Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna, Auckland

04/07/2014 - 08/07/2014

Production Details

Shiver me timbers! Michael Hurst to play extraordinary mother   

Award-winning actor and director Michael Hurst is set to walk the planks this July in a rollicking role as the pirate mother in Auckland Theatre Company’s (ATC) stage adaptation of Margaret Mahy’s The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate.

This hilarious and heart-warming family tale, which runs from 4-8 July at Takapuna’s Bruce Mason Centre, has long been a firm New Zealand favourite since it first hit the shelves more than three decades ago.

Like the book, children and adults alike will enjoy the memorable story of timid office worker, Sam, who throws caution to the wind and takes off on a journey to the sea with his wonderfully adventurous and extraordinary mother – a pirate.

Although Michael won’t have to scupper his breeches and waistcoat for a dress, he’s looking forward to the challenges of playing Sam’s rebellious sea faring mum, and the honour of bringing to life the book of New Zealand’s most acclaimed children’s author.

“This fabulous journey of high jinks and hilarity has a few important life lessons thrown in as well.

“Margaret’s stories never shied away from tough topics and she always managed to tackle the complexities of human relationships and growing up. It’s what makes her stories so successful. I’m sure the messages in this marvellous adapted play will resonate with many adults, as well as the kids,” Hurst says.

Joining Hurst is a stellar line-up of acclaimed New Zealand’s actors including Alison Bruce (Angels in America, Speaking in Tongues, The Almighty Johnsons), Kip Chapman (The Cult, Top of The Lake), Olivia Tennet (Underbelly NZ: Land of The Long Green Cloud, The Almighty Johnsons, Shortland St), Brett O’Gorman (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Kings of the Gym, Did I Believe it?) and Renee Lyons (Super City).

Don’t stay marooned at home next school holidays – join our Pirate Mum and have a grand ol’ time.

4-8 July at Takapuna’s Bruce Mason Centre 

For more information or to book tickets visit


Set Designer: John Verryt
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Whiting
Lighting Designer: Nik Janiurek
Sound Designer/Composer: Thomas Press

Mother: Michael Hurst
Little Man in the Brown Suit: Brett O'Gorman
Parrot: Renee Lyons
Terrible Crabmeat (Dog) & Ensemble: Kip Chapman
Mr Fat/Ensemble: Alison Bruce
Rosy Sea Captain/Ensemble: Olivia Tennet

Go the little man!

Review by Vanessa Byrnes 05th Jul 2014

At the Bruce Mason Theatre on a cold Friday night, a cast of eight actors playing many parts have us captivated in a totally entertaining way. Margaret Mahy’s classic tale of finding your own ‘song’ via challenges and expanding landscapes is a perfect school holiday theatre treat. My 10-year old twin girls deem the play “very entertaining and funny” and love the way it “brings the audience into it”. I second that.  

Pre-show mime sets up the monotony of a regular working life. The Little Man (Brett O’Gorman) is depicted as a beige study in straight lines; ironing, order, and predictability make up his existence. John Verryt’s fantastic corrugated cardboard set and props provide many silent but powerful characters in this hilarious drama. A cardboard table and chairs, an expertly made wheelbarrow and boat, pepper this make-believe, yet somehow quite real, storybook world.

Verryt’s set suggests that the Little Man’s reality is nothing more than a surface lifestyle capable of imminent erosion. But what if your mother is a pirate? What challenges might come your way? Could you stand the adventure, and what it might uncover about your true calling?

Michael Hurst relishes the role of buxom-but-nimble Pirate Mother and has us in the palm of his cross-dressed hand from the get-go. An opening night mishap with a sound cue is a gift for Hurst. Acknowledging it, and his part in it, this brings us into the same time and space with the actor and character. He is in his element here as Panto Dame. In Hurst’s hands I find myself wanting more, please, of the “He’s behind you!” convention. Anarchy reigns for a bit with some necessary audience interaction.

The audience loves it, and for a second I realize how rare this kind of interaction is these days. Surely this ‘liveness’ is part of what we pursue in a theatre experience? Suppressed disorder lurks just beneath the surface of our engagement, and Hurst is fully aware of this. Kids of all ages love this kind of ‘Mobocracy With Rules’.

The wonderful Alison Bruce as Mr Fat is hilarious. He’s like Mr Creosote [from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life] on speed: all gluttony and festering capitalism. Greed emanates to the point of amnesia and disconnect; with an endless appetite for more, ironically he’s incapable of knowing what happens beyond his office. Eventually finding the simple pleasures of the sea, his own encounter at the end of the play is a sweet resolution of discovery. Funny, slightly Pythonesque, and absurdly real.  

Kip Chapman’s aquaphobic Farmer is a comical and painfully true study of the stoic farmer who finds security in the perceived stability of his land. His three cow companions are physically engaging; a kind of parody of ‘cowness’ that brings their docile servitude to life.

Accompanied by his Pirate Mother and feathered parrot companion Nigel (Renee Lyons), the Little Man treks to the sea. His horizons expand along the way with various obstacles (magpies, a hermit, a wild river) and as his beige demeanour gives way to more multi-coloured tones, so too does the production. Our perspectives seem to widen as the creases appear in the Little Man’s clothes and the seascape appears. Everything becomes more expansive and Technicolor.

An underwater tango/ cha cha/ numerous dance styles at the end underlines the joyous resolution of various characters. The catchy ‘Song of the Sea’ emphasizes a key message of self-discovery that kids will relate to. Even with the necessary scene and set changes that can challenge overall flow, it’s all very well done.

Under Ben Crowder’s inventive direction, and alongside a superb production team, Callum Passells’ foley sound effects and musical landscapes are great. This production is notable for engaging sight and sound in equal dimensions, and you won’t be disappointed at the level of imagination that it invites the audience to bring.

This wee drama of how a man with little hope or ambition gradually gets to throw away his asthma inhaler and reclaim his name (Sam) in favour of a more authentic life on the ocean waves is highly entertaining. At heart it’s a story of transformation in the face of challenges that rings true in our money-fed contemporary existence. On the surface, it’s a captivating way to spend just over an hour in the theatre; suitable for all ages. My 10-year olds are fascinated by its bottled-up sense of rebellion that eventually becomes liberated. Go the Little Man!


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