Whitireia Performance Centre, 25-27 Vivian Street, Wellington

14/08/2012 - 01/09/2012

Production Details

“But all we’ll do is throw you a bone, a single bone and then watch all you mongrels turn on each other.”  

The second Taranaki War is raging and New Plymouth is a garrison town under siege. The British Imperial Army have returned to England, leaving the country to Māori and Pākehā to fight over “He iwi tahi tātou” no longer. To the victor the spoils: a lush unspoilt country ripe for farming and the right to rewrite history as they see fit. To the loser: the slow, systematic loss of everything held dear, starting with their land and freedom.

But in 1869 the war is a far cry from the south coast of Wellington, where Tāiki Kenning has settled in marital bliss with his Pākehā bride Hannah-May. There, Tāiki and Hannah-May keep the homefires of Te Miti burning, in the hope that one day his people will return. But as a storm brews overhead and Hannah-May begins to dream of terrors in the forest, a pack of dogs appear with a warning for Tāiki.  

the underTOW project is a series of plays that aim to cast light on the legacy and unknown stories of our country’s founding document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi   

Whitireia Performance Centre, 25 Vivian Street, Wellington 
11th August – 1st September
Tuesday – Saturday

Ticks all the boxes

Review by Lynn Freeman 29th Aug 2012

A Jim Moriarty directed production is like no other. Large casts of young actors who don’t need formal institutional training to give unforgettable performances. They just need Moriarty’s guidance and direction and scripts full of historical fact, spiritual presence and boundless imagination.

Helen Pearse-Otene ticks all those boxes with her play set during the tumultuous years of the second Taranaki War. Maori-Pakeha relations are strained, though intermarriage is happening. Iwi are being decimated and families divided by the relentless Pakeha hunger for land.

Pearse-Otene introduces us to Hannah-May Kenning and her Maori husband Taiki ‘Jack’ Kenning. While Hannah-May’s father has allowed the marriage and held Jack’s parents in high regard, he is consumed with jealousy for Jack’s iwi land, prime real estate on the Wellington coast. Jack is conflicted, walking in both the Maori and Pakeha worlds. His brother Kuritea is outlawed for fighting Pakeha soldiers, but Jack works for Pakeha as a scout – he sees it as a way of ensuring peace rather than betrayal. There is outside this family a large canvas of characters, migrants and soldiers, Maori and spirits.

The Dog reference in the play’s title is worked into the production on several levels. The breathtaking dog show opening sequence sees Pakeha ‘pedigrees’ up against Maori mongrels. But the metaphor extends much wider and deeper as the play progresses.

In these productions it feels unfair to single out actors for particular praise, with every one of the cast of almost 30 giving it their all. The same holds true for all of those backstage. The production is meaningful and memorable, it takes risks, it is full of life and full of sadness, and in this heady mix is also hope. 


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An engaging work with many strands

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 24th Aug 2012

A group of actors performing as a pack of dogs yapping at the ankles of the audience as they enter the auditorium is a rather unique and unusual way to start a play.  This though is not surprising given the style and presentation of Te Rakau Trust’s epic tale Dog and Bone, currently play at the Whitireia Performing Arts Centre. 

As part of the Trust’s underTOW series, began in 2010 with Helen Pearse-Otene’s The Ragged, the group continues to “shed light on the legacy and unknown stories of our country’s founding document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi”.

Using a combination of traditional marae rituals with European theatre techniques, the story, a fictional one based on historical facts, concerns part Maori, part Pakeha Taiki ‘Jack’ Kenning (Ian Lesa) and his Pakeha wife Hannah-May (Sarah Mcmillan) and her father William (Neil Connolly) and brother Robbie (Matt Deussller) living in the family home, Te Miti, on Wellington’s south coast.  Also present is Jack’s brother Kuritea (Kereama Te Ua).

A group of colonial women also arrive to take up residence at Te Miti. While peace and harmony reigns around the family, up country the Taranaki wars are raging.

