Ka Mate, Ka Ora

Capital E, Wellington

21/05/2008 - 01/06/2008

Production Details

Capital E is pleased to host Te Rakau Hua o Te Wao Tapu Trust’s performance of Ka Mate, Ka Ora. This show dramatically portrays the heart of New Zealand’s Vietnam story. Ka Mate, Ka Ora is a part of Tribute08 – a nationally significant commemoration honouring the legacy of Vietnam War Veterans and their families.

Kimi   Sweet   Cherry   Hohepa  

40 years later, these former soldiers, mates in war and peace, still carry the wounds of two wars: one fought in the paddy fields of Vietnam, the other in the consciousness of a nation that wanted to forget.

Estranged from their own families who struggle with the fallout that came home with them, and horrified by what has befallen their mate Hohepa, Kimi, Sweet and Cherry decide to embark on one last mission to try and put things right – with surprising results.

21 May to 01 June 2008
Capital E McKenzie Theatre, Civic Square, Wellington.
Suitable for age 13 yrs and over.  Contains coarse language

School Prices: 
$6.50 per student
1 teacher per 10 students free.
To Book – Ph: 04 913 3742 or email capitalebookings@wmt.org.nz  

Public Prices: 
$21.50 waged, $16.50 Unwaged, $11.50 student.
To Book – Ph: 04 913 3720 or email capitalebookings@wmt.org.nz 

Performance Times and Dates:
Wed 21 May:  12:30pm & 7.30pm
Thur 22 May:  12:30pm & 7.30pm
Fri 23 May:  12:30pm & 7.30pm
Sat 24 May:  7.30pm 
Sun 25 May:  No performance
Mon 26 May:  10:00am & 12.30pm
Tue 27 May:  12:30pm & 7.30pm 
Wed 28 May:  12:30pm & 7.30pm 
Thurs 29 May:  No performance
Fri 30 May:  12:30pm & 7.30pm
Sat 31 May:  2:00pm & 5.00pm
Sun 01 June:  2:00pm & 5.00pm 

is a Vietnam Commemoration – honouring Veterans’ and their families’ contribution to New Zealand to be held on Queens Birthday Weekend (Friday 30 May – Sunday 1st June). 

Hohepa:  Toa Waaka
Sweet:  Jim Moriarty
Cherry: Colin Barratt
Kimi:  Mita Dunn
Patti:  Helen Pearse-Otene
April (+ other roles):  Maria Walker
Jade:  Tansy Hayden
Benjamin: Isaac Marsh
Te Rauparaha:  Tipene Ngata
+ Te Rakau staff and whanau

Music/guitar: Steve Rangihuna

2 hrs 45 mins, incl. interval

Rough-hewn view of Kiwis in Vietnam

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 27th May 2008

Ka Mate Ka Ora is a rough hewn play about four Kiwi soldiers who served in the Vietnam War, a conflict that until the recent formal memorandum of understanding between the Government and representatives of the Ex-Vietnam Services Association and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association had been swept under a carpet of indifference by the public and the Government.

Commissioned by Tribute 08 – A Vietnam Commemoration and a reunion of all New Zealand Veterans and their families, which is being held in Wellington over Queens Birthday weekend, the play is performed by Te Rakau Hua o Te Wao Tapu Trust. Its Artistic Director, Jim Moriarty, accurately describes Te Rakau’s approach to the play as "’black box’ theatre with no embellishments or trickery."

Many stories, possibly too many, are told in the play, all stemming from the fall-out from the war, but the central one concerns Hohepa (Toa Waaka) who is suffering from post-traumatic distress disorder as well as skin rashes as a result of his time in Vietnam. He is cared for by his loving wife Patti (Helen Pearse-Otene) but she, like officialdom, refuses to face the truth and get him medical help.

Their daughter (Maria Walker) dies of cancer and Hohepa and Patti try to bring up their two grandchildren, Jade (Tansy Hayden) and Ben (Isaac Marsh) who get involved with drink, sex, and a gang of local teenagers who have never heard of the war in Vietnam.

Then Kimi (Mita Dunn), Sweet (Jim Moriarty), and Cherry (Colin Barratt), Hohepa’s mates from the war, shocked at Hohepa’s physical and mental state, decide to sort things out. In doing so they release their own memories of the war which are shown in flashbacks with scenes in the jungle and being rained on by Agent Orange and scenes with a seemingly innocent young Vietnamese boy and his older sister.

There is a lively comic theatricality about the production with an actor playing a fierce dog, an off-stage chorus of ducks when Hohepa is taken by his mates to a park, and a bag-snatching incident in which the victim is mistaken for the criminal.

On a more serious note the shades of the dead daughter and Te Rauparaha (Tipene Ngata), whose famous haka is the title of the play, are visible presences linking past and present, war and peace, life and death.

