BATS Theatre, The Random Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

22/11/2019 - 30/11/2019

BATS Theatre, The Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

04/10/2022 - 08/10/2022

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

13/10/2022 - 13/10/2022

Oamaru Opera House, Oamaru

14/10/2022 - 14/10/2022

The Piano, 156 Armagh Street, Christchurch

21/10/2022 - 22/10/2022

Dunedin Arts Festival 2022

Production Details

Written by Fa’amoana Luafutu,
Directed by Nina Nawalowalo and Jim Moriarty



Auckland 1963, three 11-year-old boys meet in a cell in the family court. Two Māori and one Samoan – Wheels, Piwi and a boy called Piano. Made wards of state and taken to Owairaka Boys Home. So begins a story into the heart of darkness, abuse and pain and a journey of survival, friendship and the light of the human spirit.

From the creators of The White Guitar comes a new play, A Boy Called Piano, the true story of Fa’amoana ‘John’ Luafutu and the experience of thousands of Māori and Pasifika children placed in state care in the 1960s.

Award-winning New Zealand theatre company The Conch presents A Boy Called Piano in its first season in Wellington at BATS Theatre from 22-30 November.

Written by Fa’amoana Luafutu, and directed by Nina Nawalowalo (ONZM) and Jim Moriarty, A Boy Called Piano builds on the story of The White Guitar and uses The Conch’s kaupapa of harnessing the power of theatre as a force for social change.

“At a time when the Government is drawing up the terms for a Royal Commission of Enquiry into the terrible abuse of children in state care, Fa’amoana has chosen to speak out through this new play,” says producer Tom McCrory. “His story is not one of private shame but one shared by thousands which impacts on us all.”

McCrory adds that A Boy Called Piano came out of the collaboration for The White Guitar.

“The story of The White Guitar was an immense journey, which had a huge impact on audiences. In the process of taking Fa’amoana, Malo (Scribe) and Matthias’ huge lives and translating that into 90 minutes of theatre meant so many amazing stories were left untold. One of those which stayed with us was Fa’amoana’s story of his experiences as a ward of the state.”

The Conch Artistic Director and Co-Director of A Boy Called Piano, Nina Nawalowalo says  Fa’amoana John Luafutu is both a survivor and a master storyteller.  “This is the first time the experience of those in state care has come directly to the New Zealand stage told by a man who lived it.”

Combining highly physical storytelling and stunning AV design, A Boy Called Piano will feature Matthias Luafutu together with Aaron McGregor and Allan Henry, with music composed and performed by Mark Vanilau.

Fa’amoana Luafutu says through this play he hopes to use his voice as a vehicle to convey a cry of love to the past, present and future. “We must look to the past with understanding and to the future with love.”

A Boy Called Piano
BATS Theatre, The Random Stage, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington
22-30 November 2019
2:30pm & 8:30pm

Aaron McGregor
Matthias Luafutu
Allan Henry

Mark Vanilau – Pianist & Composer

Katherine Wyeth – Associate Producer
Tom McCrory – Exec Producer
Mike Ainsworth – Production manager
Joe Newman – Lighting & AV design
Haami Hawkins – Tech operator
Milika Nawalowalo McCrory – Art exhibition Curator
Ren Slatter-Production runner
Tane Luafutu-Intern
Micah Luafutu-Intern
Kasaya Manulevu-Associate Artist 

Theatre ,

Offering voices to the voiceless

Review by Erin Harrington 22nd Oct 2022

The Conch’s stage production of Boy Called Piano begins with a voiceover from co-creator Fa’amoana John Luafutu, accompanied by swirling underwater footage from the recent documentary of the same title: “We all begin in innocence … they took that innocence. The baby you buried deep inside is a hurt baby. And sometimes, when you find yourself in situations, you wake the baby up and it starts to scream.”

This emotional production offers one story among the many thousands of stories of young people who became wards of the state, no longer belonging to their families but the government. With strength and courage it explores the intergenerational impact of the sexual, psychological and physical abuse many suffered under this ‘care’.

