O Le Pepelo, Le Gaoi Ma Le Pala'ai | The Liar, the Thief and the Coward

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

14/06/2023 - 17/06/2023

ASB Waterfront Theatre, 138 Halsey St, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland

05/03/2024 - 23/03/2024

Kia Mau Festival 2023

Production Details

Co-Writer / Director: Ui Natano Keni (Samoan/Aotearoa)
Co-Writer / Producer: Sarita Keo Kossamak So (Khmer/Aotearoa)
Script Advisor: Tusi Tamasese
Choreographer: Tupua Tigafua
Kaumatua: Nathaniel Lees

I Ken So Productions, founded by Sarita So and Natano Keni

‘O le Pepelo, Le Gaoi Ma Le Pala’ai’, ‘The Liar, the Thief, and the Coward’ is set in a not so distant past Samoa, where Pili Sā Tauilevā a proud Ali’i from the village of Moa has suddenly fallen ill sending him into a fast downward spiral, leaving him unable to tend to his duties within the family, church and village itself.

In a sacred paradise where “your path to leadership is through service”, Pili’s dwindling light sends the family into overdrive to keep the fire going. But nothing plays out as expected when others come out to join the race.

As principles change will the foundation of Pili’s family remain?

CAST 2023:
Semu Filipo
Fiona Collins
Albert Latailakepa
Taofi Mose-Nehemia
Maurea Perez-Varea
Brett Taefu
Jake Arona
Villa Junior Lemanu
Lanakila Opetaia-Tiatia

CREW 2023:
Production Manager: Nicholas Batey
Set Designers: Mark McIntyre & Tony De Goldi
Lighting Design: Isadora Lao
Sound Design: Emi Pogoni & Karnan Saba
Costume Design: Cara Louise
Stage Manager: Samoana Nokise
Operator: Wren Glover
Poster Artist: Rose Miller
Photography: Mike Clare

CAST 2024:
Semu Filipo
Aruna Po-Ching
Ana Corbett
Haanz Fa'avae-Jackson
Taofi Mose-Nehemia
James Maeva
Andy Tilo-Faiaoga
Villa Junior Lemanu
Jesme Fa'auuga

CREW 2024:
Assistant Rehearsal Director: Nathaniel Lees
Production Manager: Jamie Blackburn
Set Designers: Mark McIntyre & Tony De Goldi
Lighting Design: Jennifer Lal
Composer: Poulima Salima
Sound Design: Karnan Saba
Costume Design: Cara Louise
Visual Designer: Delainy Kennedy / Artificial Imagination
Stage Manager: Ahilan Karunaharan
Operator: Tony Black / Peter Davison
Intimacy Director : Bree Peters
Stunt Coordinator: Amand Weavers
Dance Captain: Villa Junior Lemanu
Fight Captain: Andy Tilo-Faiaoga
Community Consultant: Tanya Muagututi'a

Theatre ,

120 min including 15 min interval

Complex, rich, funny, and (at times) disturbing, 'O Le Pepelo, Le Gaoi, Ma Le Pala’ai ~ The Liar, The Thief, and the Coward' is a great night out

Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 18th Mar 2024

Attending shows at ASB Waterfront Theatre is invariably a joy. Parking is now more accessible, the FOH staff are accommodating and efficient, and the ushers especially helpful to those of us a bit wobbly on our pins. Add to this, the interval ice cream range is outstanding. This experience at the home of Auckland Theatre Company has been the best yet!

O Le Pepelo, Le Gaoi, Ma Le Pala’ai ~ The Liar, The Thief, and the Coward is a collaboration between Auckland Theatre Company, Auckland Arts Festival, and I Ken So Productions and it’s an astounding success. It’s an ominously comic study of the fa’a sāmoa, where ‘family, leadership and legacy converge in spectacular chaos’. With that underpinning the narrative what could possibly go wrong ~ apart from just about everything.

Time to own up. My guests and I have no Samoan heritage, we’re pure Papālagi, so my experience will be recorded here through my palagi lens and not an authentic cultural one. On the other hand, my whanau has the privilege of constant association with our Samoan cousins through our sporting activities. Love and empathy, in spades.

