REVIEW: Birds (The Mangere Arts Centre)

Ali Foa'i in Dianna Fuemana's new work Birds.

Real, Raw and Revealing [by Sharu Delilkan]

Ali Foa'i in Dianna Fuemana's new work Birds.

It was like dejavu arriving at The Mangere Arts Centre, from Avondale, only to be thrust back into the thick of my own neighbourhood.

Set in Avondale, Birds incorporates the suburb’s iconic sites — Avondale Community Centre, Hollywood Cinema, Rosebank Road and Riversdale Reserve. These brilliantly selected audio-visuals, laced with witticism and whimsy, help create an effective fourth dimension.

Brave, insightful, poignant, real, raw and revealing are adjectives that come to mind when describing the new work Birds.

And as the playwright and director Dianna Fuemana says it was clearly her “ode to teenage-hood and their mums”.

I’ve seen a number of Samoan plays at The Mangere Arts Centre recently so it was refreshing to get a Niuean perspective. The fast-paced urban story distinguishes itself as it’s told through the eyes of a young Niuean boy, coming of age.

The dialogue is pithy and perceptive, displaying Fuemana’s skill as a great observational writer. And her ability to pack so much into less than an hour should be commended – if only more plays would get to the point more quickly! Memorable lines included “small birds look like rats with wings” and “something in my pants told me I was a man”.

Fuemana, 2010 winner of the NZ International Festival of the Arts ‘Once Upon a Deadline’ competition and nominee for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Theatre in Los Angeles, International’, once again demonstrates her amazing talent as a writer and director in Birds. The son-mother bond theme, in a small community, works well with the voices within the hood.

Both Ali Foa’i and Nora Aati are stretched to the hilt with the numerous characters that they play. Their character changes are seamless and draw you into the lives of the central characters Tommy (Foa’i) and Moka (Aati). The actors’ skillful transitions between characters, adopting recognisable gaits and mannerisms, made it easy for the audience to identify each character from the get-go.

I must admit at first I did think that Aati looked too young to be Tommy’s mother Moka. But that feeling was quickly dispelled when I got sucked into the story and the characters’ appearances no longer mattered.

The frenetic speed at which the actors moved around the space, make up for the stark set. The two plastic banners hanging from the ceiling, flanking the stage, seem simple at first but take on a life of their own when the actors create images using spray cans.

The occasional statistics that punctuated the play about Niueans were a real eye opener. Despite the dark comedic flavour of Birds, the statistics really brought home the harsh realities about the Niuean community living in New Zealand. The most pertinent point that hit home was the impending loss of culture among those living in Aotearoa –the diminishing proficiency of their native language.

Another interesting thing that Birds highlighted was the dynamics between the various Pacific Island cultures, specifically the Niueans and Tongans. Birds gave the audience an acute understanding of the subtleties and innuendoes that exist when the various Pacific Island cultures interact.

So if you’re fortunate enough to catch Birds before the short season ends, don’t hesitate – just do it. Birds will definitely leave you in stitches and I guarantee its poignant messages will leave an indelible impression – the hallmark of a great play that definitely took flight.

Supported by the Pacific Committee Creative New Zealand, Birds is on until 17 March at The Mangere Arts Centre. Details see Auckland Council.

SEE ALSOTheatreview review by Grant Hall

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  1. Looking Back: 2012 – A Theatrical year in Review « Theatre Scenes: Auckland Theatre Blog (Reviews, interviews and commentary)
  2. Review: Birds, Dianna Fuemana me&mycousin

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