Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

20/04/2021 - 01/05/2021

Globe 2, Globe Theatre, 312 Main St, Palmerston North

28/02/2020 - 01/03/2020

Production Details

Palmy actor presents play about growing up with Down syndrome

Lily Harper and her friends are proud to present Up Down Girl from 28 February to 1 March at The Globe Theatre in Palmerston North. In this new, local adaptation, based on the British play ‘Up Down Boy’ by Sue Shields, Lily draws on her own life experiences to tell the tale of 19 year old Mattie Baker as she prepares to leave for college. 

Up Down Girl is a funny and uplifting play about a young woman growing up with Down syndrome, and the mother who raised her. Hilarious and heartwarming stories from Mattie’s childhood are interlaced with songs, dances and drama skits as the audience gets the opportunity to enter the wild and colourful imagination of Mattie and, by extension, Lily herself.

“There aren’t many movies or plays that have people with Down syndrome in them, and in the ones that do, they are usually smaller roles,” says Lily. “I want to be the star of the show.”

Lily met producer and director Nathan Mudge when he started running the performance company for people with intellectual disabilities that she is part of. The pair quickly built a good rapport so it wasn’t long before they started planning a show that would give Lily the chance to shine.

“As soon as we met, I was instantly caught by her unique perspective of the world and natural talent for performing,” says Nathan. “She has an incredibly positive attitude towards life that is so joyous to be around, and I can’t wait to share that with everyone who comes to the show.”

With Lily and Nathan, award-winning actor Trudy Pearson takes on the role of Mattie’s mother. Michiel van Echten will co-direct and feature as one of Lily’s “imaginary” friends, along with Mycah Keall who is in her final year of a Performing Arts degree at Te Auaha in Wellington. Professional designers Ian Harman and Natala Gwiazdzinski have also come on board.

The show will be fully accessible to Manawatu’s disability community, the first of its kind in the region. There will be a relaxed performance on Friday 28 February for those who will benefit from a more relaxed performance environment, including people with an Autism Spectrum Condition, sensory and communication disorders or a learning difficulty. There will be a fully accessible performance with audio description and sign interpretation on Sunday 1 March for those who are Blind or low vision, or Deaf or hard of hearing.

“Theatre is for everyone,” Nathan reminds us. “I hope Up Down Girl inspires venues and producers to make a conscious effort to include people with mixed abilities, on stage and off.”

Up Down Girl plays at
The Globe Theatre, 312 Main Street, Palmerston North
from 28 February to 1 March 2008

For more information and to book, visit globetheatre.co.nz.
People with accessibility requirements should contact The Globe Theatre directly.


It’s time to fly.

Mattie is off to college in an hour – and she’s left it to Mum to pack her case. Mum won’t miss the blaring music, slamming doors and massive phone bills. But Mattie is no ordinary teenager, and will Mum cope without her? Direct from a sold out season in Palmerston North, Up Down Girl is an honest and uplifting play about the extraordinary life of a person with Down syndrome and their mother’s humorous perspective on bringing them up.

The Up Down Project is an inclusive performance collective that aims to empower tāngata whaikaha, promote tolerance, and encourage collaboration between artists of all backgrounds and abilities. This production of Up Down Girl, which served as a catalyst for the group’s formation, was initiated by actor Lily Harper in response to an insensitive storyline about the Down syndrome community on her favourite television show. 

“Everyone is different. Anything is possible. I want to show the world what we’re made of.” – Lily Harper 

“Lily Harper steals the limelight.” – Stuff

Circa Two
20 April – 1 May 2021
Wellington Down Syndrome Association Fundraiser Performance – Tues 20 April – Tickets available here
Tues – Sat 6.30pm & Sun 4.30pm
$15 – $25

Audio Described Performance – Sun 25 April
Call the Box Office on (04) 801 7992 to confirm your headset and touch tour.

Relaxed Performance – Tues 27 April
Feel free to book however is easiest for you

Sign Interpreted Performance – Sat 1 May
Email circa@circa.co.nz to book a spot with the best visibility

Companion tickets must be confirmed with the Box Office. Please feel free to call or email if you have any further questions.

Theatre ,

50 mins

Show filled with love affection and music

Review by Sonya Stewart 25th Apr 2021

It’s time for Mattie Baker (Lily Harper) to leave home and go to college, and Mattie’s mum (Trudy Pearson) is helping her pack. Or rather, she is doing the packing while the energetic and easily distracted Mattie is zooming around in a cape, listening to songs and playing with her imaginary friends (Michiel van Echten and Mycah Keall). In the end the only thing she tries to pack is a lifesize cutout of Shane from Westlife.

As many mothers of a teenage girl would attest, “most of my life is talking to doors.” But Mattie and her Mum are a couple of smart cookies, and their connection and sense of humour is obvious. The second youngest of six, Mattie is the last to leave home and her Mum is taking a trip down memory lane, while folding socks and searching for clean underwear. [More


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A richly layered and uplifting experience

Review by John Smythe 22nd Apr 2021

The first thing to say is that this is a delightful and insightful show that anyone who ever encounters a person with Down syndrome should see – and isn’t that all of us?  

Ten years and one month ago, Myrtle Theatre Company (from Bristol UK) brought Up Down Boy to the Capital E National Arts Festival. Now the Up Down Project* has brought Up Down Girl – the adaptation that premiered in Palmerston North one year and one month ago – to Circa Two.

