AU KO TUVALU
BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
20/03/2019 - 23/03/2019
It’s time to say the last goodbyes. Our mother is drowning. We have run out of time. GOD SAVE TUVALU.
God Promised Noah that he would never flood the earth again. Now the land lays barren, the water polluted, food scarce and the future dim. Three siblings must abandon their homeland to survive. Does hope lie across the sea? With the promise of a new life… In lands which they must call “home” but can never call their own.
Meet those at the front lines of a changing world. Those who are forced to watch their country’s decimation. Face to face, with the monstrous Tai Fanaka, which now visits the people daily, terrorising their families and homes. Once great navigators of the mighty Pacific Ocean, Tuvalu’s people now have fallen to their defeat.
Experience a show of the everyday lives of the people living at the mercy of the sea, on land. Those whose fate was chosen by the greed of others. Those who war cry help into the wind, those who took it upon themselves to fight, knowing they were fighting a battle that would not be won…
Time has run out. Save Tuvalu, You save the World.
BATS Theatre The Heyday Dome
20 – 23 March 2019
Full Price $20
Concession Price $15
Group 6+ $14
Addict Cardholder $14
*Access to The Heyday Dome is via stairs, so please contact the BATS Box Office at least 24 hours in advance if you have accessibility requirements so that appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS.
Story of love and hope leaves your stomach knotted and your eyes stinging
Review by Salote Cama 07th Jun 2019
Au Ko Tuvalu is an ode to the sacrifices that survival asks. “God Promised Noah that he would never flood the earth again,” the BATS ‘What’s On’ page tells us. “Now the land lays barren, the water polluted, food scarce and the future dim. Three siblings must abandon their homeland to survive. Does hope lie across the sea, with the promise of a new life… in lands which they must call ‘home’ but can never call their own?”
Written and directed by Tavita Nielson-Mamea and featuring Nupaia Talake, Malia Ahovelo, Talia-Rae Mavaega and Susilia Tealei Kauapa, with compositions by Nupaia Talake, this is a powerhouse showcase of talents, stories, music and legacies from the proud nation of Tuvalu.
The first character we get introduced to is the supermodel/ princess/ principal/ minister/ radio announcer Aunty Fala. She is played by the charming Susilla Tealei Kauapa, who wields a fan at record speed. Aunty Fala is both frantic, trying to hurry along the packing process, and ready to take a moment to divulge the gossip she heard about her frenemy Eseka. Nielson-Mamea’s story allows us to poke fun at her but also recognises that she is what is keeping the Island together.
From there we meet Fetau, the concerned older sister who is played by Malia Ahovelo. Ahovelo does the dramatic heavy lifting of the performance. She is able to inhabit the innate sadness and the resolute strength of this character. Her harmonies are sweet as is the grace of her Fatele. The climax of Ahovelo’s performance, in which Fetau reveals her truth, is heartbreaking. Her truth is something you see coming but still delivers a devastating gut punch.
Maleko is the middle brother who is poised to be a star, ready to take on bed linens, instructions for his sister or Mr Lavalava – whichever the audience needs. Maleko draws the audience’s attention, whether he is teasing his little sister or following his aunty’s instructions. Maleko also provides the comedic highlight of the show, retelling the story of the dove sent out by Noah from his Ark. Nupaia Talake’s beautiful music also shines through this character, who sets the tempo and leads the singing.
Lifa is the quintessential youngest sister. Forever questioning and insatiably curious, but also annoying if you’re going by what older siblings say. Talia-Rae Mavaega’s performance allows Lifa to be a contradiction: terrified of Niu Sila but ready for the adventure; bold enough to skip school and steal Principal Aunty’s i-Pad but not bold enough to face her afterward. Mavaega gets the audience on her side by being a great physical presence and a charismatic actor – any performer that can proclaim “God is the biggest liar of them all” to a room of Tuvaluan elders and still have them on side at the end of the scene is an enigma.
Nielson-Mamea has created a story that is poignant. He also does not shy away from comedic moments to let us see sibling dynamic between the three leads that feels recognisable, which does not take away from the heft of the more serious ideas. He allows his cast to explore a range of emotions that would come with such a traumatic event.
