Blue Baths, Government Gardens, Queens Drive, Rotorua

04/09/2019 - 06/09/2019

BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

27/08/2019 - 31/08/2019

Meteor Theatre, 1 Victoria Street, Hamilton

12/09/2019 - 14/09/2019

Aronui Indigenous Arts Festival

Production Details


Having performed to great acclaim in Samoa and Western Samoa the play that captures the beating heart of a Samoan family plays premiere seasons in Wellington, Rotorua and Hamilton from late August. The Auckland season premieres at Q theatre from 20-21 September then at the Māngere Arts Centre from 25-27 September.

“If dramas should be thought provoking and cause the audience to examine their own relationships involving all spectrums of love, then this play does that superbly.” Marjorie Moore, Samoan Observer

‘aloFA’ is set-in present-day Samoa. It is about the Su’eloto family, Su’eloto meaning to search; to find heart.

After 25years away eldest son, Niko returns home to Samoa and is immediately confronted with the consequences of his long absence following the death of Alofa – the family matriarch. Alofa in Samoan means love. Everything within the play comes back to the word, the woman, the emotion in some form as the family struggles with the secrets and lies that destroyed them many years ago. With humour and depth, the characters strive to find forgiveness and in turn find themselves and each other.

Set in modern-day Samoa, aloFA was first performed in 2016 in Upolu, Samoa and then toured to PagoPago, American Samoa in 2017. It has also had several performances as part of conferences and academic symposiums.

Recently returning from Samoa to live in NZ, writer and director Fiona Collins has pulled together an incredible cast from Samoa, Wellington and Rotorua to bring this distinctively Samoan, yet universally themed work to the Aotearoa stage. The cast includes some of our most treasured Samoan actors including Uelese Petaia (Sons For The Return Home, One Thousand Ropes), Ali Foa’i (Thirsty, MoodPorn), Birds, Iaheto Ah Hi (Sione’s Wedding, Black Faggot, Club Paradiso) and Atutahi PotakaDewes (Dreamgirls, Matariki Concert). 

Fiona Collins is a multi-talented and well-respected Samoan NZ artist. Since graduating from Toi Whakaari – NZ Drama School she has been a regular force in performing Pacific theatre including the internationally acclaimed VULA, Frangipani Perfume and Awhi Tapu. She’s also done her time on Shortland Street and recently had a leading role in the critically acclaimed film – VAI. Collins’ short stories have been published, and as a playwright aloFa is her fifth work. Until recently she was based in Samoa where she held the prestigious role as Performing Arts Lecturer in both the Faculties of Education, and Arts at the National University of Samoa.

“I am honoured to bring aloFA to Auckland – the largest Pacific city in the world,” says Collins. “This play will resonate not only with Samoan communities but everyone who has navigated the challenges and ultimate rewards of surviving the legacy of family”.  

“Brilliant play in all respects!”  – Ruperake Petaia, Samoan Poet 

aloFA plays in:

BATS Theatre
27 – 31 August 2019

Rotorua Blue Baths Theatre
(Aronui Indigenous Arts Festival)
4 – 6 September 2019

Meteor Theatre
12 – 14 September 2019

Rangatira @ Q Theatre
20 – 21 September 2019

Māngere Arts Centre, Auckland
25 – 27 September 2019
7.30pm every night

Faleniko/Papa:  Tuiasau Uelese Petaia
Niko:  Iaheto Ah Hi
Lome:  Ali Foa'i
Young Alofa:  Atutahi Potaka-Dewes

Writer, director, set designer & sound designer: Fiona Collins
Lighting designer: Tony Black
Producers: Asolelei To'alepai and Fiona Collins.

Theatre ,

1 hr 30 min

Deeply moving

Review by Jan-Maree Franicevic 13th Sep 2019

The Meteor Theatre is buzzing: the venue for the Hamilton premiere of Fiona Collins’ acclaimed aloFA. I am one of the few palagi* faces in the room, which is packed to the brim – so much so that the theatre staff are setting out extra chairs in front of the seating blocks to accommodate overflow.

Arrested from the get-go, with a stylised and breath-taking prologue, we meet Niko (Iaheto Ah Hi). Niko is home, returning to the village where he grew up. It has been 25 years. Niko has issues with his estranged Papa (Tuiasau Uelese Petaia) and with Papa’s caregiver Lome (Ali Foa’i).

