Awhi Tapu

TAPAC Theatre, Western Springs, Auckland

22/06/2011 - 02/07/2011

Meteor Theatre, 1 Victoria Street, Hamilton

06/07/2011 - 09/07/2011

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

13/07/2011 - 30/07/2011

Production Details

Taki Rua Productions presents a Matariki Tour of Awhi Tapu in Auckland, Hamilton & Wellingon 

Where do we stand as young people in the community? Who do we follow now all the old people have left? 

At the foot of the Urewera ranges lies Awhi Tapu – a desolate forestry ghost town; with the forestry industry closed down most of the inhabitants have left. Wendyl, Sonny, Casper and Girl Girl have only each other and their fertile imaginations to rely on. This is a story of loss, belonging, but most of all, friendship; it heralds a new wave of writing around Maori issues and characters; direct, unsentimental and challenging.

Originally commissioned and produced by Taki Rua Productions in 2003, Awhi Tapu has previously played to audiences in Wellington, Hawkes Bay, Palmerston North, Gisborne and Auckland.  In 2011 Taki Rua Productions celebrate Matariki with a restaging of this critically acclaimed production to audiences in Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington.  

When asked about the relevance of Awhi Tapu in New Zealand’s current state of affairs, playwright Albert Belz replies, “This play is about economic and spiritual destruction. It’s about revolution. It asks – how far can you exploit a people before they furiously push back – even if their struggle is a little misguided” proving that the story of Awhi Tapu is just as relevant now as it was eight years ago.

This fast, funny and moving piece delves into issues faced by young people today and the effects that change has on a small community.   


Wednesday 22nd June – Saturday 2nd July
TAPAC, 100 Motions Road, Western Springs
Tickets available from 

Wednesday 6th – 9th July
METEOR THEATRE, 1 Victoria (Cnr Victoria & Bridge Streets), Hamilton
Tickets available from 

Wednesday 13th – 30th July
DOWNSTAGE THEATRE, Cambridge Terrace, Wellington
Tickets available from 


NEW ZEALAND HERALD: ‘Two parts comedy, two parts tragedy and several shots of intense drama. ..Don’t miss the opportunity to see this play.’  

GISBORNE HERALD: ‘Sometimes hilarious, sometimes heart rending’

THEATREVIEW: The play weaves past and present, fantasy and reality, comedy and tragedy to compelling effect … he uses insightful humour to make a powerful statement about the consequences of displacing people whose need to stand tall in their own land is deeply rooted.’   

SALIENT: ‘Awhi Tapu’s revelations of small-town violence and arson generated such heat in this small theatre space that it threatened to consume the audience. With this play Albert Belz flew straight into the top echelon of Maori playwrights.’

Awhi Tapu also received an award from The Human Rights Commission for its "positive contribution towards harmonious race relations – a marvellous story, presented with humour, passion, pathos and hope."    

Matariki Whatarau, James Tito, Kura Forrester, Tola Newbery 

Set/Costume Design: Rose Kirkup
Lighting Design: Nathan McKendry
Sound Design: Thomas Press
Stage Manager: Sarah Adams
Production Manager: Pat McIntosh  

Truly remarkable revival

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 19th Jul 2011

When Awhi Tapu was first presented at Circa 2 eight years ago it was given a simple production with a symbolic misty setting representing both the thriving but troubled past and the bleak present of the dying small mill town, Awhi Tapu (pop. 200), in the Ureweras.

In Leo Gene Peters’ splendid revival of this play Rose Kirkup’s setting is full of stacked wooden crates, pallets, and broken furniture while brooding in the distance are the dark shadows of bush and mountains. The pallets are used as fences, a desk, a pool table and even a human body. 

In the Circa production the actors used no props; at Downstage props are used all the time but they are rarely conventional props and the use of a car tyre and a puppet with a small radio as its face and voice are typical of the happy invention that has gone into the production. Thomas Press’s excellent sound design and his operation of the often tricky sound effects are realistic and at times fittingly fantastical. 

The play has been revised (in the first production there was no interval), the plot lines have been made clearer and, if my memory is correct, more songs have been added but, sentimentalist that I am, I missed the final moments of the first production when Girl Girl sang Somewhere over the Rainbow

The Wizard of Oz theme that ran through the first version has been reduced, though it is still clear that the tough, embittered Wendyl still needs to find a heart, the weak Sonny is in need of some courage, and Girl Girl’s rainbow will never lead to her yearned for past.

The play starts with three mates deciding to go on a trip to Rotorua as if they were making, under Sonny’s indecisive direction, a road movie. Denzel Washington and Halle Berry are their ideal cast. Wendyl wants to rescue his Nana by kidnapping her from an old people’s home; Sonny wants to see his young son, and Casper, a Fijian Indian, tags along too.

