KA-SHUE (Letters Home)

Blyth Performing Arts Centre (Iona College), 42 Lucknow Road, Havelock North

20/10/2021 - 20/10/2021

BATS Theatre, The Random Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

24/10/2020 - 24/10/2020

Lawson Field Theatre, Gisborne

15/10/2021 - 16/10/2021

TAHI Festival 2020

Hawkes Bay Arts Festival 2021

Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival 2021

Production Details

Written and performed by Lynda Chanwai-Earle

Close to the bone, Ka-Shue (Letters Home) is an epic story of love and loss, spanning a hundred year’s between China and New Zealand through the eyes of one Chinese family struggling to resettle in Aotearoa.

Ka-Shue’ is a Cantonese phrase for ‘Home Book’ a poetic term covering everything about home, love, and alienation. Life is experienced through the eyes of three generations of the Leung family as they are swept across continents and time; the Second World War, the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, and the infamous buried history of the Poll Tax in New Zealand, £100 levied against Chinese migrants only (1896 to 1944).

Ka-Shue (Letters Home) encompasses a broad sweep of the political events between the two countries as a backdrop for the personal dramas of the five characters played by one actor.

Lynda Chanwai-Earle is a fourth-generation Chinese New Zealander and Poll Tax descendant.

Ka-Shue (Letters Home), premiered at Circa Theatre in 1996, and was the first authentically New Zealand–Chinese play for mainstream audiences.

BATS Theatre, The Random Stage
24 October 2020
Full Price $22
Group 6+ $20
Concession Price $18

by arrangement with Playmarket

The Random Stage is fully wheelchair accessible; please contact the BATS Box Office by 4.30pm on the show day if you have accessibility requirements so that the appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS.


TAHI Festival
This performance is presented as part of and in collaboration with TAHI: New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance.  This five-day festival is dedicated to showcasing Aotearoa’s finest, most engaging solo performance. TAHI gathers soloists from around the nation, and beyond – from established to emerging practitioners – to present work, collaborate and make connections across the industry. Alongside premiering and showcasing solo performances, the Festival provides opportunities for practitioners to extend the life of their performance work, to upskill, and to network through an integrated programme of performance, workshops, and forums. TAHI also seeks to foster relationships among tertiary institutions, actor training courses, secondary schools, BATS Theatre, and industry professionals.

Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival 2021

Festival Club, Lawson Field Theatre, Gisborne
Friday 15 & Saturday 16 October 2021
6pm (Fri), 7pm (Sat)

Booking and transaction fees will apply. Full details will be available on final checkout page prior to payment.

Post Show Talk – Friday 15th October
Warning – strong language & loud sound effects
Performed in Cantonese and English
Suitable for audiences 13 years +
www.icefloetapui.com @IceFloeProductions, @chanwaiearle

Wheelchair seats must be reserved in advance, please ring 0508 iTICKET (484-253).

Please note there may be a lockout policy in place once the show starts, so please ensure you are on time.

Children under 5 – Children are aged 12 and under. All children must have a ticket regardless of age. Please note, only select shows have a child’s price.

Hawkes Bay Arts Festival 2021

The Blyth Performing Arts Centre (Iona College)
Wed 20th October 2021
Adult:  $39.00
Group – 10 or More Adult Tickets:  $35.10
Concession:  $34.00


Music by Nikau Wi Neera
Sound Design by Phil Brownlee
Set Ddesign: John Parker/Lynda Chanwai-Earle
Mask by John Verryt
Headpiece by Rosemary Jones.
Operated by Bekky Boyce  

Theatre , Solo ,

1 hr

Moving, thoughtful and provocative

Review by Li Dan 16th Oct 2021

Ka-Shue (Letters Home) is showing at the Lawson Field Theatre as part of the Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival. The play is described in publicity as an “epic story of love, laughter and loss, and spans one hundred years through the eyes of a Chinese family struggling to settle in Aotearoa.”

I do not know what to expect as I have never been to a one person play before. As it turns out, Lynda Chanwai-Earle is not alone on stage. She is accompanied by an amazing young musician, Nikau Wi Neera, and the two work seamlessly together to produce a moving, thoughtful and provocative piece of art. The writer and performer of this play is Lynda Chanwai-Earle, who is a descendant of a Chinese family in New Zealand. The show first appeared on stage in Wellington in 1996 as the first authentically New Zealand–Chinese play for mainstream audiences.

Lynda Chanwai-Earle is a brilliant performer who transitions seamlessly between five different characters across three generations of her Chinese family: Jacqui, the daughter who meets a boy in Hong Kong and naively follows him to Beijing just before the Tian’anmen Square event; Abbie, Jacqui’s mother, who first arrived in Wellington as a baby and later on rebelled against her Chinese family and married a Pakeha husband; Por Por, Jacqui’s grandmother, and the step-mother who brings baby Abbie to New Zealand; Gung Gung, Jacqui’s grandfather; Lady Li, the ghost and also Abbie’s mother.

