Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

23/10/2012 - 03/11/2012

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

15/09/2012 - 13/10/2012

Centrepoint, Palmerston North

06/03/2013 - 14/03/2013

Production Details

Jimmy King, the country’s youngest murderer, has been in and out of prison his whole life. Public enemy number one, Mau Vaiaga has only lived in New Zealand for three months. An unlikely friendship is struck up as these two men battle their way through the New Zealand justice system while being guided by upcoming lawyer Waimanea Huia.

Manawa is a funny, sharply written and deeply moving play starring the formidable talent of Kali Kopae, Natano Keni, Jamie McCaskill and musician Simon Donald.

Click here to see a short promotional video for Manawa on Tikapa Productions’ Facebook page.

“I wrote this play as a challenge for myself to choose a dark subject and to make it as light as I can without taking the heart out of it. I want the characters to be as real as possible and even though the world of the play is in a prison, I want the MANAWA of the characters to resonate with the audience. Even if these characters have committed the most heinous crime, we as an audience will see that these characters still have a beating heart, while having the freedom to disagree with their actions.” Jamie McCaskill


15 September – 13 October
Tuesday to Saturday 7.30pm, Sunday 4.30pm
Bookings: (04) 801-7992 or
Adults $46, Students, Senior Citizens and Beneficiaries $38
Groups (6+) $39

Don’t miss our $25 specials:
Preview: Friday 14 & Sunday 16 September  


Basement Theatre 
Tues 23 Oct – Sat 3 Nov 2012 

CENTREPOINT THEATRE, Palmerston Noth, 2013 
6 – 14 March 
Show Times: 
Wed 6 March  – Sat 9 March, 8pm each night 
Sun 10 March 5pm 
Tues 12 March and Wed 13 March 6:30pm 
Thurs 14 March 8pm

$38 Adults, $30 Seniors, $30 Under 30s, $28 Community Service Card Holders, $18 Students, $68 Dinner & Show.


Jamie McCaskill as Jimmy King;
Natano Keni as Mau Vaiaga;
Kali Kopae as Waimanea Huia;
Simon Donald as Live Musician/Radio Host

Jamie McCaskill – Writer;
Regan Taylor – Director;
Jennifer Lal - Lighting Designer;
Brian King - Set Designer

Vital, intelligent, fluent, funny, gutsy, hard-hitting and impressively realised

Review by Richard Mays 11th Mar 2013

Manawa is a dramatic Kiwi Howl to rival Greg McGee’s Foreskin’s Lament. Significantly, the powerful out-of-left-field climax and its bruising final line come not from a mainstream or educated voice, but from a member of the marginalised underclass. 

And this is no intellectual angst-ridden rant either; the play with its swipes at the Don Elders of this world, the inequities of the justice process, and the headline-hunting media, accomplishes its purpose not only with élan but with physicality, accompanied by generous dollops of hard-knocks humour.

OK, so you’re a fresh–off-the-boat Samoan; hard-working; eager-to-please; and bamo! you’re in clink for following the boss’s instructions.  According to you, your employer said it was fine to kill one of the 150 remaining kakapo in the world; and not knowing any different, you slaughtered and ate it. 

Ignorance is no excuse and Mau Vaiaga, played by Natano Keni, finds himself awaiting trial and sharing a cell with the notorious Jimmy King. Now Jimmy is a ‘star’ offender who enjoys his media spotlight. The character is unashamedly modelled on Bailey Junior Kurariki who was convicted as a 13-year-old for his part in the 2001 murder of pizza deliverer, Michael Choy.  

Performed by playwright Jamie McCaskill, the now adult Jimmy is initially a little miffed when he finally works out that his uncommunicative cell-mate is an unintentional ‘eco-terrorist’ facing charges that outclass his own – waving his willie at a couple of baiting female television journalists. 

