He Reo Aroha

Centrepoint, Palmerston North

06/03/2013 - 14/03/2013

Te Papa: Soundings, Wellington

09/03/2010 - 10/03/2010

Otaki College, Otaki

11/03/2010 - 11/03/2010

Old Boy’s Theatre, Christ’s College, Christchurch

19/08/2011 - 21/08/2011

Glen Eden Playhouse, Auckland

25/08/2010 - 28/08/2010

FAHS Theatre: Feilding High School, Feilding

15/02/2013 - 23/02/2013

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

16/06/2010 - 26/06/2010

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

21/09/2011 - 01/10/2011

New Zealand International Arts Festival 2010

Christchurch Arts Festival 2011

Going West Books and Writers Festival 2010

The Real New Zealand Festival

Production Details

Written by Miria George and Jamie McCaskill
Drected by Hone Kouka

Tawata Productions

He Reo Aroha Returns Home to the New Zealand Stage for the New Zealand International Arts Festival

“…a theatrical breath of fresh air…” NZ Herald

Crowd pleasing musical He Reo Aroha returns to the New Zealand stage as part of the New Zealand International Arts Festival’s RESTAGE initiative helping to develop local work to its full potential.

He Reo Aroha has been touring Taranaki, Rotorua and Manukau as well as internationally to festivals in Canada, Australia and Hawai’i.

Written by Miria George and Jamie McCaskill and directed by Hone Kouka, He Reo Aroha is the love story of childhood sweethearts Kaia, performed by Kali Kopae, and Pascoe performed by Jamie McCaskill. Together they tell their compelling story of the redemptive powers of love and music through beautiful original waiata.

Produced by Tawata Productions, He Reo Aroha has been part of the Honouring Theatre Festivals in New Zealand and Australia, Maoli Arts Festival in Hawai’i, Taranaki International Festival of the Arts (NZ), Planet IndigenUS Festival I Toronto (Canada). The Honouring Theatre Festivals have the goal of establishing a network of presenting and collaboration opportunities for indigenous performers.

Established in 2001 by internationally acclaimed writer Hone Kouka, Tawata Productions is a kaupapa Mâori theatre company dedicated to producing the very best of emerging Maori theatre in Aotearoa by ensuring that works are of the highest quality, and that Mâori writers continue their creative growth.

Tawata Productions is committed to sharing the unique, and the diverse voice of Mâori within Aotearoa, and the world.

He Reo Aroha is presented with support from Creative New Zealand and Te Puni Kôkiri.

WHEN: 9-10 March 2010
WHERE:  Soundings Theatre, Te Papa

WHEN: 11 March 2010
WHERE: Otaki College

WHEN:  12-13 March 2010
WHERE: Pataka Museum, Porirua
– – – – – – – – – –
WHEN:  16-26 June 2010
WHERE: Circa Two, Wellington

Kali Kopae & Jamie McCaskill
Christchurch "Arts Festival 2011: Jamie McCaskill's roles played by Tola Newbery.

Theatre , Musical ,

Dexterity, intelligence, warmth, passion, humour, and a fine musicality

Review by Richard Mays 19th Feb 2013

Promising when it was first performed as a workshop production in Centrepoint Theatre’s The Dark Room back in 2008, He Reo Aroha (The Words or Language of Love) has certainly matured.

This much-travelled play has been seen around the Pacific and beyond. It has toured from Honolulu to the Solomon Islands, from Toronto to Perth, Queensland to Christchurch and now back to Manawatu where its journey began.

This refined version, which has represented New Zealand on an international stage, sparkles. If this is the only piece of Kiwi theatre those overseas audiences ever see, then they have been fortunate to catch a play that despite its simple premise, contains all the elements of fine storytelling.

Here, He Reo Aroha’s two original cast members – co-writer Jamie McCaskill and Kali Kopae – get to reprise their roles as Pascoe the fisherman and Kaia, an aspiring vocalist of international calibre.

A couple of chairs, a couple of guitars and a ukulele on the bare floor of the Feilding High School studio theatre are the bones of a minimalist touring set. The rest is imagination entirely triggered by the two performers.

As Kaia onstage in New York City, Kopae coos between-song patter into the microphone before, accompanied by McCaskill on guitar, launching into a vocal bracket. Kopae has a voice and clarity of tone that demands attention, transporting the audience to the concert venue, while also managing to convey a sense of loss and dislocation. As the performers switch deftly between characters, the space easily moves from New York concert hall to small town New Zealand, from local pub to fish factory to the deck of a small fishing boat.

