REVIEW: Ngā Reta (Te Pou)

Review by Ben Shand-Clennell

Ngā Reta is a poignant and humorous solo performance piece, which explores the individual nature of relationships and identity, in total-immersion reo Māori.

The play follows Mia’s journey after receiving a box of letters, ngā reta, in the mail. The letters, from Kuia, detail her mother’s life and hint at the identity of her father. This throws Mia into turmoil, forcing her to confront long-suppressed questions of her place in te ao Pākeha and te ao Māori.

This reviewer is not fluent in te reo Māori, and could not understand all the kupu being used. While it is a shame not to understand all the nuance and richness behind the language, it is still a rewarding and moving piece to be a part of. The play also utilises many other (non-language-based) methods to create and convey meaning. The sole performer, Te Huamanuka Luiten-Apirana (Ngāti Hikairo, Tainui), embodies the multiple characters convincingly, and ensures that each has a distinct physicality. Te Huamanuka Luiten-Apirana also uses very relatable and immediately recognisable inflection, so where words are not understood, meaning is rarely lost. 

Te Huamanuka Luiten-Apirana worked well with the audience, interacting in fun and inventive ways. Taking drinks to toast with, giving out pregnancy tests to read, and using people as basketball hoops, among other things. The audience were, in turn, very responsive to the piece, laughing, vocalising, and clapping, at all the appropriate places. This was also a useful tool for extrapolating the meaning of the dialogue. 

Te Huamanuka Luiten-Apirana’s performance is energetic and precise. As previously stated, Luiten-Apirana’s physical control is masterly, and the characters compelling and well-delineated. The interspersed musical pieces are very emotive and impressive. Some of the songs are humorous, while others are powerful and thought-provoking. 

The play also had some absurdist elements, which manifest in various America-centric cultural references, including an impromptu game show and a seance with Kim Kardashian. These breaks away from the established narrative work well to show some of the internal machinations of the characters, and are a delightful way of keeping the play at a high energy. The sound and lighting design worked well to accentuate these heightened sections.

The sound and lighting are very complimentary of, and cohesive with, the piece at large. Isaac Hansen’s design evokes many of the settings, and does a great job of quickly and cogently nestling the action in time and place. Dance clubs, game shows and various house spaces are all effectively conveyed. Particularly successful are the pre-recorded voice overs, which are utilised to great effect to portray other characters and their voicemail messages. Matt Goldsbro should be commended for the impeccable operation of this cue-heavy show. The costumes, set and props, as a whole, seem well thought out, and help form a distinctive stylistic pastiche. A poster of Kim Kardashian on an arapaki/tukutuku panel typifies this.

Ngā Reta is a fantastic play to experience. Te Huamanuka Luiten-Apirana’s performance is dynamic and multifaceted. The lighting, sound, set, props, and costume, are cohesive and add a lot to the storytelling. The exclusive use of te reo Māori is amazing. It is vital that the use of te reo Māori be normalised in all facets of life in Aotearoa. It is also heartening that there are spaces and appetites for these stories.

Ngā Reta plays at the Te Pou Theatre, from the 28th of November to the 2nd December, 2023.

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