Initially insulated from what is happening outside their world, the troubles up north soon begin to impinge on the family as all three men leave to become involved with dire consequences.

And around the periphery of the action a chorus prowls, Ngati Irawaru, observing and sometimes becoming involved in the action.

Lyrical and poetic, Pearse-Otene’s writing is grand and operatic and while the many strands of the story at times need further work to consolidate the story more, the large cast under Jim Moriarty’s direction nevertheless bring it all together with sincerity, commitment and loads of energy. 

Filling the large space of the Whitireia Performing Arts Centre is no mean feat yet this production does so admirably. The performances, both individually and as a group, are big, bold and totally engaging.

Underlying the performances is One Finger Composer’s very evocative original score which adds much to the atmosphere of the piece, as does Sean Ashton Peach’s lighting design.

While the events occurring in Dog and Bone may not be well known the message given out of our shared history and the consequences then and now is loud and clear.

And the use of Te Reo Maori in the production, un-translated, adds much to this fascinating and unique piece of theatre that not only challenges many of our perceptions of theatre but is also highly entertaining. 


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Respect for honesty and power

Review by Maraea Rakuraku 22nd Aug 2012

“How can you change what is deep inside you?” says one of the younger members of the cast. Dog and Bone references conflicts between Māori and Pākehā, and the sides chosen by either parties during the Taranaki Wars in the 1860s. 

Starting with The Ragged (2010), Dog and Bone is the second episode of their underTOW trilogy series, which examines New Zealand’s colonial history through the medium of the fictitious Māori Ngāti Irawaru people and Pākehā Settler family, the Kenning’s.

Set in Wellington’s South Coast, Dog and Bone picks up with the 2nd generation of the Kenning whānau, comprised of Jack and Hannah May, Jack’s Pākehā wife. We meet the young, idealistic couple whose lives become altered by events playing out around them.  Yet it’s not a tragedy.  This is, to me, straightforward storytelling that I suspect some could find challenging because of the truth of history, of New Zealand’s history, within it. As Hannah May realises at the end, “Everything I have is built upon someone else’s misery.” 

Dog and Bone is a sensory pleasure on all counts. I was half-expecting to smell the sea in one scene.  Entering to dogs barking was frankly confronting and a little uncomfortable but absolutely necessary and engaging. It became apparent to me just how well connected that was to the story, once it settled, because Helen Pearse-Otene’s writing has switched up since The Ragged. The dialogue is sharper and the narrative, while rambling in parts, is more sophisticated.

While it’s hard to distinguish some of the secondary male characters, the females are so distinctively characterised that even now, 12 hours later, I can recall their accent and dress.  Some of the dialogue, which does get lost due to mumbling, and/or a drop in actor volume, or perhaps it’s just too much to get out, is poetic. And because of that I want to hear it. I’ve seen three other Te Rakau productions in the past and this is by far the most lyrical. 

Settling 20 minutes into Dog and Bone, it’s starting to feel like a music number is going to get busted out during a monologue. Then it does. And they keep on coming. I’m not a fan of musical productions but all the music /waiata /haka performed here really does highlight the time and place of the setting.

The soundscape is perfectly matched. The simple set is brilliantly realised and in one scene it reminded me of a boat because duh, it is a boat. Nice, as is the lighting. The costuming is spot on and the pikau bags are a nice touch.

One of the strengths of Te Rakau productions is the age spread.  While the bulk of the cast are twenty-somethings, it’s neat seeing the kids, Hariata and Tamati Moriarty who acted in The Ragged. At one stage I am so mesmerised by Hariata, I miss the action in the foreground. Having them present in the final scene is very poignant.

One word comes to mind: powerful. I count 24 actors at the opening scene and then 25; where did he come from? That’s one thing that can be guaranteed about Te Rakau productions – actors turn up half way even three quarters of the way through. Love it. 