Reality may dictate that it’s a push too far for Kaia to give up her international musical career and return to work in the Tikapa fish factory – is that something say Kimbra would do? He Reo Aroha however, is a contemporary Kiwi New Zealand musical fable with its own metaphorical and metaphysical levels.

Kaia’s encounters with the spirit of a dead kuia; Pascoe’s taniwha in the form of a pure white flounder, show the actors moving as confidently between these paranormal levels as they do between roles. McCaskill swaps the blokey Pascoe for Maria, Kaia’s cousin – and his verbose kaumatua is a treat, while Kopae reverse genders into Rangi, Pascoe’s not-as-dopey-as-he-looks crewman and best mate.

While the true love conquers all outcome is never really in doubt, the way to it is presented with dexterity, intelligence, warmth, passion, humour, and a fine musicality.

He Reo Aroha has a charm that transcends cultures.  It was a pleasure to be able to enjoy it again. 


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A magical piece of theatre

Review by Alan Scott 22nd Sep 2011

He Reo Aroha is one of those magical pieces of theatre where, out of nothing but a bare stage, a couple of chairs and two guitars, the actors create a whole world of love, heartache and laughter, of regret, forgiveness and hope.

It is a Maori story, but this is not bro’ town; it’s the world of a people without affectation who are deeply affected by the passion and pain of love; a world where life is simple but the living turns out to be anything but easy.

It is a small town world where Kaia ditches her boyfriend, Pascoe, to pursue a singing career overseas. He works the fishing boats while she works her dreams of stardom till she realises what she has lost. But it is a long and crooked road home till she regains his affections.

It is a charming, sweet, funny, original and thoroughly enjoyable tale performed by two engaging actors, who not only play a host of characters between them but sing songs and make music, both Maori waiata and contemporary western, in a compelling fashion.

Tola Newbery has all his parts down to a tee, from the deserted lover to the old kaumatua, to the dead Sister Mere. He crosses genders and roles with a disarming ease and gives a totally relaxed and confident performance.

Kali Kopae was impressive.

It was not just her lovely, expressive singing voice that made the audience sit up. What distinguished her work was an immensely giving quality to her whole performance.

He Reo Aroha was a simple, maybe too simple, tale, but you could not help but like it. The aroha was overpowering. 
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Anyone who brings a date will not be disappointed

Review by James McKinnon 22nd Sep 2011

He Reo Aroha is well-travelled by now, and for good reason. It has pleased crowds in Canada, Australia, Hawaii, and all around New Zealand. It thoroughly delighted the audience at Circa on Wednesday night.

He Reo Aroha is a story about love, redemption, and homecoming. Its central characters are an estranged couple from the coastal town of Ti Kapa, Kaia and Pascoe. When the action begins, Kaia has left Ti Kapa and Pascoe to be a singer in New York. But she seems to spend most of her time skyping with friends and family from home, both living and dead, and although she has severed ties with Pascoe, she still thinks of him, and eventually returns home to find him.

The production’s chief strengths are its engaging music and its clever, economical, and inventive theatricality. Theatre artists frequently lament their poverty or fantasise about what they might do with a bigger budget, but this play serves as a useful reminder that the appeal of live theatre does not always correlate with expensive spectacle. It essentially consists of two actors, two guitars, and two chairs, and it deploys these elements with great energy and creativity, transporting us effortlessly from present to past, and from Ti Kapa pubs and backyards to New York nighclubs and back to fishing boats.

The speed and skill with which the actors shift shapes and locations is one of the play’s most enjoyable elements, particularly in a well-directed scene in which four characters are all present simultaneously. Both the central and supporting roles are crafted and executed with precision and depth.

Music and song, both original and popular, and performed by the actors in both Maori and English, permeate the production, effectively controlling the tempo and mood of the play. Music is also both what draws Kaia and Pascoe together, and what separates them when she leaves for New York.

The plot feels a bit thin at times, and sometimes it feels as though important events have been omitted, while others are perhaps excessive, but the show is unabashedly driven by music, not plot, and it covers a lot of cultural, geographical and emotional ground in its brief running time.