At first, the swaggering ego-powered Jimmy comes across as a posturing cliché and not-the-brightest-crayon-in-the-box. Mau, quietly working out his predicament, soon has his cell-mate sussed and puts him in his place. Jimmy’s posturing tones down, and the career crim comes round to offering the newbie advice about how to approach the pending court case and how to make the most of ‘remorse’ before the judge. 

Enter Waimanea Huia, played by Kali Kopae: the female lawyer assigned to both cases.

And here is where things get murky. There is some background agenda running that the audience is not privy to and – to the play’s credit – is never really allowed to get a handle on. We can see that some deal is going down over Mau’s case, but are only party to Waimanea’s cell-phone responses.

Manawa’s deliberately ambivalent story-line is only part of the attraction. The four-hander – which includes musician Simon Donald playing incidental music, providing live foley effects, as well as the odd linking role such as a talk-back radio host and news-reader – does a wonderful job of telling it.

Directed by Regan Taylor on a single three zone set, there are slick transitions between scenes and characters. McCaskill is so compelling as Jimmy, that when he occasionally steps into another incidental role, it creates a ‘pinch me’ moment, so complete is his transformation. Yes he has Jimmy’s patois nailed, but this is no one-dimensional portrayal; McCaskill also gives us Jimmy’s body language, expressions and his attitude, all presented with an acute sense of timing.

Keni, his foil, is perfectly composed and assured, allowing his character to effectively play the straight man to McCaskill’s clown King. The two actors are involved in a couple of sequences spoken entirely in Samoan, no translation or explanation offered to an audience composed of Palagi and Maori. But then, none is required either. 

Kopae further enhances Manawa’s authenticity. As the aspiring but duplicitous lawyer determined to get the right outcomes for her iwi, she adds subtle nuances and asides to the portrayal of her hard-nosed and ambitious character. Possibly her enigmatic one-sided phone conversations goes on a bit long, but that’s a pretty minor moan when considering the wider impact of this vital, intelligent, fluent, funny, gutsy, hard-hitting and impressively realised production. 


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Striking contrasts

Review by John C Ross 07th Mar 2013

This is outstandingly Jamie McCaskill’s play. Not only did he write it but he delivers an electric performance in the lead role of the young career gaol-bird Jimmy King, as well as doing bit parts. A UCOL Theatre School graduate, presently based at Hauraki, he has recently been on a prodigious roll as a performer, a writer (or co-writer) of five plays, and a musician/composer.

Centrepoint’s is the fourth season of this play, which was premiered at Circa Two in Wellington in September last year, hence the production is already fine-tuned. This is a four-hander, with three actors and a musician, Simon Donald, who plays guitar, sings, and occasionally joins in, as compere or A minor character, and haS composed the music.

Brian King’s set tapers in towards a pair of steel bunks, evidently within a prison cell, and presently the Samoan Mau Vaiaga (Natano Keni) takes his place lying flat on the upper bunk. Maori Jimmy struts in, very macho style, yet all his initial ranting, rap-talking and banging the bunk fails to score a response from his new cell-mate, ostensibly sleeping. At last however – by which time we know something of Jimmy – Mau deigns to pay attention to him, and we learn more of both of them.

Jimmy plays on his notoriety as having been New Zealand’s youngest murderer, as an accomplice in a gang that had killed a taxi-driver when he was only thirteen (the character clearly reflects the case of Bailey Junior Kurariki, convicted of manslaughter for his part in a killing, along with five older teenagers, when he was only twelve). Meanwhile he’s back in prison on remand for various lesser offences.

Mau however has done something much weirder. [Spoiler alert?] Hired by a Southland Maori family to kill and harvest mutton-birds, after only a few months in New Zealand they had taken him to the sanctuary Codfish Island, near Stewart Island, to kidnap a kakapo, to advance some scheme of their own. But knowing no better he had killed and eaten it as, in Samoa, with plenty of every kind of bird around, you would.