Au Ko Tuvalu has been described as a love song to Tuvalu, and it is. It is one of those love songs that is tugs at your heart, not just for its beautiful, carrying melodies but because it leaves your stomach knotted and your eyes stinging. The story of Aunty Fala, Fetau, Maleko and Lifa is a complicated story. It is a story of love and hope. It is a story of family and the stories that live in them. It is a story of survival, and the costs that we can’t bear to think about.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Heartwarming and heartwrenching
Review by Claire O’Loughlin 22nd Mar 2019
The first play by writer and director Tavita Nielsen-Mamea, Au Ko Tuvalu is both heartwarming and heartwrenching. Set in Tuvalu in the not-too-distant future, it tells the story of siblings Fetau, Maleko and Lifa and their Aunty Fala as they pack up their home and prepare to leave for Niu Sila. They don’t want to, but sea levels are rising and Tuvalu is soon to be completely under water.
Although the play follows a traditional scripted narrative, it is whānau , connections and sharing of different perspectives that pushes it along, rather than any real building drama. There are four lead actors but another five people sit behind them upstage, playing music, singing and listening. For me it is the single strongest and most affecting image in the show, to have a large whānau of different ages there on stage, supporting the performers and never allowing us to forget all Tuvaluan people, past, present and future.
The characters and their relationships are the strength and core of the script. Neilsen-Mamea clearly understands family dynamics, with each character well crafted and brilliantly brought to life by an all-star cast.
Bella Robertson is hilarious as Aunty Fala, a bit scary but full of heart. She is organising the exodus from the island on to the boat, the urgency of which is at odds with her languid ‘island time’ persona. But while this lazy, slow pace is funny and warm, I also see sadness and a reluctance to actually get around to leaving.
Lifa, played with full energy by Talia-Rae Mavaega, is the one most eager to get going to Niu Sila, but she is also scared of not fitting in and represents all the fears of being foreign and different in a new land. She’s stolen Aunty’s ‘iPac’ (iPad) in order to learn Niu Sila slang and vigorous, agressive hiphop dancing, and would rather do that than practice the beautiful, calm fatele with her big sister Fetau, played with softness and grounded strength by Malia ‘Ahovelo. It’s through Fetau that we see the real sorrow and trauma of having to uproot and leave their home, this place where they have always, always lived.
Spencer Papali’i is delightful as the glamourous queen Maleko, clearly the middle sibling who negotiates everything, and both picks on and covers up for his little sister Lifa. A high point is his sassy retelling of the Noah’s Ark story, which, although played lightly, is also forboding – we just assume the dove that never came back after the flood found a good place to live, but we don’t actually know what happened to it, just as this family don’t know what Niu Sila will be like. All they can do is hope.
There is definitely room for development in both the script and production. Parts of the script that are not clear – Lifa makes a transition at some point from not wanting to leave to being eager to, the logic of which I don’t quite follow. The big annoucement that some people are chosing to stay feels like a key moment but its purpose in plot isn’t clear as nothing really happens, and it also weakens the initial powerful statement that everyone must leave. Also sometimes the comedy sits oddly against the serious message of climate change. I long to be allowed to sit with and lean in more to the weight, sadness and anger of the story.
The building drama of the play is the storms that become more frequent, shown mostly through the electricity cutting out. In one blackout there is a beautiful scene with the siblings looking at photos of their family and ancestors by torchlight, with members of the chorus standing up to play the ancestors. If the play is developed (and I think it should be), there is real potential to bring climate change – storms, floods, water – into the story and onto the stage through sound and lighting effects in a bigger way. In a play about climate change, I really want to feel the presence of the environment onstage more.
But overall, the feeling I take away from Au Ko Tuvalu is one of warmth and sadness. Nielsen-Mamea is a talented writer who has written a beautiful story on a big and terrifying topic and focused it on what matters most: the Tuvaluan people.
It is impossible to watch anyting right now without the recent horrific mosque attacks in Christchurch in mind. Au Ko Tuvalu is a poignant reminder that many immigrants to New Zealand do not want to leave their homes, especially if they are coming as refugees. But they have to, because our Pālangi greed has ruined their home.
In the final moment, as the light fades on Fetau looking out to a new life across the sea, all I want is for Niu Sila to be welcoming, kind and to live up to the hopes of everyone who comes here.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
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