BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

06/06/2018 - 09/06/2018

Te Auaha, Tapere Iti, 65 Dixon St, Wellington

14/12/2018 - 14/12/2018

Kia Mau Festival 2018

Production Details

New Zealand Samoan vs Samoan New Zealand … are they not the same? 

Peni, who decided when he was a young man that the language of the land he occupies is the language to identify with. 

Lumana’i, his daughter, now struggles to identify with the language of Peni’s homeland.

Kia Mau Season Pass
Want to see more of Kia Mau 2018 for less?  Buy a three show Season Pass now for only $45!  Shows included in the Season Pass are He Kura E Huna Ana, Whare, Talofa Papa, La’u Gagana, Barrier Ninja, Deer Woman and Beneath Skin and Bone.

The Creative Team
Y|Not are young Pasifika artists based in Christchurch who just want to create work, share some stories, and get in on some action. 
I mean… Why not?

BATS THEATRE The Heyday Dome
6 – 9 June at 9pm
Full Price $18
Concession Price $14
Group 6+ $13

*Access to The Heyday Dome is via stairs, so please contact the BATS Box Office at least 24 hours in advance if you have accessibility requirements so that appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS. 

Measina Festival 2018 

“…every member of this Y|NOT ensemble performs with flair, versatility and a truthful comic sensibility that brings the story home to its heart – and ours” – Theatreview 2018. 

As a young man settling in New Zealand, Peni decides that he and his family must identify with the English language that surrounds them.   Lumana’i (Peni’s daughter) now struggles to identify with the language of Peni’s homeland of Samoa.

New Zealand Samoan vs Samoan New Zealand . . . are they not the same? 

Sāmoans have been migrating to New Zealand for many years and the battle with self-identity for many NZ born generations still continues…What makes a Samoan if not their language?  Skillfully weaving together music, movement and innovative theatre La’u Gagana(my language) tells the story of young Samoans navigating their cultural identity in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

This all star cast features Talia-Rae Mavaega, Mana Tatafu, Albany Peseta, Taniela Lea’aetoa and Jake Arona.

Te Auaha, Dixon St, Wellington
6pm Friday 14 December [click date to book] 

Lumana’i / McDonalds Server:  Talia-Rae Mavaega
Aunty Losa / Mr McFarlane / Neighbour:  Tavita Nielsen-Mamea
Peni / Se’evae / Siaki Siaki:  Jake Arona
Kolo / Hemi:  Maxwell Siulangapo
Sione / Joe:  Mana Tatafu

MUSICIAN:  Toa Siulangapo

Guest Director:  Tanya Muagututi’a
Administration / Stage Manager:  Susi Sagapolutele-Afitu
Production support:  Pua Siulangapo
Graphic Design & Art work:  DJ Dox 

Theatre ,

50 mins

From humour to a deeper emotions

Review by Lyne Pringle 16th Dec 2018

The title means My Language in Samoan.  Presented as part of the vibrant Measina Festival, held over four days in Wellington, this theatre work asks the question: “Am I Samoan if I can’t speak the language?” Or more broadly, does language define who we are?

Using broad comedic gestures, the tight-knit unit of Talia-Rae Mavaega, Mana Tatafu, Albany Peseta, Taniela Lea’aetoa and Jake Arona navigate their way through a heartfelt story. It is a story that has a deep resonance with the largely Samoan audience. They signal their engagement from start to finish with laughter at the slapstick and deep silence in the more poignant moments.

La’u Gagana is a story of immigration to Aotearoa, arriving as a FOB (fresh off the boat) and the struggle to hold on to culture in a new land where the goal posts have been shifted.  Auckland becomes the ‘capital’ of Samoa and the strident command is “Use English if you want to get ahead”.  

The acknowledgement of this and the impact for subsequent generations, trying to hold on to their culture, is where this play begins with the character Lumana’i. She wants to change her name because she doesn’t identify with her Samoan name. She feels like a ‘plastic’ Samoan because she doesn’t speak the language. Talia-Rae Mavaega plays her with great sympathy.

In the opening scenes she is supported by Mana Tatafu and Taniela Lea’aetoa as her rascally classmates and other supporting characters throughout.  Albany Peseta is the hilarious and uncompromising Aunty Losa taking them through their paces at the A’oga Fa’a Samoa.  A clever hair swishing gesture cracks everybody up making him a convincing and staunch Mama. There is some great comic timing from all the cast as they go through the alphabet, sing hymns and prepare a pig for the umu. 

My understanding is that, with both her parents no longer alive to advise and guide her, Lumana’i is struggling to find herself. Auntie eventually gives Lumana’i her father’s journal and we are transported into his story.

Jake Arona plays Lumana’i’s father, Peni, who finds himself newly arrived in Christchurch. This section of the work has large passages in Samoan and I wish for a translator on my shoulder. That said, the reactions from the audience help to read the action as a young FOB tries to find his way through the challenges of an unsupportive education system.

The play starts to find a deeper underbelly and emotions are expressed through the beauty of the traditional Siva accompanied by Toa Siulangapo, a skilled guitarist, and vocalist Pua Suilangapo. We move from rollicking comedy to deeply felt pain at being an outsider at Christchurch Boy’s High School where aspirations are curtailed. A beautiful Samoan name is discarded for ‘Ben’ as Peni repackages himself to fit neatly into a European box.

In one of the final scenes ‘Ben’ uses his arm to represent Lumana’i as he cradles her. It is beautiful and moving. He and his sister, Losa, gently dance to bring the arc of the play to a satisfying conclusion. Lumana’i must learn to “rest in his pieces” – one of the many clever plays on language throughout the work – as Aunty Losa reveals that she was made to promise that his daughter should only learn English.

