Theatre Downstairs, The Oval House, 52-54 Kennington Oval, London

15/11/2011 - 03/12/2011

Production Details

The acclaimed novelist and playwright Stella Duffy directs this new piece by Shaky Isles, about a mysterious creature beneath the Thames.

A story for anyone who calls London home. Sometimes.

There is a Taniwha (tah’ni’fa) in the Thames. A sea-monster, and shape shifter, like, yet not quite like, the Maori water spirit of legend. It does not need us, but it likes our attention, feeds on our interest. And its intentions are not always good.

The Taniwha swims the Effra, the Peck, the Fleet. It knows the mysteries of the city and the secrets of your heart. It is the feeling in the dark places and quiet corridors, of knowing that someone – something – ­is just … over … there.

A visceral tale that stretches across time and space to ask what it means to belong, wherever you make your home.

TaniwhaThames is produced by Shaky Isles Theatre and Ovalhouse 

Tue 15 Nov – Sat 3 Dec, 7:45pm
Previews 15 & 16 Nov. BSL 1 Dec. Audio-described 2 Dec.

FULL: £14.00
PREVIEW: £7.00

VENUE: Theatre Downstairs, The Oval House, 52-54 Kennington Oval, London
Book now / BOX OFFICE: 020 7582 7680 

Allegorical blend of theatrical ideas

Review by James Hadley 27th Nov 2011

“Ko Thames te awa.” So when I chose to relocate from Wellington to London, the New Zealander who taught me my mihimihi warned me to resist the lure of my river, so that I would one day return to NZ.

Shaky Isles Theatre’s new devised show, Taniwha Thames, directed by Stella Duffy at London’s Oval House Theatre, seems inspired by the conflicting yearnings that most Kiwis feel at some stage of their life: to travel and explore the world when in Aotearoa / to return home when they’re based a whole world away in London – but after how long, and for what reasons?

Any New Zealander who’s tried making their home in London at some stage, or had a loved one leave to do so, will find much to relate to within this theatrical montage. It wells up with a longing for home from far away, but kept in check by the wayfaring adventurer’s wanderlust. 

London has long been a key overseas destination for New Zealanders, so why shouldn’t a taniwha have originated the trend and swam half way round the globe to find itself in the Thames River ? That’s the central premise of the show. It proves to be a rich metaphor for the blend of fear and temptation lurking in the background of any journey into unfamiliar territory.

Repeatedly we see displaced London-based Kiwis wondering “should I stay or should I go back?” There are no easy answers to such life-choice dilemmas, and that’s reflected in the structure of this production: a montage of conversations, songs and physical theatre sequences.

Anyone looking for the motorway of fast meanings that a linear narrative might offer is likely to find the piece frustrating. Instead the piece asks you to surrender to the ebb and flow of this meandering tidal river of ideas and imagery. 

The ensemble of eight performers – Ella Becroft, Jonathan Bidgood, Connie Brice, Ana Brothers, Emma Deakin, Rosella Hart, Jodie Michaels and Sani M’alo – many of them ex-pat New Zealanders, devised Taniwha Thames with director Stella Duffy using open space technology. For those unfamiliar with this process, Shaky Isles’ founder and cast member Emma Deakin offers an account if it here.

The democratic nature of devising in Open Space seems to have resulted in a production where a selection of ideas take precedence over, submerge back into the ensemble. It’s very much a choral, ensemble performance, directed with pleasing mise en scène and a mellifluous physical aesthetic by Ms Duffy. She also introduces proceedings with a libation to the taniwha – which the audience get to toast with a shot glass of cloudy and luke-warm ‘Thames river water’.

Each performer gets their moment centre stage, sometimes in a focussed dialogue about the reasons to return to NZ and when versus the reasons to stay in London, sometimes to sing one of the original songs within the piece – blending aspects of nursery rhymes, waiata and folk songs. But it’s in the physical ensemble work that the performers shine.

Multiple bodies interweave to create an inquisitive creature pieced together from eclectic aspects of other animals and the skeletal under-structures of female period costumes. A human pyramid rises up: HMS Endeavour with its figurehead, as the taniwha tags along on Cook’s return voyage. Particularly affecting were the chorus of performers surrounding the various siren characters with sinuous, beckoning hands and a sea of beguiling smiles.

Occasionally there are flustered sequences of concurrent physical fragments, momentarily reminiscent of university student forays into physical theatre, but then a soulfully inhabited choral physical sequence will emerge, such as a song involving Polynesian-influenced body percussion, or the sequence where Air New Zealand stewards’ safety demonstration mimes are echoed and deconstructed. It’s in such sequences that the yearning undertow of the piece seeps through.

The performers imbue the show with a lot of soul, particularly in its final song, and a cherished New Zealand perspective. What’s lacking in narrative is made up for in the allegorical blend of theatrical ideas: like fragments of urban myth found in the river-bed of London-based Kiwis’ collective unconscious when the Thames is at low tide.

Every theatrical image returns like successive waves to the central idea of the taniwha in the Thames: a distinctly New Zealand creature displaced – or revelling in living – a long way from home.  


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Snippets of history like flotsam and jetsam

Review by Lyn Gardner 20th Nov 2011

If Loch Ness has its monster, then maybe the river Thames can have its Taniwha – a shape-shifting creature of salty kisses and siren songs who lures the unsuspecting into the depths. The story of how this mythical creature mysteriously accompanied Captain Cook’s ship on his return from the antipodes is the starting point of this show from Shaky Isles, a UK-based company with strong links to New Zealand. 

When should you surrender to the current, and when should you fight? How do you know when it’s the moment to catch the tide and head for home, or instead lay down the foundations for a new life? Some of the physical theatre here is perhaps a tad old-fashioned, but there is a great deal to love about the piece, even if it sometimes feels a little elusive: what it means to those who made it isn’t quite conveyed to those of us watching.  [More


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