-making magic

Review by John Smythe 08th Apr 2007

For their 10th Anniversary National Tour, Capital E National Theatre for Children has remounted Peter Wilson’s 2004 show Songs of the Sea, freshly directed by Lyndee-Jane Rutherford. In contrast to community hall co-op shows like Kid Stuff’s Jack and the Beanstalk, Capital E offers the magic of ‘black box’ theatre with fully professional production values.

A fun way of handling the usual announcements about safety exits and turning off cellphones segues into a deftly handled illusion sequence where the four actors – Regan Taylor, Dushka Blakely, Jean Copland and David Goldthorpe – appear to introduce themselves then disappear while three huge bass drum-like discs roll inexorably from one side of the stage to another.

The ‘drums’ become rock pools rich with marine life to excite the interest of the performing quartet and their audience. (And where on our coastline, I ask myself, could we hope to find such a concentration of living treasures nowadays?)

The relatively scientific facts of these matters soon give way to myth-making, arising from an intriguing blend of legend-retelling and creative imaginings. Thus we are told that fish were created as reflections of the silvery moon, crabs are fish with shells stuck to their backs and whales are what happened when a large shoal of fish coalesced into one – all at the hands of "the Great Shaper of the Universe", who appears as a long-bearded puppet.

I am assured the Resource Kit that accompanies the show (at least when performed for school groups) offers a highly scientific counterpoint to this ‘creationist’ view. In performance, however, the dramatic potential of differing viewpoints and personalities are limited to recurring cries of "Da-vid!", "I knew that!" and the like.

A major story which involves how fish came to have many colours is predicated on the idea that when the Sun Fish and Moon Fish married and procreated, their progeny all turned out yellow until a rainbow dipped its ends into the sea. To my perhaps over-logical mind, the burst of colour that festoons the stage – bringing Sue Hill’s splendid puppet designs to a visual climax – would have had greater dramatic validity and impact if the Sun Fish had been totally gold and the Moon Fish totally silver. By making them multi-coloured to start with (see image above) a bit of short-term fun subverts the long-term value.

The performers all make their marks as individuals while working wonderfully as an ensemble. Especially delicious is their harmonising of songs composed by Stephen Gallagher under the musical direction of Laughton Pattrick.

Songs of the Seas offers a splendid 45 minutes of theatrical magic, billed as best-suited to children aged 2 to 7. But if you go with kids who know a whale is a mammal and not a fish, or who look at the Milky Way, replicated in a starlit backdrop, and say (as a lad did behind me), "That’s a galaxy, isn’t it Dad?" be prepared to engage in some good educational conversations afterwards.
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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