The narrative gets confusing at times and could do with some dramaturgical rigour. The more challenging material of this narrative cries out for deeper investigation. This strong company should not shy away from the dramatic potential of their important stories.


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A powerful plea from young voices to old

Review by Shana Muaiava 15th Dec 2018

Who am I if not my language?  This question is a poignant reminder of the importance of how ‘words’, which are components of a language, are so tightly bound together that without them, not even love can fill the void. O La’u Gagana gives voice to this truth. 

As Lumana’i, Talia-Rae Mavaega is up close and personal in her portrayal of this void.  Lumana’i epitomises the longing of young Samoans living away from the motherland. Her struggles of connection to a world that leaves her tongue tied is woven effortlessly throughout the narrative while remaining faithful to the fa’aalolo that is at the core of Samoan culture.

She gracefully questions the choice of her parents, the effect of migration and the power of our own inner voice.  A quiet calm that sits like a rock in a hard place, that which boldly reminds us this generation are continuing to pay a King’s ransom for a lumana’i that was promised generations before at too great a cost.   

Albany Peseta, as Aunty Losa, expertly balances this heavy truth with light hearted Samoan banter.  We are treated to Sunday school lessons and White Sunday performances weaved together with biblical songs of old. This plays on my sense of belonging so much so that I feel compelled to sing along simply out of habit.  

Peseta’s representation of Aunty Losa is an authentic nod to the Aunty Losa present in our own families and church communities.  Aunty Losa brings communal laughter, the kind that bonds us together as well as attempting to heal the strained bonds of language loss.  

‘Heavy names’ and the importance of such is a recurring theme that sits heavy on the heart; a harsh confrontation of losing the essence of self for the idea of a future, only accessible once we forsake who we are.  Jake Arona as Peni pulls at the heart strings as I am forced to watch him English his Samoaness and reinvent himself as Ben.  A hard pill to swallow when the ultimatum is success in the palagi world over self-worth.  Played with conviction, I find myself willing Peni to be more courageous in keeping his heavy name. 

O La’u Gagana pays homage to our elders for their struggle but more powerfully it challenges us to re-vision the complexities of our young people growing up Samoan in New Zealand spaces.  It is a powerful plea from young voices to old that we are not indebted to New Zealand, for all she offered was a false hope of a lumana’i that cost far more than this generation is willing to pay. 

[lumana’i means future – ed.]


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Performed with flair, versatility and a truthful comic sensibility

Review by John Smythe 07th Jun 2018

With La’u Gagana (which translates as My Language), Christchurch-based theatre ensemble Y|NOT plays with contemporary fale aitu* – the Samoan comic theatre form first popularised in Niu Sila / New Zealand by Pacific Underground and The Naked Samoans.

After welcoming us to BATS’ Heyday Dome with songs in Samoan, Māori and English, the performers plunge into a Sunday School scene, presided over with benign authority by Aunty Losa (Tavita Nielsen-Mamea).

Amid the physical comedy, the boys – Se’evae (Jake Arona), Kolo (Maxwell Siulangapo) and Sione (Mana Tatafu) – name-call Lumana’i (Talia-Rae Mavaega) “Plastic” and “Fob”, and it turns out that although she is really good with big English words, which Kolo ‘steals’, she can’t understand Samoan. When the idea of going to university is mentioned we have the opportunity to consider who is most likely to succeed in this, and why – which emerges as a key question in retrospect.

Meanwhile Lumana’i resists Aunty Losa’s urging for her to perform a siva (dance) at a forthcoming event, claiming it should be done by “the real Samoans” despite her showing she does it beautifully – to musician Toa Siulangapo’s lyrical guitar. Counterpointed by such comedy as the pig-killing scene, this core cultural identity issue is ever-present for Lumana’i and it comes to the fore in Samoan 101, taught by Siaki Siaki (Jake Arona).

So why has Aunty Losa only ever spoken to Lumana’i in English and studiously avoided Samoan language? A flashback to 1987 recreates the arrival in Christchurch, by plane, of Losa’s brother Peni (Jake Arona), soon to become Lumana’i’s father. He brings with him the hopes and expectations of his family to be the first in his village to go to university in Niu Sila.

Amid much comedy – with Hemi (Maxwell Siulangapo) and Joe (Mana Tatafu) – involving the hongi, Peni’s way of playing kilikiti (cricket) and his ordering of Big Macs (with Talia-Rae Mavaega’s Server), it is the authority of teacher Mr McFarlane (Tavita Nielsen-Mamea) that prevails. Thus we discover why Lumana’i now feels like a fake – and you’ll have to see it to get the point.

In essence, despite the stylistic differences in performance, La’u Gagana may be seen thematically as a companion piece to Waiora: Te Ū Kai Pō – The Homeland, playing over the road at the Hannah Playhouse and also part of the Kia Mau Festival. Both prove the fundamental importance of language in securing cultural identity.

Although I feel La’u Gagana over-explains itself in words somewhat, every member of this Y|NOT ensemble performs with flair, versatility and a truthful comic sensibility that brings the story home to its heart – and ours.
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*As described in the introduction to Floating Islanders: Pasifika Theatre in Aotearoa by Lisa Warrington and David O’Donnell (Otago University Press, 2017, pp 14-15):
“The Samoan comic theatre form fale aitu (literally ‘ghost house’ or ‘house of spirits’) has strongly influenced the development of Pasifika theatre. … Fale aitu sketches are generally scripted and rehearsed, though performances may contain much improvisation. They typically involve elements of parody, satire, burlesque and slapstick. … Traditionally men, who would also play the roles of women, performed these sketches. … While it is possible for women to perform fale aitu, it remains a largely male-dominated tradition in New Zealand.” 


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