Real Life

How Tim Bray is giving the gift of joy this Christmas

Ho ho ho... Tim’s bringing the joy of theatre to Kiwi kids at Christmas time
Carmen Bird

For hordes of Auckland families, seeing The Santa Claus Show has become a cherished annual tradition, with some even booking the exact same seats in the theatre every year.

What they might not realise when they settle in to enjoy the 2023 production is that this year holds extra-special meaning for Tim Bray, who wrote the show in 1991, the same year he founded the Tim Bray Theatre Company, and he has directed all 19 seasons of it since.

That’s because this year, Tim gets to see his adorable great-nephew Parker Hawkes take to the stage for the first time. Parker’s one of six kids from the company’s youth theatre programme joining the cast of seven professional adult actors.

The seven-year-old admits he was “shocked” when he found out his audition – to play Twiddly the elf – had been successful. But he has no nerves, only excitement, going into the first performance. His favourite moment in the show? “When I say ‘Hunky- dory’ because it reminds me of Dory from Finding Nemo.”

Watching on proudly will be his mum Alana, who has had a close connection to The Santa Claus Show since day one. She was six when her Uncle Tim wrote the script, naming two characters after her and her four-year-old sister Kelly. These days, Alana is a crucial part of staging the show as production and company manager.

“It’s been so cool seeing Parker get involved,” she says. “He belongs on the stage. I feel like it’s his destiny.”

Parker and his five-year-old brother Toby have been coming along to the show their whole lives, although they only recently realised their mum’s claim to fame. “They went, ‘Oh, Kelly and Alana – that’s like you and Aunty Kelly!'”

Parker earned his stripes to play Twiddly.

Alana, 38, took Tim’s drama classes as a child and enjoyed acting, but fate intervened when she was 11. “I missed the school auditions and I was gutted,” she tells. “The drama teacher said, ‘Why don’t you come and help me backstage?’ For that show, all I did was open and close the curtains, but I thought, ‘This is where I belong.'”

After secondary school, she gained qualifications in performance technology and production management, and she has worked for Tim since 2005. There have been a few attempts to escape, she jokes, including a move to Blenheim. “But Tim just flew me back to Auckland for production week!”

Over the years, many members of Tim’s family have been involved in the company, both on stage and off. There’s no favouritism, however – close friends and family must audition like anyone else. “Sometimes that’s a hard phone call to friends who weren’t successful,” says Tim, 59. He’s now gratefully handed over the task to Alana.

In 2017, Tim was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for services to children and theatre. The company has also received multiple awards for its groundbreaking work on accessibility, including regular New Zealand Sign Language interpreted performances, audio-described performances for people who are blind or have low-vision, and sensory relaxed performances for people who have autism or are neurodivergent.

“It’s making sure as many children as possible can experience live theatre because it’s such a great part of our lives,” explains Tim.

The company, which is run as a charitable trust, puts on weekly drama classes and holiday workshops for ages five to 16, including Extraordinarily Creative classes for childrem with autism or are neurodivergent.

See you at the show! Tim and his merry showstoppers.

Meanwhile, Tim still writes all the scripts himself, either dreaming up original stories or adapting material from beloved authors such as Roald Dahl and Margaret Mahy. In 2024, audiences can look forward to The Great Piratical Rumbustification, Five Go on an Adventure, Mrs Wishy-Washy and, of course, the return of The Santa Claus Show.

The Christmas production has certainly evolved since its 1991 debut, with a much grander budget, tweaks to the story and ever-changing topical references. For example, Tim says, one of the songs used to mention Tamagotchis, those tiny digital pets that featured on every child’s Christmas list in the noughties. When they fell out of fashion, Tim removed the lyric, but this year he reinstated it after Alana informed him Tamagotchis were “back in with a vengeance”.

However, the show’s key message – that Christmas is about giving, not receiving – has endured and its popularity is only increasing, much to Tim’s delight.

“When we started doing a Christmas show, people said, ‘You’re mad. New Zealanders don’t go to the theatre at Christmastime.’ When we did it again, they said, ‘You’re mad. People won’t come to the same show every year.’ But Christmas is all about traditions.

“People put the Christmas tree in the same corner. They put up the same decorations. They go to the Christmas parade every year. By doing the same show every year, we’re establishing traditions for other families.”

The Santa Claus Show, is at The PumpHouse Theatre, Takapuna, from December 2 to 22. For tickets, visit

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