Shed 6, Queens Wharf, Wellington

04/03/2020 - 07/03/2020

New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2020

Production Details

John Harvey, Co-Writer, Tainui Tukiwaho, Co-Writer & Co-Director (Te Arawa/Tūhoe)
Rachael Maza, Co-Director

ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and Te Rēhia Theatre Company

Two families, two cultures … tumeke!   

BLACK TIES reimagines the popular wedding rom-com from a distinctively First Nations perspective.

Centred around the wedding day of a Māori corporate hotshot Hera and Aboriginal consultancy entrepreneur Kane, BLACK TIES  is a hilarious and heart-warming immersive theatre experience where viewers are the guest of honour on the big day. With a live band pumping all the party favourites and wedding classics, this production will convince spectators that the power of love can unite all people – for better or worse.

This is the first time an indigenous Aboriginal First Nations theatre company and a Māori theatre company have come together to create a co-commissioned work.

Shed 6, Queens Wharf, Wellington
Wed 4 – Sat 7 Mar, 8pm
Sat 7 Mar, 1.30pm
$53 – $59 (excluding booking fees)

BLACK TIES was co-commissioned by Sydney Festival, Perth Festival, New Zealand Festival of the Arts, Auckland Festival, AsiaTOPA Festival and Brisbane Festival.

ILBIJERRI Theatre Company is Australia’s longest established First Nations theatre company. We create powerful, engaging theatre, creatively controlled by First Nations artists, that gives voice to our diverse cultures. Established in Melbourne nearly thirty years ago, as a collective of radical grass-roots theatre-makers, ILBIJERRI continues to make work with a potent political punch, and brings distinctive deadly humour to stages around the world.

Te Rēhia Theatre Company led by Amber Curreen and Tainui Tukiwaho, is a proudly Māori theatre company, championing Māori playwrights and tikanga Māori arts practice. Te Rēhia is passionate about te reo Māori (the Māori language) in theatre and the exploration of innovative ways of telling Māori stories.

John Havey, Black Ties Co-Writer:
“When we started out on this journey we wanted to make a show that our Elders, our Aunties and Uncles, in fact all of our community, could enjoy. In BLACK TIES  we have spades of that!  BLACK TIES  celebrates our rich cultures and our connection across the water between our peoples.”

Rachael Maza, Black Ties Co-Director and Artistic Director of ILBIJERRI Theatre Company:
“On and off stage, this work is a celebration of who we are as Blackfullas and Māoris: the resilience, the humour, the passion, strong family, culture, thriving despite our shared experiences of colonisation.”

Tainui Tukiwaho, Black Ties Co-Writer and Co-Director and Co-Leader of Te Rēhia Theatre Company:
“It is the ultimate act of self-determination for us as First Peoples artists to create theatre at the scale of BLACK TIES for our people, by our people and about what we think is important. We’ve started a mean party, can’t wait for everyone to join us.”

New Zealand Festival of the Arts creative director Marnie Karmelita:
“New Zealand Festival of the Arts is proud to join our colleagues and arts festival compatriots at Auckland Arts Festival and across Australia in supporting the commissioning and development of this world-first collaboration between Māori and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatre companies, Te Rēhia and Ilbijerri Theatre Companies. Get in quick; this First Nations take on the wedding rom-com is sure to sell out!”

John Harvey, Co-Writer (Saibai Island)
John is the Creative Director of Brown Cabs and is a producer, writer, and director across theatre and film as well as the writer of the Green Room Nominated and highly acclaimed Heart is a Wasteland. He has been a recipient of the Footscray Community Arts Centre Writer-In-Residence and in 2018 he was a recipient of the Malthouse Theatre Sydney Myer Fund Tower Residency. In the same year he was a recipient of Creative Victoria Creators Fund. He currently has writing commissions with Malthouse Theatre, ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and has a new work in development for Brown Cabs.

Tainui Tukiwaho, Co-Writer & Co-Director (Te Arawa/Tūhoe)
Tainui Tukiwaho has been a company director, producer, director, actor and writer of Māori theatre for a number of organisations over the last decade, leading Te Rēhia theatre, Takirua and Te Pou Theatre. His most recent directing credits include Astroman, presented in partnership by Te Rēhia Theatre and Auckland Theatre Company, Māori language play He Tūrū Māu (2018), Albert Belz’s Cradle Song (2018). He has worked with Albert Belz as director and co-creator over many projects since 2008, developing their distinctive style.