The performances seem very equal which, for me, means the storytelling is.  I’m not distracted by obvious villains and right there we are seeing the Māori /Pākehā dynamic (as reflected in Te Tiriti o Waitangi) in practice.

From the bios on the wall, many of the cast are from the Whitireia Performing Arts Programme which brings me to this: are Māori not doing those courses?  While I will take seeing Polynesians on stage in any manner, it’s always preferable to see ethnicities acting their own ethnicity, especially here in Aotearoa. It’s distracting seeing a half-clad Jack wearing tatau and surely we don’t need to add to the raft of reasons mainstream companies use, to not spread that casting net widely and appropriately?

Given that, all performances – including Ian Lesa’s Taiki ‘Jackie’ Kenning – are believable, so-much-so that, seeing a wahine Māori playing an English woman is brilliant casting right there.  Ani Morris, who knew? I hope to see her perform again and often.  

It’s obvious kapa haka veteran Kereama Te Ua has had an influence on Dog and Bone as the movement in the piece is choreographed beautifully. His turn as Kuritea Kenning makes me think, no believe, he is meant for stage, perhaps even film. He should be seen because there is a huge talent there. He brings a depth to his performance that seems effortless.

As it should because of the time and setting, Dog and Bone definitely has more reo than former productions. Therefore, it seems awkward to hear Ngāti Irawaru speak English as so much of their action and movement is for want of a better word, Te Ao Māori oriented.  My ears are expecting te reo Māori and while Kuritea obliges, I want it – all the time. The unapologetic shift (hooray) between te reo Māori and English used by others in the cast, is blissful, adding to the authenticity of the time when the piece is based.  Even so, I look forward to the day when theatre of this kind can be delivered equally in both languages and that as a nation, we not only understand it but accept it wholeheartedly without the usual fears. 

Despite a clunky slightly preachy statement towards the end, this is rollicking, confronting, compelling and highly entertaining theatre deserving of a wider audience. As for Te Rakau o Te Hua Trust, what they and their whānau do is important and vital not only for the industry but for us as a nation.  In every one of their productions we are witnessing how engaging across cultures can grow us all (read the bios of the cast on the wall as you walk in) and how an honest account of our colonial history can be presented as entertainment yet still get it’s point across unapologetically. Respect.  


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Highly unique community theatre a 'must see'

Review by Helen Sims 15th Aug 2012

Dog and Bone is a follow up to 2010’s The Ragged, part of Te Rakau’s underTOW series, which seeks to shed light on “the legacy and unknown stories” connected with Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  

Although the play follows on from The Ragged in terms of characters and setting, it also firmly stands on its own.  Both are set on Wellington’s south coast, at the Kenning homestead ‘Te Miti’, although Dog and Bone leaps forward 19 years to 1869, at the height of war in Taranaki.  

The interweaving of Maori and Pakeha since The Ragged’s time of 1840 is evident in the main character Taiki/Jack, who is half-Maori and half Pakeha.  With his Pakeha wife, Hannah May, Tiaki is the present owner-occupier of Te Miti.  Forces without and within increasingly threaten their happy home.  The couple cannot isolate themselves from the broader context.

Dog and Bone is a fictitious play with real historical underpinnings. It is a tribute to writer Helen Pearse-Otene that it is very difficult to delineate between fact and fiction.  Although framed within personal relationships, the play is unapologetically political, and draws attention to lesser-known events of New Zealand’s shared history, although the Maori perspective dominates.  The use of Te Reo Maori without any accompanying translation into English encourages Maori custom and challenges current trends in theatre and society.

Director Jim Moriarty continues Te Rakau’s tradition of big ensemble productions using the ‘Theatre Marae’ philosophy to merge Maori and European performance traditions.  The audience is both welcomed into the theatre and confronted by a pack of barking dogs.  The metaphor of domesticated dogs bred for strength and obedience (like soldiers) versus the wild and free kuri is drawn on from the beginning of the play to the end.  Interestingly, the Maori word for dog (kuri) is also used after a verb to describe being without purpose, point or a pretence. There’s plenty to ponder in the rich imagery.