As usual, the show’s marketing cuts to the chase. We’re told the show addresses the po ‘you’re not going to live forever. If you cark it tomorrow, who’s going to lead?

Who indeed?

The blurb continues: ‘in Sāmoa’s not-so-distant past, Pili Sā Tauilevā is a proud Ali’i (chief) in the village of Moa. He has devoted his life to the sacred fa’a sāmoa tradition of service. When he suddenly falls gravely ill and refuses to name a successor, his daughter and son become rivals for the title.’  Nothing plays out as expected when others join in and, suddenly, we have a newish theatrical genre that flip-flops from high farce to tragedy, to comedy, with the odd Greek tradition thrown in, and back to farce again all in one single breathless moment. Am I saying it’s slick? I most certainly am, incredibly slick, with all the accoutrements brought to it by performers absolutely on top of their physical game.

The first half is all about set up and characterisation ~ a veritable who’s who of the village of Moa. We ask ‘who is the outsider in this mix, is Dad really on his last legs, who’s he likely to name as his successor, and is there anything worth inheriting anyway. To and froe we go arguing the merits the modern world versus tradition as we work out just who is the liar, who is the thief, who is the coward, and why should we care. It’s important until it’s not, and we get to meditate on all of the permutations as we devour our designer ice creams and sip our nicely chilled Chablis during the generous interval.

Part Two is a different animal altogether. It’s fast, articulate, and oh so funny. We know who’s who now, we’ve honed our opinions, and the characters don’t muck around coming clean about their agendas – and each one of them certainly has one. The passion for power, for politics, even venality, are stripped bare and collide destructively with long-held tradition in ways not unlike the satires of the 60’s but, in this case, with fewer redeeming features. It’s not good versus bad, more like corrupt versus even worse, even with an espoused commitment to tradition used almost solely to hide the (fiscal) sins of the past. It’s a wonderful exercise in exposing the flaws in all of us and, subtly, suggesting that there is little or no hope of redemption for any of the deeply conflicted characters in this story.

But I jump ahead of myself.

Is what we’re watching just a cynical Samoan world view shared over kava? There’s a hint of this, but it’s cleverly disguised by a sense of the normality of the natural order changing. This is just what happens. Is the future guaranteed and will it be good? Not really. Will there be retribution, or will Overseasia rule? It’s suggested, but there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon too. Always hope, but there’s also always selfish self-interest on the ride as well.

Greeks? How do they come into this complex tale, and do they help or hinder. They come in the form of an excellent Chorus figure (Jesme Fa’auuga), first-rate as the village vale (idiot) who keeps us grounded in understanding and thoroughly well informed. He has a trace of Lear’s fool about him and, like the Fool, he threatens to bring chaos to the party because, just like his Elizabethan counterpart, his calculated comments threaten the very fabric of this fragile aiga.

Is the problem resolved? Not really. Does it matter? Again, not really. We almost don’t want to know who will win – if winning in this instance can really be called a victory.

Was it good? Most certainly. Was it great? Yes, much of it was, post interval especially. The performances were uniformly good. Semu Filipo plays Pili Sā Tauilevā, the father, with gravitas and enigmatic good humour, while Aruna Po-Ching plays Fa’asoa Sā Tauilevā, the mother. She is fierce but empathic too. Excellent performances from these two powerful figures.

Their son, Matagi Puifatu Sā Tauilevā, is played with panache by Haanz Fa’avae Jackson and he knows exactly what he wants. His character arc is expansive, and he manages to be obnoxious and subservient equally in the same breath. Excellent work, that man.

Ana Corbett plays daughter Vailoloto Sā Tauilevā who has returned from Aotearoa New Zealand and she brings a possible future with her, a breath of new (but not necessarily fresh) air to the village. Hers is a performance that’s all class as she drives a wedge between tradition and the new ways and always from the perspective of her own agenda.

It almost seems unfair not to name the entire cast because all are uniformly good and their commitment to the narrative is uniformly excellent. No showboating, and for each of the actors, the play is most definitely the thing.

