HALF OF THE SKY

Online, Global

20/10/2022 - 06/11/2022

TSB Showplace, New Plymouth

30/08/2023 - 30/08/2023

Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre, Rotorua

07/09/2023 - 07/09/2023

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

12/09/2023 - 12/09/2023

Production Details


Written by Lennie James
Directed by Samantha Scott

Presented by Massive Theatre Company


MASSIVE THEATRE COMPANY TRIUMPHS OVER PANDEMIC WITH DIGITAL PRODUCTION 

The Rose sisters journey home for a weekend of birthday celebrations beside their awa. Ny, Rua and Rika find themselves caught in a whirlwind of realisations, as incomplete truths become whole, and the ties that bind their whānau together are tested. A weekend of pitching tents riverside, sharing snacks, hilarious dancing and reminiscing becomes embroiled with lies, loss, and old and new love as the sisters face the inescapable truths of the past and work out what is most important to them.

After a hugely successful season in 2019, Massive Theatre Company was due to remount Half of the Sky, a heart-warming and tender tale of three sisters and whānau dynamics, in September 2021. Instead, Tāmaki Makaurau was plunged into another Level 4 lockdown. Now in 2022, we proudly present the premiere of the digital version of Half of the Sky that was created across that lockdown.

In response to the lockdown, Massive nimbly shifted to working online, rehearsing and then performing Half of the Sky via Zoom, all while documenting the journey. Alongside the digital production, a companion documentary was created as an intimate look into the process of one of Aotearoa’s most acclaimed theatre companies. Audiences get a behind-the-scenes experience as director Samantha Scott leads the Half of the Sky cast in responding to obstacles COVID once again posed to live performance.

“Once it became clear that the lockdown was going to continue and we would never be able to put our show onstage in the time allowed, we could have of course stopped, but it felt like a bit of an opportunity for us…” – Samantha Scott, Artistic Director

Massive still managed to triumph, resulting in a beautifully received version of the show being performed twice via Zoom. Now, these performances have been superbly edited together allowing for high quality, evocative and seamless storytelling. We proudly present the digital premiere of Half of the Sky and its companion documentary across two events.

The documentary premieres at 7pm on Thursday 13 October 2022.
The full length digital production premieres at 7pm on Thursday 20 October 2022.
Both will be available for viewing until Sunday 6 November 2022.

Link to tickets: https://bit.ly/HOTSDigital

Massive is delighted to still be able to present this return season of Half of the Sky and bring it to an audience across Aotearoa.

Half of the Sky brilliantly weaves together themes of loss and the importance of familial love, juxtaposing poignant moments of humour with the moving themes of this story to examine what makes us human. Relatable and resonant, the story explores both love and tension in a perfectly balanced drama, allowing the talented cast to shine in roles that are gritty and complex.

“Distinctly unique to New Zealand and refreshingly funny” – NZ Herald

“A play that makes us think about our priorities and life choices” – Theatrescenes

2023 LIVE PERFORMANCES

Wednesday August 30, 7pm at TSB Showplace, New Plymouth
Thursday September 7, 7pm at Sir Howard Morrison Centre, Rotorua
Tuesday September 12, 7pm at Herrald Theatre, Auckland


Kura Forrester: Nyree (Ny)
Max Palamo: Iosefa (Sefa)
Trae Te Wiki: Marika (Rika)
Roimata Fox: Ruihi (Rua)
Pat Tafa: Fetu

Written by: Lennie James
Directed by: Samantha Scott<
Sound design: Paul McLaney
Costume advisor: Daniel Williams
Stage Manager: Michael Clark<
Producer: Alice KirkerProudly supported by Creative New Zealand, Foundation North and Auckland City Council.

2023
Costume advisor & set design: Daniel Williams
Stage Manager: Chiara Niccolini
Production Manager: Annah Jacobs @ Pilot Productions
Producer: Yee Yang ’Square’ Lee


Theatre , Webcast ,


Fantastic writing, great direction, superb acting

Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 13th Sep 2023

To paraphrase Ervin Drake’s lyric from 1961, it’s been ‘A Very Good Year’ so far.

