and what remains

Radio New Zealand National, 3.04 pm Sundays, (not a specified venue)

28/10/2007 - 28/10/2007

Production Details

By Miria George
Produced by Jason Te Kare
Engineered by Phil Benge

Radio New Zealand Drama

RNZ Drama Springs Back With Four New Plays

and what remains by Miria George is an excursion into an imagined (and some might say possible) future where the Mâori people have been exiled from the land they once called their own.  The stage version of the play had a mixed reception but certainly fulfilled its promise of stirring some real political and social debate.  Whatever else might be said, the core of the play has a vitality and relevance that, rather than fading in the radio version has, if anything, become stronger and even more poignant.

Avid radio drama fans – and there are an astonishingly high number of them across this country – are looking forward to the Spring Season of New Radio Drama on RNZ National. 

For the last few years new radio dramas have been broadcast between classic repeats and international fare.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t necessarily make the best use of the new stories and does little for our local writers.  So, in a deliberate attempt to give focus our own writers and to celebrate the new work, the Radio New Zealand will be batching new plays into a number of seasons of new work each year.  Each season will feature four or five brand new plays. The first of these seasons—the 2007 Spring Season is set to launch on Sunday 21st October in the Sunday Drama slot at 3.04pm in Lynn Freeman’s Arts on Sunday programme.

The Seasons format has real advantages for the audience and for the writers and actors.  It allows of much more targeted promotion and better use of the website.  Nowadays audiences are becoming ‘web savvy’ and expect to get more than just the performance itself: they are increasingly interested in getting the ‘inside’ information. As the Seasons idea takes shape listeners will be able to find more and more background information on the plays in each season and on the writers.  Things like audio excerpts from the plays and audio interviews with the writers are all possible using the RNZ website.

Erina Daniels ...       Mary
Rashmi Pilapitiya ... Ila
Sam Selliman ...       Anna
Asalemo Tofete ...   Solomon
Matt Saville ...         Peter

Theatre ,

53 mins

Flawed play gains further deficits on radio

Review by John Smythe 28th Oct 2007

The question remains: does Miria George’s and what remains pass the all-important ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ test that all genres of drama – no matter how fantastical – need to pass to engage an audience? To tune into that discussion, go to the stage production review and the subsequent Comments stream.

The premise remains: that all women under 25 who identify as Māori have been obliged to accept a contraceptive injection which now turns out to be making them sterile. Those who choose to identify as New Zealanders (i.e. repudiate their Māori heritage) may remain. Those who insist they are Māori must accept a government-assisted passage out of New Zealand, never to return.

The main thing to consider now is how successful, or not, the transition to radio has been.

Shrinking the running time by about a third (from 80 to 53 minutes) seems not to have been detrimental; I have no sense that anything was rushed or left out. Indeed new bits have been added. I think it’s Fat Freddy’s Drop (not credited) singing about togetherness at the start, which turns out to be on the car radio of someone called Peter, out to avert some kind of catastrophe, it seems. Catherine Ryan (not credited) on RNZ National’s ‘Nine to Noon’ articulates the premise: the last official Māori is about to leave the country.

Crossing live to a media scrum brings the play to the airport, where Mary (Erina Daniels) – the Māori in question – escapes to the departure lounge. (That it is now 2010 is, I think, mentioned later or may be deduced because we are told it is six years on from the 2006 Boxing Day Indonesian tsunami). Also new, I think, are Mary’s memories of her father (also not credited but played, if I’m not mistaken, by George Henare). Otherwise, apart from a brief visit to the women’s rest room, the play occupies one small corner of the international departure lounge where there is much uncertainty about if and when planes are taking off. 

So far so OK. But whereas in the stage play Mary is visibly present, if trying to sleep, while others talk about her, past her and over her, she simply disappears on radio until, after some considerable time, she tells them all to shut up. Meanwhile we learn that a woman called Ila (Rashmi Pilapitiya) is heading for the UK to be free of family expectations; an airport cleaner called Anna (Sam Selliman ) is held back by family obligations and lack of funds but wishes she was departing too, so makes do with waving others goodbye; Solomon (Asalemo Tofete) is supposed to be off on his big OE, but is having second thoughts because his whole sense of identity and value comes from being with his extended family.

Listen carefully and you may glean that Ila is from the India sub-continent, Anna is Malaysian and Solomon is Samoan, but while their ethnicity was constantly visible to a live theatre audience, it is much less obvious to radio listeners and the text has changed little (as I recall) to accommodate that. Their contrasting positions regarding family, belonging and travel are clearly articulated, however.

The non-naturalism of the piece is accentuated by the contrivance of Anna as a narrator, commentator and inquisitor, speaking in strange, repetitive phrasing as she generates conversation from and between people who would otherwise have waited in silence. But this sits oddly, somehow, in a scenario that otherwise relies on credibility to gain dramatic traction – especially when Peter (Matt Saville), Mary’s farmer boyfriend of 12 years standing, finally makes it to the airport in a last ditch attempt to stop her going.

Had the radio adaptation filtered it all through the subjective viewpoint of Mary, in a way that maintained her presence – through internal monologue, perhaps – greater cohesion may have been achieved. As it stands, however, I find it hard to locate the story’s centre in human terms.

Objectively I would love to credit the political point that if we took the National Party / ‘Orewa One’ speech notion of "one people" with "equal opportunity" untainted by "race-based" legislation or public policies, to is logical conclusion, this scenario could be an outcome.  But what happens, and ‘what remains’, is fundamentally race based. This could well be the whole point, but like a badly told joke, it just doesn’t gel as a satirical expose of political double-speak.

While a satirically comic approach could have confronted the oxymoronic incongruities head on, the serious dramatic tone of this tale – of  a capitulating victim in an apathetically compliant society – leaves the listener with nowhere useful to stand, except in a state of somewhat insulted incredulity.

With two theatrical outings and what remains has had a good hearing and viewing, which has doubtless added to Miria George’s professional development as a playwright. But why this flawed work has progressed to the radio waves, with even more deficits added, is hard to understand. Not tokenism, surely – although I cannot think of any other homegrown play that has enjoyed such privilege.

As with novels that evolve into films, only some stage plays can adapt well to radio. Last weeks’ Potiki’s Memory of Stone and this week’s and what remains have both proved problematical for different reasons. And next week (Sunday 4 November) will see an even greater challenge faced when Stuart Hoar’s Backwards in High Heels – in which tango dancing is the core motif – takes to the air waves.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


Hannah Clarke October 30th, 2009

So, with Michael Laws most recent comments in the media, do we really need to suspend our disbelief that much John?

Perhaps the future is nearer than we thought?

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