The show will appeal to different spectators in different ways. Those who identify with Maori culture or speak Te Reo may feel a special connection with it, but I attended the show with another recent immigrant, and we both enjoyed the experience of having to work a little harder to pick up on certain details. Anyone who brings a date will not be disappointed.
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Aroha rules

Review by Lindsay Clark 20th Aug 2011

True festival fare, this is a simple tale, generously delivered with vital performances and superb musicality. It has been well applauded elsewhere, both within Aotearoa and abroad. Now it’s the turn of Christchurch audiences to experience this contemporary Maori love story – a perspective all too often missing from the local scene.

The essence of the tale has been told many times: lovers part, learn a few testing life lessons and are reunited. This telling though, is crowned by waiata which arise naturally from the telling and which allow a break from the sometimes dizzying effect of jumping back and forth in time as multiple roles are presented by the two outstanding actors.

The result is heartwarming, unsentimental and often funny. 

Kaia, played by Kali Kopae, now a successful singer song-writer in New York, puts the opening question, about love and how to ‘Find a Way’. A spirit visit from departed Sister Mere – the first of many roles for shapeshifter Tola Newbery – sets her on her way, convinced that her best chance for feeling the love she sings about, is to go back to her home town, Ti Kapa, and find Pascoe the bloke she has cut adrift.

Back there, she works in the local fish factory with ‘cuzzie’ Maria (Newbery). Pascoe(also Newbery) is back in town after a stint on the big hoki boats ‘down south’ and setting his sights on small time fishing. His buddy Rangi (Kopae) and Maria try hard to reunite the Kaia/Pascoe pair in the course of an evening at the local. Here is some of the funniest and slickest work of the evening as character switches are handles with polished virtuosity. 

The mood darkens with their failure and the sense of the spirit world, tickled by Sister Mere’s appearance early on, is revived by a storm which brings tragedy to Pascoe’s fishing venture when he overloads his boat. It seems to be a taniwha’s reminder that the warning of a white flounder must be heeded and the sea respected, not plundered. As for Kaia, more is not always better.

Grief and sympathy finally bring the couple together for a final song, tender and healing. The way has been found. Aroha rules. 

Both actors relish the music and physical theatre style which convey the piece. They create, in an empty space, with a couple of guitars and two chairs, a whole range of moods and situations, ranging from social occasions to fish factory and, most effectively, the storm at sea.

This, of course, is on top of the parade of characters who colour the world of Ti Kapa. Exaggerated physical embodiments sometimes seem like posturing but there is no doubt that the caricature effect of awkward Rangi or theatrical Maria go down well with the audience. 

At its core though, the success of the production lies in the sincerity of the lover roles, Hone Kouka’s imaginative direction and the effortless music which complements both. 
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Little love story packs big heart

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 27th Aug 2010

Clever narrative thread weaves song and drama into tapestry of winning warmth 

The Going West Books & Writers Festival kicks off its programme with an absolute gem: He Reo Aroha is an enchanting love story that does not shy away from soaring lyricism but manages to keep its feet firmly planted on the ground with some wickedly funny character studies.

Writers Miria George and Jamie McCaskill have come up with a sophisticated story structure that sees drama and song entwined like a pair of lovers. Vivid fragments of dramatic narrative create a patchwork setting for a sparkling anthology of original songs that drive the story forward and carry the swirling emotions of the piece. [More]
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Ultimately optimistic

Review by Phoebe Smith 17th Jun 2010

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?

In He Reo Aroha, Miria George and Jamie McCaskill have conceived an extremely simple love story: (he said, she said, he didn’t say, she didn’t say, she left, they lived, but oh, what’s this hole deep inside of each?) and after a stint at the International Festival and various locales overseas, He Reo Aroha’s return to Wellington is well received.

The first beauty of the piece is its simplicity. Two actors, Kali Kopae and Jamie McCaskill embody the play’s central lovers and the milieu of other characters via an energetic range of cliché, physicality and song.

While both actors are versatile in their skills, the multi-role technique does leave some characters hackneyed in their portrayal. This could be used to the positive effect of highlighting the importance of Kaia and Pascoe, the lovers. Instead it functions as a constant reminder of the actors as tools, thus removing the audience from an intimate story.

The second beauty of this piece is the lovely and cohesive music. Guitars are the most prominent stage pieces and they are played with talent beyond rhythm. The actors’ style of playing indicates the emotion and the character of the musician so eloquently that it could be better used as a technique to convey character. Kopae and McCaskill both play and sing with a talent and vigour that pull the entire audience through every loop.