I’m certainly ‘in the autumn of my years’ and I have to say that the baker’s dozen reviews I’ve had the privilege of writing over the past eight months have been for productions that have all been of top quality in every respect. Half of the Sky maintains that standard and, if anything, surpasses it. It’s seldom that I go to a show that I simply don’t want to end. 

Half of the Sky has been around the traps since 2019 and has undergone its fair share of trauma having been haunted by COVID-19 during its creation and early life. The Massive Company is a model to admire if for no other reason that it has survived while others have gone under. Their collaborative method of creating has spawned singular works of a uniquely high standard and sustainability. The fact that the leadership of founder Sam Scott MNZM continues to be triumphant and durable is of considerable importance, and with so many past participants remaining loyal to the brand the future looks more than promising. In the performing arts, nothing beats loyalty when longevity and creative quality are the goals.

Massive, founded by Scott in 1991 as the Maidment Youth Theatre and later renamed Massive Theatre Company, is “a fusion company of emerging and professional artists.” The website describes the company as “a professional physical ensemble company, creating new theatre with emerging and professional actors, directors and writers. Our work comes from real stories, reflecting the rich diversity of Aotearoa. Through access to free workshops and ongoing mentoring/training, emerging artists are able to become a part of the company from age fourteen and stay with us throughout their professional careers. Massive is a pathway, a whānau and a way to create excellent theatre.” Massive Theatre’s three decades plus journey is testimony to the success of this kaupapa.

Half of the Sky is an evocative title and may well have its genesis in the famous quote, in 1968 by the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party Mao Zedong, reflecting a commitment by the Chinese Government to the equality of women in Chinese society.

It may, of course, also refer to the 2009 book of the same name by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn that inspired the ‘Half the Sky Feminist Movement’, the Canadian ‘Half the Sky’ feminist theatre group, a 1978 artwork by Australian artist Ann Newmarch, an exhibition and book at the National Gallery of Australia, an exhibition and book at the Monash University Gallery in 1996, a 1986 album by Ruby Turner, a 1991 book of African feminist theology, and the 2012 ‘Women Hold Up Half the Sky’ Exhibition at the South African History Archive. It’s a great quote, no doubt about that, and timely for Aotearoa with the gender pay gap ever widening, and perfect for this work featuring, as it does, a wonderful story of extraordinary women dealing with the complexities of everyday life in a whānau setting.

Not unlike the lives of countless thousands of women in China, then and now.

So, what is this story? Recent publicity tells us that “the Rose sisters journey home for a weekend of birthday celebrations beside their awa. Ny, Rua and Rika find themselves caught in a whirlwind of realisations, as incomplete truths become whole, and the ties that bind their whānau together are tested. A weekend of pitching tents riverside, sharing snacks, hilarious dancing and reminiscing becomes embroiled with lies, loss, and old and new love as the sisters face the inescapable truths of the past and work out what is most important to them. Half of the Sky marks the third work written for Massive Theatre Company by internationally renowned writer and actor Lennie James and was developed in collaboration with members of the Massive ensemble.”

That’s pretty much it for a stripped back story line but the reality is actually so much more.

Each character has a rich and important backstory and as they are seamlessly and cleverly interwoven and revealed, the power of the piece evolves. This is the story of ‘every family’ that ever existed viewed, in this case, through a unique cultural lens and painted with the pain of circumstance, difference and loss. James is an exceptional writer, and his humanity is everywhere in the work. He has his characters laugh through the pain of impending loss and we can all relate to that. Not because the situations are innately funny, but simply because we’re human. We laugh too, but it’s often the gentle laughter of ‘been there, done that’ recognition, which is not to say there are no raucous cultural and character guffaws – there are heaps of those too – but they’re all ‘laugh with’ not ‘laugh at’ chortles and snorts.

