The Pumphouse Theatre, Takapuna, Auckland

26/09/2015 - 10/10/2015

Production Details

Enchanting Story on Stage for School Holidays  

“When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real” 

The enchanting story of a toy rabbit who wants to become real comes to life on stage for the October school holidays.

Auckland’s leading children’s theatre company, Tim Bray Productions presents The Velveteen Rabbit at the PumpHouse Theatre, Takapuna from 21 September to 10 October.

Based on Margery Williams’ book The Velveteen Rabbit (first published in 1922) is an enchanting story of a toy rabbit that dearly wishes to become ‘Real’.

A young boy discovers the velveteen rabbit in his Christmas stocking, but its soon forgotten amongst the other toys and the velveteen rabbit waits in hope that he will be loved enough to become Real. One night the boy’s favourite cuddly toy is lost and the velveteen rabbit becomes the boys favourite companion, and his journey to become ‘Real’ begins. 

In a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association in the US named the book one of its Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.

Featuring original music and songs, the cast includes Jonathan Martin as the Velveteen Rabbit Actor/Puppeteer, Jared Kirkwood as the boy with Erica Kröger and Tim Raby, and musician Andy Manning.

In creating the show, Tim Bray says he hopes children will recognise themselves in the show and how they have favourite toys of their own and celebrate how children how children use their imaginations to bring their toys to life.“ In a sense this theatre production is a celebration of toys, childhood and play.”

The Velveteen Rabbit
PumpHouse Theatre Takapuna, Auckland
Monday 21 September to Saturday 10 October
Gala opening performance on Saturday 26 September at 5pm.
Performance times from 21-25 September are 10:30am and 1pm daily;
and from 26 September to 10 October at 10:30am and 2pm (no shows on Sundays).
Children are encouraged to dress up as their favourite toy.
To book, phone (09) 489-8360 or online at  

Theatre , Family , Children’s ,

A richness and depth

Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 27th Sep 2015

Tim Bray Productions regular school holiday shows for kids – should I say families – have become the closest thing to a children’s theatre institution that we have in the City of Sails.  One of the benefits of regular attendance at the is consistency in that the Tim Bray Productions formula doesn’t change much.

There’s a costume parade at the top of the show with prizes for kids who have dressed up. At the Gala Opening, there’s a raffle drawn at the end of the performance with much sought after prizes, there’s a post-show speech from Bray himself with thanks to special people and, of course, to the sponsors and, in Bray’s case, this is quite a list! In most cases I don’t care for post-show shenanigans because they take me out of the experience I’ve just had but Bray’s sincere and easy going charm somehow makes them work.

Then there’s a Gala Opening party with good food and ample juice outdoors in the courtyard of the theatre and the kids get to meet the actors in a seriously informal setting. It’s a well-trod path and an excellent experience all round.

The down side of having a satisfying and time-honoured formula is the need to keep things fresh and new and Bray has, in the simplest way possible, absolutely nailed it on this occasion. 

In recent times Tim Bray Productions has focused primarily on writing by established and popular New Zealand authors of the quality of Joy Cowley, Lynley Dodd and Witi Ihimaera but here he changes generation and ethnicity, zips back in time and across the seas to the U S of A and picks up The Velveteen Rabbit, a children’s classic almost one hundred years old.

Published in 1922 this would have been the book du jour for the families of servicemen returned a mere four years earlier from the horror of the trenches or perhaps of solo mothers whose men had not returned at all, and read, pre-television and electronic media, to wide-eyed youngsters whose destiny was, a mere seventeen years later, to do the world war thing all over again. The book’s existential themes of how do we ‘make things real’ and what is ‘reality’ must have been incredibly accessible to its new audience in the 1920s and 30s and, unsurprisingly, remains so today.

I can hear you muttering “so what’s so different this time? After all it’s theatre for kids adapted from the original by Bray himself with songs by Christine White, designs by the inimitable Rachael Walker, and it’s slick and entertaining which have been the hallmarks of Bray’s work for years? So how is this different?’

It’s different because there is a richness and emotional depth about this production of The Velveteen Rabbit that explores new and exciting areas for this company. That’s not to say previous work hasn’t been emotionally satisfying, not by a long shot, but this is deceptively simple and straight forward in ways that remove any emotional filters between the actors and the audience and let us right in. The result is deep silences as the plot unfolds and real, empathetic laughter at the many moments of pure, human comedy.

It’s a small cast show – just four actors and one musician – which I imagine makes the economics viable, but it doesn’t seem short-changed on any level. The performances are multi-faceted, the visuals consistently maintained and the narrative adheres very closely to the original which, for such a well-loved story, is a sensible choice.  Although the original was written 93 years ago, this production has a timeless quality that makes it equally accessible to the youngest audience member and to the oldest grandparent alike. 

Rachael Walkers’ excellent set is a boy’s bedroom with the fourth wall removed. It’s small and the single bed and one small bookcase take up almost all the space. There are entrances left and right and a large window that gives access to the outside. On either side of the stage are floor-to-ceiling scaffolding poles – trees – with leaves at the base of each.

