The Pumphouse Theatre, Takapuna, Auckland

05/07/2014 - 19/07/2014

Te Papa Tongarewa, Te Marae, Cable Street, Wellington

18/03/2017 - 18/03/2017

Capital E National Arts Festival

Production Details


Puppets feature in Tim Bray Productions’ season of Witi Ihimaera’s classic New Zealand story The Whale Rideron stage in Auckland in June and July. Auckland’s leading children’s theatre company, Tim Bray Productions presents The Whale Rider at the PumpHouse Theatre, Takapuna from 23 June to 19 July.

Made famous by Niki Caro’s award-winning 2002 film for which star Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated for an Academy Award, The Whale Rider tells the story of Kahu – a young Maori girl destined to become the leader of her tribe.

Based on the children’s picture book and adapted for the stage by Tim Bray, this production of The Whale Rider uses puppets to tell Kahu’s story. Kahu is destined to become the leader of her tribe, but no matter how hard she tries to show her worth, her grandfather won’t accept that a girl can take over his role as chief. However things change when Kahu rescues the ancient whale beached in the Whangara Harbour.

The play features Noa Campbell as Nani Flowers with Pippiajna Tui Jane as Kahu and Adam Burrell as Koro. The actors work with the puppets created by Auckland puppet-maker Ben Anderson. 

Author Witi Ihimaera is delighted with this production of his acclaimed work.  “Tim’s proposal is ingenious and accessible to children,” he said. “I am confident that the outcome will be a production that will captivate its young audiences and, especially, inspire them to always keep looking forward with optimism to their own futures as adults in a challenging world.” 

The Whale Rider is the second show presented as part of Tim Bray Productions’ 2014 children’s theatre programme. 

The Whale Rider is at The PumpHouse, Takapuna, Auckland
Education Season: Monday 23 June – Friday 4 July 10:30am & 1:00pm
Public Season: Saturday 5 July – 19 July 10:30am & 2:00pm
Gala Performance – Saturday 5 July
No shows on Sundays.
Children are encouraged to dress up.
To book, phone (09) 489-8360 or online at 

Capital E National Arts Festival 2017

The Whale Rider opened 2014 at Auckland’s PumpHouse Theatre, and was an official event as part of the Matariki Festival in the same year. It then toured to Kaitaia, Kerikeri and Whangarei, before coming to Wellington for Capital E’s National Arts Festival. Theatreview’s Nik Smythe praised the show for its high level of engagement with young audiences, and for encouraging children to “try to be with nature instead of defying it”. 

Festival producer Melanie Hamilton says “Tim Bray Productions are renowned for writing and creating many engaging theatre for children since 2001. The Whale Rider is another example of a inspiring show for young people that will engage young audiences with this story of compassion and legacy.”

This free show takes place at
Te Papa’s Te Marae
Saturday 18 March 2017
Recommended for ages 3+

A New Zealand Sign Language interpreter will sign this show, making it ideal for Deaf and hearing impaired children and their families. 

For more information or to purchase tickets to The Whale Rider, visit   

Kahu and other characters:  Pippiajna Tui Jane
Nani Flowers and other characters:  Noa Campbell
Koro Apirana and other characters:  Adam Burrell
Musician:  Kristie Addison 

NZ Sign Language Interpreter (selected shows) :  Kelly Hodgins

Kaitakawaenga – Maori Advisor:  Tamati Patuwai, Mad Ave Studios
Poutiaki Maori – Maori Dramaturg:  Tuirina Wehi
Rakau (Fighting Staff) Training:  Noa Campbell 