The show was staged in development in October 2019 at BATS in Wellington, but further performance was upended by the pandemic. The project has since taken a number of forms: a lauded 60-minute documentary, premiering at this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival; an hour-long audio adaptation for RNZ; and now the ‘original’ 80-minute work, staged and toured nationally. [More]


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One of the great Kiwi theatre productions of our time

Review by Graeme Tuckett 17th Oct 2022

My experience of A Boy Called Piano has been back-to-front.

I heard the second-half, completely unexpectedly, as a radio play. A year later, also unplanned, I heard the first-half, as an RNZ repeat. And then, earlier this year, I saw A Boy Called Piano as a documentary at the New Zealand Film Festival.

And now, finally, I have seen A Boy Called Piano on stage. And once again, I am absolutely blown away.

Full review here


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Grim tale of authenticity

Review by Simon Henderson 15th Oct 2022

Like exotic fish in a tank, three young boys are ripped from their homes and become powerless playthings for unscrupulous adults, who profess to have their best interests at heart.

A Boy called Piano narrates the grim tale of three 11-year-old boys, two Maori and one Samoan, called Wheels, Piwi, and Piano. Made wards of the state, they share stories of beatings, sexual assault and intimidation. [More]


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Courage and shimmering theatricality

Review by Terry MacTavish 15th Oct 2022

‘A voice for the voiceless’, claims writer Fa’amoana John Luafutu, in a programme so articulate and comprehensive it frankly leaves little for a reviewer to add. Beyond even a voice, though, A Boy Called Piano is a veritable cri de coeur for all who silently endure, as another poet phrased it, ‘the exceeding bitter agony, but not the exceeding bitter cry’.

The resonating success of this cry throughout Aotearoa we owe to The Conch,* the iconic Pacific/NZ company that we are privileged to see at last in Dunedin. Established in 2003 by Nina Nawalowalo, of Fijian/European heritage, and husband Tom McCrory, co-writer with Luafutu, its mission is to combine Western theatre tradition with the cultures of the Pacific.

The Conch joined with Fa’amoana Luafutu to tell the story of his remarkable family in The White Guitar, but there was clearly another, darker story that demanded to be told, that of the boys taken into ‘care’, abused and often destroyed by the very organisations meant to save them. Hence this wonderful production, telling the tale of Piano, so-called because the piano was his musical mother’s first love.

The apparent simplicity of the work defies the actual sophistication of stagecraft that calls on every imaginable theatre tradition, from commedia and butoh to Lecoq mime and magical illusion. Director Nawalowalo is possessed of vast theatrical experience, having first been inspired by mime artist Robert Bennet (whom I recall as a performer of great compassion as well as skill), and she has judiciously selected each technique to take us on Piano’s journey.

It might be expected that an experimental black box theatre like Bats or the NAT would suit this work better, but rather surprisingly, it also feels right in the glamorous formality of the large, historic Regent Theatre, the elegant proscenium arch providing a beautifully ironic frame.

Three hanging panels of delicate white material serve as screens for projections: bubbling water, a glorious moon, lawcourt buildings, or the streets of Auckland; but also at times give the illusion of hard concrete walls, or even soft mist, subtly revealing the memory of Piano’s Samoan ancestor, enacted by a dignified Ole Maiava.

Further magic and mysticism is created through exquisite piano music played live by Mark Vanilau, which, coupled with Nawalowalo’s trademark experimental light-based physical theatre, assuredly creates the intended, unique blend of the ‘traditional, theatrical, magical and spiritual’.

Three experienced and outstanding actors – Matthias Luafutu as Piano (the actor’s own Samoan father), with Aaron McGregor and Rob Ringiao-Lloyd as the Maori friends he makes in Owairaka Boys’ Home – create an entirely credible and absorbing world for us, slipping seamlessly between the characters needed to flesh out the story.

Eleven, only eleven when they are torn from their families, for such heinous crimes as playing up at school when they can’t understand the language, or nicking the milk money – coins placed trustingly for the milkman on bottles at the gate, something regarded as a tolerated rite of passage in my 60s childhood. Clearly not, though, if your skin was brown.

The Boys’ Home is strikingly reminiscent of Dickens’ Dotheboys Hall and hungry Oliver Twist, or the Bronte sisters’ horrible boarding school. But it is redeemed by the cheeky liveliness of the boys, from their jiggy singing of ‘Unchain my Heart’ in the van that deposits them there, to the resilience they show during appalling punishments and sexual abuse, when apparent kindness can be the most sinister of all, and attempted suicide is condemned as ‘attention-seeking’.