James gives what you’d expect from a BAFTA winner, but it’s his deep understandings of Kiwi mores, temperaments and evasions that really impress. He knows actors too, and he gives this eclectic bunch plenty of great material to work with. What a delight it must be to work with the actor who created DCI Tony Gates in Line of Duty and who will soon play Barrington Walker in Bernadine Everistos’s Mr Loverman. Now that’s a treat to really look forward too.

Daniel Williams’ setting is effective and more than just functional, and Jane Hakaraia’s lighting is evocative and, dare I say it again, picture perfect. Paul McLaney’s soundscape is excellent, intrusive when it needs to be, and otherwise an essential support for the action. Sam Scott’s direction is, as always, tight and enabling but, in this case, it’s often also quite inspired. ‘Hine, e Hine’ is pure genius.

For the opening few minutes, there is a sense of actors over-ready and trying a bit too hard but that settles quickly into a display of theatre realism that I’ve seldom seen matched. True naturalism is so hard to achieve because the artifice of performance is never far from the surface. However what Scott, James, and this team have achieved and sustained is as close to real life on the stage as I’ve ever experienced. Trust overflows.

At the centre of the action is Nyree (Kura Forrester), the eldest of the three sisters. Her nickname is Big. Obviously. It’s her birthday and she’s dying. There’s no attempt to hide that this is the reason everyone’s gathered, nor is there any feeling of some morbid need to live in the pain of this knowledge. We learn that Nyree has an infant child Nia and that her husband Matiu is expected. It turns out that Matiu has been an absent Dad for a long time. He’s in Paris and he’s not coming home. Forrester is perfect casting, but then she always is.

The middle sister is Ruihi (Roimata Fox) and she was born a year and a couple of days after Ny.  She’s married to Judy, a chef, but the marriage, we learn, is a bit rocky and Judy hasn’t come with her. Fox has an emotional toolbox made in heaven and she needs it. Ru is complicated and deals least well with the impending death of Ny and the unspoken question of what will then happen to little Nia. She carries her grief, for Ny and possibly her marriage, in a kete of denial and she fights it all the way. Hers is a monumental personal journey, and the actor keeps her decisions close to her chest. Again, Fox is simply perfect casting, and hers is a wonderful performance.

Youngest of the three is Marika (Trae Te Wiki) and, yes, it’s almost her birthday too. Her nickname is Small. No surprise there either. We find that she’s travelled, had adventures, and she’s back now to be with Ny and Ru with the exciting news that she’s hapu – and from then on ‘bumps’ become literally front and centre. Rika is a free spirit with many stories to tell, as they all have, and Te Wiki, with her immaculate comic timing and social twinkle is, again, ideal casting.

Together the three are pure magic.

Holding much of the narrative together is Iosefa (Max Palamo) who is at the birthday because he’s working on the house and he’s Nyree’s platonic friend. He’s from Samoa with his own backstory and it’s obvious to everyone in the theatre (except him) that he’s in love with Nyree, but Ru’s loyalty to Matiu gets in the way big time, and there are serious words. Iosefa remains passive and the women sort it out. Iosefa is immensely likable, and Palamo does the actor business very well indeed. Top work.

Fetu (Patrick Tafa) is Sefa’s nephew, and he lives with his uncle and helps out. He’s enigmatic and he’s writing a rap that becomes increasingly important as the narrative unfolds. He’s good at what he does, very good, and serves the play extremely well.

The casting is absolutely outstanding and the storytelling second to none. The narrative itself is a magnificent weave of the past, the present and the future. We hear about all of it, we watch it unfold and we sense, and are guided, to what will probably come next. It all feels like a familial angst and dysfunction that heals itself by the unified and empathetic moving of all the parts to where they need to be. The level of satisfaction in the opening night audience is exemplified by the fact that, like kids at a cool birthday party, no-one wants to go home.

Do I have great evening? Yes, I most certainly do. Excellent acting and great storytelling will do that for me. Do I recommend it to others? I most certainly do and have done so already. The practitioner in me especially applauds the fantastic writing, great direction, superb acting, and a collaborative creative model that has stood the test of time.  

