NZ Academy of Fine Arts, 1 Queens Wharf, Wellington

28/02/2012 - 03/03/2012

NZ Fringe Festival 2012

Production Details

Hūrai is a powerful and engaging play which explores the complex relationship between cultures at the origins of modern day Aotearoa/New Zealand.  The play draws upon both European and Māori strands of cultural heritage, interweaving a story loosely based upon Papahurihia, a Māori religious leader from the Bayof Islandsin the 1830s, with the dramatic structure of the classical Greek play The Bacchae

The action centres around Thomas Keene, a fictional English missionary who tries to fulfil his own conception of religious duty, but who is led inexorably into conflict.  His adversary Papa preaches a potent mix of Māori and Old Testament lore, calling his religious followers Hūrai (Jews), reflecting a belief that Māori are the children of Shem, the lost tribe ofIsrael.

Since the play has its origins in both Māori and European traditions, the new production by Ralph Johnson seeks to draw upon both Māori and European approaches to theatre.  The bicultural approach to the play builds upon the cultural expertise among the cast, with elements of Tikanga Māori as well as western stagecraft.  The strength of the traditions which feed into the production results in a moving piece of theatre, which has the power both to shock and entertain.

Hūrai was first produced inDunedinin 2009, as a unique joint production by theUniversityofOtago’sSchoolofMāori Studies, and Departments of Classics and Theatre Studies.  The Otago Daily Times hailed it as ‘one of the most powerful productions of the year’, with audiences ‘stunned into appreciative, awed concentration on every word and movement’.  This is the firstWellingtonproduction, mounted by the author’sWellingtonbased family.

DIRECTOR RALPH JOHNSON has worked with playwright Harry Love since 1994, when he performed the title role in Love’s original translation of Oedipus Rex.  While known chiefly as an actor, he has directed since the mid 1990s, with projects ranging from solo shows to large-scale Shakespeare productions.  He has a strong connection with New Zealand history through his work as a casual host at Te Papa, touring and teaching with the Treaty 2U exhibition, and through two self-devised solo performances: Ironside (2000) and A Kete of Cooked Kumara (2011).

PLAYWRIGHT HARRY LOVE is a director, actor and classical scholar, best known for his translations of Greek classics over a period of two decades.  His comedy All’s Well that Ends was awarded the prize for best Dunedin scripts at the inaugural Duneidn Theatre Awards in 2010.  His performance as Estragon in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot won national acclaim.  He is presently Honorary Fellow at theUniversity ofOtago’s Department of Classics.

6:30pm Tuesday 28 February to Saturday 3 March
Academy Gallery
New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Queens Wharf, Wellington
Bookings: ph 04 384 8854 or email bookforhurai@gmail.com  

PAPA – Tama Kirikiri
THOMAS KEENE – David Allen
AGNES KEENE – Gina Vanessi
PITA – Latham Potiki-Clune
CHORUS 1 – Martine Gray
CHORUS 2 – Holley Hornell
CHORUS 3 – Kahu Taiaroa

Composer/musician: Jonathan Berkahn

Producers: Guthrun Love and Tom Love
Production assistant: Monika Smith
Poster design: Leda Farrow

Important work delivered with flair

Review by John Smythe 01st Mar 2012

There is a tenuous connection between Harry Love’s Hūrai and Euripides’ The Bacchae in its dramatic structure and theme of cultural clash: where Pentheus is intolerant of Bacchanalian rituals, so a missionary regards the natural ways of Maori living as against godliness.

Less simple, more dramatic and extremely relevant in light of the atrocities being committed daily by religious fundamentalist forces around the world, is the conflict between old and new testament values as missionaries bring their teachings to Aotearoa New Zealand.

Set in the 1830s, the religious beliefs of Papa (Tama Kirikiri) – the Nga Puhi prophet Papahurihia, who saw Maori as “the children of Shem, the lost tribe ofIsrael” and so adopted the name Hūrai (Jews) for his people – come into conflict with those of Christian missionary Thomas Keene (David Allen).  

Initially there is fun to be had at the expense of Keene’s uptight morality and protestant work ethic, as this wife Agnes (Gina Vanessi) is drawn to the Maori way of life, exemplified by a Chorus of three: Martine Gray, Holley Hornell and kahu Taiaroa.  Keene’s right-hand-man Alexander Williams (Tom Rainbird), dubbed Wiremu, attempts to moderate but lives only to report the atrocities that ensue.

Any temptation to align comfortably with Papa and his followers against colonial values is subverted when he tells Thomas that Pita (Latham Potiki-Clune) has been given to him as his slave boy and he must treat him as such. But there is worse to come.

The principle of utu, involving the avenging murder of a young girl just because she is the daughter of an enemy chief, challenges Thomas to take a fatal step and challenges us to face up to a realistic evaluation of what Christianity and colonisation has brought to Aotearoa New Zealand, albeit in ways that could have been better.

The ‘moral’, as I see it, is that the hysteria fundamentalist dogma can engender is self-defeating, be it in the guise of ecstatic bacchanalian ritual, repression of all that is natural or revenge killings that perpetuate the cycle of violence.

Simply and clearly directed by Ralph Johnson, Hūrai sits well in the Academy Gallery of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. The majestic Totara pillars are well utilised and the resonant acoustics are mostly a plus, especially when Kirikiri’s powerful voice fills the space.

Harry Love (from Otago University’s Classics Department) has contributed an important work to theNew Zealand theatre canon and this company delivers it with flair.

For reviews of the original production in Dunedin, click here


anonymous Wellington March 2nd, 2012

I attended this play on night two. One thing that is missing from your review that I would like to add is the excellent casting. I thought the actors were amazing for a production which had minimal funding. In partular I thought bothThomas (David Allen)  and Papa (Tama Kirikiri) were brilliant and they are still edged in my mind. Well done to the whole cast of Huria and to Harry Love for writing a great play. What talent we have in this country.

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