A journey to exotic lands, beasts and a fabulous feast are just the ticket for school holidays, writes Dionne Christian
Tim Bray sits surrounded by lights and electrical equipment, a ladder, an assortment of clothing and a scale model of how the PumpHouse Theatre stage will look once everything is in place.
He forgets the chaos to concentrate on actor Ashley Hawkes' make-up. Hawkes, last seen in the adult comedy Nui Sila, plays the owl in Bray's production of Edward Lear's nonsense poem The Owl and the Pussycat.
It is the latest children's theatre show to be produced by Bray. He saw potential in Lear's three-stanza poem for a production with all the theatrical elements children love: a journey to exotic lands, fun-filled beasts and a fabulous feast (mince and slices of quince).
Bray thinks Hawkes' make-up needs to be softened so as not to scare the younger ones who, during the July school holidays, will pack into the PumpHouse for the show.
Paying attention to the little details - and listening carefully to what mums, dads and grandparents tell him their kids like - has grown Bray's operation into one of the busiest children's theatre outfits in the country.
These school holidays, for the first time in several years, the company stages two shows simultaneously. While The Owl and the Pussycat is on in Takapuna, Pippi Longstocking runs for a week at TAPAC in Western Springs.
"It has always been the dream to tour the shows so when Creative New Zealand and ASB Community Trust funding came through to do that, I decided to start with Pippi because it is relatively easy to transport and was so popular when we staged it last year."
It means Bray works on The Owl and the Pussycat in the mornings then Pippi Longstocking in the afternoons.
While Hawkes plays the owl, newcomer Lucy Warhurst is the pussycat and looks every inch the role in a fitted black velvet cat suit. A former BBC radio announcer, Warhurst arrived in New Zealand this year and, hoping for voice-over work, found an agent.
"She suggested I audition for this show and as I am in New Zealand on an adventure I thought, 'why not?' But when I got there and learnt what I would have to do - roll around the floor like a cat and miaow - I nearly left because I thought I couldn't do it.
"I decided I had to be brave so I did my audition and then 20 minutes later, Tim was on the phone asking if I wanted the part."
For Bray, the pace is welcome respite from recent events. His treasured niece, Natasha, was one of six Elim Christian College students who died in April in the canyoning tragedy at the Outdoor Pursuits Centre.
"It happened during the school season of The Twits. The cast sent me an email asking if there was anything they could do to help and I replied they just needed to keep doing what they were doing by going on stage and making children laugh. To see happy families, to hear laughter in the world, is like a tonic at the moment."
What: The Owl and the Pussycat
Where and when: PumpHouse Theatre, Takapuna, July 7-19
What: Pippi Longstocking
Where and when: Auckland Performing Arts Centre (TAPAC), July 9-13