Rachael Maza, Co-Director  (Meriam Mer/Yidinji)
Having one of the most recognisable faces in the Australian film, television and theatre industry, Rachael Maza is known for her wealth of acting, directing, and dramaturgical experience and profile. Most notably, the AFI (Australian Film Institute) award-winning Radiance, stage production of The Sapphires, presented for ABC’s Message Stick, and acting coach for multi-award winning Rabbit Proof Fence. Her performances have also been acknowledged with a Green Room Award and Sydney Theatre Critics Circle Award.

Creative team
Written by
John Harvey and Tainui Tukiwaho
Directed by Rachael Maza and Tainui Tukiwaho
Set Design Jacob Nash
Composer and Musical Direction Brendon Boney
Lighting Design Jane Hakaraia
AV Design James Henry
Sound Design Laughton Kora
Costume Design Te Ura Hoskins

Nina Bonacci
Laila Thaker
Amber Curreen

Uncle Mick
Jack Charles
Kane Baker Mark Coles Smith
Sylvia Tapuwera Lana Garland
Tama-Girl Tawhirangi Macpherson
Ruth Baker Lisa Maza
Hera Tapuwera Tuakoi Ohia
Shannon Brady Peeti
Robert Tapuwera Tainui Tukiwaho
Alethea Baker Dalara Williams
Jermaine Dion Williams

Brendan Boney
Sarsaparilla Mayella Dewis
Blackie Laughton Kora

Theatre ,

Reminds us of the power of love, motherhood and the ways our ancestors taught us

Review by Grace Ahipene Hoet 15th Mar 2020

It has taken more than a week for me to process my experience of watching Black Ties. Why? Was it because I was afraid to comment or was it too close to the heart of truth that its words stung and hurt this Māori reviewer. On reflection the content at times was extremely strong, and hard-hitting truths for myself as a Māori and Indigenous person hearing potent lines that cut deep.

It is an awkward production to review and unravel, with lines such as “…you are worse than that convict scum…” – speaking of Māori living in Australia and how we treat the first nation people; not at all pretty. But, as the saying goes: “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”

The brilliant thing about Black Ties is that it is initially a romantic comedy where love knows no borders. Successful Māori corporate Hera Tapuwera (Tuakoi Ohia) and Aboriginal consultancy entrepreneur Kane Baker (Mark Coles Smith) have the right ingredients to resonate with a very wide audience, including an indigenous audience, who double as guests at their wedding.

Full credit to Tainui Tukiwāho and John Harvey for a courageous, hard-hitting script that makes you either laugh nervously, cringe or shrink – e.g. when Ruth (Lisa Maza) shouts, “Oh you Māoris, think you’re so effin’ cultural!” the quick fire retort from Sylvia (Lana Garland) is: “I’ve had yeast infections with more culture than the lot of ya!”

Black Ties is a co-production by Illbijerri Theatre and Te Rehia Theatre, co-directed by Rachel Maza and Tainui Tukiwaho. Their ingenious direction keeps a fine balance between chaos, mayhem and calm as the action and a camera keep rolling.

The blend of humour with stunning singing and music allows Black Ties to achieve a genuinely funny production. Its use of multimedia is refreshing: the live-streaming of action outside of the theatre makes for eavesdropping viewing. On top of that, the show realistically conveys the struggle of cultural differences between nations, cultures, whanau and couples.

For this indigenous writer it’s hard not to fall in love with the characters who closely resemble those from my own whanau. Many a rural Māori would understand the uniqueness of the Tapuwera Whānau from Ruatoki.

Instant parallels to my whanau in Ohinemutu are drawn up, each with their own unity, dysfunctionality and idiosyncrasies bound by the cultural frameworks of the Pā. For example, when we try combining a warrior Māori culture with an ancient Aboriginal Blak culture, we step into deep layers of mamae (pain); ancestral wounds that run so deep that the fiery one liners spit out years of pain and abuse.

Black Ties holds nothing back, the two cultures represented by the two Mamas, Ruth Baker and Sylvia Tapuwera, played beautifully by Lisa Maza and Lana Garland, deliver brilliantly rebutted arguments (see above), each giving a truthful verbal assault on each other and their respective cultures. 

It is a fierce exchange of cultural put-downs and racism that truthfully reflect the many massive issues that surround First Nation peoples: persecution, oppression, stolen lands, colonised and suppressed cultures, forbidden languages, stolen generations, violence and centuries of abuse, urban drift, loss of identify and low self-esteem. And the many modern vices and repercussions that go with this: drugs, alcohol, poverty homelessness and the destruction of family ties.

