Parents will be relieved to know there will be no nude actor strolling across the stage in the PumpHouse Theatre's upcoming productions, The Emperor's New Clothes and The Ugly Duckling.

Producer Tim Bray and actor-director Amanda Rees have found amusing ways to bring Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairytales to the stage, and have created an alternative to the "invisible clothes" the emperor thinks he's wearing in the original tale.

"It's a tricky balance telling old stories but making them relevant for children," says Bray. "Amanda has brought them into the modern day so the actors have Kiwi accents and there's New Zealand birdsong."

Set designer Michael Knapp has also made clever use of lighting to differentiate between the pantomime nature of Emperor and the poignant story of Duckling.

The school holiday production (first staged in 2005) will keep actors Rees, Li-Ming Hu, Lori Dungey, Sam Berkley and Dane Dawson busy with costume changes as they take on multiple characters. Christine White has written original songs and there will be plenty of audience interaction.

Kids' theatre has always appealed to playwright and producer Bray, who is well known for his colourful productions of classic children's stories such as Roald Dahl's The Twits, and last year's The Owl and the Pussycat and Pippi Longstocking. He has fond recollections as a young audience member of productions such as Things That Go Bump In the Night at the Mercury and Fiddler on the Roof at Her Majesty's Theatre.

"I love seeing children leaving the theatre wide-eyed. It's amazing how much impact you can have in one hour of a child's life. Two years on the parents tell me the kids still remember the songs and images."

The Emperor's New Clothes and The Ugly Duckling were staged earlier this week so kids from low-decile schools could see the plays free with help from the Mazda and Becroft Foundations. They also funded one performance for deaf and hearing-impaired children.

"The kids just screamed with laughter when Sam walked on as the emperor," says Rees. Costume designer Chantelle Gerrard has given the actor old-fashioned bloomers, an undersized vest and stockings to make him look like an overgrown child.

"Tim has written this great script where the Emperor doesn't notice everyone calling him 'royal jelly' and 'noble nincompoop'," says Rees. "He just hears the 'royal' and 'noble'. He loves to play dress up and wear hats. He doesn't get the concept of money."

The young audience also appreciated the messages inherent in The Ugly Duckling, featuring Li-Ming Hu in the lead role. Bray and Rees have reworked the story slightly to emphasise the theme of acceptance, rather than the transformation to beauty.

"Li-Ming is beautiful obviously but this is about being different. She's rejected because she's not the same as everyone else," says Rees. "We subtly made it about how in New Zealand it's difficult to accept people of different cultures. People don't fit in for all sorts of reasons."

Also on during the school holidays is the Outfit Theatre Company's Treasure Island at Tapac Theatre. Director Alison Quigan (Yvonne from Shortland Street) and 11 actors have adapted the classic Robert Louis Stevenson tale, bringing young hero Jim Hawkins and a band of mutinous pirates to the stage. And Phineas Phrog Productions present Goldilocks & the Three Bears at the Bruce Mason Centre from July 13-18.

What: The Emperor's New Clothes and The Ugly Duckling, 10.30am and 1pm Monday-Saturday
Where and when: PumpHouse Theatre, Takapuna, July 6-18, 10.30am & 1pm (Mon-Sat) with a special gala opening tonight at 7pm. Children are encouraged to dress up to the themes of the shows; ph (09) 489 8360 or

What: Treasure Island, by Outfit Theatre
Where and when: Auckland Performing Arts Centre (Tapac), Western Springs, July 8-11, 10.30am & 2pm (2pm only July 8); ph (09) 845 0295 ext 1 or

What: Goldilocks & the Three Bears
Where and when: Bruce Mason Centre, July 13-18, 10am & 12pm daily; Ticketmaster ph 970 9700