Missy Coulée- The Journey
03/11/2023 - 03/11/2023
Sarah Tawhai: Director
Eru Heke : Script Writer, Codirector, choreographer
Missy Coulée: The Journey
A journey through the eyes of a young boy trying to find his place and acceptance in this world through drag.
100 KARAMU Rd S, Hastings, 4122
03 November 2023 8pm
Eru Heke - Cast
Aaliyah Mitchell - Cast
Royal-Jack Pritchard-Hawea - Cast
Sakairi Wereta - Cast
Lucas Smith - Cast
Youth , Dance ,
Queer joy in the face of oppression is an act of resistance.
Review by Rosheen Fitzgerald 07th Nov 2023
There’s currently something of a moral panic about children and drag. Advances in queer and trans acceptance have been met with right wing backlash, preying on parental fears. Easier to persecute when you first vilify. In all this hand wringing about protecting children, no one seems to be asking the children themselves what they want.
Missy Coulée: The Journey, devised by seventeen year old Eru Heke and performed by a cast of his peers, is one young person’s loud, proud affirmation of identity. No ordinary teen drama, Heke learned storytelling at the knee of the master.
The protégée of the late and great Puti Lancaster, he discovered his love of theatre early when she led his youth drama group. She recognised his raw talent, plucking him from community theatre to feature in 2018’s Freedom is Behind my Breath when he was just twelve. Just before her death, at the end of 2021, she supported him to write and perform his own solo show — The Hunger Strikes Me — as one half of Whare Kōrero.
Puti’s method of making theatre was intense and unusual. She told real people’s stories, using their own words, verbatim, speaking the language of the heart. She made her actors do the hard yards emotionally, mining their own depths in order to portray the inner worlds of their characters.
Puti left an indelible impression on every life she touched, not least of all young Heke, who’s life’s course has been altered by his early introduction to theatre. Many of those fortunate enough to work with her vowed to carry her legacy into their practice.
Missy Coulée: The Journey is Heke’s love letter to Puti, in the medium she knew best. She features overtly — her portrait given pride of place stage right smiles benignly out at the packed house. She is voiced by an off-stage actor, playing the role she took in Heke’s personal and professional life — pushing him to express his authentic self with loving encouragement.
The play’s structure is simple yet effective. Scenes of heart wrenching honesty are interspersed with drag numbers, executed with skill and flamboyant joy, showcasing Heke’s twin talents of acting and dance.
The journey begins in Heke’s younger youth, with him covertly wearing his mother’s clothes, ‘finding a home in make up and heels,’ but suppressing the urge due to social pressures. Then comes Puti’s encouragement, pulling out his personal story that culminated in his solo show. There’s a sense that the changes she made to his life, believing that his experiences, thoughts and feelings were important, he came to accept the part of himself that made him feel whole. Drag became ‘the light in the dark’ for him, something to give him hope through adversity. Thus Missy Coulée was born. He sings a heartfelt song, directly to her portrait, and receives in return the words of love he imagines she would speak were she here in human form.
The dance numbers take us on a journey too, with a dizzying succession of deft costume changes. We start in the 1950’s with a Marilyn-a-like pantomiming Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend. There is some classic drag shade thrown, and Madonna’s iconic Vogue. There is a Samoan Siva, some Tina Turner and a hip-hop medley before arriving at today’s popular music, beyond the scope of knowledge of this critic.
The cast take to their roles enthusiastically with the confidence that is key to the kaupapa of the piece. A spectrum of genders are represented, all themselves, all fabulous. Director, Sarah Tawhai briefly takes the stage, showing she would not ask a child to do something she would not be willing to do herself — the maxim of the best teachers.
Throughout, Heke shines, like a nearby planet in a galaxy of distant stars. As with the genuine emotion he displays that ripples through the crowd in a gut punch of empathy, his physical performance is sublime. He pirouettes in heels, effortlessly high kicks, jumps into the splits, writhes his silken hips with a bombastic presence that cannot be taught. The stage is his playground and he is here to have fun.
Shades of the semiotics of theatre that Puti incorporated into her work with such prowess are present. A steely-eyed lip-synched ‘no!’ smashes the fourth wall, throwing down a challenge. A pair of queens openly mock the audience, turning the tables on the way society treats displays of difference, for once putting us in their shoes.
There is overt political posturing, too, pushing back at the change of government and an incumbent prime minister whose evangelical beliefs threaten the LGBTQI+ community. These rangatahi have the measure of things. Pearl clutching over queer liberation and an acceptance of gender fluidity is less about protecting children than thinly veiled bigotry, scapegoating and deflecting attention away from the fact that institutionalised religion brought on the abuse of children by systematically shielding their abusers.
But all politicking is done in the spirit of jubilation, in itself a political act. Queer joy in the face of oppression is a legitimate act of resistance. We end with an ebullient coordinated dance number, the whole cast taking the stage in a rainbow flag waving frenzy.
The course of the journey is clear — from shame to pride, from hiding to being out in plain sight. It’s a journey that takes place with acknowledged support — from the community and whanau that pack the house, from the directorial team, and from Puti Lancaster, whose influence persists from beyond the grave, and is, perhaps, somewhere, brimming with pride.
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