Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland LIVE, Auckland

26/06/2015 - 01/07/2015

Old Library Art Centre, Whangarei

05/07/2015 - 07/07/2015

The Ahu Centre,

09/07/2015 - 10/07/2015

Te Papa Tongarewa, Te Marae, Cable Street, Wellington

24/06/2015 - 24/06/2015

Production Details

Kura is a dreamer who works in a tomato sauce factory. The action of the play moves from factory floor to the world of Te Atakura’s ancestor, Waiora, as each of the characters tell their stories, weaving the past with the present, enabling Te Atakura to continue her journey through life with the strength of her ancestors.

It’s been 20 years since Nga Pou Wahine was first brought to the stage by Taki Rua Productions in what was a watershed moment in the career of one of our most prolific Maori writers, Briar Grace-Smith. Nga Pou Wahine brings to life the journey of a young, working class wahine, as she discovers her true spirit through the fabulous stories of her whanau and the dramatic history of her ancestor, Waiora.

Grace-Smith perfectly balances drama with humour as Te Atakura, our protagonist, weaves together these stories, past and present, to discover the truth about her family and the strength of her ancestors.

The solo performer for this season is Kura Forrester. 

Venue:  Te Marae, Level 4, Te Papa Tongarewa, 55 Cable St, Wellington 
Season:  24 June
Times:  Wed 6.30pm 
Ticket Prices:   Koha Performance 

Live at Herald Theatre | Aotea Centre, Auckland
Friday 26 June & Saturday 27 June 2015, 8.00pm
Tuesday 30 June & Wednesday 1 July 2015, 6.30pm  
Ticket Prices
Adult – $20.00*
*Service fees apply 

Recommended age 13+ 

1hr 20mins


The Old Library, 5-7 July
Sun 4pm / Mon & Tues 6.30pm
Bookings: – 09 430 6432

The Ahu Centre, 9 & 10 July
Book at Te Ahu i site

Theatre , Solo ,

1hr 20mins

Poetic, appealing and perfectly pitched

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 29th Jun 2015

A Matariki offering from Taki Rua demonstrates the depth of Maori theatre as a 20-year-old play resurfaces with its sparkle undiminished by the passage of time. 

Briar Grace-Smith’s uniquely poetic vision achieves universal appeal through its vividly detailed focus on a particular rural community that presents itself like a hologram composed from an accumulation of luminous fragments. [More]


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Prominent Wahine

Review by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth 28th Jun 2015

In many ways it’s hard to believe that Ngā Pou Wahine premiered two decades ago. Yes Māori theatre has moved on, gaining more and more prominence within the New Zealand theatre tapestry, however many of the themes that the play touches upon are still relevant today. 

Although this show is an historic piece of Māori theatre, we were privileged to witness yet another historic moment in the making with both the directorial debut and solo debut of Miriama McDowell and Kura Forrester respectively. These two prominent Māori wahine most definitely shine brightly which is befitting as it is part of Auckland Live’s Matariki programme. [More]


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Inspiring and enriching

Review by Tamati Patuwai 27th Jun 2015

Taki Rua celebrates 20 years of one of Aotearoa’s finest plays, Ngā Pou Wahine by Briar Grace-Smith, with a season playing at Herald Theatre right now.

No reira me mihi ka tika ki nga kaitiaki ra o te whare Taki Rua. Anei te mihi manahou ki o koutou tini koha i takohangia ki a matou te marea i tae mai. Kia ora ra koutou.

Partaking in a Briar Grace-Smith play is truly a blessed thing. Her attention to our Māori nuance is second to none. Characters emerge so authentically from the writing with at times appropriate sophistication and panache, other times with bush styles and gruffery (that’s a made up word to show my Writeyness). Themes are also intricately layered together with obvious dramaturgical awareness. Grace-Smith’s text moves impeccably from heroic legend to personal revelation in a heartbeat, which is a distinctly and assuredly Māori storyteller’s gift. Mai i te timatatanga i tera rau tau, tae noa mai ki tenei haora e haere tonu ana enei ataahuatanga i aana taonga whakaari. 

Ngā Pou Wahine traverses a series of Māori women’s experiences of dealing with love, life and loss. Circling carefully around the coming of age of Te Atakura, our heroine, the story weaves the accounts of Aunties, Mums and Cuzzies into one whole commentary on survival and determination. This is all done as a one person play.

Kura Forrester is the actor that carves all of these Pou wonderfully to their completion. Every character is distinct with their own physique and reo, their own quirks and charms. Forrester revels in a clear ability to transform from one character to another which is a real treat for the senses. 

The stage design by Wai Mihinui is literally stunning. It is an enigmatic and highly poetic complement to the textures of the play; with what seems to be a tree stump with frayed bits of timber that become tokotoko then cot then confession alter. Mihinui’s vision cloaked in another korowai of light designed by Jennifer Lal is astounding. 