Here things get twisty, because the young woman lawyer Waimanea Huia, played by Kali Kopae, engaged as the defence lawyer to deal with both cases, and plead at their trials, is a member of that Maori family, and under huge pressure to cover up their involvement, leaving Mau, whom she’s supposed to be defending, and if possible exonerating, to take the rap – and be dealt, in the outcome, an exemplarily harsh sentence to deter other prospective killers of protected species. [alert ends]

So, there’s a striking contrast between Jimmy, who’s spent so much of his life to this point in prison that he is socialised to it, and to nowhere else, and Mau, a well-meaning and usually amiable innocent, bewildered about the trouble he finds himself in, and unable to get even his defence lawyer to take his explanations seriously; a lawyer whose personal loyalties totally conflict with her professional integrity. 

In the playing out of the various dramatic situations much remains unexplained, or in the sequences in Samoan remain un-translated, and finally the play offers no catharsis. That is, finally, its strength. Its unusual polarities are Maori/Samoan, and complex human beings versus a justice system that is operated by flawed people, and prejudiced against members of ethnic minorities (racist, even when it tries not to be).

There’s fine acting here from all three actors, with seamless transitions between sequences, and an easy and clear shift between their main characters and various subsidiary roles. It reflects also very adroit directing by Regan Taylor, with skilful support from the lighting designer Jennifer Lal and set designer Brian King.


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Do the Time

Review by James Wenley 29th Oct 2012

“New Zealand takes great care of birds and trees and it is almost a capital offence to cut a branch off a tree, particularly a Pohutakwa. Sadly, the justice system doesn’t take care of vulnerable babies and young women. Haven’t we got something wrong here?” – Letter to the Editor, NZ Herald. 23.10.2012 

Everyone has an opinion on the justice system. How do we balance the rights of the victim with the rights of the criminal? What are just sentences for crimes committed? How does the system deal with chronic offenders? 

Manawa by Jamie McCaskill and directed by Regan Taylor dives with heart and mind into the fraught terrain inside the prison cell, producing a fine work of drama that is gripping, surprising funnily, and leaves its audience with much to think about. It is incredibly exciting to see an ‘issues’ based theatre work that confidently engages with such vital contemporary social and political themes. [More]   


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Hilarious satire pierces dark side and reveals top talent

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 26th Oct 2012

Playwright Jamie McCaskill, who impressed a couple of years ago as co-writer of He Reo Aroha, returns with a new play that convincingly establishes him as a major talent – both as a writer and performer. 

Manawa delivers a refreshing blast of humour that is used to reveal some uncomfortable truths about the judicial system and contemporary Maori politics. 

The down-to-earth style of comedy recalls the brilliance of Billy T. James with the same mix of hard-case deadpan, a wildly exuberant sense of the absurd and the fearlessly satirical attitude that comes from perceptive observations of real people. [More]  


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Explodes with profundity, entertainment and vision

Review by Tamati Patuwai 24th Oct 2012

Ko tou manawa ko taku manawa, ko te manawatina, ko te manawa-toka tu moana.

Nga mihi mahana ki a koutou.

For your sake I will get straight to it from the outset: MANAWA is the best piece of NZ Theatre that I have experienced for many years! The play explodes from the stage in an outrageous blend of beauty, horror and hilarity! 

Book your tickets now and go to see this play.

Now if you are still reading, I will explain things further.

It took playwright Jamie McCaskill one year to complete MANAWA. Of course there are varying points of view around how long one must devote to the creation of a work. However given the depth of ideas and concept matter that subtly intertwine within MANAWA, it is evident that much care has been taken to develop this play to such a potent culmination.

McCaskill has drawn a vivid and at times shocking portrait that addresses some of the most salient issues and challenging realities facing our nation today. The audience is confronted with questions around social and moral integrity. From Maori land rights to island paradise, wrongful imprisonment to media celebrity, MANAWA is an insightful, even visionary piece of theatre art in the highest degree.

