The Forge at The Court Theatre, Christchurch

12/09/2019 - 21/09/2019

Production Details


With the world’s spotlight on Tuvalu as the Pacific nation faces destructive consequences from climate change, Au Ko Tuvalu rips news straight from the headlines, showcasing the reality of the country’s plight in a bittersweet, poignant and affecting new play.

Written, directed and produced by Tavita Nielsen-Mamea, Au Ko Tuvalu follows three siblings preparing to leave their home for a new life in Aotearoa as the world’s first climate-change refugees.

Au Ko Tuvalu has come around at the perfect time,” says Nielsen-Mamea. “Especially for Tuvalu and the other smaller islands that are dealing with climate change on the frontlines. They don’t have the privilege of sitting back and acting like climate change isn’t real.”

With a population of just over 11,000 people, Tuvalu is the fourth-smallest state in the world, with its highest point sitting just 4.5 metres above sea level, in contrast to most of New Zealand which sits around 600 metres above sea level.

“There’s this saying that they have in Tuvalu – ‘you save Tuvalu, you save the world’,” says Nielsen-Mamea. “And it’s true – if Tuvalu goes down and no one in this world has stepped up to do anything, who’s next?”

Prior to its upcoming season in Ōtautahi, Au Ko Tuvalu first debuted as one of three developing plays in the 2018 Ē Toru festival at The Forge.

After its sold-out performance, the play went on to a development workshop with Victor Rodger through Playmarket’s Brown Ink programme, before winning two awards at the Wellington Fringe Festival and performing a return season at the Kia Mau Festival.

Now, following mentorship with Nina Nawalowalo ONZM (Artistic Director & Co-Founder of The Conch) through the Emerging Artists Trust, Au Ko Tuvalu is returning to the South Island for a full season in what feels like a full circle for this critically acclaimed production.

“This is a universal play. Even though it’s based in Tuvalu – and is in fact the first official Tuvaluan play! – the issue is universal,” Nielsen-Mamea explains.

Starring a group of rising Pasifika stars (Malia ‘Ahovelo, Spencer Papalii, Bella Robertson and Susilia Tealei Kauapa) and supported by the Tuvaluan community of Ōtautahi, Au Ko Tuvalu takes the global and abstract concept of climate change and makes it personal and relatable. While siblings Lifa and Maleko are excited for their new life in Aotearoa, their sister Fetau doesn’t want to say goodbye to their homeland.

“For some reason, we can’t have empathy for the earth like we should. But we can have empathy for other people and that’s what I’ve based this play on. If we talk about the people of Tuvalu and what they’re going through, we can ask ourselves ‘what would we do if that was us?’”

Nielsen-Mamea himself is of Samoan/Tuvaluan descent, which inspired him to write this ground-breaking production.

“What really scares me and pushed me to write this play is the question of ‘what do I say to my children’ when my kids come along – because they may never see Tuvalu. How do I explain to them why that happened and keep that culture living without any whenua? That’s why there’s that line in the play – ‘it’s hard to believe what you can’t see.’ But the truth is, we’re going to have to start doing so.”

Au Ko Tuvalu
The Forge at The Court Theatre
12 – 21 September 2019
Monday & Thursday:  6pm
Tue/Wed/Fri/Sat:  7pm
Matinee:  4:00pm Saturday 14 September
All tickets:  $20 
Bookings: phone 03 963 0870 or visit 

See BATS season details here

FETAU:  Malia ‘Ahovelo
MALEKO:  Spencer Papalii
LIFA:  Bella Robertson
AUNTY FALA:  Susilia Tealei Kauapa

Writer/Director/Producer:  Tavita Nielsen-Mamea
Stage Manager – Rehearsals:  Erica Browne
Stage Manager – Season:  Giles Tanner

Theatre ,

1hr 15min

Vitality and undeniable significance

Review by Lindsay Clark 13th Sep 2019

An irresistible spell of song and movement is cast from the moment the cast files in. The simple dignity of their lament is instantly poignant. In spite of the cheerful comedy arising from domestic wrangles as one family is caught up in the imminent evacuation of their Tuvalu home, it is the sincerity and conviction of song and dance colouring all their lives, along with the immediacy they bring to the implications of climate change, that distinguishes this as a special piece of theatre making.

The play has developed from its initial production as part of the 2018 E Toru festival at The Forge, and Playmarket’s Brown Ink programme, to award winning performances at the Wellington Fringe Festival and a mentored period with the Emerging Artists Trust. The sense of real life under the impact of climate change, as the tiny Pacific nation faces its fate, makes for fresh and compelling drama. We are positioned at the last evening before a desperate evacuation. 

Three siblings are at the packing up stage when the play opens, with two of them bursting with excitement over the life they’ll lead in Niu Sila. Schoolgirl Lifa has a ‘borrowed’ i-pad from school to help with conversational slang and her super enthusiastic fa’afafine brother Maleko is sure that he’s on the road to stardom. Only sister Fetau cannot be roused to get on with the business, clinging with increasing determination to her photographs and plants as possessions not yet destroyed by te moana which is so nearly engulfing their world.

Their sibling bickering is nothing compared to the bossy demands of Aunty Fala, a one woman wonder who is radio presenter, school principal and church leader as well as heading evacuation arrangements. There is constant comedy as these four characters interact and if the business seems at times protracted, energy, commitment and superlative drumming effects keep the whole drama on the move. 

There is strong support too from the production team and the Tagata Tuvalu Ōtautahi Community Inc, including song, dance and minor roles, so that the whole experience is imbued with authenticity.

Director Tavita Nielsen-Mamea has balanced laughter and anguish with the assurance of one who understands the complexity of the choice facing the family as they leave the land that has nourished them for so long and the old folks who for one reason or another cannot leave.

It takes a cast of equally focussed actors to maintain the depicted world. All four characters are played with heart and conviction. Bella Robertson is Lifa, especially strong in her comic playing and engagingly matched by Spencer Papalii as Maleko. The reluctant Fetau created by Malia ‘Ahovelo extends her role into the ecstasy of song and dance beautifully, and Susilia Tealei Kaupapa’s Aunty Fala is a dynamic comic character not to be forgotten.

The play is all over in little more than an hour, but its vitality and significance as the human face of drastic climate change for the peoples of the Pacific is undeniable. 


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