It is the charm of the performers that pulls off this script. While it is cute and lovely and the songs are melodic, the storyline itself is simplicity watered down. Tragedy comes without a prior lift in mood or content to offset it and some of the sub-characters are presented in such a cliché way as to dismiss our major emotions.

Props are mimed, as is much of the set. Both actors are excellent mimes. Mostly. Which makes it excruciating to watch them drop a huge net of fish or not swallow a drink etc. The tightness of a piece such as this is crucial, and we need to believe in every invisible item, chewing gum and all, or we shan’t believe in the ones that really count.

The third beauty of this piece is that it genuinely makes the audience feel warm and happy. We are not asked to struggle through any mental, physical or spiritual dilemmas that are alien, but we all know how it is to struggle through love. 

Audiences will enjoy the ultimate optimism of this play. 
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Making beautiful music together

Review by Lynn Freeman 18th Mar 2010

On a far smaller scale is He Reo Aroha. Like The Arrival it has performed overseas. Unlike that big spectacular, the set is a couple of chairs (New Zealand theatre specialises in chair sets) but with good direction and imagination they become a fishing boat.

This musical two hander is about two childhood sweethearts, a pure love story. The charm is more in the performance than in the script. The actors, Kali Kopae and co-writer Jamie McCaskill are enchanting in all their roles, their onstage chemistry is believable, they make beautiful music together, and you leave feeling uplifted and happy.

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Welcome home for charming tale of love and fishing

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 10th Mar 2010

It’s possible that He Reo Aroha has been performed overseas more often than it has here. It must be pleasing for the performers and crew to have a full house on home ground at Te Papa’s Soundings Theatre respond with the acclaim that they received last night.

In a bare bones production under Hone Kouka’s smooth direction, He Reo Aroha is a simple unpretentious story of love lost and love regained. It is told in song, in scenes of warm comedy, and one scene of dramatic action in a storm on a fishing boat.

Two chairs and three guitars are all the props that Kali Kopae and Jamie McCaskill have to tell the story of Kaia and Pascoe, childhood sweethearts who grew apart when Kaia went off to the bright lights of New York pursuing her career as a singer.

The varied waiata (traditional, folky, modern) are by Kopae, McCaskill and Hone Hurihanganui. They are sung with a pleasing clarity and an emotional undertow that kept the audience entranced, and the numerous characters in Te Kapa, the marae, and in the fish factory where Kaia’s friends and family work, were instantly recognized as familiar types by the appreciative and amused audience.

The funniest sequence was when Kaia and Pascoe are tricked into meeting each other after Kaia’s return from New York. Both actors keep changing their characters, with McCaskill at times changing into a female cousin setting up the meeting, while Kopae plays Rangi, Pascoe’s best friend and workmate on his fishing boat.

This 90-minute show is built around the undoubted talents of its charismatic performers and they make an impressive team imbued with charm, humour and enviable talent.
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Simple or simplistic?

Review by John Smythe 10th Mar 2010

An enthusiastic opening night audience welcomed He Reo Aroha to Wellington with sustained applause. There is no doubt it is a crowd-pleaser, with its blend of love story, character comedy, songs and music.

It’s ideal for touring to small towns and festivals, indeed it has already graced Honouring Theatre Festivals in New Zealand and Australia, Maoli Arts Festival in Hawai’i, Taranaki International Festival of the Arts (NZ), Planet IndigenUS Festival I Toronto (Canada) as well as Rotorua and Manukau.

The blend of old and new songs in te reo and English – mostly original compositions with snippets of a few old standards – works a treat. Kali Kopae and Jamie McCaskill are superb singers and musicians in a wide range of styles and moods. If Kopae has the edge in vocal musicality, McCaskill makes up for it with his ability to work the crowd.

(I realise I may be alone in having my delight in their music spoiled by their compulsive and apparently obligatory recourse to American accents when singing their original and sincerely-felt love songs in English. Do they sing the Maori songs with American accents too, just because they are pop songs?)

I’m not sure whether to describe the love story as simple or simplistic. In their small coastal town of Tî Kapa, Kaia (Kopae) and Pascoe (McCaskill) make beautiful music together. Then she disappears to New York to pursue her career as a singer song-writer and ceases all communication. He takes off down south, to work the big fishing boats in the hoki season and sort his head out.

