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Spring Creek Play Impresses

The Judgement of Ben Alder written by Paul Maunder and performed y Kiwi/Possum Productions

As with Kiwi/Possum Production’s previous plays, expect something different from the norm when you rock up. If you’ve been to ‘Goodnight Irene’ or ‘Poison and Purity’ you will know you are not going for an escapist ride. Written and directed by Paul Maunder this production is topical, satirical, and raw to the hearts of many in our community.

The opening scene sets the tone as Ben Elder (Fuelcorp CEO) played by Jason Johnson, sells his soul to the devil.

The set is simple and effective and pulls the action into an intimate space with the audience. With the Spring Creek Mine closure threatening, the mine workers rally to form a co-operative to keep the mine operating. Clever use of lighting and shadows aids the impression that there’s a large group of miners here with us. Their earnest cries of “let’s be committed! OK. OK!” juxtapose against the plaintive notes of Heather Fletcher on violin.

Prue Bowen as the fiery Minister of Finance rams home the financial realities to Ben Elder. Seems that the Board of Fuelcorp and the Government are more concerned with feathering their nests and then cutting their losses than with keeping a West Coast community alive: what can be done? Here we witness the miners’ taking one controversial strategy that could just work. The times they are a-changing.

This small cast of just six performers put on a great show and delivered the intelligent and punchy dialogue well. The cast: Francis Darwen (introduced each scene – was he also promoting the cycle trail?), Jason Johnson (Fuelcorp CEO), Prue Bowen (Minister of Finance), Paul Maunder (Sam, Finances-Fuelcorp), George Super (a miner), Heather Fletcher (a stand-out performance as a miner’s wife), and Paul Kearns (lighting). Note that the play is not suitable for children due to some strong language and violence.

Following the performance, Colin Smith from Development West Coast opened a discussion with thought provoking comments on lack of accountability and poor leadership of the SOE that resulted in the Spring Creek mine closure. The ensuing discussion was stimulating and with many astute observations made by a well-informed audience.

Karen Grant, Greymouth Star, Nov 1st, 2013

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Mining for meaning

goodnight, irene written by Paul Maunder and performed by Kiwi/Possum Productions.

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As their initial offering Poison and Purity coincided with the Pike disaster, on this first anniversary Kiwi/Possum Productions felt compelled to respond in a transformative way through the power of live theatre.

Sam (Paul Maunder) has cancer and the pain’s a bugger – but that’s not about to get him off his rectal exam. So begins the opening scene in Sam’s modest home, complete with bookcase, armchair, black and white photos, retro drapes, and a Formica table with chairs to match.

Soon he is visited by his ‘foreign’ daughter-in-law. With bottle of vodka in hand, it is clear that Irene (Heather Fletcher) is struggling to cope with some devastating news. The relationship between Sam and Irene is fascinating but tricky: their dialogue and songs simultaneously confronting, responding. and revealing.

The set swings open to show two rear corner screens featuring imagesto complement the evolving story. And the characters, too, start to open up.

The script skilfully mines history, including the Battle of Monte Cassino, military rule in Russia, and the 1951 waterfront dispute; while also making wry local jokes about high school hockey, power cuts, counselling services, and health promotion. This is what I appreciate about Paul Maunder’s writing: his ability to help us reflect deeply, but with a touch so light we barely realise he’s leading us there.

In contrast to Poison and Purity, each actor in goodnight, irene plays a single part. Heather Fletcher, in the title role, impresses with her strength of characterisation, emotional range and bravura singing. Jason Johnson as Sam’s younger son, Gareth demonstrates his ability to express stillness and subtlety. Corrina Gestro-Best, as Tina the nurse, debuts with quiet flair. Teenager Freya Johnson, as Sam’s grand-daughter Emma,delights with her buoyant energy and sudden vulnerability. While Paul Maunder inhabits the role of Sam as though it had been written for him.

The programme acknowledges UK-based Helen Chadwick (www.helenchadwick.com) for permission to use several of her songs.

Contributing to the polished quality of the production are the technical skills of Prue Bowen (sound) and Mark Apanui (lighting); with set design and construction by Maunder (ably assisted by Freya Johnson); and the expertise of Caroline Selwood as assistant director.

In goodnight, irene real-life drama becomes the art of drama. With sophistication, Paul Maunder and company re-present ourselves to ourselves. They invite us on an insightful, uplifting journey. Like a system of shafts and tunnels, the themes in goodnight, Irene connect and reconnect: grief and love, place and belonging, memory and song.

In the best traditions of live community theatre, goodnight, irene delivers a rich, multi-layered, significant work – and a very good night, indeed.

Reviewed by Greg O’Connell, Theatre View 21/11/11

Poison and Purity performance to schools

Drop of inspiration

Community-based theatre group offers creative response to 1080

Poison and Purity is not only a balanced, polished and intelligently layered play but also a brilliantly entertaining night out.

‘What’s your poison?’ Tom (Paul Maunder) asks behind the bar of the Hari Hari pub, echoing the theme of this engaging and energetic journey through 1080 country.

The action takes place on an ingenious minimal set, where scaffolding acts as the bush, the portable bar, and even as a helicopter rotor blade.

Fast-moving short scenes weave and intersect: cockies light-heartedly give stick to consultants; Possum taunts Kiwi; contractors make a 1080 drop; a guided tour walks the Heaphy Track; pig hunters come unstuck; bush animals get mischievous; police and protesters clash; the Prime Minister confers with advisers in the Beehive; and locals gather at the pub.