Maza and Ohia give stunning tour-de-force performances as Indigenous mothers who have held the heart of their families together, signifying their strength and resilience to centuries of persecution and oppression. By simplying being present and defending their child, they defend a nation. 

The quick-witted sharp tongue of the next generation is portrayed beautiful with the ferocious but humorous performances of Alethea Baker (Dalara Williams) and Shannon (Brady Peeti). Williams and Peeti create the comedic relief that allows the audience to laugh and breathe. The insightful, complex tone of put-downs in their outstanding performances make the barbs more palatable to swallow.

Is there hope? Always! The saving grace is the Elders and the Grandchildren, the mokopuna – the wise and the honest – where both cultures hold the elders and children with the highest of value. What is our most precious taonga? Our Elders and our Children, represented by Uncle Mick played by Jack Charles and Tama-Girl played by Tawhirangi Macpherson

Their magic moments are where Uncle Mick’s wedding speech manages to stop all the dramatic action by his banal conversation with little Pearls of Wisdom interjected, while MacPherson’s Tama-Girl beautifully halts all anger and frustrations with her honest, heartfelt, moving waiata and words. She manages to reinstate her emasculated father, Robert Tapuwera (Tainui Tukiwāho) through her aroha and hope for a better future. The power of love can unite across nations, cultures and wrongs.

Black Ties reconnects us with our land and our people; it reminds us of the power of love, the power of motherhood, and the power of our ways that our ancestors taught us. Their efforts have ensured that we will continue to survive and thrive as a people. 


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Surprising insights

Review by John Smythe 05th Mar 2020

Two families, alike in indigeneity,
But split by culture and the Tasman sea
Not to mention their ancient and relatively recent histories …  

This is the premise of the much-anticipated ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and Te Rēhia Theatre co-production Black Ties, co-written by John Harvey and Tainui Tukiwaho who co-directs with Rachael Maza. The course of true love between Māori corporate hotshot Hera Tapuwera (Tuakoi Ohia) and Aboriginal consultancy entrepreneur Kane Baker (Mark Coles-Smith) – both Sydney-based – gets more than a little bumpy once marriage is proposed.

Kane’s plan to pop the question from a fertile vantage point in the Blue Mountains is not helped by his adoptive brother and prospective Best Man, Jermaine (Dion Williams). And Hera will not answer until they have met each other’s family.  

It’s the mothers who hold the remnants of their respective families together. We – sitting at tables in anticipation of the hoped-for wedding reception, facing a wide stage in the long oblong Shed 6 space – get to meet Hera’s whānau in Whakatāne before Kane does. Sylvia Tapuwera (Lana Garland) is clearly deeply pissed off with husband Robert (Tainui Tukiwaho) while their other daughter, Tama-Girl (Tawhirangi Macpherson), has written a love song and just wants to practice it with her guitar-strumming dad.  

It emerges that 15 years ago, when Hera was seven, Robert took off to Western Australian to work in the mines for very good money, some of which may or may not have found its way back to Sylvia. Absent dads turn out to be an issue for both families. What’s more the Stolen Generation atrocity has impacted Ruth Baker (Lisa Maza) and her mob so strongly that keeping her family together is her top priority. She can turn in an instant, like the Melbourne weather – which is where they live.

Nevertheless, unaware that marriage is in the air, Ruth makes a great effort to prepare for their meet-up with her son’s new girlfriend in a culturally appropriate manner – much to the embarrassment of daughter Alethea (Dalara Williams), although her musician husband Tony (Brendan Boney) is not averse to a bit of Polynesian dress-up. Their respected Elder, sartorial Uncle Mick (Jack Charles), is a benign presence amid the turmoil as he quietly makes his own political statement with his choice of rag to polish his shoes.  

There is lots of fun to be had as the respective families meet Hera and Kane, and do their best in good faith to respect each other’s culture. The Tapuwera whānau’s attempt to welcome Kane with a pōwhiri makes for memorable cringe-comedy as guitarist cuz Blackie (Laughton Kora) somewhat bungles the wero and Jermaine’s unwitting response is seen as an insult.

The backdrop serves as a screen for impressive AV projections (designed by James Henry) that establish locations and capture their ambiance. Text messages are also projected, as is a Facetime hook-up that reveals another cousin, the hyper-emotional Shannon (Brady Peeti) and Blackie have a deeply romantic thing for each other. And although both Sylvia and Shannon come on strong to Jermaine, he will only have eyes for the band’s percussionist, Sarsaparilla (Mayella Dewis). So love is in the air every which way – abetted by the trio’s musicianship and some beautiful singing from everyone.