These design elements accentuate debut Director Miriama McDowell’s efforts to contemporize the piece. The neon lights, the Kimbra-esque soundscape, the denim one piece and a variety of sharp allusions to 2015 culture pop out consistently through the production. 

This is where the effectiveness of the 2015 Ngā Pou Wahine diminishes. Very early in the production it is clear that the Director has taken a lot on to try to weave these disparate parts into a cohesive whole. I remember at a weaving wananga my Aunty led, she taught us that if the threads (whenu and aho) were not securely fastened then the ‘kaupapa’ would be compromised. The elements of the play are strong and distinct. It is an attention to some of the finishing stages that possibly could ensure these bits are settled firmly in place leaving the audience wholly satisfied. 

E ai ki taua korero “Ma te wa…” 

It is an ambitious undertaking for this team to have taken a definitive piece, as is Ngā Pou Wahine, and called her into a modern place and time. It is a worthy challenge and it is most certainly inspiring to see such skilled artists contend with the work, enriching us with Māori spirit and stories. 

Mauri ora ki nga Mareikura e whakapaoho ana i nga reo whakaari nei. Tena ka mihi. Ka tau.


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Full of life and very welcome

Review by John Smythe 25th Jun 2015

Briar Grace-Smith’s Ngā Pou Wahine premiered 20 years ago, 21 years after the Barry Barclay / Michael King TV series Tanagta Whenua went to air and 11 years after the Te Māori exhibition took Māoritanga to the wider world via New York City. The Māori Renaissance was well under way and strong Maori women like Dame Whina Cooper, Donna Awatere, Ripeka Evans and Merata Mita had well and truly made their mark in the Kiwi public eye. With Potiki and Cousins novelist Patricia Grace had brought a notable woman’s voice to Māori literature.  

But as young theatre practitioners Briar Grace-Smith, Nancy Brunning and Rachel House saw it (back in Taki Rua’s Alpha Street days), Māori women on stage and screen were either old and noble or young and loose. So to explore a wider and more realistic range, Grace-Smith wrote Ngā Pou Wahine, Brunning directed it and – theatre economics being what they were and are – House played all the roles. After its successful premiere – and its winning Briar Grace-Smith the 1995 Bruce Mason Playwriting Award – it took to the road and there have been a couple of revivals in the years since.

This 20th anniversary production features Kura Forrester and is directed by Miriama McDowell (her theatre directing debut) on a circular stage embedded with red-glowing circles, containing a cluster of fence-post sized pou and rising to a promontory at one side. Designed by Wai Mihinui it could be seen as the cross-section of a kauri: the massive pou from which smaller pou are made. And at is centre, a rope protrudes: an umbilical cord (tia) reaching down to the roots embedded in the whenua?

Named for the red light of dawn, Te Atakura – known as Kura – is not overtly the narrator of her own story although it could be said all the characters are seen through the prism of her perceptions. She navigates the annual rings to locate herself in time and in search of her own pathway, and she perches on the promontory to contemplate her future.

This is no linear narrative. What we are witnessing – in Kura Forrester’s subtly centred yet ebullient performance, delivered with a comic sensibility – is Kura’s state-of-being, as a desire for liberation into a wider word beckons her from the cocoon of extended whanau and her small town life.

It emerges that her mother died when she was just a bundle and although she was promised to her Aunty Ivy it was Aunty Lizzie and Uncle Walter who took her on – and the reason for that emerges from a story we may or may not believe in literal terms.

The story of how Lizzie and Walter got stuck with each other is salutary for Kura. So is the mythology around her ancestor Waiora: a gift to the Moa People from the patupaiarehe (Fairy People). But her daily grind on the tomato sauce production line at the Fine Foods Factory, weeding out ‘defect’ cans, keeps her grounded. Hunky JT is a welcome distraction with definite romantic potential until he proves false. No wonder, then, that Kura is given to fantasising …

The text has been updated with references to Kate Middleton, Snapchat and snatches of contemporary pop music which works all right since Kura’s transitional state is true for every generation, and it’s still credible Walter would have wooed Lizzie with the spoils of his pig hunt. On the other hand Grace-Smith is likely to have written the play quite differently in the time of cellphones and the internet so there’s an argument for keeping it true to its time as well.

Culottes have (according to Cleo) made a comeback so Kura’s trouser-length bib-front costume (Mihinui again) belongs to both eras. Jennifer Lal’s judicious lighting accentuates the subjective nature of the play and Matt Eller’s sound design enriches the experience, as does Moana Ete’s original waiata composition.

This fresh look at Ngā Pou Wahine is full of life and very welcome. Te Marae at Te Papa was jam-packed for this one-off koha contribution to the Ahi Kaa Festival before it heads for a longer season at the Herald in Auckland (opening tomorrow). 


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