New Zealand

“Still Life With Chickens:” New Samoan Play Confronts Loneliness Through Comedy

Samoan playwright David Fa’auliuli Mamea’s Still Life With Chickens won the 2017 Adam Award for Best New Zealand Play and now, its stylish premiere production is touring the country. It concerns Mama, an elderly Samoan woman who befriends a stray chicken. While the premise seems slight, and the production is light and humorous, the script digs deeply into an issue not often explored in New Zealand theatre, loneliness among the elderly. Loneliness has become a major health issue internationally, with British Prime Minister Theresa May appointing a Minster for Loneliness in January 2018 in response to a report that...

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Dreams And Reality: Fortune Theatre, Dunedin, New Zealand Closes

The mid-morning phone call I receive from a colleague brings bad news. The Fortune Theatre–the only professional theatre in Dunedin, New Zealand, the only professional theatre in the southern quarter of the country, and the world’s southernmost professional theater–has closed forever effective immediately due to insufficient funds. The theatre is no longer financially sustainable. The fact that it is May 1st, International Workers’ Day, is not lost on me. The Fortune Theatre’s workers were called to a 9 am meeting with members of the board and told the awful news. They have ninety minutes to clear their desks. It’s...

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A Genre-Bending Pasifika Collaboration -“The Naked Samoans Do Magic”

The Naked Samoans Do Magic Commissioned by the Auckland Arts Festival and co-produced with The Conch. Directed by Nina Nawalowalo and Tom McCrory. The Naked Samoans Do Magic is a unique collaboration between two iconic yet highly contrasting Pasifika theatre companies. The Naked Samoans formed in 1998 and after a string of highly popular sketch-comedy stage shows, their animated series Bro’Town (2003-6) became New Zealand’s most successful television comedy. The Conch launched in 2002 with the critically acclaimed Vula, a stunningly beautiful devised piece that established Artistic Director Nina Nawalwalo’s expertise in composing elegant stage imagery based in her...

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“Dark Dunedin: Heaven Looks On” Excavating Layers Of The Real And The Imagined

An audience assembles on the grassy margins of Prospect Park in Ōtepoti/Dunedin, New Zealand, on a late summer Sunday afternoon. Numbering twenty–and a dog–we chat, admire the view, greet friends, and wait for the promenade theatre event that marks the concrete beginning of the doubly-stranded performance project entitled Dark Dunedin: Heaven Looks On. Created by Prospect Park Productions–playwright and theatre-maker Emily Duncan, and producer H-J Kilkelly–Dark Dunedin was launched at the 2018 Dunedin Fringe Festival. The project consists of this one-off promenade theatre event as well as podcasts of three episodes of an audio play, engineered by local community...

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The Politics of Child Abuse in Searing Māori Theatre: “Bless the Child” by Hone Kouka

Bless the Child by Hone Kouka. Co-produced by the New Zealand Festival, Auckland Arts Festival and Tawata Productions, directed by Miria George Hone Kouka’s new play Bless the Child plunges us straight into the heart of a crisis. A baby Ara, has been found dead and her mother Shardae (Carrie Green) is accused of her murder. This tragic situation reflects the sad reality that New Zealand/Aotearoa leads the world in figures for child neglect and abuse. According to Unicef, New Zealand has “one of the worst records of child abuse in the developed world.”  The fictional situation in Bless...

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Dunedin’s Arcade Theatre Company And “Fold:” An Absurdist Production For A Post-Truth Era

The newest theatre company to emerge from Dunedin, New Zealand’s funky, eclectic arts scene is Arcade Theatre Company, helmed by director Alex Wilson. Like the now-disestablished Counterpoint–also initiated by Wilson–Arcade provides a forum for emerging practitioners to test and develop their craft. Its stated aim, according to Wilson, is to “offer…[young actors] opportunities to be involved in bold, adventurous theatre projects with a broad appeal” (The Star, February 25, 2018). Wilson is familiar with the Dunedin theatre scene, having completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Otago, and subsequently having worked in the city as a theatre director,...

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Celebrating Oceanic Voyaging In Spectacular Site-Specific Theatre: “Kupe” And The “Waka Odyssey”

Wellington, a portside city famed for its turbulent seas and hurricane-force winds, turned on a miraculously calm evening for the spectacular outdoor performance event Kupe which opened the 2018 New Zealand Festival on Friday, February 23. Only a few days before, the city had been lashed by ex-tropical cyclone Gita, causing flooding and road closures throughout central New Zealand, and fuelling speculation on the streets that the great ocean-going waka (canoes) that were the centerpiece of the show might not be able to reach Wellington. Kupe is acknowledged as the first Polynesian navigator to reach the shores of Aotearoa/New...

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A Mountain of One’s Own: “Taking the High Ground” by Jan Bolwell

Since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first to climb Mount Everest in May 1953, New Zealanders have bathed in the reflected glory of their famous mountaineers. The five dollar banknote depicts the craggy, taciturn Hillary contemplating a snowy peak, an iconic New Zealand image that equates rugged independence with masculinity. Jan Bolwell’s new play Taking the High Ground, premiered at BATS Theatre, Wellington on 5 December 2017, re-genders the national mountaineering mythology in feminist terms.  Her script conflates the stories of two female mountaineering “firsts” – In 1910, Australian Freda du Faur was the first woman...

