LARGER THAN LIFE an adventure of epic proportions
The Dark Room, Cnr Pitt and Church Street, Palmerston North
08/06/2017 - 10/06/2017
Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington
14/06/2017 - 17/06/2017
Te Pou Theatre, 44a Portage Road, New Lynn, Auckland
22/06/2017 - 24/06/2017
Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland LIVE, Auckland
30/06/2017 - 01/07/2017
TAKE A JOURNEY THROUGH 60’S, 70’S & 80’S RURAL AOTEAROA WITH POLITICS, HUMOUR & CLASSIC KIWI TUNES
Following their initial successful development season at Te Pou, Auckland’s Māori home for theatre, Larger Than Life continues its development embarking on its ﬁrst national tour heading to three centres.
Larger Than Life is a rollicking show that takes audiences on a home grown adventure, soaked in nostalgia and kiwi humour, heading to Palmerston North June 8-10, Wellington June 14 – 17 and a return season in Auckland at Te Pou June 24 – 27 and for the first time to Auckland Live at the Herald June 30 and 31.
Travel back in time to small town Aotearoa, and join three brothers, as they land the opportunity of a lifetime, opening for the legendary John Rowles in Wellington. All they have to do is get there and not screw it up! The boys embark on an adventure of epic proportions as they meet famous faces, Kiwi icons, wacky New Zealand characters and ultimately experience the trip of a lifetime, featuring music from and inspired by Prince Tui Teka, the Topp Twins, Tim Finn, and of course… John Rowles.
Written by Tainui Tukiwaho (Billy T James, The Almighty Johnsons) and Chris Rex Martin (Ugly Shakespeare, Woman in Black), Larger Than Life stars new theatre talents Brady Peeti (Mirror Mirror, Dreamgirls), Shadrack Simi and Chris Martin who bring NZ music nostalgia of the 1970s and 1980s to the stage, transporting audiences back to the golden days of the iconic Māori show bands.
A reﬂection on Larger Than Life from a Te Reo Māori teacher and ﬁrst time theatre goer, Pohoira Iopata: “I was proud to be Māori watching this show, seeing our language intertwined with Māori humour scattered throughout. All in all there was a good classic Kiwi vibe that rippled throughout the show and the actors did an amazing job pulling it oﬀ. Hei konā mai I roto I āku mihi.”
Te Rēhia Theatre Company, the makers of SolOthello and Hoki Mai Tama Mā both met with critical acclaim, is named in honour of the atua (gods) of leisure and games was established in 2012 by Tainui Tukiwaho, Regan Taylor and Kayne Peters. The company is currently headed by experienced theatre practitioners Regan Taylor and Amber Curreen and based at Te Pou – The Auckland home of Māori Theatre, in New Lynn, Auckland, NZ.
The company are passionate about showcasing Māori stories and storytellers to Aotearoa and the world. Te Rēhia is excited by fascinating stories that can be told innovatively in theatre. Some of the works they have developed and toured throughout NZ include Te Awarua (2011 – 2013) by Albert Belz, Hoki Mai Tama Mā by Tainui Tukiwaho (2014), SolOthello (2015 & 2016) and the annual regional tours of Ruia Te Kākano (2011 – 2016).
An independent theatre company, Te Rēhia Theatre appreciate the support they receive for their projects from Creative New Zealand, Mā Te Reo and Auckland Regional Council.
Te Rēhia theatre is presenting three shows this Matariki: Larger Than Life, Mo & Jess Kill Susie and Ruia Te Kākano a Māori language show for youth.
Larger Than Life plays:
Dates: June 8 – 10
Venue: The Dark Room, Church & Pitt St
Tickets: $10 – $15
Bookings: Centrepoint box oﬃce on (06) 354 5740 or www.thedarkroomnz.com
Dates: June 14 – 17
Venue: Circa 2, 1 Taranaki Street, Te Aro
Tickets: $20 – $25
Bookings: Circa box oﬃce on (04) 801 7992 or www.circa.co.nz
Dates: June 24 – 27
Venue: Te Pou Theatre, 44A Portage Road, New Lynn
Tickets: $15 – $20
Bookings: 0508 iTICKET (484-253) or www.iticket.co.nz
AUCKLAND LIVE PRESENTS
Dates: June 30 & July 1
Venue: The Herald Theatre, 50 Mayoral Drive
Tickets: $15 – $25
Bookings: 0800 111 999 or www.aucklandlive.co.nz
Theatre , Musical ,
A real trip down memory lane
Review by Ethan Sills 04th Jul 2017
In the opening scene, where one of the cast member’s chairs fails to spin around during the first song due to sabotage, Larger Than Life puts all its cards on the table. It’s a comedy, it’s a musical, it’s proudly Maori, it’s camp, bitchy and has a lot of soul. If you don’t enjoy those first few minutes, you are in for a rough 70 minutes.
