Once Were Samoans

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, The Edge, Auckland

22/05/2007 - 26/05/2007

BATS Theatre, Wellington

24/07/2007 - 28/07/2007

Production Details

Vela Manusaute (Writer/Director/Producer)
Anapela Polataivao (Director)


They sold out last year and it’s back! Better! Blacker! Bigger! And they’re Samoans!

Within the Tufifi family stands a mother with six angry kids.
The radical Māori golfer plots to steal one of her daughters. The only problem is her four crazy sons stand in his way.

What’s worse? The secret of ALL secrets is buried deep in mother’s past.
If revealed, she’ll lose the only thing that binds her family: CONTROL.

A slice of political comedy laced with deadly intentions, ONCE WERE SAMOANS will ROCK the whole of Aotearoa.

Anapela Polataivao (Director)
Made her debut as a director for “Once Were Samoans” in 2006, she also acted in the show a role as the mother with a secret. She has television show acting experience playing as a mother role in ‘The Market’. She was also involved in voicing one of the characters in the first episode of ‘Bro Town’.

Vela Manusaute (Writer/Director/Producer)
An award winning comedian with ‘The Brownies’, their first show was performed in 1997. Has moved into production area where he became a writer, director and a producer. He was nominated for the Chapman Theatre Aware as ‘Best Writer’ for “Taro King”, which toured in Wellington in 2004. He also directed “Semi’s Plight”, “Love Handle” and “Playaz Night”. He wrote the original idea for the movie “The Tattooist” coming out this year with ‘Eyeworks Touchdown’, starring Jason Behr.

Vela Manusaute, Anapela Polataivao, Stacey Leilua, Aleni Tufuga, Stephanie Erick-Peleti, Natano Keni, Fasitua Amosa & Glen Jackson

South Auckland’s Most Wanted Entertainment Company, Kila Kokonut Krew Entertainment was set up in 2005 by Vela Manusaute and Anapela Polataivao, to open doors for unemployed South Auckland actors.

Kila Kokonut Krew has accomplished a lot in a short time. With 3 seasons of KTV show on Auckland’s Triangle TV, was put together to create KTV DVDs in 3 volumes yet the fourth will be out at the beginning of March 2007. With a recording studio (Nafanua Records) to go with, we manage to produce 4 albums in the space of 8 months.

Kila Kokonut Krew Entertainment has a strong links with their Pacific Island roots, making trips to Samoa 5 times and Niue once in 2006. For Samoa, was to shoot a music video for their local artist (Zipso, Master Sony) and to create documentary (Miss Samoa NZ/Miss Teuila). For Niue, we were invited by the government to perform for Niue’s anniversary of the constitution.

Dates:  Tue 22 – Sat 26 May, 7pm
Venue:  Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, THE EDGEā, Auckland City
Tickets:  Adults $26 Conc. $22 Groups 10+ $20
Bookings:  Ticketek 0800 TICKETEK (0800 842 5385)
Show Duration:  1 hour 15 min 

Bats Theatre: 24th till 28th of July
6:30pm Show
BOOKING: 802 4175 or book@bats.co.nz  

Malosi Tufifi / Grandpa:  Vela Manusaute
Luisa Tufifi:  Anapela Polataivao
Moa Tufifi:  Stacey Leilua
Niphie Tufifi:  Aleni Tufuga
Sekitary Tufifi:  Stephanie Erick-Peleti
Sasa Tufifi:  Natano Keni
Taihape Mprgan / Breakdancer:  Fasitua Amosa
Lil' Dick Tufifi:  Glen Jackson

Theatre ,

1 hr 15 min, no interval

Heartfelt and hilarious with a moral heart

Review by John Smythe 24th Jul 2007

Massive laughter and thunderous applause greet Once Were Samoans in Wellington. From now on, for me, the letters KKK signify great entertainment with bite. The South Auckland-based Kila Kokonut Krew are superb exponents of the Samoan / Niu Sila ‘Kommedia’ style that has evolved from its Pacific Underground roots through The Naked Samoans to become an established live performance tradition practiced by many.

It starts with a bare stage soon filled with archetypal characters confronting each other and their world through drama, comedy, song and dance. Nothing is sacred; the imperatives of family and social realities drive the action. The broad comedy is played with a powerful energy that is often accentuated with surprisingly light touches of humour. And no matter how close to tragedy the ever-present threats of violence bring it, a strong humanity binds the action to its core theme of racial tolerance.

I first encountered Vela Manusaute as a writer and director when The Taro King, a memorable epic about work and lifestyle aspirations, played BATS in 2004. The following year he and Anapela Polataivao set up Kila Kokonut Krew, "to open doors for unemployed South Auckland actors," and they’ve gone from strength to strength since then.

Once Were Samoans finds the Tufifi family – 4 brothers, 2 sisters and Mumma – locked in status games. Oldest brother Malosi (Manusaute) is quickly established as the tough guy bully boy king. But it is Mumma Louisa (Polataivao), who has brought them up single handed, who is the boss of them all; a fear-based respect engendered by dire threats of physical harm.

