ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts

Maori Playwrights Festival 2010
Hawkins Theatre, Papakura | June 16-18

Purapurawhetu is an old play, originally commissioned in 1994 and premiered in Wellington in 1997. It is a classic and is also part of the school curriculum—the perfect choice to open Taonga Whakaari, the Maori Playwright’s Festival, and during Mataraki too.

Writer Briar Grace Smith once said in an interview that she was inspired to write a play while weaving a tukukutu panel; to tell stories of her ancestors that spill from the panel into drama on the stage. She does that adroitly, interlacing the past with the present and with a hint of the future.

Purapurawhetu tells the story of a small community that has a painful, unacknowledged past which affects the present internal politics and hence cannot move on. Where have all the people gone? They have left because the place is full of sadness and no one knows why. A mysterious old woman comes into town one day while a young man tries to complete a tukutuku panel in time for the opening of the local marae. This woman reveals to him the hidden secrets and jealousy of times gone by; of a painful loss and why the old kaumatua is so broken. As the tale tumbles out, the tukutuku panel continues to be woven but will not be completed unless the loss is recognised, there is forgiveness, redemption and eventually healing.

Briar Grace Smith is very talented. She observes minute human behaviour and presents it with just the perfect words and emotions in her work. She intertwines spirituality with love of the land and people in all her stories in a beautiful way. There is no place for darkness. As is the case with Purapurawhetu. Human beings make mistakes, human beings are imperfect creatures but they also have the inner strength to embrace and forgive all the faults so as to move on.

Skilfully directed by Cathy Downes, the set and lighting enhance the play. The stellar cast matches the emotions with moving performances. All of them are superb. It is always a pleasure to watch Rawiri Paratene. He plays the broken kaumatua. The various ways in which he says ‘Plenty paua’ is a brief lesson in acting right there. Roimata Fox as the mysterious old woman and the young Agnes Rose are brilliant too. Rob Mokaraka as the villain is very charming indeed. Scotty Coulter and Josephine Stewart-Tewhui match the other performers in every way.

Purapurawhetu is a universal story and will continue to be performed for a long time to come. I would suggest making your way to the theatre for a very good evening of drama.

By Briar Grace Smith
Directed by Cathy Downes
Featuring: Rawiri Paratene, Scotty Cotter, Roimata Fox.
‘Purapurawhetu’ is one of three plays showcased at the inaugural Taonga Whakaari: Maori Playwrights Festival. The play has its second run at Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber, June 30-July 2.