Yet at the show’s first Auckland performance on Friday night, the crowd was anything but disappointed. It is rare to witness such a continuous and infectious joy radiating from a theatre audience. At times, it felt more like watching a concert than a play, with the crowd joining in and signing along. [More]
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Hilarious and poignant cultural, historical and socio-political reverie
Review by Nik Smythe 01st Jul 2017
Two chairs, a stool and a guitar are all the set and props required for Te Rēhia Theatre’s rollicking three-hander, in the classic travel-light tradition of touring productions. Three fellows enter and set the scene with a rousing madcap medley of waiata sung and played in the varying styles of certain distinctive pop-stars, just a taste of the versatile performance skills that made these lads a busking sensation in Huntly back in the day.
Shadrack Simi plays the eldest of three Jackson brothers, though being the hypersensitive romantic that he is he often behaves like the youngest. A stout man boasting an impressively multisyllabic name (Te-Whakakotahitanga-o-Ngā-iwi-o-Te-Motu Boy-George Jackson), known to all simply as Tahi, he has mystifyingly chosen the infamous Mr Muldoon to be his personal hero.
Brady Peeti as the middle brother, whose similarly extensive name (Te-Rua-Wairere-o-Ranginui-Ki-A-Papatuanuku Presley Jackson) is shortened to Rua for ease of communication, is the most conniving of the three, as well as the most determined and proud to be ‘The Gayest’. Like Tahi, Rua is a large man whose physical stature and powerful vocals are underpinned with a rather petulant sensibility as he tirelessly baits his brothers.
Playwright Chris Rex Martin is the youngest, smallest, toughest, cleverest and rudest of the boys with a slightly shorter name (Tuahangata Liberace Jackson), who has for some reason been given the handle E Honda by his brothers despite his fruitless efforts to get them to call him Ryu. Now mute for reasons to be elucidated in due course, in their prepubescent days he was the quickest-witted fast-talking grifter, as well as remarkably articulate in the discourse of history and politics.
With this able cast more than up for it, director Tainui Tukiwaho constructs a wholly engaging theatrical journey as the two speaking brothers narrate their eponymous adventure at the respective ages of eight, ten and twelve, back in the rose-tinted good old halcyon days “when New Zealand was perfect”. Along the way they engender all manner of exploits as they intrepidly head to Wellington for their breakthrough opportunity to support top Kiwi entertainer John Rowles and, more importantly, obtain his autograph for their mum whom they love.
Effectively playing characters within characters, Simi, Peeti and Martin portray a number of incidental roles during the trans-North Island odyssey as Tahi, Rua and E. Honda/Ryu, their infectious natural humour cushioning what would otherwise be jarringly irreverent, potty-mouthed main characters. Music plays an intrinsic part both in the story and its telling, where again the boys display an accomplished versatility even as they bastardise various beloved songs with their playfully impertinent parodies.
The action takes us through various rural and small-town locales wherein inevitably all manner of outrageous incidents take place, often involving other beloved entertainers and political figures from the nebulous 70s/80s era – the Topps, Prince Tui Teka, Tuku Morgan, Georgina Beyer, et al – appearing together in the Jackson boys’ tale with no concern for chronological accuracy.
If one were to draw a median point for all the historic references in the story between the young farming Finn brothers and Street Fighter II, I’d place it at around 1979, evinced by an easily missed passing reference to carless days. This means the adult brothers regaling their overland adventure fifteen years earlier are doing so somewhere round the mid-nineties, which surely can’t be far off the time this erudite young playwright was born.
Would there be any practical point attempting to contemporise all the archival data referenced in the narrative? I dare say not. The action plays out like a kind of reverie, exaggerated and twisted as treasured memories are wont to become. It’s a cultural celebration, examination, recognition and affirmation; a poignant folly acknowledging the importance and the absurdity of everything we hold dear. Just go with it, join the rebellious road trip as three starry-eyed brothers chase their dream of fame down the line to meet their destiny, which, typically, emerges as entirely different to the destiny they were intending.
The final act’s bombshell effectively undermines the glory of everything that’s gone before, and is delivered in such a convivial, matter-of-fact way that the emotional reality doesn’t really hit me at the time. The boys have evidently processed the burden of indirect responsibility they must have carried since that time; while it’s clear on a cerebral level, on reflection it’s strange that such a life-altering event has a less visceral impact in the moment than something that significant ought to have.
