The Veiled Isle

The Playhouse, 31 Albany Street, Dunedin North, Dunedin

25/06/2022 - 25/06/2022

Production Details

A collaboration between Birdfeeder, Zoe Higgins and Pája Neuhöferová
Creative director and producer: Stephanie Cairns
Music written and performed by Stephanie Cairns and Birdfeeder

Art-pop trio Birdfeeder (Wellington, NZ) are  taking their live visual album show The Veiled Isle on a South Island tour in late June, with shows in Lyttelton, Dunedin and Nelson, as well as one at home.

The Veiled Isle is a collaboration between Birdfeeder and theatre artists Zoe Higgins and Pája Neuhöferová, which marries the band’s innately theatrical music with large-scale shadow puppetry to create a dreamy, bewitching and immersive experience.

The show will be appearing at Loons in Lyttelton on June 24, Playhouse Theatre Dunedin on June 25, and the Red Door Theatre in Nelson as part of Nelson Fringe Festival on June 28 and 29. There will also be a one off performance in Wellington on June 10 before the show heads south. It’s already been seen by Wellington audiences in Lōemis Festival (2021) and the NZ Fringe Festival (February 2022), where it received a nomination for ‘Most Innovative Work’ in the Fringe Awards.

Audiences can get taste of what they’re in for by listening to The Vile Isle, the companion EP to the show released earlier this year. Reviewers describe it as  “the aural equivalent of riding the Ghost Train at the local fair” ( and  “somewhere between / beyond Carnivorous Plant Society’s instrumental flights of fantasy and Tidal Rave’s lyrical musings” (Under The Radar).

Birdfeeder was formed in 2019 by long time friends and musical collaborators Stephanie Cairns (keys/vocals, lead songwriting), Josh Harris (drums) and Marley Mokomoko-Young (bass). They are gathering a reputation for catchy songwriting and a quirky visual aesthetic with their live shows and two self-produced music videos for Banana Boxes (2020) and The Long Haul (2021).

Birdfeeder band: Stephanie Cairns (lead vocals, keyboards), Marley Mokomoko-Young (bass guitar), Josh Harris (drums, backing vocals, soundscapes)

Puppeteers: Zoe Higgins, Pája Neuhöferová

Dunedin sound tech: Tom Acklin

Theatre ,

50 min

Surreal and Original

Review by Angela Trolove 26th Jun 2022

In their experimental, low-fi, dreamlike show, The Veiled Isle, Wellington band Birdfeeder are rekindling audiences’ imaginations throughout Te Waipounamu. A socially-distanced audience meets together in Ōtepoti’s Playhouse Theatre on an auspiciously temperate winter night. The stage is fronted with a muslin screen and the silhouette of an arrangement of ferns welcomes us.

Singer and keyboardist Stephanie Cairns, bass guitarist Marley Mokomoko-Young and drummer Josh Harris present us their own repertoire of songs. These songs have a driving, haunting energy. The band laments climate change, in menacing or in soothing tones with surreal and powerful lyrics, “…beware the hills, beware the sky…”. Cairns has a wide vocal range, passing from frantic and operatic to softened and earthy. Being experimental, the band also bends the ambience of their songs through whistled impersonations of native birdsong, a sound track of rain, mouth clicks, and a tone filter. Here in Dunedin, Tom Acklin provides sound tech.

Initially unseen, puppeteers Zoe Higgins and Pája Neuhöferová entrance the audience. Each carries a torch, they project whimsical props on the muslin. It’s enigmatic. There’s a rickety boat reminiscent of William Steig, a lace or driftwood ancestress, a teapot, cut-outs of houses, skylines and eyes.The strength of this puppetry is how its two dimensionality morphs. As the torches are on the move, sharp outlines dilate and diffuse, or they contract. The audience comes to believe in a puppeter’s ‘walking’ fingers being true legs, and when, in this moment, the light slips backwards to reveal the musicians, magnifying the silhouette of a snapping snare drum or a hand flinching on the keyboard, a singer’s jumper or their teeth, the light work is dynamic; sublime.


When shadows leak beyond the screen onto the walls of the theatre, a sailing boat is reiterated in a blown-out scale. In this way, the theatre itself participates.On occasion, audience members shield their eyes from the direct torch light. In finale, the torches cause the ferns to seemingly advance on or even overcome the audience. This recalls the Lumière brothers’ 1895 film of a train advancing, in which audience members are rumoured to have run from the cinema, being so invested in the illusion.


Late in the show, the puppeteers’ choreography is to be commended. In rota, each holds a torch aloft and casts a downlight on one of the props, like for museum artefacts. They proceed slowly, as in a ritual. And this is Birdfeeder in a nutshell. This is their characteristic, both sonically and visually: they’re playful, reverent and relevant.

Surreal, genuine, innovative and unique. The Veiled Isle receives resounding applause.


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