Director:  Tim Bray
Set Design:  Rachael Walker
Puppet Design & Construction:  Ben Anderson
Puppet Construction:  Sami Vance, Britney Pilling, Heather Anderson
Puppet and Actor Costume Design & Construction:  Chantelle Gerrard
Lighting Design:  Michael Craven
Set Construction:  Grant Reynolds
Stage Manager:  Padma Akula
Lighting / Sound Operator:  Jazz Davis
Whales – small and large:  Becky Ehlers, BE Creative
Scenic Painting:  Grant Reynolds, Rachael Walker
Props:  Rachael Walker, Ben Anderson
Koro Apirana’s large taonga:  Rana Terry
Lighting Crew:  Michael Craven, Jazz Davis, Jamie Blackburn, Sarah Radford
Ushers:  Adam Willis, Sarah Radford
Theatre Workshops’ Tutor :  Tom Wardle
Teachers’ Resource Guide:  Rosemary Tisdall, Getting Kids into Books
Publicist:  Sally Woodfield, SWPR
School Mailout:  Ken and Margaret Bray
Postering Crew:  Adam Willis, Tom Wardle
Photography:  David Rowland /
Illustration:  James Stewart 
Print Design:  Stefania Sarnecki-Capper, Red Design

Theatre , Children’s ,


Poignant, thought provoking and important

Review by Jo Hodgson 20th Mar 2017

Witi Ihimaera’s story of The Whale Rider is 30 years old this year and in 2017 the messages contained within are still as relevant as ever.

The Whale Rider is set in an East Coast town of Whangara. Here we meet Kahu, a first-born girl in a long line of first born boys descended from Paikea, who, as legend tells, rode a whale from Hawaiki to Aotearoa. She is dismissed because she is a girl by her Koro Apirana who cannot accept her as the leader and believes that everything that starts to go wrong in the village is because of Kahu. He sets out to find a suitable male leader, while Kahu does everything she can to prove she is just as capable and more so.

This modern classic was made famous in Niki Caro’s 2002 film and later adapted into a picture book version, which has been director Tim Bray’s template for this production aimed at a younger audience.

The Capital E team make the perfect choice choosing Te Marae in Te Papa Tongarewa for the performance space which surrounds this theatrical adaptation with history, tradition, culture and belonging. Particularly apt is the name of the wharenui – Te Hono ki Hawaiki – which (this from Te Papa’s website) “speaks of the connection to Hawaiki, the place of our spiritual origins,” so it links with the legend of Paikea in the story reaching right back to Hawaiki too. 

Rachel Walker creates the picture of Whangara using a woven set of a red wharenui entrance, matting for the beach and a mountain shape – Te Ana-o-Paikea – a whale shaped island nearby, which is also used as a boat and a mountain road throughout the story.

The characters are portrayed by Ben Andersons’s beautifully designed puppets which are brought to life via actors Pippiajna Tui Jane, Noa Campbell and Adam Burrell. They expertly use their own physicality and expression to become one with the puppet which given the puppets are relatively small helps to create a more life sized character to identify with. At times the actors themselves take over the role without the puppet and this is seamless and completely natural given that we have already accepted them as the various characters.

This story is touching in so many ways. It questions traditions while still honouring the importance of their historic place. It shows respect for elders, while still challenging their beliefs. A very poignant moment is Kahu’s speech about her Koro, and Pippiajna Tui Jane and her Kahu puppet deliver this with humble simplicity and powerful emotion – a part in the book, the movie and now this interpretation that makes me well up.

The whales are magically represented by small and large scale framed puppets made by Becky Ehlers and the actors capture the beauty of these majestic creatures through their movements and the vocalisations are both mesmerising and heart-breaking.

The actors are dressed by Chantelle Gerrard in colours of the land and sea which then allow the puppets brighter clothing to stand out against them.

In this venue, there is no use of extra lighting or special effects but Rutene Spooner provides a gentle backwash of incidental music on his guitar, interspersed with recognisable waiata. Unfortunately the opportunity to get this audience (a little younger than the school students who have been watching during the week) up and having a little dance and sing isn’t taken further as this may have helped the growing restlessness as the story developed. 

In saying this, this adaptation is thankfully not overly simplified for the younger audience, the relationship issues, the soul searching and challenges to tradition aren’t glossed over but are faced and discussed while also informing about aspects of Maori culture.