As it stands in this inaugural development season, the plot and its twists are just a framework on which to hang their hilarious cultural, historical and socio-political references, amounting to a wholly satisfying hour-plus of entertainment. As an actual child of the time I can think of countless other people, products pastimes that would fit well in the mix, should they wish to expand and maximise that predominant aspect. Alternatively, or as well, they might choose to accentuate the dramatic reality of the boys’ journey. But even if they don’t change a thing, Larger Than Life is already greater than the sum of its parts.
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Sheer talent delivers a smartly crafted script
Review by Lexie Matheson 26th Jun 2017
Mā te rongo, ka mōhio; Mā te mōhio, ka mārama; Mā te mārama, ka mātau; Mā te mātau, ka ora.
Through resonance comes cognisance; through cognisance comes understanding; through understanding comes knowledge; through knowledge comes life and well-being.
Occasionally – not often – but occasionally, I leave a theatre wondering what this thing we call ‘theatre’ is and why we engage in it, often at considerable personal expense. This reflection invariably canvasses almost five decades of wearing the diverse hats of practitioner, audience member and, on almost 200 occasions, reviewer. The roles overlap, get in each other’s way, appraise, debate, dispute, deliberate and, more often than not, keep me awake at night.
Larger Than Life: an adventure of epic proportions is one of those shows. It’s usually the really good experiences or the really bad ones that challenge me most and this was definitely one of the good ones.
Vicky Featherstone, artistic director of Paines Plough touring company and The National Theatre of Scotland, when asked to define ‘theatre’ hedges her bets ending each scrambled attempt with “whatever that may mean”. I totally empathise.
In his seminal work The Empty Space, Sir Peter Brook wrote: “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.” I once swore by this definition – it seemed perfect in 1968 and I still own my dog-eared copy from those days – but it now seems shallow, sexist, incomplete and more than a trifle pretentious; a childlike demarcation than excludes more possibilities than it embraces. We need, I tell myself, something more ephemeral, more elemental, more visceral, more primal.
Where, for example, would The National Theatre of Scotland’s ‘Theatre without Walls’ programme fit within Brook’s imperfect concept, or contemporary digital performances that have no actors in them at all? I remain bemused.
Eventually I give up. I give up on finding some unique, universal meaning and ask myself what theatre is to me; what did this production do that was so exceptional and so incalculably satisfying that it set itself apart from run of the mill ‘good work’? This hunt now seems like one of those eternal quests such as for the Holy Grail or the Crystal Skull and I suddenly I feel like the palest shadow of even the most pathetic Indiana Jones clone.
Anticipation seems important. I was looking forward to revisiting an excellent experience I’d had in February when invited to attend a development showing of this same show. I always tell my students that the three steps to a having a contented customer are a) satisfy expectations, b) exceed expectations, and c) include a surprise. Yes, these goals are all achieved with Larger Than Life: an adventure of epic proportions.
Then I applied the tools I use in my own life to the production: tika, pono, aroha. Did it seem to be on a true path, was it fashioned and performed with integrity and honesty, and was it redolent with the essence of love?
Was I moved by it, did it touch my heart, were the politics sound, was the whole thing balanced between the korero, the music, the text, the narrative, the action playing, the subtext, the direction, the technical, the three excellent performances, the many characterisations, the interactions …? So much goes into creating a work of this quality.
The simple answer is yes, everything gelled perfectly for the full 70 minutes plus the Q and A afterwards.
So what’s the narrative of this extraordinary journey?
Well, it’s as Kiwi as Jaffas, ‘yeah right’ and ghost chips, and this antipodean specificity is at the heart of much of its charm and its punch. It’s also as implacably embedded in our national identity as Muldoon, dawn raids, Hobson’s Pledge and David Bain, and all performed to the irrepressible soundtrack of our shared musical history: Prince Tui Teka, the Topp Twins, Tim and Neil Finn, John Rowles; all the showbands you can remember and every waiata you’ve ever sung in the back of a bus, in a country hall or in a woolshed right up and down the country since forever.
Sounds like a bit of a nostalgic romp, eh? All those Keil Isles, Māori Volcanics, Māori Quin Tikis and Howard Morrison hits. Yes, it is, but it’s not as well. It’s more and less than that. There are emotional ups and downs of a rollercoaster nature. Cul de sacs are explored and our withers wrung on more occasions than I, for one, could have reasonably expected. It’s rich but economic. There’s nothing there that doesn’t need to be.
Embedded in the ‘more’ is the Te Rehia goal as articulated by director Tainui Tukiwaho: “If we openly recognise that the current norm in theatre sits within the framework of a European construct,” he suggests, “if we use that language, then we open up space to have a conversation about whether that European construct is what we should be embracing as our norm.” To a considerable extent the exceptional success of Larger than Life is in and around how it fulfils this aim, and how it interacts with the mores of the dominant culture. Te Rēhia Theatre, established in 2012, is all about presenting innovative Māori theatre that promotes Te Ao Māori, a Māori world view, and ‘Larger than Life’ certainly achieves that.
