Mangere Arts Centre, Auckland

09/10/2012 - 20/10/2012

Production Details

Award-winning actors and members of the Naked Samoans Dave Fane and Shimpal Lelisi reunite to star in Auckland Theatre Company’s powerful production of the landmark Samoan New Zealand play, A FRIGATE BIRD SINGS, which opens Thursday 11 October, at the Mangere Arts Centre.

“A Frigate Bird Sings is a landmark in New Zealand theatre. You want to see pride in action, go see this” – Listener 

Written by two of New Zealand’s most popular and respected media personalities, Dave Fane and Oscar Kightley, and directed by Alison Quigan, A FRIGATE BIRD SINGS is a funny, moving and a celebration of difference.

“Kightley and Fane have written a classic of New Zealand theatre.” – NZ Herald

Following the sudden death of her beloved mother, fa’afafine Vili is now the lady of the house. But looking after her rugby mad brother Sione and their devastated father takes its toll on lonely Vili.

On K-Road she finds friends, fun and even the possibility of love. But when Vili brings her new friends home for the first time the family she cherishes spirals out of control.

A richly human drama, A FRIGATE BIRD SINGS is a timely call for tolerance for all cultures.

“Six men, one stage, heartbreaking themes” says co-writer Dave Fane, who plays the role of Kapili, the father.

Director Alison Quigan, who previously directed Fane in Auckland Theatre Company’s THE TWITS, says “I am very excited to work with Dave Fane again, especially on A FRIGATE BIRD SINGS, which he co-wrote with Oscar Kightley.”

The heartfelt story of Vili, a Fa’afafine in South Auckland, will be new to many in our community. But the pain and loneliness of being different is one that many of us can relate to. This is a beautiful story where one person seeks to belong and to become the person they are meant to be.” adds Quigan.

A FRIGATE BIRD SINGS is an honest, heartbreaking account of the immigrant experience from a Pacific Island perspective.

11 – 20 October
Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku

Tickets can be purchased from Auckland Theatre Company on 309 3395.  

Dave Fane
Shimpal Lelisi
Troy Tu'ua
Taofia Pelesasa
Amanaki Prescott
Peter Coates

Creative team:
Alison Quigan - Direction
John Parker - Design

A FRIGATE BIRD SINGS was commissioned by NZ International Festival of the Arts 1998.   

Moving tale amid difficult coming of age

Review by Janet McAllister 15th Oct 2012

“I am the provider and the oppressed … I am the role model and the embarrassment.” 

This is how fa’afafine Vili/Vilanda (Taofia Pelesasa) opens this moving examination of family, grief and the difficulties of coming-of-age. 

But she’s not the only one who has it rough: Vili’s father (Dave Fane) mourns his wife, and bitterly regrets persuading her to move from Samoa to Auckland; Vili’s brother Sione (Troy Tu’ua) gets bossed around; Vili’s fa’afafine friends Shaniqua (Amanaki Prescott) and Dejavu (Shimpal Lelisi) no longer see their families.

The success of this play is its acknowledgment, sympathetically drawn out by Alison Quigan’s direction, that everybody onstage hurts. In the aftermath of a crisis, all the family members feel undervalued without realising that those from whom they’re seeking recognition are also feeling unrecognised. [More]


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A clean, simple, emotionally truthful production

Review by Johnny Givins 13th Oct 2012

It is fitting that the Southside Art Festival 2012 should choose A Frigate Bird Sings as its opening night at the Mangere Art Centre.  Not only is the play a revival but it illustrates the fast-developing Pacific Theatre culture, craft and expertise.

Originally staged in 1998 for the International Festival of the Arts in Wellington, it has also had an Auckland season.  This one is special – it has come home to South Auckland. 

This production of A Frigate Bird Sings bursts with local reality, talent and theatrical skill.  It’s the story of a young fa’afafine struggling with the love and commitment to her Samoan Family and the excitement of her own new life discoveries in Auckland’s K’ Road.  The frigate bird is both a beautiful huge bird and an omen: “When you see an Atafa (frigate Bird) you know a storm is coming.”

It is the first time I have seen this play and many elements feel just as relevant today as I imagine they were fourteen years ago.  However, much has changed in Pacific peoples’ lives since then, and Pasifika plays, musicals and ensemble events are now part of our regular theatrical diet.  

A ‘revival’ reminds us of where we have come from and shows us, through its craft, human events which still resonate today. The heart of this play remains strong and passionate.

The show is like a reunion of the Naked Samoans and Bro Town boys.  It is written by David Fane and Oscar Kightley (with their mate Samoan actor Nathaniel Lee).  David Fane also plays the powerful, pathetic and heartbroken Samoan Dad (Kapili).  Shimpal Lelisi (also Bro town) lets rip as a strong and real older drag queen, Dejavu.  He is so sexy in a blond wig, high heels and leather skin tight pants with the skill to hit a gag line like a pro!

But it is the younger generation of performers who shine.

Taolfia Pelesasa (Unitech Graduate) plays Villi, the centre of the story. He is glittering with a power that ranges from naive, to vulnerable, to heroic.  He seems to always care for others and the audience cares for him as he brings the storm.

His brother Sione is played by Troy Tu’ua, who is a graduate of PIPA and has the hallmarks of a quality actor.  He develops from the young Samoan teenage brother to a mature football hero and is believable all the way.

Peter Coates (Unitech Graduate), the only palangi in the cast, is Sione’s mate and Villi’s boyfriend lover.  Perhaps it’s the age of the play that makes him seem like almost a cliché character: the successful football captain with a secret love he cannot name.  Peter manages to make it his own and gives life to a classic post match speech! 

I loved the bitchy, showstopper, vampy queen Shaniqua (Amanaki Prescott: another PIPA Graduate). She is truly disgraceful.  Its K’ Road on a drunken night; you can feel the heat, smell the sweat, aftershave, and beer, as she sparkles in a fabulous sequin dress, lip-syncing gay classics and spouting vitriol.

The fabulous Alison Quigan has brought her considerable skill to directing this production.  It is clean, simple, emotionally truthful and flows well on a stage designed by the paragon of stage designers John Parker.

When you enter the theatre you will be struck by the set made up of woven mats.  Well that’s what I thought until I looked closer.  Not beautiful Samoan fine matting but Ten Dollar Plastic mats from the two dollar shop.  It simply and effectively evokes the central dilemma of the play.  Here is a family out of their own culture, desperate to hang on to what they love but living in a world filled with alternatives and changes forcing them to adapt.  I understand that these mats are now common in PI homes: they are cheap and don’t wear out like the fine mats!

A Frigate Bird Sings is a fine mat, a bit worn in places, but it has a special place in my heart. 


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