The emphasis is on participation and I find the scenes involving the entire cast to be a real strength of the production, as is the excellent chorus work of the Ngati Irawaru.  I’m not entirely sure what Ngati Irawaru are at the end of the show, but it doesn’t particularly matter.  (Some research after the show tells me Irawaru was a man who was turned into a dog by Maui.  Ngati is a prefix for a tribal group.) 

The repeated reference to ‘savages’ indicates a parallel to Maori, transformed by the settlers from people to the equivalent of animals; or a group of the dispossessed.  They are influenced by the moon and display dog-like behaviours, but also are supernatural.  They have both a threatening /confronting and guardian-like presence over the play.  It is some of the most cohesive chorus work I have ever seen.

The stage is fairly blank, with only sacking-wrapped boxes used variously as a bed, trunk and fortification.  Changes in setting are largely provided for by lighting and sound.  One Finger Composer’s original score for the work is richly suggestive, emotive and complements the work perfectly.  

As it’s a big group vehicle and the goal is for the work to be participative, some of the other characters are underdeveloped or extraneous.  Going forward some of the scenes could use a little trimming in order to allow the plot to develop cleanly.  Amongst the Pakeha settler characters I feel there is a sense of ‘playing at’ being colonial settlers, rather than truthfulness of character.  This is in contrast to Maori characters, who are far more complex and developed.

All the actors give the performance 100% and their performances are on the whole vocally clear and physically dynamic.  From a quick perusal of the bios on the wall, the cast is a mixed group of trained actors, actors in training and newcomers. 

Although it is a bit unfair to single anyone out, for me Kereama Te Ua gives a particularly strong performance as Taiki’s brother Kuritea Kenning.  Sarah McMillan, who plays Hannah-May, is a talented performer, although her engagement with the audience and other characters is sometimes lost due to a tendency to gaze skyward and over-emphasise every word.  She is not helped by having a character who is heavy on exposition.

There is a strong message about our shared history and the way it has been set up to repeat.  The significance of history at a national and personal level is emphasised; the Land Wars and colonisation is not something we can exempt ourselves from. 

The play ends on an ambiguous note, posing the question of whether there can ever be peace when the respective wrongs go too deep?  This is ‘must see’ and highly unique community theatre.  


robert dussler August 27th, 2012

Apologies for not having responded to the comments made about my review, and thank you to John Smythe for firstly sending me an email and letting me know about them, and secondly for interpreting my comment correctly and more eloquently than I could have done it. First of all, I must confess, that I sympathise with these comments, because any muffling of critical voices compromises not only the critic, but also the growth and development of theatrical practice. I have worked as a professional actor in Germany (my country of origin), and I could probably 'find fault', if I was to scrutinise the perfomances of this committed cast. But I do not think, that this would be relevant criticism. As John Smythe states: "The production engages its audience in a story, themes and questions that are fundamentally relevant to who and where we are in the world and in history." As the cast achieves this admirably, and the play and the direction are inspired and highly entertaining, "it would seem petty" to me to do so. As it is, I am only grateful to the Te Rakau Trust and the cast for this memorable theatre experience.

Dane Giraud August 27th, 2012

I have only heard great things about the work of Jim Moriarty and Helen Pearse-Otene, it's was the idea that criticising worthy work could reflect badly on the watcher that got me. Neither relevancy nor expousing "correct politics" can excuse theatres short comings, ever in my opinion. Enthusiasim can excuse experience and heart can certainly excuse technique however. It sounds a great play. I'm still not sure what Sumner Burstyn had to do with anything... 

John Smythe August 27th, 2012

So to get back to the original point, in saying “You can't fault theatre of this kind, it would seem petty, and in this production you'd be hard pressed to find cause to do so anyway”, I think Mr Dussler is acknowledging that the Te Rakau Trust’s primary purpose is not to present theatre as an artistic object but as a means to a greater end.