The clever advertising tells us that “‘Larger than Life’were Ngaruawahia’s third-best children’s novelty act back in the 70s and 80s. Now they’re all grown up and ready for a comeback.” That’s a great set up, I’m sure you’ll agree.
“Travel back in time,” the marketing material continues, “to small town Aotearoa, and join three hūpē nosed brothers, Te-Whakakotahitanga-o-Ngā-iwi-o-Te-Motu Boy-George Jackson played by Shadrack Simi (Ngāti Kahungunu and Rongomai Wahine), Te-Rua-Wairere-o-Ranginui-Kia-Papatuanuku Presley Jackson played by Brady Peeti (Te Ati Hau Nui A Paparangi and Ngati Maniapoto) and with Chris Rex Martin (Ngāti Raukawa) as Tuahangata Liberace Jackson, as they land the opportunity of a lifetime – opening for the legendary John Rowles in Wellington. All they have to do is get there and not screw it up!”
We’re invited to “Come along as the boys take you on an adventure of epic proportions as they meet famous faces, Kiwi icons, wacky New Zealand characters and ultimately … screw it all up.”
It helps that, for ease of recognition, the boys are also called Tahi (Simi), Rua (Peeti) and E-Honda (Martin) but check out the meaning of their longer form names because there’s some character guidance tucked away for you there too. These are exquisitely executed characterisations of pre-teen Māori kids but they never fall into the trap of being stereotypes. Clever, subtle stuff.
The show opens in darkness. There is quiet, almost inaudible, guitar playing and a wordless harmony. Over the opening few minutes, as the performers become visible, we are treated to snippets of classic songs ‘Hine e Hine’, Engelbert Humperdinck’s ‘Ten Guitars’ and The Drifters’ ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’, and some cool relationship schtick between the boys.
We are told that the journey we are on will take us back, back even to a time before homosexuality. The competitive interaction between Simi and Peeti is made even more effective by the obvious silence of the third. ‘E Tama Ma’ follows, along with apartheid jokes, and Muldoon is mentioned. We are told that this group, Larger than Life, the third most important children’s group in Ngaruawahia, had knocked the Topp Twins ‘off the top’. Already the humour is childlike, infectious and the performances sharp and ingratiating. It’s working a treat.
There is a ‘busk-off’ between the Topp Twins and the Larger than Life boys. The boys play ‘the twins’ superbly. There is yodelling, a snippet of Muddy Water’s ‘My Ding a Ling’ and more than enough hilarious double and triple entendre. The audience is totally engaged and the laughter spontaneous and authentic. Everyone in this opening night full house is fully engaged with the cultural millieu being re-enacted in front of them. Many of us were around at the time even if the performers were not.
We are introduced to Robert Johnson – or, as he is now known, Ropata – a born-again, Pākehā Māori played splendidly by Chris Rex Martin who has mastered the art of playing two characters at once and having them credibly speak with each other. It’s a high point of the evening. There is a massive amount of craft on show and it’s not just Martin, but Simi and Peeti exhibit exceptional, sometimes arcane, talent. Peeti, for example, does a perfect Prince Tui Teka and seems able to physically spin on a five cent piece with the dexterity of a Baryshnikov, while Simi can morph, without any hint of parody, into every iconic singer of the 70s and 80s.
Martin’s E-Honda has the potty mouth of a longshoreman – a sign of high intelligence we’re told – while his two older brothers vie viciously for the title of who is the gayest. Peeti’s Rua, full of guilt-inducing tears, wins.
Ropata Johnson offers the boys the opportunity of a lifetime, to open for John Rowles at his next Wellington concert. There’s only one problem: they have to make their own way there and they have no money. This creates a theatrical opportunity for us to meet Mum and Koro and while Mum isn’t fooled for a moment by the ‘My Mum’s so Pretty’ showstopper, poor old Koro is conned into providing the $1.60 necessary to get the boys to Aotearoa’s capital city.
In case we had forgotten, there’s a reminder that this is a road trip and, as with all good road trips, we meet a range of fascinating and exotic Kiwi characters along the way. Writer/director Tukiwaho and writer Martin ensure we take home emblematic memories that are Kerouac-like in their regional significance including a pregnant sheep and Tim and Neil Finn of Te Awamutu before they become famous. This meeting gives birth to the best musical parody of the night (Crowded House’s ‘Fall at Your Feet’) and the magical ovine line ‘I feel something moving inside her’.
