A triumphant trifecta [by Sharu Delilkan]
Watching a theatrical production such as Te Awarua, that utilises three languages and cultures as a storytelling device, is indeed a treat. And knowing that the story was being told by the talented Albert Belz certainly made me have high expectations. But unlike many experiences where high expectations are followed by major disappointment, Te Awarua delivered above and beyond my wildest dreams. Everything from the story itself to the skillful direction of Tainui Tukiwaho was a sight to behold.
Set in the rear trenches of France in the dying days of World War I, a frustrated Maori pioneer Battalion soldier (Regan Taylor) encounters a young French woman Celandine (Louisa Hutchinson) in search of her French lover Jean (Matu Ngaropo), and a Pakeha soldier William (Gerald Urquhart) hell bent of “killing some Germans”. The fable follows The Butcher, Baker and Candlestickmaker story where three disperate souls co-exist, but barely interact with each other and the world around them.
The acting delivered in spades for the most part. Taylor gives a stunning and flawless performance. He has the amazing knack of being able to draw the audience into the story, making us feel all the emotions he is going through on his journey into the past and present. Ngaropo, who also plays the Maori legend Hinemoa’s (Gian Adams) love interest Tutanekai, distinguishes himself in both roles with his dramatic acting, movement and flute playing. And of course his tri-ligual delivery is equally fabulous.
Gian Adams (Himenoa/Nan) also gives a great performance. Something she should be particularly proud of since she is still a student of Maori Performing Arts. She definitely holds her own amongst a very seasoned and respected professional cast.
Although Hutchinson’s acting is convincing as Celandine, her French accent when she spoke English was less so, making her performance a little jarring at times. Another small niggle was Urquhart’s very Kiwi accent as Pakeha soldier William. A mate of mine who was seated next to me in the production whispered in my ear during the show “Is he supposed to be French, Kiwi or English?” I have to agree that this was rather distracting too.
However both those accent niggles aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the story, its visual side aspect and the minimalist but effective set that created the perfect ambience. It was equally interesting to be able to smell the earth as it was dug into – a third dimension that you don’t often experience in theatre. The lighting and sound were equally well-pitched, enhancing the battlefield mood. The attention to detail given to the costumes (not credited) also added to this slick production’s authenticity.
Although I’m aware that The Pumphouse is the last stop during Te Awarua’s tour that commenced in early August, I can’t help thinking it would have benefitted from a slightly longer season to bring in the punters. It’s a shame that not more people were present yesterday to enjoy this gem. Let’s hope this piece comes back to Auckland in the not too distant future.
Te Awarua is presented by Te Rehia Theatre Company and played at The Pumphouse until 24 August. More information at The Pumphouse