The glorious comedy of the attempted kidnapping is followed by a return to Awhi Tapu and Wendyl’s muddled and disastrous acts of revenge for the past Treaty wrongs as well as his idealisation of the visions of the prophet Rua and his establishment of the New Jerusalem in Maungopohatu. 

If there were an award for teamwork James Tito (Wendyl), Matariki Whatarau (Casper), Tola Newbery (Sonny) and Kura Forrester (Girl Girl)) would win it hands down with their beautifully integrated, consistent and controlled high energy performances. This is truly a remarkable and vibrant revival. 
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.  


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A subtly subversive confrontation

Review by John Smythe 16th Jul 2011

The first impression is that we are gathering in a rural shed in the back of beyond for a bit of a singalong. As we arrive the bros and one sista are trotting out some old standards with a guitar and bongo drum … Hey, what else is there to do in this town?

These are not characters. They are four actors, setting the scene. Relaxed and casual, they give the obligatory housekeeping messages, then it’s into David Grace’s song about Rua Kenana, the “Tuhoe prophet from the Uruwera” who “told his people not to go to war / Let the white man fight the white man’s war”. And they are into it …

The play is not an overtly political polemic “about economic and spiritual destruction … about revolution … [asking] how far you can exploit people before they push back – even if their struggle is a little misguided.” Yes, as revealed in his programme note, that is what playwright Albert Beltz has now realised his 8 year-old play is really about, thanks to this new Taki Rua production directed by Leo Gene Peters. But his core characters are not driven revolutionaries expounding a didactic text.

They are the dregs of Awhi Tapu, the small Uruwera town that once thrived on forestry (pop. 500) until someone decided there was “not enough green” and closed it down (pop 200 and falling). And now they are telling their story: actors becoming the 4 core characters who use various theatrical devices to manifest others.

Sonny (Tola Newbery) sees it all as a James Cameron-style (“before he went all gay and Titanic”) feature film with flash Hollywood stars playing them. He’s also suffering from losing his wife and son to his brother, who has gone to join The Mob in ‘Roto Vegas’.  

Girl Girl (Kura Forrester) has stopped talking ever since her father headed into the Uruweras on a hunting trip and disappeared into the mists. She keeps the porch light on so he will find his way home. Her brother, Jack, is the reputed head of The Mobs’s Awhi Tapu chapter; the one with the car, the bucks and the power (such as it is).

Despite having grown up in this community, Fiji Indian Casper (Matariki Whatarau) is still trying to become part of this band of bros plus Girl Girl (who, we find out later, sees him as her best mate).

More enigmatic than the others to begin with is Wendyl (James Tito), who seems to be the leader of this 4-pack but has yet to find a place to stand, a way to be, something to do that gives their lives meaning.

Sick of watching The Wizard of Oz, which Girl Girl has on endless replay, they decide to liberate Nanny Hini from the old folks’ home in Rotorua, believing they care more for her than her own – who live and work in ‘Roto Vegas’ – do. It is a comic escapade that wins us over for its sadly misguided naïveté.

Then comes the crunch. Back home in the pub. At the pool table. A couple of ‘white honkies’ have made the mistake of venturing in with their superior attitudes and skills. When frustration and anger have been bottled up, a pub brawl can quickly escalate …

The stagings of these episodes are variously comical and powerful in their simplicity. The car trip, the abortive attempt to abduct Nanny, her slo-mo getaway on a mobility scooter, the pool game, the fight … If we were interrogated as witnesses, we’d recall some very real events.

Jack, voiced by a gruff ghetto-blasted recording and lip-synched by Forrester encased in a hoodie, becomes a palpable presence. Likewise Nanny Hini, in Forrester’s physical form and variously voiced by the men. And little Kimi, in her knitted pink hoodie with a small cassette player for her face. All are brilliantly brought into being by the ensemble.

The characters conform to a strong moral code of loyalty; of not narking. When Jack takes the rap for what the others started there is a seismic shift in the social topography. Love blossoms … voices return … and Wendyl discovers his purpose.

Reinventing himself as a latter-day Rua Kenana (who was inspired by Te Kooti who was inspired by Moses) Wendyl sees fire – specifically the torching of white-owned baches – as a way of calling the people back home to build “a new Jerusalem”. Girl Girl joins in to create beacons to light her father’s way home. And the others … well, what else is there to do?

So here we are, endeared to these lost souls, empathising with their concerns, witnessing thier new revolutionary code from the other side of the news headlines that inevitably announce such actions to our world. 

As a play and production Awhi Tapu is subtly subversive in the way it confronts us with socio-political issues. First produced in 2003, it precedes the 2007 Ruatoki Raids yet offers great insight into fundamentally human elements that may, at some level, prove relevant (if ever the truth, constrained by looming court proceedings, comes to light).  