Kaia realises she’s made a mistake and, still without communicating anything to him, comes home to resume work at the fish factory. Meanwhile Pascoe has returned home to launch and run his own small fishing boat with a mate, Rangi. When she tries to explain, he doesn’t want to know. But tragedy makes them realise they are being petty and music is a great healer.

The play – written by Miria George and Jamie McCaskill – begins with Kaia in concert, telling us she’s been thinking about the past and singing ‘Find the Way’. She receives a visitation from the dead Sister Mere, played by a stooped McCaskill clutching a small silver crucifix. It emerges she is in New York and thinking of Pascoe … A flashback recreates the party scene where love first blossomed in two-part harmony.

McCaskill also plays Kaia’s best friend back home, Maria, who has now become a boss-girl at the fish factory. Their Skype conversation is delightfully comical, as is much of the ensuing action. Kopae dons a beanie to become the rather inept yet spookily spiritual and somewhat poetical Rangi. And McCaskill does a crowd-pleasing turn as the verbose kaumatua at the blessing of the boat.

The pub scene where Rangi and Maria contrive to get Kaia and Pascoe back together is a high point, with fluid transitions allowing the two actors to play the dramatically charged and comical four-hander scene without missing a beat.  

With just a couple of chairs and our imaginations at their command, director Hone Kouka and his cast stage the scenarios – variously set in a NYC nightclub, a party, a fish factory, the beach, a flat-bottomed flounder boat, the pub … – with deceptive ease, maintaining a well-paced flow of light and shade, comedy and drama.  

While the script over-explains things quite a lot, it leaves many questions unanswered to no great benefit. Who exactly is the late Sister Mere? Was she Kaia’s singing teacher, perhaps – is that why she tells Kaia to stay away from Pascoe, so as not to compromise her burgeoning career? I take it she’s a nun, and that being so, why does she call Rangi “My boy?”

Why exactly did Kaia cut off all communication? What was her experience in New York? How hard-won was the apparent success she achieved over there? If she wasn’t just homesick or lonely in ‘The Big Apple’, what was it about Pascoe that drew her back. What were her other options and why did they fall short?

But music is all about feelings and that is the play’s main concern. It’s up to us to fill in the blanks. Even so, a little more information would help us feel less told about the characters’ feelings and get more involved through empathy.

Perhaps the rules for musical theatre are different. Perhaps tuning into their beautiful harmonising as all we need to hear, to intuitively know this is a love that transcends all, and all those other whys and wherefores simply don’t matter. Or is that just a rationalisation?

Still trying to decide: simple or simplistic?
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John Smythe July 28th, 2010

Interesting. So is there such a thing as Maori language pop? And if so is that sung with an American accent too? I believe there are two camps in the Pasifika Rap genre, one resisting whole-heartedly the American accent on the grounds of finding an authentic voice. Yet we have always danced like Yanks to the ten guitars.

Michael Wray July 28th, 2010

Re: NZers singing in American accents, did you see the article on stuff today:

"....the American accent is so tied up with pop music that it has become the norm - to the point where New Zealanders struggle to sing with their own accent..... [however] research suggests [...] an American-influenced accent is the default when singing pop,"

Paul McLaughlin March 10th, 2010

Very much looking forward to seeing this. 

Michael Smythe March 10th, 2010

I too find New Zealanders singing their own songs with American accents distracting, but rather that distract from more important issues related to this review I have started a new forum topic - Auto coloniZation.

John Smythe March 10th, 2010

Hearing Paul Bushnall on Radio NZ National’s ‘Afternoons’ has given me a handle on a part of the play I found too confusing to comment on coherently.

I think this is how it goes: there is a taniwha in the bay; it may be pacified by an oriori (lullaby) which Sister Mere has passed on to Kaia; when the time comes, Kaia either doesn’t sing the oriori, or sings it and fails to avert tragedy, or sings it and saves the life of Pascoe.

The trouble is (as Paul pointed out) both actors are playing the fishermen at the time and the song – if it is there at all – is ‘lost at sea’. If I/we missed something and someone else got it clearly on the night, from the performance, please leap into this comment stream and say so.

PS: Bushnall’s piece ends with a duet sung by McCaskill and Kopae. In this recording his works are heavily accented in American while hers are not (bravo!). To my ear this makes her sound sincere and him sound phoney. [Find podcast link here ]

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