Life of P.I.> [by Sharu Delilkan]
In true Pacific Island style we were greeted by noneother than the playwright himself, Vela Manusaute, when we arrived at The Martin Hautus Institute Performing Arts Centre in Onehunga to see his new show My name is…Pilitome.
However I must admit that I was saddened to hear that the Kila Kokonut Krew (KKK) had been forced to change venues from their regular haunt, Mangere Arts Centre (MAC), due to its unaffordable rental price. This is not the first time I am hearing this complaint which is ironic since this seems to be going against MAC’s original ethos, which I believe is to serve its community and make theatre more accessible to them. But I digress.
The up side of this change was that we got to see a show in a very different space. The venue made you feel as if you were entering a Pacific Island home – adding to the flavour of what we were about to witness…yet another ‘Kila’ night of entertainment from KKK.
The show opens with three of the actors singing in Niuean and in flawless harmony, setting the stage perfectly. This show has all the elements of a great production – excellent dramatics, physicality, musicality and above all humour. Director-playwright Manusaute should be applauded for trusting his instincts and going back to his roots, not just culturally but in terms of genre i.e. comedy. The production is not only a great snapshot of Niuean culture but its pace is spot on, which is rare on opening night.
Joshua Iosefo as the lead character Philly G shows good range and creates the right level of hysteria for a Mangere boy bewildered by the goings on in an unfamiliar country. Glen Jackson anchors the story nicely in drag and nails the one liners, keeping the audience in stitches throughout the show. Funnily enough very early in the piece you forget that he’s playing a woman, especially since he embodies the role so well. Leki Jackson Bourke, Aisea Latu and Tim Mitipelo make up the Niuean equivalent of The Three Stooges with great aplomb, as well as playing a multitude of supporting characters, having to execute a number of hectic costume changes and exhibiting great physical comedy. Haanz Fa’avae shows versatility playing five different characters which are skillfully executed with clear distinction.
In terms of lighting it was minimal but effective. I particularly liked the use of red light to depict another and/or parallel world – a simple yet effectual devise that worked a treat.
As always Vela cleverly intersperses the Niuean script with English and physical comedy to allow access to all. Although some Niuean one-liners may be missed it is definitely a show for everyone. At a guess I would say half the opening night audience were non-Nuiean speakers but that didn’t stop them from being in stitches for the duration of the ‘madness’. However it must be said that the one scene between Aunty Leta (Jackson) and the Minister (Fa’avae) did leave me feeling a bit like an outsider due to it’s protracted nature, without any translation at all. To be honest I probably wouldn’t have minded as much if the Nieuan audience hadn’t been in stitches around me, making me all the more curious to find out what the dialogue was all about. Not a biggie in the scheme of things but I thought worth mentioning.
Key themes are played on in a magnificently mischievous manner, including religion, respect for elders, values, tradition, displacement and poverty. I was very surprised that in a Niuean play you can experience bat hunting, the ghost of a granddad passed and numerous penis-related jokes that made half the audience wince while bursting into laughter.
In short it was a great night out, and all the more so as the proceeds were helping to fund KKK’s tour of The Factory to Australia and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We’ve been there, done My name is…Pilitome and bought the t-shirt. I suggest you do the same.
KKK presents My name is…Pilitome and plays at The Martin Hautus Institute Performing Arts Centre until 31 January. More information at KKK