The themes are presented through extraordinary circumstances as two strangers meet in prison. One of them is a highly profiled murderer; the other man, convicted for a situation absolutely out of his control, pleads for his innocence.

McCaskill himself plays Jimmy King, the youngest murderer in national history. King’s boisterous rambling illustrates a total maniac whose notion of life only exists in a head full of violence, self-aggrandisement and perversity. McCaskill’s pervasive and often riotous performance sends this character into a psychological frenzy, heaving forth verbal diarrhoea from an unrelenting mouth. This character has been conceived and played with genius. 

The brooding Mau Vaiaga, played feverishly by Natano Keno, boils away in every scene. Praying to be back in his Samoan homeland, Vaiaga resists his virulent cell mate until he can take no more. Keno’s treatment of spiritual innocence and Pacific wisdom is absolutely palpable. Keno brings a tinge of mischief mixed with a carnal magnetism to give a refreshing and enthralling quality to Vaiaga’s intriguing personality.

Kali Kopae strikes a profound balance as the tenacious criminal lawyer Waimanea Huia. In the preliminary few beats of the play we see Huia as the protégé wahine toa: dream of all Iwi and Maori. However as the plot unfolds Huia’s desires become more evident and spin the drama into place. Kopae presents this ‘corporate cougar’ with a seductive and chilly drive.

The director Regan Taylor has approached the work with a rhythmic bent. Playing hard to soft, light to shade, the beats are specific yet massaged into place with scrupulous fluency. Taylor’s minimal yet physical style pushes the actors to utilise every part of themselves on the stage; carving lines all over the space, in and out of light, crooking spines and voice to achieve a dynamic treatment of a well-written piece.

Reminding me of Jerry Banse in early Te Rakau Hua work, Simon Donald sets undulant tones with a live soundscape. Donald is also tasked with the expositional commentary which is nicely threaded throughout.  

I want to give special mention to the use of the Samoan language. As someone who enjoys Pacific and Maori reo, I appreciate being lavished with the sweetness of Gagana Samoa. Though I don’t understand the language fluently, the tones and linguistic flavours are crystal clear.

My overall sense is that this play is right at the crest of new Maori theatre and deserves to be seen by thousands. MANAWA is finely tuned as themes and metaphors are woven so subtly, it smacks of a devoted writing hand and hugely perceptive eye. This work has something great to say and as the audience tune in close to its well-honed message the play will, as it did for me, explode with profundity, entertainment and vision.

Tena koutou te roopu mahi o Tikapa. Kia hora te marino, kia whakapapa pounamu te moana, Kia tere karohirohi i mua i tou huarahi.

Naku noa
Tamati Patuwai


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Perfect start for company

Review by Lynn Freeman 20th Sep 2012

Jamie McCaskill has achieved something remarkable in this play. Here two criminals who would be on the ‘most despised’ list of the nation in ‘real life’, become ‘real people’. We seldom look behind the image of criminals presented by the media. Doing so is one of the many challenges Manawa presents, and it makes us laugh and makes us think.

McCaskill both wrote the play and plays one of the lead roles. He’s Jimmy King, New Zealand’s youngest convicted killer, whose every move is followed by a ravenous media (sound familiar?). The Jimmy we meet is back inside having exposed himself to a female journalist whose questions went too far. He’s full of bravado, and regrets. He’s smart and institutionalised. It’s hard to believe Jimmy’s still such a sweetheart when he’s supposed to have spent almost half his life in jail. That aside, you want to see the good inside the man and McCaskill excels at portraying both the light and dark sides to the character of this man who’s still largely boy.

Jimmy’s new cellmate is a relatively recent Samoan migrant, Mau Vaiaga (Natano Keni). Keni gives a remarkable performance, helping us come to like and respect a man who is charged with killing and eating a kakapo. Vaiaga is a victim of an iwi which is pursuing a plan to regain lost land, and of genuine ignorance, and pays a high price. The two become unlikely but firm friends. 