It’s sublime stuff and it connects us all in time and place. The song features great harmonies and we get to share the extraordinary talents of these three performers as they recreate the Crowded House sound but not the lyrics, oh dear no. You have to listen carefully but they’re substantially different. And, yes, the show does have some very black moments.
We get Peeti and his pitch-perfect rendition of Prince Tui Teka’s ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’, replete with vibrato, alongside Freddy Fender’s ‘When the Next Tear Drop Falls’. It’s all fabulous, escapist stuff – but it does come with some solid kicks in the puku. Much to the delight of the drama students in the audience, our Samoan and Tongan whanau cop a serve, and around this time the laughter seems to go on forever. Maybe it’s unique to Tamaki Makaurau but this sort of self-deprecating humour seems to really hit close to our hearts, and considering what is still to come …
However, I’m not going to tell you any more because it would spoil some of the best theatre moments it’s possible to imagine; because this is exceptionally clever work. Suffice to say, it’s not over until it’s over. In fact, the way the text and the performances interact with each other giving us opportunities to track back through what we have already seen and to make a new sense of it is a powerful feature of this production and, done this well is, in my experience, quite rare.
It takes great courage to seemingly endlessly dissect, deconstruct and restore a work that’s already in performance to such a degree that the final product becomes as integrated and satisfying as Larger than Life is and every iota of applause if fully earned.
In a wonderful scene that is, like a number of moments in the show, potentially offensive, we meet Brady’s ‘boy in a dress’. Tahi refuses to believe that it’s a boy and falls instantly in love with ‘her’ but E-Honda isn’t fooled and says so, forcefully. It is, in fact, transgender icon Georgina Beyer played beautifully by Peeti. Close your eyes and listen, and it’s Beyer alright. So much, I think to myself, for Tahi vying to be the most gay!
Somehow, through the craft and good humour of the performers and the readiness of the audience to ‘play the game’, the scene transcends any potential for offence but instead creates opportunities for deep self-reflection in both audience and actors. This is supported, I believe, by the actors’ ability to knock down the fourth wall, engage the audience and, for a special moment or two, have a young woman they pluck from the audience play Beyer herself. To begin with, the audience member isn’t at all sure about this but the honest serenading of these fine young performers quickly wins her over – and we hardened souls lurking in the dark as well.
There’s a riotously funny TV interview scene between E-Honda and Tukuroirangi Morgan and, between E-Honda’s potty mouth and Morgan’s notoriety, the audience is left gasping for air as the comedy reaches an almost unbearable height. Expensive undies come to mind.
There’s more, much more, but my lips are finally sealed because to tell more would be to really spoil the narrative and potentially your enjoyment as well. Suffice to say that these fine performers continue to take the audience on a most unexpected journey through the eventual climax of the play to the joyous curtain call.
Perhaps the most memorable take-away feature of the show is the dexterity and sheer talent of the performers. All three have craft to burn, the result of engaging their natural ability with good training. Each sings superbly and that’s a big plus.
Special mention must be made of Martin and director Tukiwaho’s smartly crafted script which must have gone through many iterations before settling into the current version. It’s hard to imagine that this will be the final edition though, because these are artists who will not be satisfied until they have achieved absolute perfection. Having the courage to cut, to trim, to expunge completely, material that pulls away from the centre, even if it’s material to which you have become emotionally attached, is a wonderful skill and while I miss some of the scenes from version one, what they have been replaced with are far, far superior. Great work, and we, the audience, benefit.
Being opening night we had the joy of a Q&A session with actors and director Tukiwaho. While these often unreal occasions can sometimes be an exercise in embarrassment as audience and cast stare silently at each other, this was mercifully not like that. Students from PIPA (the Pacific Institute of Performing Arts) thanked director and cast with a well-earned, well-performed haka which set the scene superbly. Following Tukiwaho’s mihi, the kōrero was vivid and informed and the laughter rich and welcome.
I suspect also, that the deep reflection continued well into the night. It certainly did for me. There was an openness I have seldom seen or experienced during discussions of this nature and, for me, the audience member who mentioned the King Country in which much of the journey took place brought back memories of three years teaching in this heartland of Aotearoa. It’s a unique place with its own distinct whakapapa and the production captures it superbly.
Larger than Life is perhaps the most complete work of its type that I have seen for decades. It speaks volumes for the philosophy of Te Rehia Theatre Company and the unified beliefs of actors and director that a work like this can exist without stereotyping; that it can speak with such a powerful, human voice and not back down. It’s not often that we experience a piece of work so capable of communicating both with itself and for itself and to its audience. There were powerful moments in the foyer afterwards as well, as we had the opportunity to meet and embrace the performers and to all share a kai and a glass of wine each with each.
