Tongan Tale Tatalises [by Sharu Delilkan]
My Tongan vocabulary is limited to their greeting ‘Malo e Lelei’; so when I arrived at the Mangere Arts Centre to see Kingdom of Lote, I was both excited and nervous about reviewing the show.
‘What if I don’t understand a word they say?’ I thought to myself.
But the atmosphere (including the excellent traditional music) as we walked into the theatre to find our seats, was both inviting and uplifting.
It was great to see so many ‘brown faces’, to quote one of the people I talked to after the show.
And the thing that was most interesting was the audience’s varied ages, from newborns to ‘olds’ sitting in their seats waiting with bated breath for this historic occasion to unfold.
Kingdom of Lote is the exciting new comedy work by emerging New Zealand-born Tongan playwright Suli Moa, presented by Auckland’s leading professional Pacific Island Theatre company, the Kila Kokonut Krew aka KKK.
First presented at the Young Kila Writers playreading series in 2010, Kingdom of Lote has since been developed into New Zealand’s first full-length Tongan play, to be performed by a full Tongan cast, with both English and Tongan dialogue.
The opening scene after the lights go down is energetic and captivating with two of the main characters Maile Finau (Sela) and Suli Moa (Saia and playwright) running up and down the length of the stage as well as playing rock, paper, scissors, like any siblings would have done in the good old days.
The traverse seating worked particularly well because it creates a more sociable atmosphere where you’re able to see, and be privy to the other half of the audience’s reactions.
I really liked the way the play alternates between English and Tongan. And although I had no idea what they were saying at times, it was easy to understand the sentiment – something that anyone can get the hang of if they just let go and get into the groove of things.
To quote the director Vela Manusaute “It’s time the rest of the theatre world opens up and embraces the uniqueness that our Tongan counterparts have to offer in the theatre community.”
As a regular theatre-goer and one who supports local works, it was a privilege and pleasure to witness history in its making.
Being a hair’s breadth from the front row gave the show an intimacy and immediacy that added to the performers’ will to include the audience.
Minimal props enabled the audience to concentrate on the emotional, intense, slapstick and poignant storylines as well as the well-crafted characters.
The format of the four main characters, including Sesilia Pusiaki (Lote) and Michael Koloi (Krak), as well as the actors/musicians, enhances the show’s simplicity and clarity.
The story is ambitiously wide-ranging covering contrasting elements such as Tongan vs NZ Tongan attitudes, male and female Polynesian roles, the ambition and ambivalence of the young vs the traditions and beliefs of the older generation and the simple but sometimes overbearing need for a parent to wish more for his or her children.
Bravely, few elements of the Tongan culture are left unscathed including the Royal family, eating domestic animals and the traditional strong matriarchal role of many Polynesian mothers as a family’s bedrock of stability and discipline.
Palagis are also shown no mercy in the guise of the Kiwi rugby coach trying to lure the promising Tongan rugby star to Saint Kentigern College or the plainly stated fact that “If the Palagi says it’s okay, it’s okay.”
The acting was flawless with everyone on stage noticeably giving it their all.
Special mention goes out to Finau, Koloi, Moa and Pusiaki’s superb performances.
The choreography of the rugby sequences – slow motion replays and real time plays are hilarious and second to none.
Coming under the KKK stable of talent, love and nurturing, the show was slick from start to finish with such a feeling of pride emanating from presenting the Tongan culture; which even extended to the generous spread laid on for opening night.
The rows of catering metal trays set up and ready to go, along with a traditional Tongan pig on a spit, when we came out of the theatre was a sight to behold.
Among the amazing spread that resembled a typical Tongan Sunday feed following a church service included ota (raw fish), talo (taro), hopa (mini green banana), manioke (tapioca), puaka (pork on a spit), lukapa pulu (taro leaves stuffed with corned beef) and faikakai (sweetened dumplings) – an amazing end to a fabulous evening, which left an indelibly sweet taste in my mouth – literally.
Non-Tongan directors Manusaute and Anapela Polataivao have truly set the bar high and I hope will be considered honorary Tongans for their far-sightedness in bringing something so uniquely Tongan to the Auckland stage.
If you want to broaden your mind, laugh, and see Polynesians laugh at themselves, Kingdom of Lote is definitely for you. But more importantly if you want to spend some quality time with your Kiwi and Pacific neighbours, I highly recommend that you check out the show.
Kingdom of Lote is presented by Mangere Arts Centre and Kila Kokonut Krew and plays at Mangere Arts Centre until 21 May as part of the 2011 South Auckland Pacific Arts Summit. More information at 2011 South Auckland Pacific Arts Summit