BLESS THE CHILD
28/02/2018 - 04/03/2018
New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2018
WORLD PREMIERE SEASON
A child has died and Shardae, mother of the child, is held guilty until proven otherwise.
A power-hungry lawyer, Khan Te Ahi Richards, is reluctantly dragged into the case to defend the mother as the whānau close ranks. And rumbling from beneath is Rūaumoko, god of earthquakes and unborn children. Now the mother, the lawyer and the wayward ones are all in search of an answer – who took the life of baby Ara?
Challenging and thought-provoking, Bless the Child is a story of life and death, good versus evil. In an unflinching look at our society through a Māori lens, it uncovers the truth of our shared humanity – to protect the child.
“The idea came from my mother … She said ‘We are hurting our children’.” Hone Kouka and Mīria George talk to Lynn Freeman on Standing Room Only
Wednesday 28 Feb – Sunday 04 Mar 2018
Adult A $49.00 | Adult B $39.00
Pricing excludes service fee More about ticket categories
Contains nudity, strong language and violence
Shardae – Carrie Green
Hinemoa – Moana Ete
Khan – Regan Taylor
Robinson – Ani-Piki Tuari
Iraia – Scotty Cotter
Pohe – Shania Bailey-Edmonds
Amanda – Maia Diamond
Taylor – Lionel Wellington
Writer & Producer – Hone Kouka
Director – Mīria George
Set Designer – Mark McEntyre
Lighting Designer – Natasha James
Lead Sound Designer – Te Aihe Butler
Additional Sound – Chris Ward
Composers – Hohepa Waitoa and K*Saba
Costume Designer – Cara Louise Waretini
Costumier – Elysia Ellis
Stage Manager – Karena Letham
Technical Operator – Te Aihe Butler
Production Manager – Glenn Ashworth
Associate Producer – Helena-Jane Kilkelly
Fight Choreographer – Allan Henry
Vocal Coach – Jon Hunter
Set Construction – Finn Robson Marsden
Construction Assistants – Simon Manns, Mattias Olofsson
Lighting Pre-production – Morgan Whitfield
Set Dressing – Wai Mihinui
Photographer – Matt Grace
2hrs 20mins (incl. interval)
A potent and insightful korero
Review by John Smythe 01st Mar 2018
Hone Kouka’s Bless the Child explores, and seeks to bridge, the gulf between being judgemental and achieving justice; between passionately held subjective opinions and objective truth. In accepting the wero laid down by his late mother, “in regards to Māori, our tamariki and where we are as a people in today’s society,” Kouka confronts the issue of violence against children. While it is not only a Māori issue, he contains his korero within Te Ao Māori and at its margins.
By the time Bless the Child became a co-winner of the Adam NZ Play Award in 2015, a number of non-accidental deaths of innocents had imprinted names like Delcelia, Chris and Cru, Nia and Moko on the national consciousness. The play adds baby Ara to the ‘roll of dishonour’. Her solo mother Shardae, who claims she was not there when her home-alone baby was killed, is judged guilty of wilful neglect, at the very least, in the court of public opinion until proven otherwise by due process.
The dramatic context Kouka has created includes the rumblings of Rūamoko, god of earthquakes and unborn children; an impending severe storm; a family law solicitor on parental leave with a newborn baby and her high-profile barrister husband with political aspirations: all resonating strongly with the current news cycle.
Mark McEntyre’s metallic set cages Shardae in a raised box, furnished to suggest the high-rise apartment she is being held in for her own protection before her trial. Below and in front is another place of imprisonment. The minimalist home of Hinemoa and Khan Te Ahi Richards takes centre stage, above which is a level that brings people closer to the gods. Natasha James’ lighting design, unobtrusively operated by Tony Black, serves the action well.
Khan makes a powerful and troubling impact with a public speech that indicates he has been asked to defend “the girl” but is enraged by this violence that keeps contaminating the public perception of Māori. This korero is referred to throughout the play and is the cause of gentle but firm coaching from Hinemoa: the highly astute power behind the desired throne.