It’s taken me a couple of days to get my head around writing this review in part because I can’t get the bloody songs out of my head and in part because, without exception, the characters have taken up residence in my brain whether I want them there or not. I’m not at all sure I want Robert Johnson residing there but I’m happy to have the boys, their Mum and their Koro stay with me forever. They are in good company because I have known so many people just like them and I number them amongst my very best friends.
Larger than Life now moves to the Herald Theatre for shows on Friday 30 June and Saturday 01 July with both performances at 8.00pm. You should go and see it whether you’re a native New Zealander or not because the characters are universal, transcend place and time, and are performed with such authentic integrity, not to mention talent, that you’re guaranteed a great night out where ever you come from. After all, “It’s your happiness that matters most of all.”
Whāia te māramatanga.
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“They’re so good”
Review by Maraea Rakuraku 17th Jun 2017
Three ihu hūpē from Ngaruawāhia have landed the opportunity of a lifetime. They’ve scored a gig to open for the Māori crooner himself, John Rowles. But there’s a problem, they barely have two cents to rub together, they live in Ngaruawāhia, the gig’s in Wellington and they’re pretty sure their formidable Mum and their crafty koroua will thwart their plans.
So, what are these Māori brothers to do? Duh. Get John Rowles autograph for Mum of course by tricking koro, jumping on a bus and having adventures along the way in Te Awamutu, Ruatāhuna and Feilding. All the while meeting and serenading sheep, The Finn brothers – Tim and Neil, Georgina Beyer and Tukuroirangi Morgan. That’s Larger than Life in summary.
Does this spoil the show. Absolutely not. It’s really that good.
They’re so good I actually start wracking my brain, was there an actual well-known boy band from Ngaruawāhia who made it big?
They’re so good. Are they brothers?
They’re so good. I check their surnames in the programme.
They’re so good. Having different surnames means nothing. They could still be brothers.
They’re so good as they rally me in to play their Mum, I actually, for a moment find myself thinking – Am I their Mum?
They’re so good, that afterwards while having a kai -a punter says to me, you can’t be their Mum- you’re far too young.
Yes. That’s right. That’s how good they are.
Simi, Peeti and Martin are believable and exquisitely executed characterisations of Māori kids, as Tahi, Rua and E-Honda; or perhaps more hilariously; Te-Whakakotahitanga-o-Ngā-iwi-o-Te-Motu Boy-George Jackson, Te-Rua-Wairere-o-Ranginui-Kia-Papatuanuku Presley Jackson and Tuahangata Liberace Jackson. Names that when said out loud have me laughing out loud, loudly. And that’s for a number of reasons. When translated into English-they’re funny. But what’s at play here, that I recognise, is a depth of understanding of what Māori find funny, which is based on the security of knowing who you are culturally. How do I know this, because when we name our tamariki names like that, in some ways and eventually, they end up embodying them, over a lifetime.
The writing team of Tainui Tukiwaho and Chris Rex Martin know this, as Tahi brings people together, Rua is a bit of crybaby and E-Honda behaves very much like a superhero. They fulfil their naming over the duration of this work. An added funny, that has the audience tittering is, Tahi and Rua are the first and second children.
It’s the type of layering in a work that gives it substance and even if the music was stripped out, there would still be oodles of story for the team to play with.
The script is quickfire. So much so if you’re not alert you could miss it. However, there’s still plenty to hook into with the physicality of all three actors and the character transitions, from straight-up-the-guts Koro to an accurately rendered Prince Tui Teka.
Martin, as E-Honda, seems to take the mammoth share of the dialogue which makes his story-arc resolution particularly poignant. He is direct and sharp, and prone to impressive, political missives that are astute and on point. He’s the Truthteller, and not beyond taking on a sleazy Booking Agent, who he plays and has wonderfully blunt conversation with, as E-Honda.
Ten year old Rua (Peeti), isn’t the brightest tuna in the kinaki. His character is often used to present the confusion that happens when tamariki Māori engage with the Te Ao Pākehā. His innocence of the outside world is contrasted with the worldliness(not) of his older 12 year old brother, Tahi. Of the three, it’s the youngest, E-Honda who is more knowing of the machinations of how society works.
A discussion they have about the ridiculousness of being one-thirtytooth (1/32) Māori is wonderfully played. That it’s presented with the casual racism and micro-aggressions of the Booking Agent, Robert Johnston, demonstrates how this is more than a show, featuring beautiful singing. Its political commentary. It’s relevant. Its now.
That’s a lot to pack into 70 minutes and yet there is scope for more. Martin, Peeti and Simi are generous towards each other (even if their onstage, sibling squabbling says otherwise). Each hold their own. Their musicianship is A1.
