REVIEW: The White Guitar (The Conch)

Review by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth

The White Guitar by The Conch

[How many shows you know roll like this?  Not Many]

It was great sitting down this evening with a much more representative cross section of New Zealanders in the audience than we often see at the theatre.  The diehard theatregoers that had heard good things about the show were there, alongside the supportive extended Luafutu family and Samoan contingent.  In addition there were the rap fans that either wanted to see Scribe perform again, check out his acting prowess, or those that were merely inquisitive as to what he and his family had to say.

The White Guitar is not just the story of the Malo Luafutu aka Scribe’s rags to semi-riches experience but a brutal and honest catalogue of the effects of immigration, violence, drugs, family, religion, decline and redemption for generations of a family struggling to survive and more importantly, to find a voice despite the curve balls that life throws them.

What could have been a formulaic, well-worn story is so much more realistic and gut wrenching because of the rawness and real treatment that The White Guitar delivers in spades.  In fact we’d go so far as to say that it is one of the most soul-bearing pieces of theatre we’ve seen in a long long time.

The two brothers Matthias and Scribe are a constant presence on the stage and make the 90-minute show fly by.  Their amazing rapport and chemistry is palpable, heightened by the fact that they are re-telling their own story with the utmost sincerity and ruthlessness.  Director Nina Nawalowalo and Jim Moriarty’s ability to give this ‘wearing your heart on your sleeve’ story the lightest of touch with great skill and restraint is a huge part of this piece’s success. Their choice to position the patriarch of the Luafutu family, Fa’amoana John, stage left in the background casually playing the guitar works perfectly well as a figurative portrayal, contrasting descriptions of family strife and violence, which brings the message home even more vividly.

Chris Winter’s subtle and at times dramatic soundscape firmly establishes us in the world we are experiencing. We watch their stories unfold, feeling horrified and involved.

It is clear that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in terms of talent.  Both the Luafutu brothers are fantastic and engage the audience throughout, while their dad John displays a virtuoso performance of Blues, Rock and occasional Pop, complemented by Tom McCrory’s impressive acoustic support.

There is no doubt that Scribe as an actor is brilliant.  His on-stage presence was evident by his insightful character acting, humour, sadness, pain and downright honesty.  It would be easy to rave on about him endlessly but that would risk ignorning his brother Matthias’ who was equally brilliantly talented in every way.  Each of them shine on stage individually but, together they are a sizzling combination.  Once again it’s the directors that played an essential part in creating and tapping this formidable force of nature. Their deft decisions are equally balanced by both Winter’s and Owen McCarthy’s AV subtle as well as dramatic effects in tandem with Lisa Maule’s excellent lighting design.

McCarthy’s simple set of 5 sheer hangings allowed the AV and lighting to work their magic, which also doubled as a lovely hue, creating the flashbacks about the women in the family that were clearly a strong force in the periodic redemption of the prominent, often selfish male-dominated characters of the story.  The ‘women’ i.e. mother and aunty were performed beautifully by Tupe Lualua who executed choreographer Filoi Vailaau’s stunning traditional Samoan dance moves with amazing precision and grace.

The inevitable and much awaited performance of Scribe’s #1 hit, Not Many, from his debut album The Crusader, was seamlessly inserted into the storyline – making it feel like a natural progression rather than forced or superfluous, purely because of what we discover had occurred before and after it was written.  And the poignancy was enhanced because of all the hard work, pain and suffering we had been privy to, making those lyrics mean a lot more to us as audience members.  Hearing it performed again in that context has left an indelible mark on my psyche.

The White Guitar’s story is truly a theatrical masterpiece that will haunt me for a long time to come, accentuated by its intensity and authenticity.  Currently touring, this is a must see for all NZ families to appreciate how modern woes can affect generations of people, both good and bad.  Some may say it’s not family friendly because of the swearing but I think to edit it in any way would blemish this otherwise fabulous true story that should be seen exactly like this, like this.

The Conch and Tour-Makers, in association with Q Theatre present The White Guitar which plays at Rangatira Q Theatre until July 15. Details see Q

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