Taofi Mose-Nehemia plays the nofotane (an indigenous woman who, after marriage, lives in her husband’s village with her husband’s family). You’d never know from her stroppy performance that her character is ‘low status’ but only know this because of how others relate to her. Hers is thoroughly enjoyable work.

Andy Tilo-Faiaogo is the fai avā to be, the agent of change. He’s enigmatic, knows his place, but his presence is extraordinary. He is so very watchable.

James Maeva is the Minister, in it for the power and the glory but mostly for the money. A fabulous performance, so much so such that I loathed his character throughout – because I was meant to!

Villa Junior Lemanu plays ‘The Kid’, a devoted kitchen hand whose dedication to the family and to his role in society anchors us in the here and now. This is how it is, how it’s always been, and how it might continue to be. Who knows? It’s smart work, he’s ever present but never obtrusive.

All in all, the work is excellent, and I can most certainly recommend it.

The set is incredible, a seeming jungle of stairs and platforms that’s functional in every way. The actors use it with great expertise and clear enjoyment. Big congratulations to Mark McIntyre and Tony De Goldi for creating the best, and most workable, set design I’ve seen in a very long time. The same can be said of the lighting design (Jennifer Lal), sound design (Karnan Saba), theme composition (Poulima Salima), and the clothes (Cara Louise). The visuals and sound were all quite superb,

The production values are top notch. A wonderful actable script by Ui Natano Keni (Samoan/Aotearoa) who also directed and Sarita Keo Kossamak So (Khmer/Aotearoa) who produced, and all under the watchful eye of Directors’ Mentor, the magnificent Maiava Nathaniel Lees.

Complex, rich, funny, and (at times) disturbing, O Le Pepelo, Le Gaoi, Ma Le Pala’ai ~ The Liar, The Thief, and the Coward is a great night out. If your palagi (pakeha) like me, it’s accessible on every level. My whanau and I loved it and think you should go.

On the night we shared this excellent experience, Semu Filipo made a curtain speech encouraging the audience to contribute to the New Zealand Actors Benevolent Fund as we exited the theatre. I’m not sure whether this happens every night, but I’d certainly encourage you to contribute. It’s a great cause.



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A rollercoaster from being shocked, to hysterically laughing to fighting back tears

Review by Theodora Esera 15th Jun 2023

O le Pepelo, le Gaoi ma le Palaai (The Liar, the Thief and the Coward) follows the journey of Pili Sa Tauileva (Semu Filipo), a proud ali’i from the village of Moa, and his household. An illness begins to take over him, and his family and household know he doesn’t have long to live. There is this urgent demand from his wife Fa’asoa (Fiona Collins) and two kids, daughter Vailoloto (Maurea Perez-Varea) and son Matagi (Albert Latailakepa) to announce who will take over the throne to continue the sacred legacy of serving through leadership.

Amongst this household lives the nofotane Afinamumu (Taofi Mose-Nehemia) who’s duty is to serve the family and work from the kitchen along with the tautua, or referenced as ‘tama’i toea’ina (Lanakila Opetaia-Tiatia) who is the help. Outside lives the other tautua/ fesoasoani/ narrator Vaofefe (Jake Arona), who sleeps on the gravestones and feeds the chickens on the Sa Tauileva chicken farm. Here he has somewhere to stay and eat. Also there is Reverend Kilifi (Villa Junior Lemanu), a constant visitor to the family.

Throughout the play, the flaws and hidden agendas for each character unravel, and we learn why they want to pursue the title. Family secrets come to light, and faiava Masina (Brett Taefu), an unexpected character, ends up shaking the podiums of the Sa Tauileva house.

This piece is beautifully written and directed with crucial details; the use of Gagana Samoa and English through the speaking Orator, references to well-known Samoan superstitions, and Samoan traditions tie into the story. The way the cast conveys their characters with their unique personalities is incredibly convincing.

The lighting of the set is also very detailed and well thought out. Everything has a meaning and is used in so many versatile ways. It is beautiful, creative and really brings the story to life. This show has me on the edge of my seat right from the beginning to end. It takes me on a rollercoaster of so many different moments from being shocked, to hysterically laughing to fighting back tears. What an incredible opening night.


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