Niko’s Mama is Alofa, who has been dead a year; his older brother Luka has also passed. Mama and Luka are, per tradition, in the front yard facing the fale. We meet young Alofa (Atutahi Potaka-Dewes), daughter of Luka, full of sass and venom; mistaking her uncle for a homeless man, hunched at her grandmother’s graveside. Papa is angered by his son’s return; he is such a frail old man, being wheeled about by the silent and mysterious Lome, who is a great offset to the high-status energy of the three other players.

While there is certainly energy in the design and the faultless cast, the play moves slowly, languishing almost as broodingly as Niko himself through the journey of a family in conflict, a family torn by secrets and bound by tradition.

The drawn-out journey gives us plenty of time to invest in each character – and it is the first time I have ever heard an audience break the fourth wall, joining in the evening hymn at Papa’s bedside: it has a spine chilling effect. Such pace ensures that we are all deeply immersed in the piece: strong writing accompanied by talented actors surrounded by a thoughtfully simple set, all wrapped up in a sound-scape which brings Mama Alofa to us in a way that manifests the unique relationship Samoans have with their dead.

There is an emotional charge in the room tonight, a cast and audience connection unlike anything I have ever experienced before. Playwright Fiona Collins has taken care to weave a seamless cloak over her culture which is then pulled back to expose all of the ugly side of maleness it hides: rape culture, physical abuse, adultery. With that comes the light of healing and the letting go of mortality. Deeply moving, there is not a dry eye in the house as we leave the Su’eloto family very much changed, better still, healing the wounds of time.

I always say it is a brave playwright who then turns their hand to direction, and Fiona Collins has also taken up the design of the piece. I commend her effort here, as she has sensitively kept the power of the drama under control in what I see as a nod to the classic Greek tradition of hubris (pride), hamartia (tragedy) and catharsis (divine justice).

Iaheto Ah Hi shows his pedigree in presenting a thoroughly dislikeable Niko, whose arrogance gets him in the end. Ali Foa’i is a fitting foil and shines as the meekly conflicted Lome. Tuiasau Uelese Petaia’s portrayal of Papa is standout – flick flacking between frail elder and flashbacks of his younger, fitter self. I really felt I saw him in both lights equally. Young Alofa is every young woman making her way in this modern world, while carefully carrying her own insecurity. She is such a refreshing and necessary contrast for this very male story; Atutahi Potaka-Dewes has a bright future ahead.

Whenever there is a long absence with in a family, there is tension. Through all of the challenge of Niko’s return home, and the resolution of some long-held demons, there is familiarity. Themes of fa’asamoa (the Samoan way) play out: service to aiga (family), unflagging respect for church and elders, and the secrets kept well-hidden, which – like all truth – will out.

*When reviewers were called for, a request was made for some knowledge of fa’asamoa. While I understand some of the basic conventions of Samoan culture, having grown up surrounded by a strong island community, I wouldn’t say that I am anywhere near as confident in fa’asamoa as I am in Te Ao Māori or indeed in my own Croatian culture. As it goes, I needn’t have worried that I would not understand aloFA well enough. Religion and culture are not unfamiliar themes, and aloFA is such well-crafted drama that I suspect anyone would be able to relate to, and find richness in.


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Exposing truths and untold stories earns standing ovation

Review by Israel Randell 05th Sep 2019

As part of the Aronui Indigenous Arts Festival, Rotorua’s Blue Baths Theatre has welcomed the play aloFa, a deeply moving piece written and directed by Fiona Collins. 

The play is set in Samoa and the story follows the Su’eloto family. The prodigal son Niko, returns to his village and explores the events that led to his departure. Each character is weaved together to highlight the complex issues that contribute to family break-downs and issues that often get swept under the rug in Samoan culture.

The simple use of mood lighting is used effectively to transport the audience into a state of awe, where the characters can share intimate memories and stories that help to uncover the narrative.

Alofa, played by Atutahi Potaka-Dewes, is a sassy, relatable character who charms the audience with her strong personality. Papa, played by Uelese Petaia, is a character who represents the elders in our society. His role encapsulates the social status of elders within Samoan culture and the emotions and actions they are subject to. Niko, played by Iaheto Ah Hi, and Lomi, played by Ali Foa’i, are characters who delve into themes around masculine toxicity.

Throughout the show, chants and songs are sung in Samoan, lulling the audience and evoking a feeling of nostalgia. The show takes the audience on an emotional journey that exposes themes of rape culture within Samoa. Shining light on this delicate subject is deeply moving and a story not yet told through this cultural lens.

