Robyn Malcolm gets risqué, Shortland Street star Jennifer Ludlam is less than glamorous and Maori TV presenter Te Kohe Tuhaka is dapper in a sharp suit: they're photos which show some of our favourite performers as never seen before and highlight Auckland Theatre Company's 25th anniversary plans.

New Zealand's biggest theatre company will start 2018 by putting its weight behind a theatrical adaptation of Maurice Gee's award-winning book Under the Mountain.
The famous Kiwi story sees red-headed twins, Rachel and Theo, join the mysterious Mr Jones to fight the Wilberforces, giant creatures waking from sleep beneath Auckland's extinct volcanoes, whose sole goal is planetary destruction.

The book was made into a 1981 TV series and a 2009 film. Playwright Pip Hall has adapted the book for the stage and says she has no idea how designers will create monsters that morph from humans into slug-like forms in the blink of an eye, as well as underground lava caves and volcanic eruptions.

But Hall, who worked with ATC two years ago on early presentations of the script, is confident visionary director Sara Brodie can do it.

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"It's quite a daunting task adapting such a well-loved book and I have tried really hard to stick to the heart of the book and be faithful to the story so I hope it will feel like I've done it justice," says Hall. "I'm looking forward to being there with my own kids, who said I should turn the book into a play, and being excited and feeling like a kid again."

Brodie won't reveal what she has planned but has devised a way for the Wilberforces to transform. She and the design team are soon to spend a week discussing how to craft the rest of the Under the Mountain world. The show is yet to be cast, but the twins are likely to be played by youthful looking graduate actors.

It will be a highlight of ATC's 25th anniversary year which artistic director Colin McColl says celebrates family and a new generation of theatre-makers.

"It's vital that we are constantly bringing new work to the stage and new talent to tell our stories," says McColl. "We need to ensure we are upskilling our younger directors so they can take on the challenge of making work for a big stage like we now have at the ASB Waterfront theatre."

The 2017/18 season begins next month with The Navigators, which features three new shows made by choreographer Malia Johnson and theatre writers/directors Kate Parker and Katie Wolfe (see below).

That's followed by contemporary US play Red Speedo, which signals ATC's commitment to encouraging new directors. Benjamin Henson, who has worked alongside McColl, is in charge of the production which stars Chelsie Preston-Crayford, Ryan Carter, Scott Wills and Wesley Dowdell.

Red Speedo is the only US work for the year, with the company performing three new NZ plays, one British comedy called Filthy Business, which stars Jennifer Ludlam, and re-making two classics with a Kiwi flavour.

Robyn Malcolm takes the cake in promotional shots for Mrs Warren's Profession.
Robyn Malcolm takes the cake in promotional shots for Mrs Warren's Profession.

Saucy pictures of popular actress Robyn Malcolm show George Bernard Shaw's Mrs Warren's Profession is unlikely to bear much resemblance to its first performances in London in 1902.

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Malcolm plays Mrs Warren, whose well-to-do daughter confronts her after discovering her first-rate education was paid for via her mother's brothel earnings. McColl has handed directing duties to Eleanor Bishop who, earlier this year, updated and completely re-imagined Greg McGee's Foreskin's Lament.

"I have no doubt that Eleanor will do something very interesting with Mrs Warren's Profession given that she's keen on the idea of exploring the sex industry in New Zealand," says McColl. "The work she did on Foreskin's Lament drew a phenomenal response; the theatre was full of young people and it's exciting to see new audiences."

He directs an updated version of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard to be set in NZ and star Te Kohe Tuhaka as a young Maori entrepreneur climbing the corporate ladder. As well as Under the Mountain, David Mamea's Still Life With Chickens and Stuart Hoar's Rendered round out the NZ productions.

Actor Fasitua Amosa directs Still Life With Chickens, which ATC plans to tour, while Wolfe takes on Rendered. The latter moves between the Auckland Writers Festival and troops at war against Isis in the Middle East.

In March, ATC partners with the Auckland Arts Festival to bring a large-scale production of the George Orwell's 1984 to New Zealand.

Side-bar: The Navigators:
An event that changed race relations in Aotearoa forever is at the heart of a new piece of documentary theatre made by Katie Wolfe for ATC's The Navigators.

The Haka Party Incident looks at the 1979 stoush between University of Auckland engineering students preparing for their annual mock haka down Queen Street and members of activist group He Taua. Wolfe wants to look at the differing perspectives of those who were there, their views and experiences, then and now.

Along with Malia Johnston and Kate Parker, Wolfe was recruited by ATC earlier this year to present new works in the early stages of development during a festival-type weekend in October. The other pieces are:

Moon, by Johnston, is a dance-theatre piece inspired by the night sky and the way we now use mobile phones to navigate and connect us. She sees the cosmos as the original internet that guided intrepid explorers and has worked with long-time collaborators Eden Mulholland and Rowan Pierce on the piece.

Kate Parker's The Wild Seed Thief is an environmental fable inspired by perilous journeys, ancient trees and incredible creatures. Parker imagines a dystopian future where the fate of the world rests in the hands of children, the senses of animals and in seeds as old as time. It's suitable for everyone 7 years and older.

The Navigators

An event that changed race relations in Aotearoa forever is at the heart of a new piece of documentary theatre made by Katie Wolfe for ATC's three-parter, The Navigators.

Stage designers for Under the Mountain will face challenges including volcanic eruptions, lava caves and shape-shifting monsters.
Stage designers for Under the Mountain will face challenges including volcanic eruptions, lava caves and shape-shifting monsters.

The Haka Party Incident looks at the 1979 stoush between University of Auckland engineering students preparing for their annual mock haka down Queen Street and members of activist group He Taua. Wolfe wants to look at the differing perspectives of those who were there, their views and experiences, then and now.

The other pieces are Malia Johnston's Moon, a dance-theatre piece inspired by the night sky and the way we now use mobile phones to navigate and connect us, and Kate Parker's The Wild Seed Thief, an environmental fable inspired by perilous journeys, ancient trees and incredible creatures.