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Helen and the Ferals Review

With an explosion of punk, the premier performance of Helen and the Ferals kicks off. Held in Greymouth’s Regent Theatre the multitalented Kiwi/ Possum Productions troupe stage a wry comic tragedy, a politically retrospective tale of the Saga of West Coast native timber logging between 1970-2000. Helen and the Ferals is an original written by local playwright Paul Maunder who once again examines important historical and contemporary issues that contest and shape life on the West Coast. The play uses a punk anti-establishment theme to try and tear down the distance between performers and the audience and also the dichotomy that has long existed between conservationists and those who make their living from extractive resources.

Having Helen Clark (played to the strident hilt by Elisa Wells) join the West Coast’s last punk band, The Ferals, characterises this play’s ambitions. Interspersed with punk numbers such as Vinnie (Vincent Best) belting out a comic tirade against our national icon, the audience are carried at breakneck speed though the first act. Largely set in the offices of the many National and Labour Prime Ministers of the 1970’s-1980’s the Ferals impress as they transform into a densely canopied stand of political characters. Norman Kirk is played in a life and death performance by Jason Johnson. Surrounding the set fringes and moving to occupy centre stage the cast members play a variety of protestor parts such as when Robert Muldoon, sneeringly played by George Super, batons invading Springbok tour protestors.

In act two there is a musical shift into the blues, reflecting community sentiment in the 1990’s. Timberlands tries to secure itself a future, hiring a PR firm smoothly portrayed by Elisa and Frank Wells to promote a sustainable ethic. Francis Darwen convincingly acts the invested Timberlands manger and Paul Maunder delivers an impressive rant as a Timberlands executive who has had a gutsful of green “birds and bees people” manipulation. The standoff between protestors and loggers is cleverly portrayed in a scene mimicking the Charleston site of protestors camping in trees to highlight their environmental cause. The conflicting sounds of birds and chainsaw set the scene. Rose Blair shines in her part as Gaia an eco-warrior. Helicopter sounds herald the arrival of Jenny Shipley played by George Super, with an intensity which matches her shade of magenta lipstick. Helen Clark’s government come into power ending the Accord.

Through the political smoke and mirrors of this play emerges Mikaere Hanna, doing a superb job in acting the ghost of Chico Mendes Filho, the murdered Brazilian rubber tapper whose actions led to the setting up of Extractive Reserves where forests were returned to the guardianship of local people. Chico disappears into the mist as Helen Clark leads the Ferals in the show’s climactic finale.

The clever set design by Paul Kearns constructed from scaffolding with a backdrop of graffitied slogans plays a large part in this play’s success. The lighting by Shona Preston and sound production by Paul Kearns are also critical to the gelling together of the many and varied set changes. Costume details and props work well to situate the actors in a definable place and time. I was very impressed by the depth of talent from this diversely talented band of actors and crew.

Community performance art like this is a lens for seeing our place in both history and the present and this can open us into future possibilities. Jane Goodall, the environmental activist recently said, change will not be created by confronting something head on but by telling stories, meeting with people, listening to each other and then trying to find a way to the heart so we begin to think locally and get together with like-minded people to take action. The discussion around Extractive Reserves as an alternative to old thinking may inspire us. Go see Helen and the Ferals for the entertainment, it’s an immensely fun night out but also go for the regenerative discourse.


21/7/2017-Reviewed by Catherine Woollett for Greymouth Star and

A video of the play can be seen at Helen and the Ferals You Tube


Premier of Helen and the ferals, July 20-22

The Regent Theatre, Greymouth at 7.30pm, Thursday July 20- Saturday July 22nd. Tickets are $12.50 and $10 (unwaged). It is advisable to book at the theatre.

Hokitika’s Old Lodge, August 5th; book at WestReap; 7,30pm

Westport’s NBS Theatre, August 12th; book at theatre; 7.30pm

Oddfellows Hall, Reefton, August 19th; 7.30pm

Mapua Community Hall; September 9th; 7.30pm

New play

We continue to explore important Coast issues with our latest production, Helen & the Ferals.

group image

‘In Helen & the Ferals we tell the story of the battle for and against native logging on the Coast. The issue has been the one that has generated the most environmental controversy in the region and led, for a period, to an intense anti-Green feeling amongst many Coasters.

In the play, which is something of a musical, a local Punk Rock band called Helen & the Ferals (named after Helen Clark’s infamous description of Coasters) tell the story of the controversy, which spanned thirty years, beginning in 1970 with the National Government’s plan to chip a sizeable portion of the beech forest, continuing through to the Maruia Petition and the West Coast Accord, then to the saga of Timberland’s attempt to introduce a sustainable beech logging scheme, ending with the breaking of the Accord by the Labour Government at the turn of the century and the ban on native logging in state owned forest.

