Raising the Titanics

ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts

Maori Playwrights Festival 2010
Hawkins Theatre, Papakura | Until July 3

Musical theatre is always a great idea; when it is a tribute to Maori bands from the sixties it is even better. Writing it can be tricky though, and creating a balance between the songs and the story is an art and a craft. Albert Belz is an accomplished, award-winning writer and he has got it right with the songs, the story and the many one-liners that are sprinkled throughout his new play, Raising the Titanics.

Louis Devine, a Pakeha, discovers the brothers Api and Zac Puoro singing in a bar in rural New Zealand. Their real job is sheep shearing and no one in the little town seems to appreciate their talent. Devine is the man who convinces them to move to Auckland and try their luck. From then on begins the story of how the “hoha blimmin’ country bumpkins” become part of the band, The Titanics, which eventually sinks. But not before creating some great music and travelling to Australia and Vietnam.

The story is inspired by the many Maori entertainers that existed in the sixties, moving back and forth between the nineties and the sixties as Aroha Devine, daughter of Louis Devine, who as a journalist and single mother, persuades her parents and another ex-band member to tell her their tale.

Sixties glamour is in full force on the stage, particularly with the beautiful ladies in their minis, shiny pink and blue shifts, and bouffant hair. Sixties survival techniques for artists and musicians are also incorporated in the story as the band records a radio jingle for RinSo—in one take and in the Queen’s English. There is no place for politics or subtexts of any sorts. That was not the space or the era for either.

The multitalented actors (Tama Waipara, Francis Kora, Bronwyn Turei, Miriama McDowell and Wesley Dowdell) who make up the band transport you into another period with their singing and dancing. If this was a real band their shows would be sold out today. Only Aroha’s character does not evoke any empathy, but then she is a caricature of a journalist and Faye Smythe does play her well.

With Raymond Hawthorne directing, choreography by Vicky Haughton and music direction by John Gibson, Raising the Titanics deserves a full season and should be seen by more New Zealanders across the country, if only so they can see their own stories and laugh along to the nostalgia that it evokes.

By Albert Belz
Directed by Raymond Hawthorne
Featuring: Tama Waipara, Fran Kora, Wesley Dowdell, Bronwyn Turei, Miriama McDowell, Faye Smythe.
‘Raising the Titanics’ is one of three plays showcased at the inaugural Taonga Whakaari: Maori Playwrights Festival.