Aotea Square, Auckland

11/02/2015 - 11/02/2015

The Octagon, Dunedin

01/10/2016 - 01/10/2016

Dunedin Arts Festival 2016

Auckland Fringe 2015

Production Details


Help needed! Approximately 30 whales of an unknown species are stranded in central Auckland. In desperate need of BYO buckets, wet towels and kind folk of all ages to look after them before the tide is high enough to attempt a refloat. Are you available? Bring family and friends to Aotea Square on 11th February at 6pm to assist.

What would you do if you saw a pod of whales stranded on a beach? Or even perhaps in central Auckland? Wellington’s leading theatre collective Binge Culture bring the royalty of the sea to our urban metropolis with their award-winning WHALES – presented in Auckland Live’s exciting programme of NZ fringe makers within Auckland Fringe 2015.

A mix of company members and volunteers embody two separate pods of 15 whales (wetsuits, fins and all!) which swim majestically through the streets. In an attempt to get back to the water they inevitably get stranded – a chance for the response team and audience members to douse them in water, cover them in damp towels and once the tide is far enough in, hopefully help them back into the sea.

This Auckland Fringe performance marks the first outing for this pod in Central Auckland.  In 2013, Whales premiered at the NZ Fringe Festivalwinning Best in Fringe, Creative New Zealand Award for Innovation and the Fringe Outdoor Award. In 2014, Binge Culture took it to the park at Splore Art Festival and helped open the National Whale Centre in Picton. “We aimed to make something accessible [with Whales], in which the public could play an integral part,” says co-producer, Fiona McNamara. Binge Culture member Ralph Upton says that “the highlight for us is the way the children respond to the whales – from driving a tiny tractor to singing songs to keep their whale calm, they really showed the adults how to do the job”.

“Wellington’s Binge Culture strengthens its reputation as one of the country’s most exciting, direct and original theatre companies.” – NZ Herald

Whales is part of Auckland Live’s Square Soapbox events programme from 11-14 February in Aotea Square including the Binge Culture mixtape night – Oh What A Lovely Fringe. Featuring scenes and games too difficult or risky for the traditional stage, Binge takes it outdoors and then invites a plethora of Fringe guest artists to take to the stage. Come see the best of the best (or the wildest of the wild, at least).

Whales is an event is suitable for grownups, children and hipsters, and everyone is invited to bring a bucket.

WHALES plays
Dates:  Wednesday 11 February
Times:  6pm
Venue:  Aotea Square, 50 Mayoral Drive, Auckland
Bookings:  Free event.

Auckland Fringe 2015 is an open access arts festival where anything can happen. The 2015 programme will see work happening all over the show, pushing the boundaries of performance Auckland wide from February 11 to March 1. www.aucklandfringe.co.nz 

Arts Festival Dunedin 2016

Binge Culture’s multi-award winning Whales is a community-building event in which strangers on the street suddenly find themselves working together to save stranded whales and help them back into the ocean. 

This engaging spectacle begins to take shape as two separate pods of whales emerge from different locations in the central city… slow and majestic but also playful, diving and splashing together along the pavement, past cafés, across pedestrian crossings, all the while singing their whale song. When the whales become stranded under the midday sun the public react to their distress.

At lunchtime during the School Holidays, Whales will bring young and old together in this absorbing public event.

Best in Fringe Creative New Zealand Award for Innovation Fringe Outdoor Award, NZ Fringe Festival 2013 Spirit of the Fringe Award, Auckland Fringe, 2015

The Octagon
Sat 1 Oct 1pm
Sun 2 Oct (Reserve date if postponed due to bad weather) 

Theatre , Site-specific/site-sympathetic , Outdoor , Family ,

1 hr

Something real has been shared

Review by Terry MacTavish 01st Oct 2016

The Octagon at lunchtime boasts a larger number of aimless amblers than usual, with old folks chatting on the benches and several little tykes upending on railings round the fountain. The Binge Culture crew, in high viz vests emblazoned with pandas, roam the area, then snap to attention as curious sounds are heard, and an even more curious group comes into sight.

It is, of course, a pod of whales, about to strand itself most recklessly right in front of the Octagon fountain, to the consternation and/or amusement of the crowd. The fifteen or twenty whales, all ages and shapes, singing mournfully, clad in wetsuits with rubber fins flapping poignantly on the ground, are a tragic sight. The crew dashes about putting a cordon around them, and assuring us there will be an announcement soon. 

No escape now. We are issued an unmistakeable challenge: “Are you here to help or just watch? We need to keep them wet and ultimately refloat them. Will you be a buddy for a whale? Some are in a critical condition. We need volunteers!”

Thank heaven for little girls and little boys when they’re still too young for self-consciousness and cynicism to kick in. In no time each whale has at least one buddy, tenderly dampening their charges, or in the case of a few little boys, gleefully employing water pistols with a tad much vigour. No need to watch the Secret Life of Toddlers documentary: these small personalities are well established.