I can easily tell the different characters Lynda portrays just by listening to her use of voice, accents, minimal props and the accompanying sound track. The music is a different language, beautifully woven into the story by the use of traditional Chinese, Western and Māori instruments.

I appreciate the authenticity and simplicity of the stage set-up. Upstage centre is a white-faced Beijing Opera Imperial concubine mask hanging on a long piece of red cloth, indicating the legend of the infamous Concubine Li, who ‘Lady Li’ named herself after. There is one wooden chair on each side of the stage with several small props that set the scene of an authentic Chinese family with a hint of western influence. A glass of cognac is Gung Gung’s favourite drink and he enjoys playing Majong.

The story has an ambitious goal of showing one hundred years of history within an hour. The parts that touch me the most are the letters Jacqui sends home to her Por Por and the recordings Abbie sends to Jacqui. I wish there could be more story development within the three amazing female characters to show the depth of their relationship and character development.


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Distils complex elements of epic proportions into a potent liqueur

Review by John Smythe 25th Oct 2020

[Revised for accuracy on 30 October 2020]

It’s a shock to realise it has taken only an hour for Lynda Chanwai-Earle’s Ka Shue to traverse 100 years while sharing the stories of three generations of women in two countries – even more so given it all plays out at a gentle pace.

A classical Chinese Opera Imperial Concubine mask takes upstage centre focus in the otherwise simple set. Clad throughout in a dark long-sleeved cheongsam, Chanwai-Earle first appears as the exotic ‘Lady Lee’ who has named herself after a famed concubine of legend whose mythologised story is also threaded through the complex multi-generational tapestry.

In mentioning her daughter, it’s clear ‘Lady Lee’ is contemptuous of the name the child’s father has given her: Abbie. Nor does she have time for the child herself, not least because – as it emerges over the hour – ‘Lady Lee’ has been side-lined for other wives by the child’s hotel-manager father, not to mentionhis preoccupation with mah-jong and quality cognac.

In the first of many instant transitions – signified by subtle changes in being and maybe the odd prop, and sometimes enhanced by Nikau Wi Neera’s live musical accompaniment on traditional Chinese instruments – Chanwai-Earle leaps a generation to become Abbie’s daughter Jacqueline (Jacqui), a New Zealander visiting Beijing in January 1989 (year of the snake) with Paul, the Chinese boyfriend she met in Hong Kong.  

When it premiered at Circa Theatre in 1996, the play was called Ka Shue (Letters Home) and it is Jacqui’s letters home to her por por (her mother’s step-mother who escaped the Second Sino-Japanese War and brought Abbie to New Zealand), which carry her part of the story. They develop into reports-from-the-front of the infamous Tiananmen Square Protests – and Phil Brownlee’s sound design comes to the fore at the climax of that storyline.

Jacqui’s mother, Abbie, records her messages to Jacqui on a portable cassette recorder. Her story also segues into recollections of her own struggle for independence, specifically her right to have a Kiwi boyfriend, Nigel, and to marry him. Conversely Jacqui has met opposition over her relationship with Paul because Chinese men are thought to be unreliable. Yet it all comes to a head at a farewell lunch for Jacqui, attended by her father, Nigel, with his new partner, Janet.

Watching the play – which is closely based on Chanwai-Earl’s own Chinese family history – is a bit like studying different parts of a tapestry before stepping back to comprehend the piece as a whole. The connecting theme is mothers and daughters, where each daughter’s independence becomes an issue, not least with regard to their relationships with men. In little Abbie’s case, however, it is not her choice to gain the ‘independence’ from her parents that sets her course for New Zealand. Nor is it Jacqui’s choice to gain sudden ‘independence’ from Paul.

This family-focused theme resonates at a macro level, set against China’s battles with neighbouring forces and its internal upheavals, from Imperial China to The People’s Republic then a new generation’s demands for democratic freedoms.

Lynda Chanwai-Earle, directed by Kathy McRae, weaves the tapestry methodically, moving back and forth in time, and bringing different tones and colourings into play for each of the characters she personifies: Jacqui’s grandmother, ‘Lady Lee’; the man who fathered her unwanted child and called her Abbie; the step-mother who brings baby Abbie to New Zealand and is therefore called ‘por por’ by Jacqui; adult Abbie, Jacqui’s mother; and Jacqui herself.  

As the action switches from one woman’s story to another, then another and another, I find myself more engaged in objectively working out how the story elements connect than subjectively empathising with each woman’s experiences. Part of me wants the narrative to be driven by a stronger purpose, like Jacqui’s need to explore her maternal history. And I wonder if more light and shade in the pacing would make it all more gripping.

Yet the way overall clarity gradually comes into focus does have its own dramatic value. Whichever way you look at it, Ka Shue distils (to change the metaphor) complex elements of epic proportions into a potent liqueur that resonates and radiates more with every sip. 


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