Flight over fancy [by Matt Baker]
I was disappointed to hear that Dianna Fuemana’s play Birds lost funding halfway through rehearsals. I wasn’t surprised, as it wasn’t the only negative funding news I had heard yesterday (am I right?), but to reiterate, I was disappointed. New Zealand is a melting pot of Asian and Pacific culture, and, as Black Faggot and Goodbye My Feleni confirmed earlier in the year, these stories can make for great theatre.
In saying that, Birds isn’t really a show that presents anything identifiably Nieuan in its storytelling. The show focuses heavily on the relationship between mums and teenage boys, and, while this universal theme allows audience members of all cultures to access the play, it doesn’t give them anything to take away from it. In doing this, however, Fuemana successfully avoids stereotyping her characters and relying on tendentious jokes.
As the show’s protagonist and narrator, Ali Foa’i has a beautifully resonant voice to guide us through the story, although his over-articulation prevents him from giving a naturalistic performance, which is needed to contrast the rest of the characters in the play. Foa’i has wonderful access to his emotionality, but needs an experienced director to flesh out the nuances of his character, as opposed to presenting the story with pantomimic gestures.
Real, Raw and Revealing [by Sharu Delilkan]
It was like dejavu arriving at The Mangere Arts Centre, from Avondale, only to be thrust back into the thick of my own neighbourhood.
Set in Avondale, Birds incorporates the suburb’s iconic sites -- Avondale Community Centre, Hollywood Cinema, Rosebank Road and Riversdale Reserve. These brilliantly selected audio-visuals, laced with witticism and whimsy, help create an effective fourth dimension.
Brave, insightful, poignant, real, raw and revealing are adjectives that come to mind when describing the new work Birds.
And as the playwright and director Dianna Fuemana says it was clearly her “ode to teenage-hood and their mums”.
I’ve seen a number of Samoan plays at The Mangere Arts Centre recently so it was refreshing to get a Niuean perspective. The fast-paced urban story distinguishes itself as it’s told through the eyes of a young Niuean boy, coming of age.