One of the whales, the most graceful one actually, bears a suspicious resemblance to my good friend Sofie. I am anxious enough to sneak across to check. No quiver of recognition, but her buddies assure me she is bearing up well, and dump quite a lot of water on her. I think they avoided the blow-hole.  All I can do is sincerely hope she will survive, both the stranding and her eager assistants.

The carers are completely committed and engrossed by now, spreading damp sheets, patting and soothing the whales, while seagulls, real ones, strut nonchalantly around them. Although it is not precisely gripping as a spectator sport for the mere onlookers, they too seem content enough with the added bonus of surprise encounters with old friends and interesting conversations with strangers. A few bewildered tourists gawp in amazement, then raise their cameras for snaps that will take some explaining back home. 

Finally we are told the tide is right for the refloat, the cordon is raised and the whales are gently rocked till they rise slowly and are guided to ‘open sea’ by their helpers, who by now have joined hands in a human chain. It is quite a beautiful moment as water from the fountain is thrown high above the retreating whales to a surge of inspiring music, and there is a sense of euphoria among the helpers.

Some of the older ones look a little embarrassed as they return to real life, but six year old Lochlann, who had to be restrained from following the pod out to sea, rushes to his grandparents shouting, “I saved a whale!” then races round the Octagon, unable to contain his excitement and triumph. 

Whales is a community event rather than a performance per se, and similar to drama-in-education, although the display is carefully structured and the whales, a disparate group of all-comers, have clearly been educated and rehearsed.

The premise is similar to the production I reviewed in March 2015, Where the Albatross Meets the Penguin byKeep Otago Oil-Free, though this is more professional and less overtly political. I love the range of possibilities that theatre encompasses and in this instance, hopefully lessons have been learned about co-operating with other humans as well as with our natural environment. 

Crew member Mouce comes now to thank us for our help and tell us that all but one of the pod made it. Yes, one sad empty wetsuit is left lying on the ground. Luckily not the one worn by the whale who looked like Sofie. Still sad. Crew member David offers hot chocolate for comfort, and I share it with beautiful Ava and her Nepalese friend Ariana. They too are full of modest pride in what they believe they have achieved. “So good for them to learn something real, outside of the classroom,” says Ava’s grandmother happily. For certain, something real has been shared.


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A very community orientated and participatory show

Review by Dione Joseph 11th Feb 2015

It’s amazing how children have an innate ability to believe. Not just in figures of authority (mum, dad, tall people wearing high viz Binge Culture vests) but in the very reality that they have willingly participated to act out their own particular role in a constructed reality. And of course, the adults often follow suit.

At least that’s what happened at Auckland CBD tonight when multiple whale pods crooned, wailed and gurgled their way across Aotea square as they splayed their corrugated polycarbonate fins high in the evening sunshine. The music was spot-on (was it Free Willy?) and the elegant bodies of these aquatic mammals (fifteen agile and committed volunteers dressed in wetsuits) swam around the urban landscape. However, as the more adventurous ones meandered down Queen Street, one lonely whale finds himself on his own. Eventually and perhaps from the on-going attention of the growing crowd, he needs a rest and find himself ‘beached’ on the hard concrete outside the Town Hall. 

And as expected, his compatriots are quick to swim to his rescue. But then what happens is the sad and unfortunate truth; the entire pod gets stranded and when backup arrives, well, let’s just says they don’t quite come with a suitable plan B.  

But what does happen is that the crowd at Aotea Square (some who have clearly come prepared with towels, buckets and even water guns) rally around the leaders in high viz and follow instructions to look after the whales. It is quite uplifting to see strangers come together (even if for some it seems more like an opportunity to dump a bucket of water on an unsuspecting whale’s head) and collectively support and comfort the whales. If there are instructions not to tip water into the whales’ blowholes (a very real piece of advice) I might have missed hearing it but I also don’t see where exactly it is on my whale’s head either. 

After about half an hour of keeping the whales cool, the audience is invited to start rocking the whales and help them to return to the waters. What is obviously missing here is the fact that in this environment, unlike their debut in Wellington, there is no water! The grand finale, played out to the soaring bombastic finale of Free Willy’s theme song (it sounded remarkably like it anyhow) is accompanied by buckets of water being flung high into the sky making a spectacle certainly but not quite like what it would have been to see the whales back in their natural habitat. 

This is where a child’s suspension of belief is infinitely greater and far less cynical. And they really are the best audience members for this type of work. A very community orientated and participatory show, Whales might not quite have had the majesty or the magic that a marine environment would have offered but it nevertheless successfully gains the support of the local community. As far as my memory goes council would have had a great view from certain windows. I wonder what they thought of a pod of whales making themselves at home outside the Town Hall?


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