REVIEW: Upu (Silo Theatre)

Review by Jess Macdonald

[Bridging the Space Between]

Silo Theatre and Auckland Arts Festival present Upu, a remounted production of Oceanic poetry, brought alive by Māori and Pasifika performers. 

An empty thrust stage – boxed in on three sides by the audience – juts out with angular raised platforms. A handful of theatre-goers sit with their backs against the central unit, eyes wide in bright lights. 

Then the cavernous hole at the end of the stage fills with seven performers, their silhouettes bold in the dark. They surge forward – dressed in white, adorned with cream-coloured tribal jewellery – and stand proud as they recite their first poem. Projected beside them is the title: A Sāmoan Star-chant For Matariki, and simple digital black and white star shapes move across the large projector space. 

The performance proceeds with urgency, voices separating into individual perspectives as poems reveal the nuances of cultures across Moana Oceania. 

The seven performers revel in the opportunities to shine, especially when moving texts make way for humour – Shadon Meredith dissects SPAM’s carbon footprint (Craig Santos Perez)and the four women performers, Ana Corbett, Gaby Solomona, Nichola Kawana and Mia Blake, embody the ‘fat brown woman’ with celebrated hip flourishes.  

Rounding out the ensemble are Nathaniel Lees and Jarod Rawiri, who bring contrasting energies to the mix. Nathaniel takes the lead on A Pākehā Friend Tells A Māori Joke (Hone Tuwhare), and his command of the stage, with a wealth of years and experience behind him, compounds the meaning of the poem.  Jarod is a charismatic powerhouse of emotions, engaging even throughout the ensemble pieces.

Highlights include Tell Them (Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner) – exploring the impact of climate change on remote island people of the Marshall Islands – and Tropical (Lyz Soto), which resonated on a personal level as the author describes her ‘otherness’ as a fair-skinned Hawaiian woman whose cultural background is hard to pinpoint. 

The seventy-minute performance of nearly forty poems moves with a carefully decided pace – a finely worked balance, developed by curator Grace Taylor and director Fasitua Amosa. 

Upu has progressed from its early incarnation at the Basement Theatre, and the performances will undoubtedly grow as the seven members thrive together and as individuals.

It is a deeply impactful collection of poetry which, despite varying in theme and tone, is united by Oceanic bonds – by ‘Moana, which must unite for people, land and oceans to thrive.’

Upu plays Q Theatre as part of Auckland Arts Festival 5-15 March, 2020.

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