Fetu should have the last word: his rap, worked on throughout and shared with everyone in the final scene, sums everything up in a way that was oddly ode-like (“a lyric poem, typically one in the form of an address to a particular subject, written in varied or irregular metre”) – and that defines it imperfectly for this wildly overthinking palagi.

Go see it.

He hono tangata e kore e motu; ka pa he taura waka e motu.

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A treat to be gifted such simple yet stunning storytelling

Review by Fiona Collins 12th Sep 2023

Half Of The Sky is an absolutely stunning example of storytelling in its purest form.

Homely, humble and subtle, the set, lighting and sound welcome the cautiously curious Rotorua audience who settle in their seats, not knowing what to expect of the show.

The superbly written story is one almost every audience member could relate to. Its interwoven themes and subject matter are heart-breakingly close, yet dealt with such practicality and humour that each moment of pause and poignancy is 100 percent earned and not once self-indulgent or clichéd.

When the lights dim and the first two actors place themselves on stage, the audience are ready – or so they think. No one expected they would need tissues!

In the first few minutes of the play, the enigmatic unsophistication of Iosefa (Max Palamo) and youthful buoyancy of Fetu (Patrick Tafa) immediately lull us all into the rhythm of being somewhere out in the bush – breathing in deep the clean air, eyes drinking in the view whilst birdsongs fills the theatre … They take us there. Their close relationship and love are expertly and quickly established with familial banter and youthful spoken word verse that doesn’t quite land – a clever set up (one of many!) for later in the play when Fetu delivers a beautiful dedication to his Uncle Iosefa.

With each arrival of the three Rose sisters – the ‘Irish triplets’ – the drama quickly unfolds, and the brilliant storytelling has the audience listening, laughing and crying multiple times throughout the show.

Ny, aka Big (Kura Forrester), Rua (Roimata Fox) and Rika, aka Small (Trae Te Wiki) unapologetically play the archetypes of the eldest born, middle child and ‘baby’ of a family – and these three power houses really play! Each is skilled and strongly masterful of the storytelling as they balance energies and status and well-earned quieter moments of raw vulnerability and heart.

Their relationships are complicated, forgiving, harsh and real as they navigate their way through the deep sadness of their shared life events, and then the sadness that is to come. Acceptance and love, pure and simple.

Everyone in this star-studded cast is brilliant. It is an honour to see them each soar and bring such craft and beauty to the stage. Their unique bond, that only life and years of experiences together can forge, is tangible and so lovely and satisfying to witness.

Half Of The Sky is clever and subtle on every level and what a wonderful gift it was for the Rotorua audience.

In the optional forum that follows the play, more than one audience member comments on never having seen a show like this before in that space, and the alofa and appreciation of the cast and the storytelling is cemented.

Congratulations and faafetai tele lava to the ever-amazing and wonderful Sam Scott and her brilliant cast and crew. Such a stunning piece of storytelling – no bells and whistles, just great designs, beautiful writing and phenomenal acting.

Such simple yet stunning storytelling of this calibre is rare, and in these complex and challenging times, it is a treat to be gifted in this way.

Come be part of this celebration of soul mate love, life, sisterhood and Kiwiana snacks. And then there’s the bonus of singing along with the old school love songs! 

Ia manuia

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Gets us in the ‘feels’ without being sentimental or clichéd

Review by Lisa Simpson 01st Sep 2023

Massive Theatre Company have consistently brought audiences dynamic, relatable, heartwarming local stories. This production is their third collaboration with playwright Lennie James.

The story is that of Nyree (Kura Forrester), who has cancer and about a year to live. It’s her birthday and her two younger sisters are coming home to share it with her. The three all have birthdays within days of each other – the joke is that they are each approximately nine months after their father’s own birthday. Nyree and Rua (Roimata Fox) are’ Irish twins’ born a year and a day apart, and ‘Little’, their youngest sister Marika (Trae Te Wiki), has a birthday a day later.  