There’s some beautiful nods to the Prince Tui Teka songbook – ‘My Dingaling’ (which has such a double entendre I don’t know how I missed it, in the years of listening), ‘E Ipo’ and of course, the classic – ‘Mum’. The latter waiata are used to illustrate what are the most important female relationships in the lives of these boys – Mum and Georgina Beyer.
Yes, Georgina Beyer who’s invited on stage and serenaded. It’s a lovely moment as Georgina’s pioneering life is recalled. It’s a timely reminder that while at times we’re as stuck as in the Muldoon years (he’s mentioned a lot) and seem to be hurtling more than ever to the loathed austerity measures in the UK, there are individuals whose lives are testament to social change.
The night I went, there were tamariki. And they laughed and laughed. Sure the more adult jokes went over their heads but there’s so much rich material, physicality and characterisation. I even heard them humming to the songs. Good work parents. Larger than Life will thrive in schools. And may it. But not until it’s toured Aotearoa please.
Larger than Life is like a Māori Forest Gump. The world, or rather three Māori boys, collide with the world encountering historic figures and events from New Zealand’s recent past. When K-Bars are genuine currency and tapes listened to repeatedly mean the learning of an artist’s dialogue in the refrain. Prince Tui Teka represent.
As befitting Te Rēhia Theatre, they provided kai post opening night performance. Right there is yet another demonstration of the depth that surrounds this company and indeed its associates. Being a Maori theatre company and indeed practitioner is more than words, its action. The purpose of kai, in this instance, is manaakitanga and whakanoa. That, Rēhia Theatre understands and practices that, applying tikanga Maori with an awareness, that highly likely is missed by nearly everyone present, demonstrates an understanding of what it is to be rooted in our culture.
Centred at the heart of who we are culturally is relationship, and the malleable nature of that, as we engage with everything around us. Meaningful relationship is based on reciprocity, and where one party doesn’t compromise their integrity when the other party feels they hold more power over the other. And it most definitely is not when boxes are ticked as a theatre because you’ve met your Māori quota. That practice does not whakamana anyone, indeed it is the antithesis to that.
I applaud Te Rēhia who, through the simplest of action, is in some ways a wero to other Māori Theatre Companies and practitioners to remember who we are, our tikanga and its practice.
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Nails politically pertinent points in the guise of light entertainment
Review by John Smythe 15th Jun 2017
Who knew that before Flight of the Conchords became New Zealand’s “fourth most famous guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo”, Ngaruwahia’s third best children’s novelty act, Larger Than Life, almost opened for John Rowles in Wellington? That was “back in the pre-internet, pre-cellphone, pre-MySpace and Bebo days, when New Zealand was perfect.” Or was it?
That the Rowles gig didn’t happen has left a gap in our cultural history that the Larger Than Life trio has reformed (i.e. regrouped) to redress. The brothers – Te-Whakakotahitanga-o-Ngā-iwi-o-Te-Motu Boy-George Jackson, known as Tahi (Shadrack Simi), Te-Rua-Wairere-o-Ranginui-Ki-A-Papatuanuku Presley Jackson, known as Rua (Brady Peeti) andTuahangata Liberace Jackson, known as E-Honda (Chris Rex Martin) – have grown up now (i.e. they’re older).
A gentle crooning starts in the dark … Their singing is sublime. Accompanied by just one small guitar they’re not quite acapella but they make such old standards as ‘Hine E Hine’ and ‘Hoki Mai E Tama Mā’ sound symphonic. Only at the play’s end do we understand why they have started with such a poignant tone – and I won’t reveal that here.
The gentle mood soon gives way to stuff-ups and comic banter that indicate they’re still getting their act back together. But they seriously want us to know what happened back when they were three little Māori boys who used to walk the 14ks to Huntly to busk because that’s where the rich Pākehā were.
Pedants may note that if they were indeed inspired by McDonalds Young Entertainers, that was way later that when Muldoon was PM or when the Topp Twins were busking in Huntly, and Tim and Neil Finn were still knocking around Te Awamutu. But that’s not the point.
Co-writers Chris Rex Martin and Tainui Tukiwaho (who also directs) have cleverly constructed this comic premise in order to comment on those supposedly ‘perfect’ old days, and thanks to E-Honda’s compendious knowledge and socio-political sensibilities – as a 10 year-old! – Muldoon carries much of the flak.
His expletive-riddled impatience with those who don’t keep up (E-Honda’s impatience that is, not Muldoon’s) does get him into trouble and that is entirely relevant to what shut them down. In fact it emerges he has not spoken since that fateful day – until now, as they try to re-live their doomed attempt to realise a childhood dream.