The horror is not glossed over, but transmuted, with violence and abuse mimed, athletic physicality alternating real time, slow motion and fast forward, with clever piano sound effects mimicking the kicks and blows. Nevertheless I am sickened by the chillingly quiet account Piano gives of the hideousness of electric shocks as punishment at the notorious psychiatric hospital Kingseat. It is hard to comprehend how such evil could be perpetrated in the name of treatment, yet in today’s news we hear that right now the children of Iran, who dare to protest the strict clothing laws, are being incarcerated in mental institutions.

How could children given such treatment be anything other than damaged and damaging in turn? My heart broke a little when a student of my own confided, not without pride, ‘My stepdad was in one of those remand homes, but he is the only one of the boys in with him who is not a killer, yet.’

The story of these traumatised wards of the state is currently reaching a wide audience in The Conch’s acclaimed documentary film, A Boy Called Piano – The Story of Fa’amoana John Luafutu. I am glad though, as I drift out with an audience more subdued and thoughtful than depressed, that what we have experienced is the staged version.

The non-realistic, poetic quality of the production stirs a deeper more personal response. I am again the trembling seven-year-old clinging to the lilac tree, desperate not to be sent back to school where my loving mother had no notion I was being viciously strapped for being unable to decipher the mysteries, not of the English language, but of the multiplication table.

A Boy Called Piano is not only a powerful voice for those cruelly institutionalised, but a sharp reminder to all ‘hurt babies’, wounded in our own past childhood, a clarion call to ensure we will never tolerate brutality, but give genuine care to the tamariki of the present. Congratulations to Fa’amoana John Luafutu for his Special Recognition at the 2022 Arts Pasifika Awards this very night, and to The Conch for its courage and the shimmering theatricality of its bitter cry.

* The fascinating story of The Conch can be found in Floating Islanders: Pasifika Theatre in Aotearoa by Lisa Warrington and David O’Donnell (Otago University Press, 2018)


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Traumatic truth brought to light with beauty and balance

Review by Grace Ahipene Hoet 05th Oct 2022

Fa’afetai Lava Fa’amoana John Luafutu your words and truth:

“Through this play I’m not looking for pity, sympathy or an excuse. I am seeking to use my voice as a vehicle to convey a cry of love to the past, present an future. I am seeking to be a voice for the voiceless. For all my friends who were in care with me and have passed on. They will never get an apology. For all those hurt who are right now in prison. For all those children being taken no. All those whose livers are stuffed up with mental illness, drug addiction, bad parents, broken families. After being parented by the government. I want people to know, I am not a case file. I am human and have feelings and emotions like everyone else. I began in innocence, newborn, a Blank page. The story that was written, the story of thousands of children, has to be heard.”

“Our History has to be faced. May the truth set us free.”

Three 11 year old boys meet in the holding cell of the Courthouse. we meet Wheels, Piwi and Piano; their innocent lives are about to change forever. Here begins their painful story of abuse, hidings, sexual abuse and a life time of indescribable trauma at the hands of government institutions – Abuse in Care.

A masterful piece of Directing by Nina Nawalowalo, she has created a beautifully finely-tuned, visual feast of storytelling-acting that is a sensory composition of consummate theatre. The Conch and its unique Pasifika fusion style theatre is impressive; they give the Power to the Storyteller to tell truths that bring changes to people’s lives and social practices.

The stunning opening visual graphics of the moana bubbling to life, bringing Fa’amoana’s truths to the stage. From a place of innocence: “I began in innocence, newborn, a Blank page.”

The fluid movement of the choreography gives the feeling of young innocent souls, likened to seaweed afloat. Then the shift to angles and lines gives us the harshness of movement, bought on by the regimentation of institutional behaviour.

A magical visual memory of his Grandfather is bought into being by Ole Maiava (great to see Maiava back on stage). So real is his performance behind the veil that it journeys the audience to a happier time for Piano. Blended in with the visual beauty of the sea, it recreates an ancient time of golden memories that helped build his resilience and strength to survive the horrors of his reality.