By the end of the show, there is not one dry eye in the theatre. We as an audience are touched by the emotive experience that is aloFA and this is expressed to the actors with a standing ovation. It is important that these stories are told and I applaud writer/ director Fiona Collins for successfully unpacking the layers which make up such a complex issue we all face today.

aloFA continues until the 6th of September as part of the Aronui Indigenous Arts Festival.


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Challenging and redemptive

Review by John Smythe 28th Aug 2019

Alofa in Samoan means love. Fa means four, and may also be short for talofa (hello) and tofa (goodbye). Fa’asamoa is the Samoan Way, where family is all important, respect of elders is strictly adhered to, and being of service to your family is your duty.

The family name in this story is Su’eloto which means to search; to find heart. All four family members in aloFA are searching for love; for the lost heart of their family; their aiga: the wider family group of blood and marriage including adopted connections who all acknowledge the matai (head of the family).[i] All these elements swirl around the hidden yet festering core of Fiona Collins’ astutely crafted script.

The ancient Samoan concept of Fale Aitu (literally ‘house of spirits’) allows an apparently possessed performer (think monarch’s fool; court jester; clown) to challenge, confront and criticise the ‘king’ in ways that might prove lethal for mere mortals. From Pacific Underground productions through The Naked Samoans’ shows to Bro Town on TV, the ‘pointed satire’ tradition has flourished.

As the writer, director and designer of aloFA, Collins employs less comical conventions (more aligned to the Greek tragedies, one might say, than the satirical comedies) to expose how the ideal of aiga and principles of fa’asamoa can be abused and become corrupted. It is arguably a brave but timely and necessary act from a woman artist, awakening her ancient culture to the worldwide ‘It’s Time’ declaration. And it’s done with love, as per the title. That men in the audience are weeping at the end attests to the production’s strength and value.

But before the dramatic exposures comes the exposition: the dramatisation of the set-up that will, in due time, pay off. Those more attuned to fast-paced entertainment will do well to realign as they would when visiting a Pacific Island.

On a set featuring two tapa cloth and mat-draped graves, a beautifully stylised silent prologue sees a large caped figure become two, appearing to fly before one cape becomes disembodied and the object of grief.

The return of Niko to his childhood home, after a 25 year absence, is greeted with anger and distain by his father, Faleniko, affectionately known as Papa by those who have stayed. It emerges that Niko, the eldest son, not only failed to return when mother, Alofa, died a year ago, but also when his brother, Luka, died a year before that. A pro-boxer, Niko has been travelling the world and sending money home, but only now does he deign to turn up. And he’s not happy.

Papa’s care-giver, Lome, who is working on a yet-to-be revealed carving, keeps his opinions to himself but the late Luka’s daughter, also called Alofa, has plenty to say and gets an earful of Niko’s anger in response. The failure to communicate effectively is the default setting for the Su’elotos; they embody the opposite of alofa – ironically because they do care.

Recollections of a particular night of familial violence, 25 years ago, keep coming up. It seems hard to credit, given how frail Papa is now and how often he expresses his enduring love for the departed Alofa. Indeed Tuiasau Uelese Petaia renders his frailty so convincingly it’s a revelation to see him become more robust in flashbacks. It is a critical part of the dramatic structure that we revise our opinion of Papa as the secrets of the past are revealed.

Conversely Iaheto Ah Hi ensures we feel thoroughly alienated from Niko to begin with then he rises impressively to the challenge of earning his redemption two hours later. Meanwhile Atutahi Potaka-Dewes, as young Alofa, runs the gamut of emotions as she moves from lost and angry through confrontation to reclaim herself and her life.

Ali Foa’i pitches the mystery that surrounds the enigmatic Lome perfectly – then, in the powerful ending that brings Collins’ message home without compromise, he embodies the abusers and mouths their all-too-recognisable rationalisations with unnerving credibility.

It would be easy to see scenes of cloying love-laden grief and drunken boyish bonding as sad and amusing respectively but, as I see it, Collins includes them to show how insidiously toxic masculinity can be covered up.  

Our dual feelings of anger at what has been revealed and gratitude that love has at last prevailed prove aloFA’s great value as challenging and redemptive theatre. Only at BATS this week, it then moves on to Rotorua, Hamilton and Auckland. Don’t miss it.

[i] Grattan, F.J.H. (1985). An Introduction to Samoan Custom. New Zealand: R. McMillan. pp. 10–24


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