Ny doesn’t want to talk about cancer or death, she wants to camp out in the garden and dance and dip in the river. As the weekend progresses the three explore their relationships with each other and their significant others, their family history and ultimately, because “cancer’s a bitch”, what life without Nyree might look like. Nyree’s relationship with DIY neighbour Sefa (Max Palamo) and his nephew Fetu (Pat Tafa) add depth to themes of parental love and belonging.

This is to be a weekend of talking – teasing, reminiscing, arguing, probing and deciding. The pacing of the dialogue is excellent, keeping a teenaged audience fully engaged. Sam Scott’s direction skilfully keeps the momentum up and certainly gets us in the ‘feels’ without being sentimental or clichéd.

Each character has a fundamental place in this story and is well drawn and cast. Kura Forrester’s charming, playful, foul-mouthed Nyree is a celebration of life and family. Max Palamo’s practical, grounded Sefa is a man to admire – steady, reliable and generous. Roimata Fox fizzes and spits as she challenges her older sister’s choices.

Taranaki born Trae te Wiki commandingly delivers a youngest sister who is obsessive about the temperature of the food she eats but has the guts to step up to the plate when she needs to. Pat Tafa is an audience favourite – his character Fetu’s rap/slam poetry patter goes down well with the crowd drawing lots of laughs – but on the turn of a dime he stops us in our tracks and melts our hearts.

Sound designer Paul McLaney uses the water to link moments in the story evocatively. Memories shared on stage cause ripples of emotion and sound, water crashes as tempers flare and the noise of the river that the sisters dip in flows relentlessly as does time for Nyree. The lighting (Jane Hakaraia) gives the space depth and life, with a palpable feel of a nighttime in the country and the sense of the glow of coloured bare bulbs strung for a celebration. Daniel Williams’ set design is just as evocative: a fractured weather board house is being repainted in the most beautiful shade of sky blue that evokes the skies of all good family stories.

The sightlines for the audience on the flat part of the auditorium close to the stage in the Theatre Royal mean that for some of us, some scenes are sound only as the actors cannot be seen. It was a shame to be asked to move from the raked seating further back which would have given us a better view.

This performance is funny and moving. It is beautiful and about the big stuff of life.  An audience member sums it up in the post-show Q and A session when he simply and humbly thanks the cast for making him think. What more can you want from a show. Go and see it.

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An extraordinary achievement – a hero’s journey in itself

Review by John Smythe 20th Oct 2022

Mao Zedong’s famous quote, “Women hold up half the sky,” is referenced in the title of the latest commission from English playwright Lennie James for Massive Theatre Company. Half of the Sky follows their successful collaborations on The Sons of Charlie Paora (2002), and Havoc in the Garden (2011).

The Chairman’s words also echo in the title of a book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: Half the Sky, Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. With James’s play, however, while one woman does turn out to have been severely suppressed by a man, it is the oppression of Covid 19 Level 4 Lockdown that has presented Massive with an opportunity they have embraced with alacrity.

In August last year, after a hugely successful season in 2019, the company was two weeks into rehearsal for their planned remount and live tour of Half of the Sky when the whole country went into Level 4 Lockdown. Although some company members had left Auckland for homes elsewhere, like Hamilton and Hawera, they continued rehearsals on Zoom in the hope they could reconvene and hit the road as planned. When that proved impossible (Auckland and Northland remained at Level 4 longer than the rest of the country), instead of cancelling, they chose to present their mahi via Zoom – live a couple of times, to invited audiences, and now launched as a recorded production available to all (until 6 November).

The way the Online production of Half of the Sky came into being unfolds in a companion documentary, available here as a combo deal with the play (or each may be purchased separately). I watched the play first, then the doco, which offers fascinating insights into the creative process itself, let alone how it is achieved via Zoom in abodes each actor shares with unseen members of their ‘bubble’. It also clarifies that, while no attempt is made to fabricate settings, the actors have found appropriate costumes for different scenes from their own wardrobes.

On balance I think doco then play might help you adjust more easily to the unique conventions explored in the production, although inspirational director Samantha Scott’s introduction to the online play does that too. You may wish to take notes.

