This is a rollicking yarn, with real heart and a charismatic heroine, although the presentation isn't as clear as it could be. Maggie Flynn's journey through interesting scenes of prisons, whalers, brothels and Maori village life in 19th century Kororareka (Russell) is almost Shakespearean in its shifting fortunes - comedy, tragedy and drama unfold one after the other in this life lived to the full.

One can forgive some uneven pacing and a vague ending, as Paolo Rotondo's script is peppered with lovely bon mots.

Shipwrecked, Maggie tells her rescuer: I wanted to appear to you like a siren on the rocks, like ambergris, "a body floating on the brine".

A strong cast of five women do a great job of playing men, women and children - Victoria Abbott as the young Maggie, and Awhina Ashby and Miriama McDowell as high-born sister and brother are particularly compelling. The a cappella shanty harmonies and karanga are beautiful.


But the cast are somewhat hampered by an unwieldy two-storey framework set on wheels, and need liberating from myriad props. Red Leap Theatre devises physical stagings, but this time the interactions with props seem clunky rather than clever.

Effects such as a swinging rope, long poles and fussy costume changes get in the way of the storytelling instead of enhancing it. The rather monotone murky light doesn't help (Red Leap's last outing, Dust Pilgrim, had a similar problem); and a backlight briefly but irritatingly dazzles the eyes of some audience. The small but jarring note of a Jewish stereotype is offensive.

Nonetheless, this panorama of our past - taking in ghosts, the shipping injustices that led to the Maori desire for a national flag, and mokai (pets/slaves) - offers much to love.

What: Kororareka: The Ballad of Maggie Flynn
Where & where: Rangatira, Q Theatre; until Saturday
Reviewer: Janet McAllister