Auckland Theatre Company’s The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate delivers a rambunctious hour of school holiday fun that’s entertaining for the tots-to-tweens bracket and accompanying adults alike.
Based on Margaret Mahy’s beloved picture book of the same name, the production’s also open to an almost irresistible interpretation: that smuggled inside its colourfully anarchic antics is an exuberant celebration of the triumph of free enterprise over the forces of stifling over-regulation, thanks to a collaborative adaption by writer Rachel Callinan, director Ben Crowder and cast that expansively riffs on the themes buried in the slim source material.
At the start of the play the Man (Brett O’Gorman) is a timid 9-5 office drone stuck in a familiar economic trap: he needs his clerical job to afford the house in the centre of town that allows him to walk to the job that enables him to afford the house that allows him to walk to the job etcetera etcetera ad nauseam.
The Man lives with his Mother, a retired pirate chaffing at the imaginative limitations of this landlubber life (Michael Hurst, essaying another iteration of his pantomime dame, with some vocal inflections redolent of the Wiggles’ Captain Feathersword). There’s also the Mother’s short-sighted parrot, Nigel (Renee Lyons), whose frustration at their constrained circumstances is demonstrated by the occasional bout of crowd-pleasing scatological acting out.
With the dreary status quo swiftly established, the Mother declares – via reckless discharge of firearm and fire extinguisher – her desire to experience the unfettered freedom of the sea once more, forcing the Man to ask his employer, Mr Fat, for two weeks annual leave.
Fat (Alison Bruce) is a corpulent caricature of a complacent, risk-averse business owner who’s prone to complain “It’s not financial, it’s not reasonable” but nonetheless grants the request on the proviso the Man will be replaced by a computer should he not return in the allotted time.
And so the threesome set out, undeterred by the nay-saying lack of vision of those they meet. The lack of innovative drive on the part of the dairy farmer (Kip Chapman), for example, is illustrated by his stated preference for hills (“they stay put”) over intrinsically dynamic waves, while the self-styled philosopher (Olivia Tennet) is suspiciously acquisitive, preferring to purloin others’ possessions than create value himself.
Along the way, the buttoned up Man literally loosens up – upon shedding a button he asks, “Mother, do you have a safety pin?”, which prompts the reply, “Don’t think I’ve ever owned anything with ‘safety’ in the title” (take that, OSH) – so by the time he reaches the shore he’s ready to embrace the opportunities offered by the ocean’s unmediated magnificence.
The show – aided immeasurably by the rough hewn, day-glo bright set and props (designed by John Verryt) and costumes (Elizabeth Whiting) – ends on a jubilant note, with the cast singing a song featuring the refrain, “The sea will set you free.”
Note: The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate is only receiving a short run at Takapuna’s Bruce Mason Centre – starting on Friday 4 July, it finishes on Tuesday 8 July. Tickets for the final 10am and 12pm sessions can be booked here.