We are alerted to the need to imagine the settings – the back lawn of a family bungalow which is being renovated, the creek below, the camping spot and swimming hole upriver – as the actors Zoom in from their respective bedrooms, living rooms or hallways.

It starts with Samoan Sefa (Max Palamo) answering questions from Fetu (Pat Tafa) about sisters called Ru, the middle one, Ny, the oldest and Rika. Sefa has been plastering and painting, Fetu is here to help and is also working on a rap. It will emerge they are uncle and nephew. A child called Nia is asleep inside.

Playwright Lennie James draws us in with slow reveals of who is who, what is what and why, so I’ll try not to spoil the dynamic of that dramatic flow. Let me just say the birthday of Nyree (Kura Forrester) is the reason whānau are gathering and she’s deeply pissed off her husband Matiu, Nia’s dad, will be staying in Paris where he is just settling into a new job.

There is a year and four days between the birthdays of Ny and middle sister Ruahi (Roimata Fox) but there’s a reason the focus this year is mainly on Ny. Ru, who is married to a chef called Judy, becomes very focused on Sefa in relation to Ny and Matiu. As for youngest sister Marika (Trae Te Wiki), she has been on exotic adventures with stories to tell but the one she always comes back to involves herself, Ru and Handy Andy, when Ru was 7 and Rika was 3.

Revelations about the sisters’ childhoods and their parents slowly surface, echoed somewhat in the backstories of Sefa and Fetu. The fact that families exist at any one moment on the continuum of past, present and future is brought to the fore in a number of ways, not least with regard to Nia.

As we come to grips with, and are gripped, by the present relationships, glimpses of the past and imagined futures, the unusual means of delivery becomes secondary. The degree to which each actor inhabits their character and is fully present to each moment, to each action and interaction, is easily taken for granted until we realise where and how they are playing their roles – alone in a room interacting with faces on screens in randomly-placed oblongs, and taking total responsibility for where and how they themselves appear in their own camera’s frame.

All three sisters experience the full range of emotions – which of course is a mark of well written characters. Especially memorable are: the apparent equanimity with which Forrester’s Nyree manages her sisters and faces what’s coming while feeling it all very deeply; the moral outrage directed at others whereby Fox’s Ruahi avoids confronting her own situation; the totally authentic way Te Wiki’s Marika manifests the younger sister’s status in the hierarchy.

Tafa’s Fetu builds intriguingly towards his rapped birthday gift for Ny. The inner feelings of Palamo’s Sefa are beautifully captured – as are many potent moment of silence throughout.

Of particular interest on the technical side is the way each actor talks directly to camera. When interacting with others in close-up on screen, actors usually take an eyeline off camera and the edit creates the illusion they are talking to each other. Here the audience becomes each other character being spoken to – and it works!

(Compare and contrast with the ATC’s 2020 Chekhov’s The Seagull, a new online version, where Zoom calls were an actual part of the drama until, as lockdown levels eased off, actors could be in the same bubbles and more usual screen acting conventions applied.)

As for the way people kiss via Zoom when we are imagining them in the same room – you have to see it to believe it. The doco includes the moment that solution is discovered.

In concert with Director Samantha Scott’s facilitation of this extraordinary achievement, with Producer Alice Kirker, Stage Manager Michael Clark invisibly controls the Zoom Room. Paul McLaney’s Sound Design helps to bring the disparate parts together and Daniel Williams has overseen the costume choices.

While such productions will never supplant the live-in-the-same-space experience, Massive’s Half of the Sky exemplifies the ingenuity and determination of the creative sector to overcome obstacles in order to achieve their objectives – and isn’t that the classic hero’s journey? The hope that this will prove a never-to-be-repeated exercise is all the more reason to see it now. (Dare I add that if another pandemic strikes, this should be compulsory viewing for anyone in the same waka.)

Link to tickets: https://bit.ly/HOTSDigital

Note: The image above is from the 2019 live theatre production
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