The whole gives the impression of a pastel simplicity that is maintained throughout. It’s an evocative setting and much is added by Steve Marshall’s skilled and beautifully defined lighting and Jaz Davis’ subtle operation.

Now, if you’re six years old or less and reading this I complement you on your literacy skills but suggest you stop right now because I’m heading into ‘spoiler’ territory and you may not want to go there with me. It could spoil your fun when you got to see the play!

It’s Christmas Eve and Boy (a spirited and charming Jared Kirkwood) is incredibly excited. With most of the action taking place in the boy’s bedroom, his books and toys become important characters in themselves.  This is never an easy task and in this instance Bray has chosen to animate these characters with human puppeteer actors. Each of the actors plays multiple roles with the exception of the Velveteen Rabbit who is played and voiced exclusively by puppeteer Jonathan Martin.

The empathic Erica Kröger plays Mum and a fairy, the ever-amiable Tim Raby plays Boy’s uncle, a doctor and Santa’s stunt double, and each of these excellent artist’s doubles as a puppeteer for the various toys, books and other objects of childhood fantasy that people this narrative. Santa, who appears in a delightful scene of childlike entrapment, plays himself as has become traditional in Tim Bray’s productions. I guess a little off-season work for Santa is helpful in the lead up to Christmas.

We are introduced to the otherwise inanimate characters by their puppeteers, with assistance from Boy – the tired and worn Skin Horse (originally owned by Grandpa, then Uncle, and now Boy so he’s a hand-me-down), Train, Lion (a terrifying King of the Jungle), Yacht (a ketch actually), Dog (the favourite who goes missing) and Ball – and the scene is set for the unfolding of this charming, existential exploration of reality.

Boy sets a trap to find out if Santa is real and goes to sleep. Santa evades the trap, delivers the presents and at the top of Boy’s stocking he leaves a new Velveteen Rabbit. To cut a long story short the rabbit becomes Boy’s favourite toy, Rabbit finds out from Skin Horse that if you’re loved by your owner you can become ‘real’. But Boy develops a bad case of Scarlet Fever, Doctor is called and, when Boy has recovered, Doctor insists that the contents of Boy’s bedroom, including the much-loved Velveteen Rabbit, be destroyed.

Rabbit, along with the other toys and books, is stuffed in a bag and left in the garden to be burnt. Rabbit is devastated and sheds a single tear which, when it hits the ground, turns into a beautiful magic flower. Enter the Flower Fairy who casts a special spell which turns the tired and worn out old Velveteen Rabbit into a hefty, brown, incredibly healthy, floppy-eared, bob tailed real-as bunny.

It’s quite simply a transformation made in heaven and it all happens courtesy of the magic of live theatre, right in front of our eyes and it’s as enchanted a transformation as you are ever likely to see. On a one hundred point cuteness scale it rockets off at 120! 

Bray’s adaption ends at this point whereas Margery Williams’ book adds a nice little coda which is quite simply not necessary in live performance because that work has already been done by the excellent actors.

The text is rich with great kid lines – Lion shouts “Tremble my enemies”; Yacht reminds us that’s it’s “actually a ketch”; when Mum puts the toys away, “It’s called tidying up, we all hate it” and when Boy asks Skin Horse “what is real?” the horse’s reply makes sense of everything: ‘Real is when a boy loves you for a long, long time. Once you’re real it lasts for always.”

This is cleverly supported, of course, by the texted discussion around whether or not Santa is real – which he is, of course! There’s a plethora of “What do you get if you cross a rabbit with a (insert item of your choice)” riddles, each one groanier than the last, and we love them all.

It’s easy to under-estimate the effectiveness of Christine White’s songs and the pertinence of her lyrics because they fit seamlessly into the narrative but they are enormously good. The singing of the songs will improve as the season progresses and the actors relax into them. I’m sure the balance between vocals and the accompaniment at the opening of the show will level out as well in the next day or so.

This is not so much a criticism as a process because each is already perfectly fine. It was also good to hear a snatch of Albert Hammond’s ‘I’m a Train’ inserted at an appropriate spot. It was like meeting an old friend, and Andy Manning’s keyboards and guitar support the action superbly throughout.

It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful venue, dotted as The Pumphouse is next to Lake Pupuke, with plenty of space for picnics and play. Tim Bray Productions provide a service to Auckland that is second to none in traditional children’s theatre and I encourage you to participate fully.

The Velveteen Rabbit is an excellent show and, perhaps surprisingly, it’s suitable for all ages. I thoroughly enjoyed it as did my thirteen year old son which is a good sign.

There’s a richness and a depth seldom achieved in productions for kids and none is at the expense of top quality entertainment. There’s a beautiful synergy between on stage, backstage and he front of house that’s also very rare.

Get tickets soon because this show will sell out. 


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