All the roles are played robustly but before the actors embark on a national tour where they will no doubt play in halls large and small they will need to adjust their performances otherwise their voices won’t last if they speak as loudly as they did in so small a theatre as the McKenzie Theatre.

While lacking the visceral power of Michael James Mania, another play about Vietnam, Ka Mate Ka Ora raises in its own volatile manner the numerous issues that are at last slowly being resolved concerning the soldiers and their families who know to their cost what it means to have fought in Nam.


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True stories told for a powerful purpose

Review by John Smythe 22nd May 2008

Tribute08 is a commemoration honouring the legacy of Vietnam War Veterans and their families. Seeking a theatrical component for the event, creative director Tanemahuta Gray, recalled John Broughton’s Michael James Manaia, which premiered at Downstage in 1991, directed by Colin McColl with Jim Moriarty in the solo role. But when Gray approached Moriarty about reviving it, he discovered his Te Rakau Trust was already working on its own Vietnam-themed play. So Tribute08 got in behind that instead.

Written by Helen Pearse-Otene (who also wrote Battalion, which was part of the NZ International Arts Festival in 2006 and has since toured extensively), Ka Mate Ka Ora looks at the Vietnam War from the perspective of a contemporary small town Mâori family, and reaches back even further to Ngato Toa’s famous warrior chief Te Rauparaha, whose even better-known haka, ‘Ka mate, ka mate, ka ora, ka ora’, celebrates the triumph of life over death. Four Vietnam veterans and a gang of disaffected youths form the other two points of the ‘fighting man’ triangle.   

This richly-textured weave of story elements confirms Pearse-Otene as a playwright of substance. She brings considerable skill to exploring the complex moral issues around that particular war while blending in Te Rakau’s core work of creating a healing process for its ‘at-risk’ participants, and Tribute08’s desire to include a healing opportunity in its activities. The compelling result – an at-times ruthlessly compassionate depiction of realities not easily confronted in other forums – is an impressive reminder of how well drama can facilitate a healing objective.

On opening night the challenging wero, welcoming karanganga and rousing kapa haka sequence electrified the auditorium. Perhaps it was this, nerves and/or a pre-show ‘sock-it-to-them’ pep-talk from the directors that meant the play started with the same full-on intensity I noted in my Battalion review, limiting the dramatic range considerably until more light and shade was allowed to modulate the performances and invite greater audience empathy.

Two children, Jade (Tansy Hayden) and Benjamin (Isaac Marsh), battle over the TV remote. It soon emerges it’s 1998, their dad has run off to Australia, their koro Hohepa (Toa Waaka), a Vietnam vet, has taught them war games with racist baggage and a "don’t trust anyone" rule attached, and their mother April (Maria Walker) is dying. Her unspecified debilitating illness, we eventually deduce, is an inherited result of Hohepa’s exposure to Agent Orange near Nui Dat. The burden of trying to give the kids a good start in life falls on their grandmother, Patti (Helen Pearse-Otene).

Ten years later (i.e. now), as preparations are made for a visit of ‘the Army Uncles’ who shared Hohepa’s tour of duty 40 years ago – Sweet (Jim Moriarty), Cherry (Colin Barratt) and Kimi (Mita Dunn) – things have changed. April has died and is remembered in a sculpture made as a school project by Jade: an abstract carved pou flanked by April and Te Rauparaha (Tipene Ngata), who also appears to Hohepa in visions, including in the Vietnam flashback scenes. 

Ben is at risk of being recruited into a local bandana-wearing youth gang, which is where the Te Rakau whanau get to perform according to their strengths – with one doubling splendidly as a family dog. Jade seems to be pulling her weight by babysitting and ‘phone marketing’ but it turns out there is more to those phone calls than meet our ears. And Hohepa has ‘gone troppo’ with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

As the play progresses the unresolved past in Vietnam comes more and more to the fore, while the Uncles are also instrumental in sorting out the gang, although when it comes to the crunch – an extremely tense moment of threatened violence – it’s Jade who plays the trump card.

In purely theatrical terms the script could be tightened, the production could be more effectively shaped and paced, with some performances better modulated, and one or two things could be clearer. For example, after an excellent build up involving the activities of the soldiers in Vietnam, moving from the discovery of a massacred village to Cherry’s attempts to lay the foundations for his future tourism operations, a crucial monologue that should explain exactly what traumatised Hohepa is hard to follow, and robs that plot of its key turning point.

But the lasting impression is of true stories being told for a powerful purpose and most of the time the telling is fluent and compelling. The authentic dialogue is infused with insightful humour and thoroughly researched information. And there is plenty to ponder on afterwards, like how the different stories ‘talk’ to each other. A young man’s claim he had no choice in a gang rape scenario cannot help but resonate with the position a soldier is in when it comes to personal responsibility and conscience.

On opening night a moved and impressed Vietnam vet suggested theatre productions and soldiering both required discipline, humour, storytelling skills and creativity. It plays until 1 June, often twice a day. Judge for yourself.  


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