Kali Kopae portrays both the hard and vulnerable aspects of Waimanea Huia, a criminal lawyer who is trying to fulfill her iwi’s high expectations of her. Huia represents both Jimmy and Mau but what are her real objectives? Completing the cast, Simon Donald is endearing as musician, foley artist and newsreader.

Regan Taylor’s direction is important to this production’s success, making the most of the small Circa Two stage and more importantly his cast. The cell scenes are especially well directed, notably the first time the two cellmates talk which escalates into a fight. Brian King’s simple set works well, cleverly lit by Jennifer Lal.

Manawa is the first play from McCaskill’s new Maori theatre production company. It is the perfect start, a play that ticks all the boxes – great storytelling, thought provoking, beautifully acted and directed, funny and painfully relevant. 


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Powerful play delves into NZ heartland

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 18th Sep 2012

Two unlikely characters, one a Maori the other a Samoan, are brought together in a prison cell as they await the outcome of the New Zealand justice system to decide their future fate. 

The Maori is self-assured 30 something Jimmy King (Jamie McCaskill) who has spent the major part of his adult life in prison.  The charges against him are mounting up and the media is having a field day, especially as he was the youngest person ever sent to prison for murder.  He has no remorse and is looking forward to going up to Mt Eden as they have a billiard table up there.

The Samoan, Mau Vaiaga (Natano Keni), is a quiet introvert who has only lived in New Zealand for five months and is accused of killing and eating a kakapo, our most endangered species of bird. The media are also having a great time with this case as Mau is going to be made an example of as to why foreigners can’t come into NZ and kill off our native birds.  But Mau doesn’t really have a clue as to what all the fuss is about or the implications of what he has done.

Both are represented by brash and arrogant Maori lawyer Waimanea Huia (Kali Kopae) who has her own agenda with these cases in order to further her own career.

As their lives intersect through many well-constructed scenes, often in flashback, the real heart, or Manawa, of each character is slowly revealed, including the lawyer, albeit rather sketchily. An unlikely bond develops between Jimmy and Mau that turns the obviousness of the outcome of each case on its head.

This is a powerful play, full of raw energy and lots of action, yet it is also full of humanity, even with the recidivist Jimmy, that is often brought out through humour.  It is therefore to the credit of Regan Taylors assured direction and the strong cast that they are able to successfully navigate the roller coaster of emotions that is within McCaskill’s taut and hard hitting dialogue.

The lovable cockiness of McCaskill’s Jimmy, the silent strength of Keni as Mau and Kope as the lawyer Huia that everyone loves to hate, make it a truly exceptional piece of theatre. 


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Challenges us all with its perception, guts and powerful heart

Review by John Smythe 16th Sep 2012

Manawa means heart or heartland, and the heartland Jamie McCaskill exposes in his Manawa is one most of us may have heard beating but have rarely seen, let alone understood.

In immediate terms it’s a hugely funny yet powerful play about two young men thrown together in a prison cell, and their hot young legal aid lawyer’s attempts to see them justly served. Or not. What it’s really about, however, is our punitive justice system, how divided loyalties can corrupt ideals and how lethal a heart without a head engaged can be.  

Jimmy King, played hard out by the playwright himself, is all heart. Famed through constant media attention as New Zealand’s youngest murderer (even though he was convicted as an accessory to murder), the adult – if that’s the word – Jimmy is a recidivist criminal with no clear perspective of right and wrong; no sense of personal responsibility or accountability. He is a survivor who shields his vulnerable self with a big mouth and an even bigger ego: bravado incarnate.

His Samoan cellmate, Mau Vaiaga – played with undemonstrative authenticity by Natano Keno – is as quiet as Jimmy is voluble, at least to begin with. The media is characterising him as an eco-terrorist for killing and eating a kakapo on Codfish Island, aka Whenua Hou, so – thanks to the radio role-playing of musician Simon Donald – we know that before Jimmy does. But even as we wait for Jimmy to catch up, the questions remain: what exactly happened out there, and why?