The co-directors, Nathan Mudge and Michiel van Echten, were already running a drama group for neurodiverse people in Palmerston North when one of their number, Lily Harper, related the joy and dismay she had experienced watching an episode of her favourite TV programme (Shortland Street – you may have heard her talk about this on RNZ National). A pregnant character had discovered her baby-to-be had Down syndrome. “Finally, someone on TV was going to be just like [Lily],” the Directors’ Note tells us, but: “The mother then lamented ‘a miserable life with a munted baby’ and the father suggested she abort the pregnancy.”

That was the catalyst for adapting the British play, “as a way of sharing a different point of view.” Its development was enhanced by “Lily’s wild imagination on the rehearsal room floor” as she made her mark on role of Mattie.

The whole team has certainly made it their own, relocating it in Palmerston North with reference to a time the large family lived on the East Coast, before returning to the Palmy where Mattie would have better access to the services and opportunities that would give her “the best chance,” as her mother puts it.

Trudy Pearson carries the role of Mum (Odette in the original play) with an ease that belies the welter of words she has to deliver. Provoked by the pressure of packing for Mattie, who is about to leave home for a residential vocational college that will give her – well both of them – independence, her stream of consciousness flows with energy, purpose and a well-modulated range of emotions. As she thinks out loud, chivvies Mattie into getting ready and expresses her utterly understandable frustrations, their life stories to date and the complex nature of this mother-daughter relationship becomes apparent.

Meanwhile Lily Harper has a ball inhabiting the world according to ‘Super Mattie’. She owns every moment of Mattie’s inventive strategies for putting off the moment of departure. Mattie’s thoughts and feelings are truly expressed, she has touching moments of total attentiveness to her mother’s concerns, and she rocks out some impressive moves while lip-syncing pop songs – and singing along beautifully with one. Punctuating the roller-coaster ride, her ‘taking flight’ as ‘Super Mattie’ becomes a recurring motif. In all, a thoroughly uplifting performance.

Mattie’s highly active imagination is manifested with flair by Michiel van Echten and Mycah Keall, who variously operate spooky and comical OHP-projected shadow play, pop up as remembered people and fantasy characters, and provide lively singing-and dancing back-up to Mattie’s big numbers. (These roles were not in Up Down Boy and they add greatly to the overall dynamic.)

Designer Ian Harman’s cluttered bedroom set, costumes and props speak volumes about Mattie’s progress through life. Isadora Lao’s lighting design and operation facilitates our engagement with the play’s objective realities and subjective experiences.

Co-directors Nathan Mudge and Michiel van Echten have master-minded a richly layered theatrical experience that – dare I suggest – surpasses the original production in meeting its objectives. It deserves to tour far and wide. Meanwhile it’s on at Circa until 1May.  
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*The Up Down Project is a performance collective formed with Wellington’s disability community. It aims to seek out and create stories by people with disabilities (as well as stories about them). They (Nathan Mudge and Michiel van Echten) can be contacted at updownprojectnz@gmail.com


John Smythe April 23rd, 2021

Thank you Olivia - message received, understood and acted upon. I appreciate your taking the trouble to improve my awareness. 

Olivia Flanagan April 22nd, 2021

Kia ora John, 

Such an inspiring show! I was so moved by the piece last night. 

I would like to place feedback on the opening line of your review. You may not be aware of the use of the words 'Down Syndrome person' may cause offensive as people who have Down’s syndrome are unique individuals and should be acknowledged as a person first and foremost. In order to portray the true intent of your statement, I ask you to consider changing the phrasing to 'a person with Down Syndrome'. 

Thanks for reviewing the show, and giving it the praise it deserves! 

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Big ‘ups’ for Down syndrome play

Review by Richard Mays 04th Mar 2020

Nineteen-year-old Mattie Butler is supposed to be packing her bag for college. With a penchant for improvising flying capes out of bathroom towels and adopting superhero poses, ‘Super’ Mattie doesn’t seem too concerned about completing her task, or that she is leaving in an hour.  

It’s Mum who chivvies her along, making sure her daughter has enough of the necessaries, while weeding out any extraneous bumf. Mattie’s life-size cardboard cut-out of Westlife’s Shane Filan is clearly one of the latter.

Instead, it’s the sensible and functional items – socks and underwear, a family photograph and a couple of favourite CDs that find their way into the bag.

Mattie has Down syndrome, and attending college will be the first real foray into a world that will restrict any of her frequent retreats into fantasy as a coping mechanism. This enthralling and entertaining hour provides a detailed reflection about what Mattie has meant to her Palmerston North family of two adults and five other siblings.

While Trudy Pearson as Mum delivers most of the information in what is largely a one-sided duologue, Lily Harper’s Mattie steals the limelight. No stranger to performance – Harper has presented for Attitude TV – but in her first stage play, she draws on own her Down syndrome experience to emotionally and physically convey the endearingly irrepressible Mattie.

Pearson carries her character with confidence, exemplifying exactly how a mother will go into bat against ‘the system’ for the welfare of her child.

The pair share a great connection, with selected memories dramatised as shadow-scapes on the wall of Mattie’s bedroom, or acted out with choreographed assistance from Michiel van Echten and Mycah Keall.

However, while the adaptation of the play from its UK roots to New Zealand vernacular is excellent in terms of culture and place, it still comes with an inbuilt ‘mum-splainy’ imbalance. This is really Mum’s story about Mattie rather than Mattie’s story about Mattie.

More from Mattie’s perspective, especially about the social acceptance downside of being Down, would have given the character a louder and more appreciable voice. Maybe Mattie doesn’t want to be trained in the menial tasks listed on the college brochure and aspires to a more creative future for herself. That’s an avenue the script never explores, and hopefully a coming sequel to this play will.

There is no denying the moving final scene though. Mattie’s departure is enough to leave many in the audience with tell-tale traces of moistness about their eyes.


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