The music composition and accompaniment of Mark Vanilau on the piano and singing throughout the play is elegant, and a wonderful juxtaposition to the heartbreaking darkness being revealed on stage. I couldn’t think of a more beautiful way to tell a harrowing true-story than with a score that gently holds you safe.

The most appropriate of waiata Rimurimu is softly sung and played beautifully by Vanilau, symbolising a grieving parent for the loss of their child. The loss of innocence is a key thread all the way through this gem of a production.

Mattias Luafutu shines in his performance of Piano (pronounced Pee ah nor). He is truly mesmerising to watch and you are drawn into his story-telling to the point of wanting to protect him. My ears are alive to the beauty of the Samoan language and I want to hear more. It is such a pleasure to hear, and made easier to understand through the skill of Luafutu’s acting. Luafutu’s innocence is authentic and real, which makes the truth all that more vile.

The reality for our Māori and Pasifika tamariki being Wards of State was life changingly horrific, and is clearly portrayed brilliantly by Rob Ringiao-Lloyd (Wheels), Aaron McGregor (Piwi) and Matthias Luafutu’s Piano.

Rob Ringiao-Lloyd’s consummate acting skill takes him through mercurial shifts from the little toughy ‘Wheels’ character to the Perpetrator staff member.

The character Piwi’s vulnerability and victimisation by the night watchman is gut-wrenchingly sick. Aaron McGregor takes us there with assuredness and great aplomb: a stunning performance.

The tearing of the paper symbolised the physical change: once torn it can never be the same again. A life once innocent is changed forever, never to be the same again. Abuse in Care is another massive stain on Aotearoa’s past.

The simplicity of the set: a baby grand piano with three hung sheer gauze cloths that are used as a screen, a veil between worlds, memory holder and a bedsheet. Production elements by the Conch are always amazing. Hami Hawkins Lighting Design is at times a stark reality of framed and stripped lines creating a cold, isolating austere environment, great to see lighting enhancing the story.

Visual and Sound design by The Conch, Bekky Boyce and Anna Koata Pātete, with creative consultancy and technical oversight by Rowan Pierce is exceptional: a magical feast that feeds into the story and at times holds us spellbound.

The beauty and balance of this production is superb thank you Fa’amoana John Laufutu for you courage to bring the truth into the light.

Nga mihi arohanui ki a koutou katoa to those that have been the victims of Abuse in Care.


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Shows how powerful theatre can be

Review by Sonya Stewart 24th Nov 2019

It’s Auckland, 1963. In a van on their way to the Owairaka Boys home Wheels (Allan Henry), Piwi (Aaron McGregor) and a boy called Piano (Mathias Luafutu) get to know each other.  

These 11 year old Maori and Samoan boys are newly made wards of the state and have a cheeky cheerfulness despite the situation they are in.

Testimony to the Royal Commission of Inquiry about their experiences is scattered throughout the boys’ story, and the difference between these young, unbroken boys and their adult counterparts is palpable. [More


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Gripping, insightful and appeals to our humanity

Review by John Smythe 23rd Nov 2019

A Boy Called Piano has premiered on the day we hear that Corrections staff have “slammed” a request to call prisoners “men in our care” and address them by their first names, and as The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care continues behind closed doors.

Four years ago three men of the Luafutu aiga – Fa’amoana and his sons Matthias and Malo (Scribe) – shared with us their harrowing journey through family violence and self-destructive behaviour to redemption in The White Guitar. Now The Conch brings us the prequel, written by Fa’amoana John Luafutu with Tom McCrory and also directed by Nina Nawalowalo and Jim Moriarty.

As a boy Fa’amoana was nick-named Piano because that was his mother’s first love, side-lined by his birth and those that followed. A Boy Called Piano offers insights into what 11 year-old ‘Piano’ experienced in State Care, along with ‘Wheels’ and ‘Piwi’, the two Māori boys who became his mates.  

