Maggie Flynn is buried and under the earth at Kororāreka. She’s dead but a thing like that isn’t going to stop her from telling us her tale in the hopes that her memory at least will last a little longer. Through dead husbands and lovers, from the captain of a ship of men to the captain of a different kind of ship for men, from England to Kororāreka we hear her ballad.

Written by Paolo Rotondo and directed by Julie Nolan, acted by Victoria Abbott, Alison Bruce, Amber Curreen, Katrina George and Hinerongonui Kingi. Each actor plays multiple roles. We start with Abbott playing the younger Maggie and Bruce playing her dead husband Captain Riley. Maggie is an uncompromising character who will do whatever it takes to survive. Abbott is particularly good at portraying Maggie’s unflinching stand for herself while letting some of her fear and uncertainty show through. Bruce is hilarious as (also dead) Captain Riley popping up at intervals to express his undying love for Maggie. The rest of the cast are a chorus of ship’s crew helping to tell the story through narration, song, and interaction. When the action reaches Kororāreka Maggie’s dreams come crashing down as the ariki, Mata, (Kingi) lets her know the reality of the situation. Kingi is sober and controlled yet with some vulnerability that gives Mata a realness. Curreen is fierce and humourless as his sister Ngā and it’s neat to see the character soften a little as the situation changes. During this section Bruce and George take up the narration as two clowning children and they are delightfully silly and cheeky. Things progress and in the next section Bruce is the older Maggie. All the softness has leached out of her through troublesome years and it’s a bit disconcerting to see Bruce who was so charming in the previous section become so hard.

The ballad rolls from intensely focused scenes to broad comedy with the actors spinning from serious to humorous. There’s clever use of black box shapes stacked on top of each other to create different settings. They give the foundation for some of the striking images on stage but for me it’s missing the mind-blowing design factor that Red Leap shows often have. It’s refreshing to see an all female cast, with multiple strong female characters and to watch a show that’s not afraid to mix the real and unreal as a matter of course.