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Female Desire In Experimental Postdramatic Theatre: “Body Double” Directed By Eleanor Bishop, BATS Theatre, Wellington

Merriam-Webster has recently named “feminism” as the 2017 “word of the year” and feminist issues and dramaturgy are central to Body Double, the 2017 STAB commission at Wellington’s BATS Theatre. Body Double boldly integrates its theme of female desire with a riotous and playful combination of multi-media and physical theatre. Since 1995 STAB has been an annual institution at BATS, an invitation to practitioners to dream, to experiment, to invent, to risk. The commission comes with a substantial budget, so the pitching process inspires cash-starved theatre-makers to out-bid each other with proposals that push the imaginative possibilities of live...

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A Pacific Production Of “The Mountaintop” By Katori Hall

For the past two years, Samoan playwright Victor Rodger has been tireless in bringing plays by non-white writers to New Zealand audiences through play readings staged in all of the main cities under the banner of his production company FCC (Flow, Create, Connect). FCC has presented readings of plays by Lorraine Hansberry, Robert O’Hara, Dominique Morisseau, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Amiri Baraka, Tarell Alvin McCraney, James Baldwin, Anna Deavere Smith, and R. Zamora Linmark as well as plays by Pacific writers such as Makerita Urale and Tusiata Avia. Few, if any, of these writers, would be familiar to regular theatergoers in...

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“A Doll’s House” at Circa One

POTENTLY RELEVANT Warning: I’m about to give the (well-known) ending away because the play can’t be discussed adequately without doing so. It was 138 years ago that Henrik Ibsen upset the patriarchal status quo with A Doll’s House, so named because Nora Helmer realizes she is being treated like a doll by her husband, Torvald, and she’s treating her children, Bobby and Emmy, likewise. So she leaves them. When his German agent insisted theatergoers in his fatherland would find the ending unacceptable, Ibsen wrote an alternative ending for the German premiere where the sight of her children collapsed Nora’s resolve...

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Avignon: Symphonies of Pain Part 2 – Lemi Ponifasio’s “Standing in Time”

Standing in Time.  texts by Rasha Abbas.  Direction, scenography by Lemi Ponifasio; sound design by Lemi Ponifasio (Auckland) Lemi Ponifasio’s Standing in Time, also the example of a  symphony of pain,  speaks as well of abused women, the victims of history and colonial genocide. Ponifasio’s context is very different from that of Munyaneza’s because she meditates on the history of colonial oppression in New Zealand. The style of the production is highly informed by the performative culture of everyday rituals, religious ceremonies, celebrations and mourning as practiced by the Mauri women from the New Zealand islands.  The play features an empty stage...

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“Hand to God” at Circa Theatre

If there is such a thing as typical Circa Theatre fare, Hand to God is certainly not it, yet the typical Circa opening night audience is wide-eyed and beaming in its wake: they love it! The word according to Tyrone – the puppet who delivers the prologue – is that the trouble started when we stopped being carefree individuals and took to living in communities (sorry Maggie Thatcher: there is such a thing as ‘society’); when we invented ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ – and ‘the Devil’, who could be blamed for the bad stuff a person did so they still...

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“Anzac Eve”: A Profoundly Insightful Enriching Experience

“Afghanistan is exactly like Gallipoli!” shouts Ben, well into the action of Anzac Eve. “All the wars are like Gallipoli!” Opening in Wellington within hours of the launch of Hit & Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the meaning of honour, by Nicky Hagar and Jon Stephenson, this moment has particular resonance. Then and now, front line soldiers have little true understanding of who they are fighting and why, things inevitably go wrong, lives are needlessly lost … Warfare will never be the answer to the problems it sets out to solve. For international readers: ANZAC stands...

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“Dark Matter”: An Interview With Lighting Designer Martyn Roberts

The light fades to a darkness more intense than a starless night on a country road. As the eyes slowly adjust, two barely discernible figures appear in a vast void, vanishing as mysteriously as they appeared. Over the next 40 minutes, the space before us shifts and changes, through a series of seven “visual haiku,” re-configuring the space so that at times we seem to be looking into an infinite space, at others closing it off so that there is a solid wall of light directly before the front row. Like a haiku, each sequence is brief, exploring one...

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Timeless Truths Of Cultural Appropriation And Cohabitation In “Public Works” And “The Landeaters”

When I reviewed the development season of The Ragged – the first play in what has evolved into THE UNDERTOW quartet – back in 2010, I tagged it “true community theatre.” And it is: of the people, for the people, by the people of Wellington’s south coast, in that its progenitors and leading lights are playwright Helen Pearse-Otene and Te Rākau Theater director Jim Moriarty, who live in Ōwhīro Bay. By distilling nearly two centuries of Māori-Pākehā relationship into the story of the tangata whenua of Ōwhīro’s fictitious kāinga Te Miti and the visitation upon them of the enterprising...

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