The Playhouse, Glen Eden, Auckland

28/08/2014 - 31/08/2014

Going West Festival 2014

Production Details

Goodbye My Feleni (Goodbye My Friend) is the first-ever play to explore the experiences of the almost forgotten Pacific Islands soldiers who fought on the battlefields of Europe with D “Ngati Walkabout” Company of the 28th (Māori) Battalion.  

Rich with Pasifika humour, song and storytelling, the play explores war’s impact on relationships between men, their families, their cultures and their homelands.  

Papakura Military Camp, summer 1942. Simi, Tama and SIone, three naïve, adventure-hungry lads, prepare to embark for the battlefields of North Africa as reinforcements for the Māori Battalion.  Excited about the prospect of “travelling the world and killing Nazis”, the boys are shaken out of their gung-ho, shoot ‘em up dreams by the battle-hardened, Niuean sergeant Ete Masani who soon makes them realise exactly how much is at stake.

A Samoan, a Niuean and a Cook Islander, the boys are thousands of miles from home and family, in another country’s army, and about to fight a war that’s halfway round the world. Why are they here?  Where do they belong? Who are they fighting for?

Goodbye My Feleni is an all new script and cast, featuring the next generation of powerhouse Pasifika actors including Dominic Ona Ariki (The Brave, My Bed My Universe), Shadon Meredith (Hypothesis One, Le Tonu, The Arrival), Pua Magasiva (Shortland Street, Sione’s Wedding) and Shimpal Lelisi (Naked Samoans, bro’Town, A Frigate Bird Sings).

Entirely unique and sensitively drawn, the critically acclaimed Goodbye My Feleni is written by award-winning Samoan playwright D F Mamea, produced by Jenni Heka, and directed by Amelia Reid-Meredith (Le Tonu). 

Playhouse Theatre, 15 Glendale Road, Glen Eden
28-30 August 2014 at 8pm  
31 August 2014 at 6pm
(duration 90 minutes)
Tickets from eventfinda: 

For further information: 

1hr 30mins (no interval)

Essentially fulfilling

Review by Nik Smythe 29th Aug 2014

While set almost entirely in a training camp in Papakura, the roots of D F Mamea’s historical play are widespread.  Focussing on the camaraderie between four Pacific Island infantrymen in the 28th Maori Battalion as they prepare to join the war in Europe in 1943, the story examines the definitively human themes of friendship, family, pride and regret.

Director Amelia Reid-Meredith blends naturalistic interplay between boys practicing at being men with a more abstract style as they playfully share stories with each other in a manner reminiscent of kids putting on shows in the living room. Later it takes a darker ethereal turn as wholly tragic events are relived. 

Dominic Ona Ariki is sensitive young Cook Island Private Tama Make, little-brother figure to Pua Magasiva’s competitive macho-man Private Ioane Apala from Samoa.  Shadon Meredith is their ranking superior Lance Corporal Simi Bishop, also Samoan, with a penchant for drinking, gambling and brawling.  The three have evidently grown very close, excited by the prospect of getting to travel across the world and kill some Nazis. 

Well known for his cheeky grin and irascibly youthful roles, Shimpal Lelisi’s grim-faced turn as hardnosed Sergeant Ete Masani of Niue presents a commendable depth of maturity and strength of character.  All in all, the excellent, archetypal performances by the quartet of fit young actors are the most crucial factor in this production’s appeal.  

That said, Ruby Reihana Wilson’s set design ingeniously utilises simple authentic artefacts – A-frame ladders, planks and beer crates – to construct a versatile multi-tiered platform ideal both for the standard scenes set in the dormitory, and for playing out the conceptual story-time pieces and so on.  Jane Hakaraia’s lighting design further contributes to the appropriately stark, sombre mood. 

Posenai Mavaega and Tanya Muagututi’a’s eclectic sound design incorporates modern compositions with the recognisable noises of war, and of course the definitive still-famous classic hits of Vera Lynn and Glen Miller. 

The play’s title refers to another, local contemporary song the lads are working on for ceremonial pre-shipping out event, in spite of a certain contentious feud between Bishop and Masani.  Their combined vocal harmony is another strong appeal-factor, and if anything we could stand to hear much more of it than we ultimately do. 

There are some structurally jarring aspects to the staging and the script.  As we only ever see these three soldiers and their sergeant, the resulting sparse atmosphere gives little sense of how many cadets are actually training here and how many privates Bishop is in charge of.  I am also confused a little by the second scene, set in mid-combat. I think it is a flash-forward but realise in retrospect it must’ve been a flash-back

The predominant plot concerning certain secrets held, then revealed, reacted to and ultimately resolved all plays out fairly predictably but again, the accomplished performances of the cast carry it through to an essentially fulfilling theatrical experience.

I note Goodbye My Feleni is but one classic example of an increasingly sizeable canon of Pacifika works focussing on the world wars our parents, grand and great-grandparents lived through.  I speculate whether it may be an innate impulse to tell our elders’ stories with our own voices, to acknowledge that we’ve listened to them and demonstrate our willingness to grow from history.  This humanitarian trait is undoubtedly intensified by the deeply cherished esteem Pasifika cultures share for the sacredness of family and ancestry. 

As Going West administrator Naomi McLeary commented in her brief introduction, when they began nineteen years ago it was a comparative struggle to find consistently strong contemporary local plays to showcase, whereas now we are spoiled for choice. 


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