The inevitable bust-up scene, that paradoxically bonds them, is dynamic and memorable, first for exposing a flipside to Jimmy and also for the blistering judgement Mau unleashes on Jimmy in particular and Maori in general. It’s but one example of McCaskill’s brave and clever writing: brave for its critique of Maori posturing; clever for thereby giving himself permission to dish it out in other directions.

Kali Kopae plays the lawyer, Waimanea Huia, with formidable proficiency, brooking no nonsense from her clients and fronting the media with commanding assurance. She too has a moment of vulnerability, in a phone conversation with her mother; something I will come back to …

From time to time McCaskill, Keni and Kopae play incidental roles: the judges who sentence the prisoners, reporters, an interviewer, a Samoan prison chaplain (McCaskill speaking in fluent Samoan) … Not so incidentally, McCaskill also plays Mau’s employer, ‘Mac’ McKay, a Maori farmer whose radical activism is what gets the fresh off the boat Samoan into trouble. Which is not to say Mau didn’t do what is alleged. It’s just that the circumstances are somewhat more complex than meet the public eye, or that of the judiciary.

This is one area which I feel needs some tweaking. Ingeniously, in ways that do not seem over-explained but do give us clear understandings, some excellent shafts of light are shone on Jimmy’s situation, and on Mau’s. Conversely, the circumstances surrounding Waimanea’s conflicts of interest, or conflicting loyalties to whanau and iwi versus her profession and the principles of justice, are kept in shadow.

I can’t speak for everyone but know I was not alone in being mystified as to why exactly ‘Mac’ did as he did and why Waimanea does as she does. To be fair, others did deduce it and afterwards I asked around and ‘got it’ too. But because we are preoccupied with trying to solve the puzzle, we are robbed of the chance to empathise with Waimanea’s dilemma; to tune into her heart as well as question where her head is at.

Apart from being another brave element in the writing, it is this dramatisation of skulduggery and subsequent corruption – where one individual (not to mention his family back in Samoa) is sacrificed for the greater good in furthering a Treaty claim, set against the basic inadequacies of the colonial justice system – that elevates the play from being just an anti-authority and anti-media gripe.  

Did I mention it is hugely funny? The laughs come primarily from shock, at the truth of the characterisations and what they do and say. Each character, no matter how incidental, speaks with a clear and distinctive voice. And (apart from the concerns mentioned above) no matter what they do and how outrageous it is, we understand why.

But funny does not mean trite; far from it. The ending compels us to wrestle with reality even as – on opening night, anyway – we cheer at being hit with a full-on verbal whakapohane.

In his programme note, director Regan Taylor says he and McCaskill – great mates since they studied theatre together – wanted to “present each other a wero”; to challenge themselves professionally and artistically. This they achieve, and having done so, the concluding moment issues the most confronting wero to New Zealand audiences since Foreskin asked us, “Whaddarya?”  

This is Taylor’s first fully professional directing gig. He has excelled in modulating the pace to dramatic and comic effect, and drawing our attention exactly where is needed. 

Musician Simon Donald sets the mood with his original songs as we take our seats then issues news reports, operates as a talk-back host and even vocalises the fated kakapo. His valuable contribution is seamlessly integrated into the whole.  

Brian King’s simple set of institutional double bunks, flash movable table and seats, a judicial rostrum and corrugated iron panels, as lit by Jennifer Lal, allows for fluid progress through the present and flashback scenes, which are neatly interwoven in a sound dramatic structure.

While it’s possible the script could be trimmed a little, it’s amazing how much story is covered and theme is explored in 80 minutes. Manawa challenges us all with its perception, guts and powerful heart. I predict a long and healthy life. 


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