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Aubrey Watkins and Maseeh Ganjali in Kennedy Theatre's production of Gorilla, opening Saturday, December 12. Photo credit: Chesley Cannon

Aubrey Watkins and Maseeh Ganjali in Kennedy Theatre’s production of Gorilla, opening Saturday, December 12. Photo credit: Chesley Cannon

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Department of Theatre and Dance is proud to present the U.S. premiere of Gorilla, adapted by Rachel Barnett from the book by 2009-2011 UK Children’s Laureate Anthony Browne and directed by Professor of Theatre for Young Audiences Mark Branner.

Performances will take place in the UH Mānoa Art Building’s Commons Gallery. Two separate casts of students will perform the show on alternating days due to a rigorous show schedule and the book’s popularity.

The story follows Hannah, played by Margot Fitzsimmons and Aubrey Watkins, a precocious young girl who adores gorillas and her Father (Nathaniel Niemi and Masseh Ganjali) who is often too busy working to spend quality time with his daughter. She’s disappointed when he gives her a toy gorilla instead of a real one for her birthday, but is amazed when it grows into a real gorilla as she sleeps. Hannah and Gorilla decide to swing into the night and explore what the city has to offer.


Branner was first inspired to bring Gorilla stateside when he saw the original 2013 Polka Theatre production with his daughter in London. “It was simply magical. And I was able to see it through her eyes. That’s what I hope to do with the production. Bring everyone back to the realm of childhood where anything is possible,” he says. That, combined with the fact that he was interested in finding a playing space outside of Kennedy Theatre, led him to this collaborative production with the UH Department of Art and Art History.

This production will not only be the U.S. premiere, but it will be the first Mainstage series show to take place outside of Kennedy Theatre in recent memory.

Puppets help bring production to life

Puppetry will play an important role in bringing Gorilla to life. In order to feed and grow the sense of “magical realism” that Branner is going for, he sought help from Nick Ash, who built the original puppets for the Polka Theatre production.

In addition, he brought in Roman Stefanski, director of the original 2013 production presented by the Polka Theatre in London, to do a series of workshops.

“We actually brought him to UH Mānoa this October to work with the actors. We’re very lucky,” Branner states. Indeed, this opens a world of opportunities for the UH Mānoa Department of Theatre and Dance’s TYA program, fostering collaboration with artists from all around the world.

Show info

Performances will take place on Saturday, December 12 at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m.; Saturday, December 19 at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.; and Sunday, December 13 and 20 at 2 p.m., 4 p.m., and 6 p.m. in the UH Mānoa Art Building’s Commons Gallery.

Tickets for Gorilla may be purchased online at, by phone at (808) 944-2697, at official outlets, and at the Kennedy Theatre Box Office during sale periods only.

Ticket prices:

  • $15 adult
  • $10 seniors/military/UH faculty, staff and student
  • $8 UH Mānoa students with valid ID

For more information, visit the Kennedy theatre website or call the theatre at (808) 956-7655. For disability access, please call the theatre.

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