Three tall white gauze drops adorn the black box of the BATS Random Stage and a black grand piano waits to one side until Mark Vanilau (for 12 years a member of Dave Dobbyn’s band) takes his place at it. AV images of a baby in the womb materialise and, in the darkness beyond, three naked-backed men reach for elusive shafts of light as a voice-over speaks of the innocence with which we all enter life. It is Fa’amoana himself who tells us, “Innocence is the light that reveals without judgement.” Designed by Joe Newman and operated by Haami Hawkins, the lighting and AV support the unfolding stories beautifully over the next 75 minutes.

Vanilau’s unobtrusive piano playing also supports the action throughout. His exquisite rendition of Dobbyn’s ‘It Dawned on Me’ brings the three men forward, still seeking the light – and we discover they are 11 year-old boys at the Children’s Court in 1963 where their fates become sealed because they are deemed ‘out of control’. Making them Wards of the State, placing them in a Boys’ Home and subjecting them to rigorous discipline is apparently going to set them on the right path. This is parenting government-style.

Matthias Luafutu plays his own father, Allan Henry is Wheels, Aaron McGregor is Piwi and they all step into various adult roles as and when necessary. Powerfully rendered physicality, both naturalistic and non-naturalistic, invigorates and punctuates the scenes that reveal the systemic punitive treatment that makes it virtually inevitable they will spend their foreseeable futures in a succession of State institutions. Also inevitable is the humour that surfaces from time to time. Their resilience and strategies for survival take many forms.

Matthias is especially impressive in showing how Piano immerses himself in his fitness regime until, put in solitary confinement yet again, he can see no future. Allan superbly epitomises the risk-taking chancer in Wheels, and unnervingly personifies a creepily ‘caring’ Mr Powell. Aaron affectingly embodies Piwi’s simple needs and the toll the trouble he gets himself into has on his mental health. Their ensemble work, in a fight scene especially – staged both realistically and in a stylised way, with no hint of prurient voyeurism – is excellent.

The system’s failure to understand the developmental stage the boys are in, let alone why they are ‘acting out’ as they do, is played out for what it was. Those of a certain age (the apparently privileged Baby Boomers) will recognise the principles that were also inherent in their parenting, education and armed services training. But with the government as your parents, bullying and abuse of the young and vulnerable becomes endemic. Everyone will have a different perspective on how far we have come, on why change is needed and how we might support it.

As directors, Nina Nawalowalo and Jim Moriarty have artfully crafted a production that puts the focus clearly on the human stories, expanding our awareness and compelling our empathy by sharing the boys’ subjective truths. In her programme note, Nina says shaming has kept the truths buried, or they’ve been “suppressed because they reveal truths about a society that’s in denial of its own story.” She tracks our sorry record of abuse of Māori and Pacific children in state care, cites their over-representation in the prison population stats and indicates the play is investigating the root cause of that.  

In his writer’s note, Fa’amoana makes it clear that he is “not looking for pity, sympathy or an excuse. I am seeking to use my voice as a vehicle to convey a cry of love to the past, present and future. I am seeking to be a voice for the voiceless … At this time when enquiries are being begun, statistics are being thrown around, I want people to know I am not a case file. I am human and have feelings and emotions like everyone else … The story that was written in me was the story of thousands of children.”

Co-writer and producer Tom McCrory adds: “As we began work on A Boy Called Piano the National Government was in denial of this story. Refusing a national enquiry, refusing to even apologise to survivors … At times like this Artists have to step up. Theatre still has a power to be direct, to socially engage, bypass the media to reveal the story directly – but it takes a remarkable human being in Fa’amoana to face the truth … Jacinda Ardern, even before she became prime minister, was raising this issue in parliament and this coalition has stepped up to begin a Royal Commission of Inquiry – but the danger here is that the story is still contained, within a courtroom setting, in a government report – it’s bigger than that. Fa’amoana’s story takes that story to the public …”

“It must be heard,” Fa’amoana concludes, standing live on stage to deliver his epilogue. “Our History has to be faced. May the truth set us free.”  

The public’s side of the bargain, then, is to bear witness to A Boy Called Piano. It’s gripping, insightful and appeals to our humanity.

Postscript: It is worth noting that both Welcome to the Death Café, which finishes its short BATS season upstairs tonight, and A Boy Called Piano (on till next Saturday) are timely responses to very current social issues prominent in the political landscape. And both explore them in ways the news media cannot.  


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