The chance to take both her one-woman shows to the world's largest arts festival was a great opportunity for Kiwi Robyn Paterson, despite a punishing performance schedule and a weekly 24-hour trip to London to run her acting training business.

"You can rest when you're dead," she laughs. "I want these shows to be successful and having them on 12 times each at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, with people from the BBC and Disney seeing them, well ... "

Her original show, The South Afreakins, a comedy based on the migration experiences of her parents Gordon and Helene, started life as a 10-minute short play Robyn presented at a 2012 Sydney festival where she won the best newcomer award.

Her new play, The South Afreakins: The Afreakin Family, centres on Gordon's 70th birthday party and features four characters and four accents.

Advertisement

"I never wanted The South Afreakins to be a double-hander," she says of her decision to perform solo, "because these are my parents and I know I can do them perfectly. So it was obvious the new show would be the same."

The family emigrated in 1994, choosing New Zealand largely because of Gordon's experiences here in the 1970s as a Rotary Exchange Scholar. Robyn was 6 and her brother 7 when they settled in Hamilton, but she has visited family in South Africa, most recently in 2010.

"Those visits have shown me what my parents wanted to avoid. My relatives all seem to live one step ahead of themselves — where are the exits, who's standing behind me, why are the dogs barking, have the security lights come on. They stay very vigilant all the time."

Her parents, who now live in Tauranga, understand the play has been made with love, she says, as it examines the meaning of home, and the feelings of loss and displacement that come with migration.

"My parents were very good at hiding the strain. It's only recently I've realised how much stress emigration caused them.

"South Africans are very direct and I think as a group they really struggle to find communities who don't misinterpret them. Their sense of humour is different so their jokes don't land. Maybe that's why they tend to stick together."

Robyn, who appeared in Shortland Street and Go Girls before heading to Britain and who stars in the new Kiwi movie Same but Different, says her Afrikaans accent — which she drops into while we chat — has been a 32-year case study and is based on an aunt.

"It's a comic version of my parents' accent and comes very easily to me. Doing it is like a party trick, it's fun."

Advertisement

To help the audience make sense of the play Robyn uses vocal technique to differentiate the characters, something she continues in her new play. "I'm lucky I can go as low as I can with my voice so Gordon sounds quite different. Changing between the voices is like a dance."

Twenty-four shows in three weeks with more than 350 voice switches in one play and more than 500 in the other, plus air travel, could take a heavy toll.

"If I'm feeling heavy or not strong I can't flick as quickly as I want so I run, go to the gym three times a week and do yoga.. For my voice, I do the whole array — surgical mask when flying, vocal steamer after a show, not speaking on my day off, throat coat herbal tea and a strict diet with no dairy. Some of these measures may seem bizarre but performing is my job and I take it seriously."

the details
Robyn Paterson performs The South Afreakins
At 7.30pm in Katikati on October 24 and Te Puke on October 25. Tickets from Baycourt box office or via taurangafestival.co.nz (early bird until September 13).