The giving of birthday presents to the older sister, Moa (Stacey Leilua), is a neat device for establishing each character. Busy-body sister Sekitary (Stephanie Erick Peleti) offers a photo of herself, gay brother Sasa gives another Ken doll to go with the first one he gave her, Li’l Dick proffers an empty box, Niphie (Aleni Tufuga) is generous with fresh air …

But it’s Mumma’s gift of a week off chores that give Moa the freedom to find a boyfriend, Trouble is he’s Taihape Morgan, the Māori golfer boy next door – educated, physical, powerful, well-spoken, with mana to burn – and that, of course, is problematic, especially for Malosi, who is also all for giving the bash to their richer cousins at the forthcoming family reunion for no other reason than they are richer.  

True love has some obstacles to overcome, then. Much is made of the racism theme – "Everyone is racist everywhere," say Mumma – and that turns out to be a key set-up for the big secret she finally confesses to, which I cannot reveal here. Suffice to say it’s an ingenious twist on the last-minute revelation device in classic Victorian melodrama, and it gives the play a moral heart.

Meanwhile, amid the splendid comedy ensemble performing, producing moments of truth both heartfelt and hilarious, we have enjoyed some beautifully harmonised singing, mostly to parodies of popular musical hits that explore similar themes. A fan dance, done by the three women, involving white confetti is another magical moment.

I know the Film Festival is on but do yourselves a favour and fit this in.


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Inspires the most hilarity

Review by Sian Robertson 23rd May 2007

The Tuffi family are getting ready to go to a family reunion. They are: four unambitious sons (the fat, oldest one, the 24-year-old still in high school, the gay one, the one with a job at The Warehouse); two obedient daughters who keep house and wait for marriage; and their commandant of a mother, who’s brought them up on her own because their good-for-nothing father "couldn’t handle the jandal."

They bicker, ridicule each other, cower before their larger-than life mother, and break into spontaneous song and dance routines, with a bit of everything, from The Sound Of Music to Scribe to Star Wars.

Every character is well cast, but my favourites had to be the tyrannical mother and the conceited Mâori falla next door. This Samoan matriarch has her family of six firmly under her maternal thumb… and even manages to keep the Mâori neighbour in his place, tying the show together with her constant chiding and threats of humiliation, pain and death: "You think because you’re my child I won’t kill you if you do that again?" She’s larger than life, fiery in the extreme, and rules her roost with an iron fist and a rubber jandal. And of course behind it all is a mother’s fierce love for her kids (and an unwieldy family secret she’s afraid will throw everything into disarray). She makes a tasty contrast to the musical elements and the kids’ foolishness.

It’s also about falling in love, arranged marriage, race relations, national pride, national embarrassment, and national who-gives-a-f**k… oh, and who owns the land. Taihape from next door wants the youngest Tuffi daughter to be his bride, but has her mother and brothers to contend with. Everyone’s the enemy… especially that stupid Mâori.

The eight members of Kila Kokonut Krew, the group behind this production, are of Samoan, Niuean, Tongan and Mâori descent, but no-one, including the damn palangi, escapes the general, no-holds-barred slander from these guys. Everyone gets a ribbing.

The family dynamics ring true, exaggerated to comedic ends. The pretentious, ‘spiritual, educated, well-spoken’ Mâori neighbour (who’s alleged aspirations to become the Prime Minister of New Zealand and/or a better golfer than Michael Campbell, are really just a ploy to get into the Tuffi girl’s pants) is a natural antagonist to the uncomplicated Samoan lads who dislike him on principal.

There’s plenty of banter about land ownership, and some current political commentary thrown in for good measure, but really it’s not so much the details or the politics that make this show, as the actors’ energetic interaction and the stereotypes they belt out so naturally, which seem so wrong but feel so right when you’re laughing so hard you spill most of your beer and nobody complains.

At one point I was surprised to find myself laughing uproariously at the discussion of how best to inflict extreme violence on the extended family at the reunion so as to make an impression (they couldn’t agree on a musical presentation, so this was the natural alternative…?). Not usually the kind of fare to contact my funny bone, and maybe they took it a bit far for a comedy that’s essentially pretty light-hearted and has no agenda of trying pummel home a moral message. However it’s the caricatured, unabashed flavour of this piece that makes it what it is, so somehow they’ve succeeded in making me feel like the scrawny, white, politically-correct prude for questioning their enthusiasm.  

The show has most of the elements often associated with Samoans: family, song, laughter and violence. I don’t want to say anything bad about it in case they bring the bros round to my place after and smash me, but fortunately there isn’t much to complain about: the material, delivery, timing are of a high standard, and of all the shows I’ve seen at this year’s festival, this one inspired by far the most hilarity.

It’s fresh, vibrant, loud and petulant. Yup, there was a strong Samoan contingent in the audience for the opening night, but the humour these guys indulge us in is definitely broadly Kiwi in scope and actually pretty universal. A damn fine evening of comedy, Once Were Samoans is also strong theatre in its own right.  


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