We call the play a tragi-comedy, for while the story has the elements of tragedy: all the parties sometimes challenging the gods of common sense and a hero (Timberlands) with a fatal flaw (its romance with a PR firm); there are elements of farce as well.

The play proposes a solution to the continuing conflict between extractivists and Greenies on the Coast by looking at the concept of extractive reserves developed in the Amazon by the rubber tappers and the indigenous tribes.

Each performance will be followed by a discussion with the audience.

It is extraordinary that as we began rehearsing Helen & the Ferals, the issue should rear its head again with the proposal by Grey District Council to allow sustainable logging in its forests receiving 14,000 submissions. Suddenly the story is absolutely topical.’

The cast of Kiwi/Possum regulars: Rose Blair, Francis Darwin, Mikaere Hanna, Jason Johnson, Paul Maunder, George Super, Elisa and Frank Wells, are joined by Hokitika musician, Vincent Best. Paul Kearns once again is the designer.

Helen & the Ferals (Helen by the way, having finished up at the UN, has joined the band) premiers at The Regent Theatre, Greymouth at 7.30pm, Thursday July 21- Saturday July 22nd. Tickets are $12.50 and $10 (unwaged). It is advisable to book at the theatre.

Thereafter, the production will tour to Hokitika’s Old Lodge, August 5th; Westport’s NBS Theatre, August 12th; Oddfellows Hall, Reefton, August 19th; with a Mapua performance scheduled in September.

The production is supported by Creative Communities.

Audience Survey

At a Labour Day picnic, at Greymouth/Mawhera town square, 2.00pm, October 24th, the results of our audience surveys re a transition economy for the Coast will be presented. If wet, we’ll transfer to the nearby cafe. A document will be available for people to sign before it is nailed to the doors of the Councils and DWC (maybe blue tacked).

Season begins

Three great nights in Greymouth/Mawhera. An astute review from Karen Grant: who found the play ‘rich and engaging’. A French woofer came along and insisted on videoing it the next night. ‘It needs to be out there on the net.’

The culture of the process: audience engagement through a simple whakapapa exercise, the performance as a provocation followed by further discussion with audience over supper proved to be a whole experience, reminding me of marae encounters.

Lovely having a choir involved, who all grew into the performance occasion.

Performance dates for The Measures Taken

Greymouth: Regent Theatre, August 26-28. 7.30pm/ $10. Book at theatre.

Hokitika: The Old Lodge, Sept 3, 7.30pm. $15/$10. Book at WestReap

Westport: NBS Theatre, September 10, 7.30pm. $10. Book at theatre.

Reefton: Oddfellows Hall, Bridge Street. September 17th. $10.

Press release:

Kiwi/Possum Productions new play, called The Measures Taken, focuses on the economic and cultural transition the Coast is having to make.

‘The West Coast has, for the last forty years, been searching for a sustainable economy,’ states writer, Paul Maunder. ‘This play is a provocation with regard to that so far, unsuccessful quest.’

Based on German playwright, Bertolt Brecht’s teaching plays, the story of The Measures Taken is simple. The Coast has elected a youngish, progressive woman mayor, who has come up with a new and startling agenda for the region. She is called before the people to justify her actions and uses a group of players and a local choir to assist, as she combs through Coast heritage to present her argument. The theatrical journey is interwoven with original songs from the choir, before we reach the present day and the debate begins.

‘The play is in some ways,’ states Maunder, ‘a West Coast musical.’

The performance will be followed by supper during which the audience members will be interviewed in order to gather their response to the issues uncovered.

Jason Johnson has directed the team of players: Rose Blair, Francis Darwin, Mikaere Hanna, George Super and Elisa Wells. Heather Fletcher, who plays the mayor, has written the music for the songs and rehearsed local choir, Waiata Koha. John Philips, Shona Preston and Maunder are spokespeople for the citizens.  Paul Kearns and Sam Gibbens deal with the technical side of the production, which will prove once again, to be a unique theatre experience.

As with the group’s last show, A Brief History of Madness, audience numbers for each performance will be limited, so it will be wise to book.

Rehearsals begin on new play

We have started work on this year’s play, called, after Brecht, The Measures Taken. It will become a theatrical provocation in terms of getting the audience to think outside the square, in terms of the transition economy. It also involves local community choir, Waiata Koha, singing songs with music composed by Heather Fletcher. Performances will begin at the end of August. Once again, we are grateful for support from Creative Communities.