Come back soon [by Matt Baker]
“In a day and age where we idolise ‘glamour and swag’ – we often forget the people who died getting us here, these should be our idols and heroes. It’s been an honour breathing life into this part of our Pacific heritage with the boys and the crew in acknowledging the role which our smaller Pacific counterparts (Niue and Cook Island) played in our identity in Aotearoa. Lest we forget.” Truer words could not be written in regards to the need for Pacific culture to be portrayed on stage. War is a universal concept, and, when the archetypal themes are enveloped in our history, the chance for New Zealand’s colourful cultural mix can be given great opportunity to shine.
David Fa’auliuli Mamea’s script has a very swift narrative, in that there is lack of escalation in the series of events, resulting in the revelation coming about in a rather abrupt dramatic turn. This means that both Taofia Pelesasa and Samson Chan-Boon have little to play against as the play progresses. Consequently, we, as an audience, do not get to see the cracks in their armour, and any chance of tension developing through dramatic irony is lost. There are moments of it, however, they are too fast and few.
Pelesasa drives through the play with great momentum, projecting a strict and strong vocal and physical prowess, but, as previously mentioned, is not afforded the opportunity to stumble. This also results in said drive going too fast at times, as if running on water will get him to the end of the scene at the other side, because there’s nothing to dive into.
Chan-Boon swaggers and staggers as a man with unresolved pain, but, as with Pelesasa, has little room for pathos. His revelation is precipitated and his resolution far too easy, with the fact that the latter occurs off-stage being of little help to both the audience and the actor.
Leki Jackson Bourne has an appropriately enthusiastic energy, but his gung-ho nature is lost due to exaggerated jaw tension and the slight indication of smiles creeping into his performance. Bourne also throws away the lines that reveal the inner workings of his character. Andy Sani plays a great middle-man, caught between his intellectual acuity and his understanding of playing ignorant, as well as allowing for clear and full thought processes.
Costumes by “Miranda at First Scene” have a great sense of authenticity, though more unity in the colours would be nice. Props (uncredited) are well utilised, although, while the practical implications are understandably difficult, the miming of the guns was jarring in comparison. Ruby Reihana-Wilson’s lighting design allows for the unique staging to be used to its full degree, and accentuates the dramatic story-telling that occurs within the play.
Directed by both Shadon Meredith and Amelia Reid-Meredith, the play, expectedly, lacks a singular driving force. The pace, which admittedly requires military precision and propulsion, doesn’t allow for any moments of relaxation, which is necessary in complementing tension in story. There is a feeling that rehearsal time was limited, and that working through the beats in the script was sacrificed at the perceived ideology of getting the story across. Goodbye My Feleni has all the components of a great play, but has not yet reached its potential. If script-development and workshops were in its future, I would not hesitate to see the results.
Goodbye my Feleni is presented by Hekama Creative and plays at The Basement until 25 April. Details see The Basement.