The ‘back to childhood’ device allows them to trade in cringe-worthy observations – as in their encounter with a young Georgina (Beyer), who aspires to political power – and the large high school contingent in the audience (from Wainuiomata, I think I heard them say) is right onto it, totally hip to the play’s point on the ‘moral compass’ even as they gasp in shock at the many faux pas.
Some awful jokes from the era (playing with ‘My Ding-a-ling’ etc) get an airing too. And there’s some recurring haka-style posturing, perfectly pitched, when the boys accuse each other of being the one who fucked up.
Tahi and Rua – who have fought for the title of who is the gayest – do a wonderful job of channelling the Topps’ ‘Untouchable Girls’. The Huntly ‘busk off’ scene is a show-stopper – witnessed by self-styled music promoter and talent-spotter Robert Johnston, who offers them the gig to open for John Rowles in Wellington, but not the bus fare to get there.
The enterprising brothers employ ruthless tactics to get money from memory-challenged Koro and butter up their Mum (a sequence that outstrips the instantly infamous sucking up in Trump’s first cabinet meeting). You’ve never heard a song as saccharine as ‘My Mum is Pretty’ but boy do they sell it, in the end especially (enough said).
It’s because they get the right bus in the wrong direction that they end up in Te Awamutu, where a bizarre scene is recreated involving a pregnant sheep … Let’s just say Neil Finn’s ‘Fall At Your Feet’ gets a good going over. I’m not sure when or where, on their unplanned ad-hoc itinerary, they get to Ruatahuna to see Prince Tui Teka, but Peeti’s superb impression of him is a loving tribute.
With Robert Johnston, Tukiwaho and Martin (who plays him) satirise the born-again Māori who has discovered he is “a thirty twooth Māori” so adopts what he thinks it the right protocols and exhibits a swaggering superiority in the process. It’s very amusing – and the laughing-while-cringing schoolgirls behind me literally scream in shock when, later, his true colours erupt.
Astutely directed and ebulliently performed, Larger Than Life: an adventure of epic proportions is one of those shows that seems like light entertainment while it richly evokes our past and cleverly nails some politically pertinent points in the process.
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On the road again
Review by John C Ross 09th Jun 2017
This show is heaps of fun, if a bit rough, and by the end you just can’t resist really loving its three performers. Mainly – although they each add on a couple of other characters – they play three brothers. Shadrack Simi (Tahi) and Brady Peeti (Rua) are indeed ‘large’ blokes, vividly expressive, rich-voiced singers and marvellous harmonisers. Chris Rex Martin (E-Honda – where on earth did that name, or nick-name, come from?), smaller but more belligerent, speaks and sings less, plays guitar (and co-wrote the script).
The play starts with Tahi and Rua bickering, with “Anything you can sing I can sing better” business. The three brothers’ basic story, as it emerges, is that about two decades ago, when they were kids in Ngaruawahia, they had had a singing act, got noticed and got invited to perform it at the start of a big pop-concert in Wellington. Improbably, given sundry stuff-ups on the way, they did get to the right place at the right time (presumably only just), but thereupon totally stuffed up. Let’s tell no more of it.
At any rate, they re-enact and re-experience this whole episode, with plenty of songs, mainly from that era, along the way. Having encountered the Topp Twins as rival buskers, they themselves sing, ‘We’re Untouchable Girls’ – gloriously. Other songs include chunks of waiata, some of the Finn Brothers’ numbers, and others from the routines of Prince Tui Teka and John Rowles.
Along the way, they also encounter a girl called Georgina, who may or may not be a boy in a dress, and duly recruit a real girl from the audience into the acting area to be Georgina (this is quite deftly handled, so everyone’s happy). They also identify a lady in the audience to be their mum.
The setting is simple enough: just two revolving chairs (one of which won’t revolve, despite being sworn at) on either side of a stool. The variety is provided through Calvin Hudson’s lighting design.
Te Rēhia Theatre Company and this show are overtly Māori theatre; and Māori members of last night’s audience obviously found much more to laugh at. Even so, if you’re not Māori, not familiar with the contemporary Māori scene, and don’t have enough of te reo to follow the occasional uses of it – some of them obliging translated into ‘Pākehā’ – while you miss a bit, you can still in some fashion enjoy everything.
This is a touring production, opening here, and then going on to Wellington, Auckland and elsewhere. All strength to it.
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Editor July 4th, 2017
Just for the record, NZ Herald, the Herald Theatre season follows a development season at Te Pou then (after seasons in Palmerston North and Wellington) a return season at Te Pou (June 24 – 27). It is not correct, therefore, to say the Herald season is the first in Auckland.