While thousands around the world celebrate difference, diversity and especially being true to oneself at PRIDE over this week (the Wellington celebrations are in full swing nearby as we watch this performance), I feel grateful to Capital E and Tim Bray Productions for bringing this thought provoking and important story to young audiences to see, particularly for our mighty girls. 


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Gently told modern classic

Review by Nik Smythe 06th Jul 2014

This latest play by the prolific, consistent, high-quality family theatre machine that is Tim Bray Productions takes its proven expertise to another level these holidays.  Having featured such luminaries as local children’s authors Joy Cowley and the late Margaret Mahy to marvellous effect over the years, we are now presented with the exemplary and probably best-known story by our possibly best-known living author, Witi Ihimaera. 

It is a beautiful and gently told tale, adapted for the stage from the 2005 picture-book version of the original 1987 novel and directed by the sure, tender hand of Mr Bray himself.  Bearing the company’s trademark stamp of ingenuity, The Whale Rider will charm children and adults alike, at least all who share its palpable regard for humanity, its compassion and its preference to at least try to be with nature instead of defying it.  

Musician Kirstie Addison is on stage for the duration, fittingly with nothing more than her semi-acoustic steel string guitar to accompany the songs and provide background and incidental mood music. Plus she gives us the chance to join in a rousing rendition of everyone’s first waiata, Piko Toro

The small cast of three bring the rural east-coast community of Whangara to life through the appealing, diminutive puppet characters created by Ben Anderson.  The puppets’ relative dimensions enable Rachel Walker’s set to work on a duel geographic scale, both life-sized, represented stage left by the deep red latticed whare entrance, and doll-sized for the personae to operate on the remaining woven-flax covered stage, complete with raised mound to represent the maunga of Whangara, just off-shore. 

Rather than channelling their full performance through these representational effigies, the neutrally dressed players equally perform their roles with their own bodies, as informed by whichever figure they hold at the time. 

Pippiajna Tui Jane’s principle character is that of the protagonist Kahu, eight-year-old direct descendant of their founding ancestor Paikea, who long long ago rode on a whale to this shore from the ancient land of Hawaiki.  Unfortunately she is disqualified from eventually taking the chieftainship on the basis of her gender, despite all the clear signs she is more than worthy. 

Adam Burrell plays the reigning chief and Kahu’s grandfather Koro Apirana, a stalwart leader who fears change and resents his granddaughter for not being male.  Her father, Koro’s son, renounced his own birthright to the chieftainship and migrated to Europe in grief when Kahu’s mother died giving birth to her.  The complex details of that subplot, and why Kahu remained in the village instead of moving away with him, are not entered into with this telling. 

Noa Campbell has two distinct main roles, as Nani Flowers, Koro’s wise and warm-hearted wife, and comical, cocksure young Hemi, Kahu’s friend and the chief’s apparent best hope for a successor to usurp Kahu’s legacy. 

Along with a handful of other parts also portrayed by the cast through Anderson’s puppets, the other stars of the tale are the stylised right whale models: several smaller ones to evoke distance through perspective, and the large scale ‘chief’, said to be the original Paikea’s whale, upon which puppet-Kahu is destined to fulfil her legacy in the desperate and quite deeply moving final act. 

At this gala presentation we have been further honoured as we enter with an excellent kapa-haka performance by Birkdale’s Te Pua Waitanga students.  Comprising twenty-odd boys and girls aged around six to twelve, the kids give it their all in the distinguished presence of the guest of honour, the man who made it all possible, Mr Witi Ihimaera himself.  

In his opening-night mihi as Maori advisor, Kaitakawaenga Tamati Patuwai acknowledges all our ancestors as is traditional at such occasions, and even more appropriate given the story’s theme.  He goes on to reiterate what I’ve asserted in many a previous Tim Bray Production review, that the level of engagement their plays generate with the target audience is testament to the intelligence and the soul of our kids.   

The Whale Rider is a modern classic.


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