REVIEW: Nga Pou Wahine (Taki Rua Productions)

Nga Pou Wahine still relevant after all these years.

Mana Wahine [by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth]

Nga Pou Wahine still relevant after all these years.
Nga Pou Wahine still relevant after all these years.

In many ways it’s hard to believe that Ngā Pou Wahine premiered two decades ago. Yes Māori theatre has moved on, gaining more and more prominence within the New Zealand theatre tapestry, however many of the themes that the play touches upon are still relevant today.

Although this show is an historic piece of Māori theatre, we were privileged to witness yet another historic moment in the making with both the directorial debut and solo debut of Miriama McDowell and Kura Forrester respectively. These two prominent Māori wahine most definitely shine brightly which is befitting as it is part of Auckland Live‘s Matariki programme.

From the minute Forrester takes to the stage she commands our undivided attention. The sentiment is echoed by one of the punters that I talk to after the show: “I was so mesmerised by what was going on on stage that I totally forgot to drink my wine (and I definitely like my wine), which I only realised when the play ended”.

McDowell‘s skilful direction is evident by Forrester‘s ability to weave in and out of the six characters that she plays with such ease and panache. These two wahine are definitely a force to reckon with and I do hope to see this winning combination working closely together again in the not too distant future. Their intimate understanding of one another translates beautifully onto the stage, demonstrated by their ability to push boundaries that would otherwise be impossible during such a short rehearsal period – which can only be attributed to their innate understanding of way each other works.

No doubt playwright Briar Grace-Smith will be grinning from ear to ear seeing this rendition of her award-winning piece.

Seasoned lighting designer Jen Lal does a brilliant job as always of enhancing the mood and tone of the entire production. The use of the LED red lights to give the circular staging added structure, is particularly effective.

My one little niggle about the entire show was that my attention did stray about two thirds through the show. And upon reflection I think it was when Forrester was playing the protagonist Te Atakura for a lengthy period of time, making it drag a tad, possibly due to the lack of crescendos in decrescendos within that segment. But that was the only portion of the show that disappointed and even then ever so slightly and fleetingly, in an otherwise flawless production.

Kudos goes to Wai Mihinui‘s minimalistic set and props which are incredibly well-thought-out, adding yet another dimension to the show’s visual palette.

Forrester should be very proud of her solo debut as her unflinching energy throughout if truly phenomenal. Memorising such huge chunks of dialogue is an achievement in itself. However delivering that amount of dialogue alone on stage, for the first time, and carrying the show single-handedly for over 80-minutes, is no mean feat. And her ability to transition from one character to another without missing a beat is equally astounding.

So whether you saw Ngā Pou Wahine 20 years ago or not you definitely should to make your way to the Herald Theatre before the short season ends. It’s a slice of Kiwiana truly not to be missed!

Taki Rua Productions presents Ngā Pou Wahine and plays at The Herald Theatre until 1 July. Details see Auckland Live.

SEE ALSO Theatreview review by Tamati Patuwai

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