It occurs to me that despite having a very different theatrical form, Awhi Tapu has much in common with Jo Randerson/Trouble’s The Lead Wait, first produced in 1997 and also revived this year (at Circa). Both are somewhat intuitive responses by then young writers to the social damage wrought on families and small communities by Rogernomics and its subsequent manifestations. In both cases the playwrights have come to a greater understanding of their work from seeing them reproduced.

Thus may we affirm the value of playwrights whose antennae are especially attuned to what’s happening around us; who give forms to truths we have to confront and comprehend if we are ever to regain control of our lives.
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.  


John Smythe July 17th, 2011

I was remiss in not crediting Rose Kirkup for her astute costumes and superb set of slatted pallets, oil drums, tyres etc, cleverly lit by Nathan McKendry – not least to evoke the spectacle of fire – completed by Thomas Press’s also excellent sound design.  

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Considerable emotional impact

Review by Nik Smythe 23rd Jun 2011

The doors open and the audience is invited in warmly by the playful beany-clad Sonny (Tola Newbery), instantly creating a sense that we are a part of this community. The impression is enhanced as the cast of three male and one female young adults wail out classic standards to a nylon string guitar while the patrons duly seat themselves. 

In a small one-shop town at the foot of the Urewera ranges, a tiny population of two hundred struggles aimlessly to rebuild a community shrunk by more than half since their primary industry, forestry, shut up shop three years earlier. The action is focussed on this small gang of young adults, each in their own way doing, or not doing whatever they can to get through the day and create a brighter future. 

The seeming eldest, Wendyl (James Tito) takes the patriarchal role in the gang, making group decisions at first with just a hint of pious righteousness, which increases as events play out. His friendly, familial demeanour belies what a dangerous force of sanctimony he will later prove to be.

Newbery’s bearded twenty-something Sonny is really a big kid whose greatest obsession is imagining the shooting script for their story. Like everyone in the crew, he’s loyal and willing to go the extra mile but never forgets that the best place to be is where the fun is. 

Girl Girl (Kura Forrester) hasn’t spoken a word or made a sound since her father disappeared into the infamous mountain mists of the Ureweras many years earlier. In Girl Girl’s silence Forrester evokes a depth of loss that stretches back through generations of painful bereavement made more tragic by her belief that her father will find his way home again one day. 

Matariki Whatarau plays simple yet complex soul Casper ‘the Hindu’, (real name Raj), a Fijian Indian who more physically resembles a native Fijian. Whatarau doesn’t attempt any obvious Indian mannerisms since his character grew up in small-town New Zealand, nonetheless his natural, open-hearted performance makes suspension of disbelief easy. 

Among the many other production highlights are the beautifully voiced performers’ live renditions of an eclectic range of songs from the opening number, Herbs’ hauntingly uplifting Tuhoe anthem Rua Kenana, thru local and international pop, rock and reggae classics, and notably Wendyl’s incredibly soulful and portentious gospel number which marks his descent into self-deluded cult leadership. 

Replete with classic bro-style humour, Albert Belz’s script is a most effective emulsifier combining the various elements of the work, resulting in a sense of cohesiveness, effectively following the Maori traditions of acknowledging all the elements and their deities, as well as their own cultural heritage and ancestry. Thus, as directed by Leo Gene Peters, the performance, technical operations, set and props are incorporated to such a degree that every part of the production, from the cast to Rose Kirkup’s set and costume design, Nathan McKendry’s lights and Thomas Press’s sound et al, naturally merge to form an organic, connected entity. 

Even the present-day OSH requirement of pre-show housekeeping points re. fire exits, phones and photos are announced in role, giving the impression we really are watching a play put on by these characters – perhaps they found it more a more affordable medium than Sonny’s ambitious Hollywood action blockbuster version? 

Worthy of particular note is the brilliant usage of various old school cassette players, providing background soundtracks and effects as well as voices for two supporting characters – Girl Girl’s hard as nails brother Jack played at different times by different actors with their hoods up, lip-synching pre-recorded dialogue playing from the ghetto blaster, and Wendyl’s precocious, capitalist motor-mouth niece Kimi, depicted as a day-glo tape machine in the hood of a knitted cardy.

Along with these more obvious examples of theatrical ingenuity are more understated aspects such as the cigarettes which are momentarily suggested but never actually smoked; a cleverly believable solution to the modern taboo of smoking on stage. 

In spite of the potential difficulties involved with maintaining a spiritual centre while employing the numerous coordinated technical effects, the emotional impact is nonetheless considerable thereby adding to the overall impressiveness of Taki Rua’s outstanding production.

In summary: Mean. 
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.  


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