REVIEW: The Gangster’s Paradise (ATC Here & Now Festival)

Review by Cassandra De La Croix

[A New Turf]

A bass beat plays and a rap song booms through the ASB Waterfront Theatre. Young actors dressed in school uniform rip up the stage with a hip hop number, battling it out in a Stomp the Yard set. Half of the students wear red bandanas and the other half wear blue bandanas with coloured shirts under their uniforms.

The leader of the red gang HBBs, Jayden (Lincoln Forrest) is given his last warning and an ultimatum after all his misdemeanours and troublesome past: either be expelled, or redeem himself and join the cast of St Coolios school production West Side Story. His enthusiastic and down to earth mother (Bella Robertson) is his cheerleader throughout and sees this as an opportunity for her son to turn his life around , encouraging him to excel in his first school production. Mr G (Onetoto Ikavuka) mentors the young pacific student Jayden, introducing him to the drama class, an eclectic bunch, and joins them on a journey of intertwining and learning. Here we get a glimpse of award winning writer Leki Jackson Bourke’s genius as we see the interaction between different social classes as these young individuals learn acceptance and coexistence. Also in the mix is a strong minded wahine, Porsha (Ria Sionetalli Rattray), who challenges Jayden to break the statistic and stray away from his gangsta behaviour.  However, an incident lead by his rivals the CCCs sabotages Jayden’s chance of stagetime and remaining at the school

The stage is set for one final showdown where Krump and current dance moves like the ‘woah’ are skillfully injected throughout, showcasing the amazing of talent of these young actors – a smart way to portray conflict and also a subtle nod to how popular krump use to be in the earlier 2000s (call me mrs tight eyes). The most empowering thing about watching this show is seeing the delight in these performers’ faces while they act so naturally and comfortably. It is their stories on stage and their stories that matter. Director Fasitua Amosa definitely fostered this piece and these young performers, allowing their joy and truth to show through and giving them this opportunity to represent young Pasifika on a bigger platform as role models for the generations to come.

The character Mr G serves a huge message about creativity and how it is a tool that helps today’s youth to achieve beyond traditional educational standards. He is the nurturer of this story and genuinely cares about his students and wanting them to succeed. He is always paired with the contrasting character the Principal, who is an educator by the book and cares more about the school’s reputation. In my opinion she represents the system that some what fails our kids in schools. The system that can’t yet see how different children’s needs are these days and how traditional classroom methods can be outdated, uninspiring and not always suitable for all.

In the end the students of the south side school learn the valuable lesson that standing together united is stronger than anything. It is amazing to see our stories on stage in such an amazing space and the dynamic duo Leki and Fasi who worked with the Auckland Theatre Company to cultivate this amazing “hip hop rom com mashup “ with finese. There is so much humour in places you didn’t think you could laugh at and so many relatable moments.

This play definitely represents the rising of South Auckland and the prospects of our youth as leaders. The show reflects the diversity, youthfulness but also unity of what it is like to reside in ‘gangstahs paradise’. I personally have lived in South Auckland all of my 24 years of living and I can say that it is one of the most cultured places to live in, and unless you’ve lived it you can never truly understand the fruitfulness it has to offer. Think of South Auckland like a coconut. There are many different types, but all have a hard exterior and once you get inside that is where all goodness lies. I believe that is the true message behind this piece.

The Gangster’s Paradise features in Auckland Theatre Company’s Here and Now Festival 2019 and plays until 30th April.

Written by Leki Jackson Bourke
Directed by Fasitua Amosa
Design by Rachael Walker, Tausani Ah Chong, Kevin Greene and Lauren Millar

Featuring Lincoln Forrest, Ria Sionetali Rattray, Onetoto Ikavuka, Zias Smith, Bella Robertson, Devin Gregory, Letyna Leniu, Kais Azimullah, Sione Pule, Ella Mavaega, Walter Wilding, Oli Mathieson, Kane Evans, Asha Haines, Isaac Hooper, Casey Pram

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