Each member of the four-strong ensemble plays multiple roles with skill, versatility and a healthy dose of humour. Jason Johnson gives a dynamic and endearing performance as the boisterous, testosterone-charged Possum. Heather Fletcher delivers evocative, soaring vocals and

characterisations that are just as pitch-perfect. Caroline Selwood delights as the refined Stoat and the sharp-tongued guide of Kahurangi Gourmet Tours. While Paul Maunder impresses in every guise with a style that is always understated, authentic and riveting.

Contributing to the intimate quality of the production is the use of acoustic guitar (Maunder), violin (Fletcher) and percussion (ensemble), supported ably by Mark Apanui’s unobtrusive lighting and soundscape.

At the conclusion of the show the cast gently invites audience discussion, adding a further thought-provoking dimension. But it is the images of the frolicking Kiwi, Possum, Rat and Stoat that will live on after the lights come up; their irrepressible sense of fun defining this superbly-crafted play.

Whatever your poison, be sure to sample this excellent drop of pure West Coast community-based theatre.

POISON AND PURITY, devised and performed by Kiwi/Possum Productions, touring the West Coast until March 25. Reviewed by Greg O’Connell    Greymouth Evening Star, Feb 15th, 2011.


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The Cave above the Pa / Te Ana I Runga I Te Pa written by Paul Maunder and performed by Kiwi Possum Productions.

Let’s be clear: The Cave above the Pa is a fictional story. And it is a relevant and constructive one.

Those familiar with Paul Maunder’s work will know that this is not a writer who shies away from an uncomfortable examination of issues. In this play, Kiwi Possum Productions brings the history of Greymouth leasehold land out under the stage lights.

Following his research of the subject and interviews of people locally, Maunder invents an imagined conversation between the parties involved, set in the context of the memorial gates incident.

The Chairperson of the Land Trust, Hione (Paul Maunder) is visited by the local mayor, Bill (Jason Johnson). In a neat dramatic pun, theatre-in-the-round staging allows us to see all the way around every aspect of the confrontation.

Hione holds mana. And Maunder exudes all the necessary gravitas, as well as displaying some fine reflexes with his walking stick. The role is a wonderful vehicle for Maunders superbly modulated delivery, from furious whispers to anguished laments.

The Chairperson and the mayor engage in a sophisticated battle of cross-cultural logic, each arguing his case with impassioned appeals to reason and tradition.

Jason Johnson as Bill (the local mayor) is an able foil in the extended duel with Hione. In this role, shorn of his distinguishing

dreadlocks, Johnson appears every bit the conservative, establishment figure. His strong physical stature adds menace to the simmering argument and complements the swift, resolute gestures of Hione.

Rochelle Hutson debuts in the role of Hione’s granddaughter, Aroha. While George Super as the truck driver, and Prue Bowen as the driver’s mate, deliver delightful and spirited cameos suggesting that both actors would impress even more given larger roles.

The technical crew comprises Paul Kearns (technical/design) and Freya Johnson (music/effects) with Heather Fletcher offering directorial input.

The discussion that followed the play was not only worthwhile but also fascinating, heartfelt, and informative. Greymouth mayor Tony Kokshoorn gave considered responses to a series of genuinely interested, probing, and challenging questions from the audience and cast. And this respectful sharing of views proved the ideal climax to a play that inspires us to reflection, and to action.

Greymouth is fortunate to have Kiwi Possum Productions, and all the requisite skills of such a dedicated theatre group. The Cave above the Pa is an indispensable and timely work that invites us to consider, as individuals and as a community, the type of future we truly want. And, by implication, asks what we are willing to create, change and contribute in order to achieve it.

Reviewed by Greg O’Connell 21/9/12

Stepping Stones written by Mike Kenny and performed by Kiwi/Possum Productions.
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Winner of ‘Best Children’s Play’ by the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain in 1997, Stepping Stones has been described as ‘intelligent theatre’ for children.
The story goes from high noon hilltop to snow-bound, moonlit beach. Cynth (Heather Fletcher) is a young woman on a journey of change. But Mam (Caroline Selwood) doesn’t want Cynth to go, so Mam decides she will help and secretly follows.
Cynth and Mam discover the home stone, the stepping stone, and the star stone, encountering along the way Monty (Jason Johnson), Flint (George Super) and an unnamed man (Paul Maunder).
There are wonderful highlights in this production for all the
audience to enjoy: Johnson as the stone soup guru, Fletcher and Selwood crossing the river, Super’s delivery of a likable would-be-hero, and Maunder’s grasping stranger.
There is trademark Kiwi/Possum Productions minimal and clever staging. And there are some gems of lines amongst the stones too. In the end, Cynth and Mam learn that everything must grow and change.
The technical crew includes Frances Darwen (stage manager), Prue Bowen (lighting), and Paul Maunder (sound). Deserving of mention, once again, is the ingenious set design (Paul
Maunder) and construction (Mike Hutson), featuring a revolving four-scene platform.
Directed by Maunder and
Fletcher, Stepping Stones was supported by a Creative
Communities grant, and the provision of rehearsal spaces at Karoro School and Runanga Miners’ Hall.
It may be my own bias towards original West Coast theatre, but I couldn’t help feeling that had Kiwi/Possum Productions devised their own play for children on the same themes it would have contained more pertinent dialogue, and more vivid humour. Certainly Kenny’s script has a UK pedigree, but then Kiwi/Possum Productions has a very impressive track record of its own.
Reviewed by Greg O’Connell.  11-9-13

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