Tensions arise, however, once Hera accepts Kane’s proposal and their engagement is announced – cue “Are you hapu?” as a running gag, until it’s not. Jasmine and Sylvia’s fear-fuelled rants against each other’s cultures bring many chickens home to roost and will shock, surprise and enlighten many in the audience to varying degrees. Suffice to say the stakes are both high and well and truly in the ground when interval intervenes.

We are obliged to remove to the not exactly hospitable foyer of Shed 6 for quite some time, it seems, while the venue is reset for the wedding reception. So while we wait, a brief diversion, if I may:

In Australia, the ‘wedding reception as immersive theatre’ genre was pioneered by the Australian Performing Group at Melbourne’s tiny La Mama Theatre in 1969, with Jack Hibberd’s Dimboola, set in the Mechanics Institute Hall of the small town of the same name (in Western Victoria’s Wimmera region). It satirises and celebrates Australian lifestyles and values by marrying Catholic Reen to Protestant Morrie, thereby rendering the reception a disaster zone. By 1978 it was estimated the play had been seen by over 350,000 people and the claim is made that more Australians have seen Dimboola than any other stage musical, comedy or straight play.

Fun fact: when the APG revived Dimboola at The Pram Factory in 1973, Jack Charles played ‘local drunk and wit’, Mutton (with Max Gillies as his co-gatecrasher, Bayonet). So after an eventful 47 years – see his memoir, Jack Charles: Born-again Blakfella) – ‘Uncle Jack’, as he is now known, has come full circle to another wedding reception, this time as an honoured guest.

Sylvia defers to ‘Mumma Ruth’ whose welcome includes, “Our hearts are in our country. Follow your heart, son. It will lead you where you need to be.” We sense a foreboding resonance here. But the happy couple are out having their photos taken and Shannon and Alethea are roaming the room, reporting on the gossip they ‘overhear’ among the guests (us) as camera-toting Tama-Girl captures it all for our benefit.

While I can see the idea is to capture the typical ‘down’ phase in a wedding reception, this Festival audience is ready to see the well set-up drama play out and the unfocused drop in energy puts a dampener on proceedings. Perhaps on their Australian tour the audiences were well tanked up and it worked, but we are sober, attentive and ready for action.

The band covers Renée Geyer’s ‘It Only Happens When I Look at You’ to bring Hera and Kane in, Robert makes a speech in te reo, Uncle Mick pays respects to the people of this land … and some video messages are screened from absent friends. All is going swimmingly until Shannon has a meltdown – I’m not clear why (something about betrayal) and Tama-Girl’s camera gives us a feed to her drunken outbursts in a concrete bunker somewhere. This disrupts the speeches, somewhat, from The Bride and Broom then the Best Man – which is surprising in its sincerity.

But the Sylvia v Robert conflict is far from resolved. When Alethea steps in for Shannon and speak fondly to her sister, Shannon threatens a “waiata tau teke” (a gag speakers of te reo will enjoy). A ‘battle of the songs’ breaks out between the families, in their respective languages – and it miraculously merges into a symbiotic performance. This bodes well and could be more strongly marked, I feel, with a ‘what just happened?’ moment before yet another Sylvia jab at Robert breaks the mood and Robert’s spirit.  

As conflict escalates once more, Uncle Mick steps up as the authoritative moderator – and here Jack Charles’ wonderfully resonant voice must be acknowledged. I’m not sure why so many of the others feel the need to shout so often, despite all wearing radio mics. Perhaps their reading of the room’s acoustics will improve.

There is lots to resolve and sure enough it happens, with Tama-Girl getting to sing her song and have her say, and the wise voice of Uncle Mick prevailing. We leave with a good feeling – many of us surprised, I suspect, by how much we’ve been challenged to understand better in the process of being entertained.  

For here is a tale that draws joy from pain
For wāhine toa Hera and her good man Kane  
– and for their families which remain central even when they are far away.

Black Ties, so cleverly named, is an admirable initiative that proves how well theatre can confront social issues by entertainingly revealing truths we need to hear. John Harvey, Tainui Tukiwaho, Rachael Maza and the whole company deserve great accolades for this mahi. 

[Full disclosure: Back in the day I worked with Jack Charles and his Nindethana Theatre partner Bob Maza, father of Rachel and Lisa, at The Pram Factory.]


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