A theatre production about the Pike River disaster has just won a Whanganui school the country's highest secondary school theatre award.

Whanganui High School performing arts teachers say five student choreographers are largely responsible for the success of 29 Below, the production that has just won the national Stage Challenge.

Millie Manning, Grace Jones, Bolu Adesanya, Sophie Rofe, Gabby Fantham and Shaila Hawkins say they put a lot of thought into dealing with the sensitive subject of mining disasters.

"We did not want to be insensitive to Pike River families who have lost loved ones in mining disasters but at the same time we wanted to add some quirkiness and fun," said Grace.


The group say that songs like Working in the Coalmine were obvious choices but they spent a lot of time deciding on songs that would work for the production.

"We sat down and listened to a lot of songs before deciding on a final list," says Bolu.

WHS won the award in a competition involving more than 14,000 participants from 180 schools.

The school's "touching tribute to the 29 Pike River miners who went to work and never returned" was showcased at Palmerston North's Regent on Broadway on May 27, a State Challenge spokesperson said.

National judge Cate Prestidge viewed footage of schools whch placed at every event throughout the country focusing on concept, soundtrack and drama.

She called WHS's performance "confident, confrontational and powerful, which the audience would have found incredibly moving".

Now in its 24th year, 2016 was another stellar Stage Challenge year said event organisers "as youth throughout the nation continue to raise the bar with their creativity and expression, she said.

"The thinking and research behind many performances was exceptional and strong.
"Creative work was apparent in all aspects of the entries from set and costume design to the narratives and performances".

Tauranga Girls' College was second and Hawera High School and Rotorua Girls' High School equal thrid.

Event coordinator Shanell Bielawa said Stage Challenge is "such a well-rounded, widely appreciated event that to not only be nominated for a national award but to win one is an amazing achievement."

The cast, crew, teachers and supporters from 29 Below which won the 2016 State Challenge.
The cast, crew, teachers and supporters from 29 Below which won the 2016 State Challenge.