Ōhauiti couple Helene and Gordon Paterson have become used to seeing themselves portrayed on stage by their daughter – actor and writer Robyn Paterson – although were initially disconcerted she was using their real names.

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"That was about the only thing that threw us, but she [Robyn] explained that it makes it easier for her to switch between the two characters.

"She doesn't have to remember character names on top of everything else," Helene said.


The South Afreakins is Robyn's one-woman show about a couple who leave South Africa and emigrate to New Zealand, just as the real Gordon and Helene, both teachers, and their two young children did in 1994.

Dealing with issues such as loss of community, loyalty and how we define home, the play also has plenty of laughs.

"Significant poetic license has been taken," Gordon said. "Let's just say one of us comes out of it better than the other.

"It's incredible how Robyn has created something so good it's been to the Edinburgh Festival twice – and it's just about us and the ordinary thing we did."

Now based in London, Robyn, previously in Shortland Street, was in Tauranga last week to prepare for local performances of The South Afreakins – Katikati on October 24 and Te Puke on October 25 – as part of the Tauranga Arts Festival.

She then tours it through New Zealand in November.

Do her parents ever have "notes" (helpful tips) after seeing the play? "I've had notes my whole life," Robyn laughs.

Helene counters that it's impossible for a parent to view a child's performance objectively.


"You always want them to stand up straighter or speak more slowly. But I've seen the play enough times now to forget all that and just enjoy it. "

Although he enjoyed drama at school, Gordon "never had the guts to be on stage" so did lighting, while Helene was for many years involved with music – singing and piano.

These days she attends ballet classes twice a week.

"I have masses of admiration for the creativity and fortitude Robyn's shown," Gordon says.

"Acting is such an uncertain profession. It's the same for any parent – if you can experience your child living the dream, you can't ask for more."

For more information on the Tauranga Arts Festival, which runs from October 24 to November 3, go to the festival's website.

- Sandra Simpson is the publicist for Tauranga Arts Festival