As he colludes with “The Party” to (ab)use Shardae for political gain, Regan Taylor exudes all the charisma and hubris required to take Khan to great heights before the inevitable fall. It would be a spoiler to reveal more: suffice to say the storm brings his torment to a climax of Lear-like proportions.
Moana Ete’s Hinemoa exquisitely personifies the wisdom and order required to navigate them through the chaos, until she too has a moment of self-realisation that shakes her profoundly. And who among us can honestly say we have not done, or would not do, the same? This only strengthens her status and our empathy with her, and the way she deals with the sudden life-or-death crisis that follows becomes the dramatic high-point of the play.
The relationship between Hine and Khan is intriguingly layered and beautifully portrayed. Nevertheless I can’t help but wonder whether there might be more dramatic value in a clearer separation between Khan’s public image as a professional man and his privately expressed attitudes and secret machinations – but that might be a Pākehā mindset creeping in there.
Mata Robinson (Ani-Piki Tuari), the intern tasked with gathering the facts, draws our attention to how whanau functions in this world: being related demands familial loyalty; not being related disenfranchises you. This is a crucial dimension of Kouka’s enquiry.
Meanwhile, disinclined to let the official justice system take its course, a group of young people – Amanda (Maia Diamond), her boyfriend Taylor (Lionel Wellington) and Shardae’s cousin Pohe (Shania Bailey-Edmonds) – have taken things into their own hands by abducting a man called Irāia (Scotty Cotter), in the belief he knows who killed baby Ara.
The lack of logic, let alone strategy, in their actions (how do they expect him to answer when he is gagged?) converges with the central thread of ill-judged, anger-fuelled reactions. Amanda is pumped, increasingly psychopathic and could be ready to kill for the thrill of it, if Taylor was not more inclined to seek guidance from the elemental gods. Their love for each other (redolent of Bonnie and Clyde) adds compelling complexity to the dynamically performed duo.
The abduction plot strand allows the ‘feral’ subculture to be shown rather than told, not least in Cotter’s alternately passive and aggressive performance. Initially presenting as tagging along for the ride, it is Pohe who turns out to be the humane one. Significantly her basic compassion and kindness towards Irāia is the key to unlocking the mystery. Much-need touches of humour arise from Bailey-Edmonds performance which I hope will consolidate as the season grows.
Central to, yet largely separated from, all this behaviour is Carrie Green’s Shardae: angry at being separated from her other two children and shut away in alien surroundings; compulsively abusive to all who try to help her … Her own worst enemy, she makes it easy for us to judge her negatively – and it’s important we register those responses within ourselves – before her vulnerability starts to show through her self-defeating defensiveness. Green’s wonderfully elusive yet insightful performance serves the core concerns of the play with great skill.
It’s a shame the doorway to Sharday’s apartment is upstage left as it makes the staging of her attempt to confront the baying hoards awkward and less effective than it needs to be. It cries out for direct address to us and I can’t help but wonder if a dramatic device could facilitate that – especially as Khan and Hine both address us directly. (Could we be the crowd outside a window, perhaps?)
Some scenes seem to simply remind us of a plot strand without significantly advancing the action, suggesting the text could be trimmed, but it’s hard to be sure of that on a single viewing. Also it is a mark of classic tragedy that the intense drama is counterpointed with comedy and, as well as the comedy-of-innocence referred to above, with Pohe, I feel there is potential for dark humour to arise elsewhere.
That said, director Mīria George honours the complexities of the central relationships and gives them time to breathe while keeping the pace cracking along.
Cara Louise Waretini’s costume designs enrich our perceptions of each character. Te Aihe Butler’s sound design – not least the constant crying of the newborn – and Hohepa Waitoa’s compositions (with additional music from K* Saba) add depth and texture to this powerful work. The final waiata, sung by the whole cast, is superbly rendered.
While this world premiere season may (as always) present possibilities for improvement to the creators, Bless the Child contributes a potent and insightful korero on an issue that concerns us all.
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