REVIEW: Peter Paka Paratene (Koanga Festival)

Review by Sharu Delilkan

[Ask the Paka Anything]

Given the multitude of performance credits that Rāwiri Paratene has to his name, it’s almost unbelievable that this is his first solo show.  And yet, he very honestly says he agreed to do a solo show for the first time – if he could have a four-piece back up band!

Directed by Tainui Tukiwaho,  Peter Paka Paratene does pretty much what it says on the tin — Ask Me Anything — and that’s exactly what the audience members were encouraged to do tonight.  And will be doing for the next two nights as Te Pou Theatre, part of the 2017 Koanga Festival.  The show gives the audience an unique opportunity to get to know Paratene more intimately as he shares yarns and works (some of his own, others of his choosing).

Right from the minute you walk into the space you feel like you’re walking into someone’s living room.  Despite Paratene being on stage with The Flash Fullas (the four piece band) it doesn’t feel like we’re watching a spectacle.  We immediately feel included, i.e. part and parcel of all the proceedings.  And that’s good because without audience interaction, as Paratene says, “it would be a very short show”.

So if you’ve ever watched shows that start with the phrase ‘An Audience with…’ this is exactly the concept.  And like those shows it’s the thrill of every night being different that makes it all the more special and exciting.  Yes there are a few set pieces that punctuate the evening’s offerings, which have been curated very carefully and intelligently to give us a very specific understanding of Rāwiri Paratene the man, the actor and the Māori activist.  But at least half of the show appears to be left to chance, i.e. audience-led, showing off his phenomenal improv skills.

Paratene’s ability to make his performance look like it’s off the cuff shows that a great deal of planning and forethought has gone into this clever production.  And this becomes apparent as we left the theatre, with the realisation that despite it’s perceived randomness, we have been told a story with an arc that has a beginning, middle and an end – which comes almost like an epiphany as we chatter amongst ourselves in the theatre foyer.

Being staged at Te Pou, Auckland’s home of Māori theatre, it was totally appropriate for him to begin the show with his Pepeha (introduction in Te Reo that establishes identity and heritage) and end it with a Waiata (song).  It cemented the context in which he was delivering this well-known format, with Māori flavour and flourish.

The Flash Fullas (Musical Director Shadrack Simi (Slim), Brady Peeti (Brady Bunj), Chris Rex Martin (C Ranasaurus Rex) and Richie Gryzb (Gryzb)) are a great foil for Paratene’s antics.  Peeti and Rex demonstrate their fabulous pipes a couple of times each, but I must admit I wanted just that little bit more from them as a group.  That aside, their amazing backup vocals, which were an absolute crack up, left many of us in stitches.

Tukiwaho’s set, besides the mandatory couch and floor lamp that chat shows require, was absolutely fabulous using unraveling scrolls which I presume are meant to symbolise the screeds of scripts Paratene has delivered during his illustrious career.

I would love to be a fly on the wall for the next two nights to see how differently the show goes and what paths and directions it could end up taking, depending on the level of audience input.

So if you’re a fan of this taonga aka our “national treasure” then this is the perfect opportunity to get to know Rāwiri Paratene’s inner thoughts and his extremely cheeky nature in a marvelously intimate setting.  Don’t miss it!

Peter Paka Paratene plays at Te Pou until 9 September.

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