Dog & Bone is part of “the underTOW project [which] is a series of plays that aim to cast light on the legacy and unknown stories of our country's founding document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi.”  Te Rakau “utilises the unique form of ‘Theatre Marae’ to work in marginalised and mainstream communities.”

Obviously if the result was embarrassingly incompetent it would have to be called to account and/or it would not be reviewed on Theatreview. But as the reviews indicate, there is a power and purpose in the work that transcends the different levels of training and technical expertise in the large ensemble cast. The production engages its audience in a story, themes and questions that are fundamentally relevant to who and where we are in the world and in history.

If our major theatre companies were to direct their resources towards producing such plays, the results would be different.  There would be higher production values, and greater depth, perhaps, in some characterisations. And the ticket prices would be much higher, only the relatively financially privileged would have access to it, and its value to “marginalised and mainstream communities” would be negligible.

Jim Moriarty and Helen Pearse-Otene are dedicated professionals who utilise theatre to achieve significant social purposes. They make no assumption that they are above rigorous criticism and in my observation and experience have the professional chops to welcome constructive feedback that holds them to the high standards they seek to pass on to the members of their company. 

Michael Smythe August 27th, 2012

I think Corus may have been refrring to this: 

Dane Giraud August 26th, 2012

Thanks for that John. Very revealing. She was always batty. 

John Smythe August 26th, 2012

To what do you refer, Corus?  This is the only commentary I can find from Barbara Sumner Burstyn in relation to reviews: 

Corus August 26th, 2012

"What is it specifically that places this kind of theatre (or any for that matter) beyond critical reproach?" The unspoken agreement that nobody will utter an unkind word about anybody else - or else.  The only place incisive honest hard-hitting thoughtful criticism is allowed is in strictest private, and if your views leak out - take cover. Barbara Sumner Burstyn knows something about the bullying NZ underbelly that starts rumbling if you disobey these rules. 

Dane Giraud August 26th, 2012

What do mean by "You can't fault theatre of this kind, it would seem petty..."?? What is it specifically that places this kind of theatre (or any for that matter) beyond critical reproach? 

robert dussler August 17th, 2012

Yes! Theatre as it's meant to be: honest, vibrant, informative and committed! The material is both relevant and revealing, and the blend of European and Maori theatre infuses the play with a captivating level of vitality and immediacy. You can't fault theatre of this kind, it would seem petty, and in this production you'd be hard pressed to find cause to do so anyway. Go and be moved, inspired and, of course, excellently well entertained!

John Smythe August 15th, 2012

This is what theatre’s all about: telling our stories – especially those that are little known and/or are in danger of being forgotten. Helen Pearse-Otene has written a beautifully crafted – thoroughly researched, authentically-toned, creative, imaginative and often poetic – script with input from a large cast and director Jim Moriarty. Every one owns their role and the total package completely. 

I’ve just seen the third performance and concur with all Helen Sims has said above. I’d add Ian Lesa’s Taiki ‘Jackie’ Kenning is a strong performance too with lots of it conveyed non-verbally. A kaumatua noted after the show that Lesa deserves special credit for embracing the kaupapa given he is Samoan. Kia ora to that.

Matt Deussller really nails the individualistic son, Robbie Beamish, bringing home the mercenary values (if that’s the word) of his belief-system. And Ani Morris – who choreographs and leads the waiata – delivers a consummate performance as Mrs Berry, not least with her own strong singing voice.

The singing in both Maori and English is in turns stirring and toe-tappingly entertaining. There is not a weak link in the entire company of 26. Everyone knows they are engaged in a work of epic importance and they make it ‘sing’ by attending to the detail every step of the way. 

A word too about the lighting, operated by Sean Peach: it is superbly done to bring focus where it should be so that nothing gets lost in the big open stage.

Don’t miss this: it is a rare and special opportunity.  

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