Maidment Theatre, Auckland

22/03/2014 - 12/04/2014

Te Papa: Soundings, Wellington

26/02/2014 - 05/03/2014

New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2014

Production Details

New Briar Grace-Smith play reveals story of Spanish Māori-Spanish hāpu  

“We are so pleased we can present this thrilling new work by the brilliant Briar Grace-Smith to audiences in both Wellington and Auckland” – Colin McColl, Director 

The New Zealand Festival is proud to present the world premiere of Arts Laureate Briar Grace-Smith’s new play, Paniora!, a bold family drama about a real New Zealand iwi. 

The TV3 Season of Auckland Theatre Company’s Paniora! opens at Soundings Theatre for seven nights from 26 February.

Directed by Colin McColl, the outstanding Paniora! cast includes Nancy Brunning, Kirk Torrance, Hera Dunleavy , Barnie Duncan, Taiaroa Royal and Calvin Tuteao.

Paniora! is a passionate contemporary drama about one of Aotearoa’s most distinctive hāpu, the Māori-Spaniards of the East Coast known as Paniora. Spanish whaler Manuel Jos de Frutos Huerta emigrated to New Zealand in 1835. Settling on the North Island’s East Coast, he married five Ngāti Porou women and laid the foundations for what remains an impassioned hāpu with Spanish blood firing their veins.

Grace-Smith’s newest work focuses on Te Mamaenui Martinez, the oldest living descendent of Papa Carlisto Martinez. Prosperous and proud, the Martinez family lives in an elegant homestead where they speak Spanish, cook tapas and dance the flamenco. Yet beneath their fervent pride there are demons to face and a family revolution looming.

The one thing that can bring the Paniora together – their casta, or spirit – is the thing that is driving them apart.

One of New Zealand’s leading playwrights, Briar Grace-Smith (Ngā Pou Wāhine, Purapurawhetū, Potiki’s Memory of Stone), returns to her theatre roots after many years writing for TV and film. In Paniora!, she melds fact and fiction to create a vibrant and courageous new New Zealand drama.

Partnered by TV3 and the Auckland Council

Auckland Theatre Company Artistic Director and Paniora! director, Colin McColl, said, “The last time Auckland Theatre Company audiences had the opportunity to experience a family drama this gritty was in 2011 with August: Osage County. We are so pleased we can present this thrilling new work by the brilliant Briar Grace-Smith in both Wellington and Auckland.”

Guided by the play’s magical narrative thread and Spanish-Māori roots, McColl has engaged the talented Taane Mete and dancers from Okareka Dance Company to devise a fusion of haka and flamenco for a dramatic onstage bull-fight.

Wed 26 Feb to Sun 2 Mar, Tue 4 and Wed 5 Mar, 7.30pm,
and Sun 2 Mar 2.30pm 
Soundings Theatre, Te Papa (2 hours with interval)
Tickets $58 available from Ticketek (excludes booking fees)

Auckland Theatre Company season, following the New Zealand Festival: Maidment Theatre, Auckland University
20 March – 12 April 2014

Theatre , Dance ,

Impressively woven fusion yet to achieve cohesion

Review by Grace Ahipene Hoet 24th Mar 2014

Like all good stories you have an idea, a spark that ignites and burns then erupts into a wildfire. What better story fodder could you ask for, than this of the hot-blooded Spaniard, Manuel José, who married five Māori women with whom the Paniora whanau was created! 

Storyteller extraordinaire Briar Grace-Smith has taken a family history as her source of inspiration and run with it. Grace-Smith has created a fusion on many different levels, from the blending of art forms to the synthesis of cultures, as well as the mix of physical and texted-based theatre. The story itself is woven with intrigue, deceit, passion and the bloodlines of the Paniora whanau: an intriguing web Grace-Smith has spun founded on history and identity, fictionalising the ancestor as Papa Carlitos.  

A quick google reveals the historical truth of Manuel José,* a Spaniard who arrived in New Zealand in the late 1830s, known as Manuera, a trader in Ngati Porou territory. He married five women, each bearing children, and is considered the ancestor of the largest family in New Zealand, numbering over 16,000 descendents.

Paniora is about whakapapa (identity), kaitiaki (guardians), tupuna (ancestors), whanau (family), utu (payment) and aroha (love). Its scope is broad-ranging, covering the spiritual, emotional, physical aspects of the whanau dynamics and their environment.

Whakapapa! Whakapapa! It’s where we gather our genealogy, bloodline, identity. It is the red line that runs through the mind of the Tino Rangatiratanga flag, it’s the colour we paint our Whakairo (carvings) our wharenui (meeting house). Why red? Because it represents the bloodline, that is passed down from the tupuna, generation to generation. We are intrinsically our whakapapa. It’s what allows us to exist!

Who’s who in the pa? Te Mamaenui (Nancy Brunning), granddaughter of Papa Carlitos and his 1st wife.  Jimmy Hotai (Kirk Torrance, who revels in his character’s intricacies) is Te Mamaenui’s grandson. Bonita (Keporah Torrance) is Jimmy’s daughter from his 1st marriage. Jimmy is now married to his 3rd wife Terry (Hera Dunleavy gives an exuberantly refreshing performance).

Maria Martinez (Miriama Smith) is the great, great grand-daughter of Papa Carlitos and his 4th wife. She has now returned home, married to Theo Rameka (Calvin Tuteao). 

Then we have our manuhiri (visitor) all the way from Spain: Esteban Valdez, played by Barnie Duncan in devastating mode.  

The whanau have gathered together to celebrate the restoration of the wharenui. In order to commemorate the occasion a bullfight is proposed by Jimmy, who goes so far as to introduce a supposed matador, Esteban.

Jimmy is still in love with Maria his childhood love, but she has returned home with Theo who adores her, albeit to his detriment and eventual demise into a bottle. Jimmy’s wife Terry tries her best to uphold the Spanish elements of her husband’s family as well as raise their twins. Jimmy’s daughter Bonita is arranging the whanau gathering. She is a natural with animals, people and the land. She is an eyewitness to her father’s infidelities, their visitor’s indiscretions and the whanau secrets. Single-handedly she tries to understand and fix everything.  

The Matriarchal grandmother, Te Mamaenui, wants nothing more than to see Jimmy and Maria united in order for the Paniora bloodline to continue, regardless of the cost to Theo, Terry and the whanau. For Te Mamaenui, Maria must fulfil the prophecy that her child is the future leader of the Paniora whanau. The bullfight that eventuates brings out the true leader of the Paniora whanau. 

This all happens on Sean Coyle’s stunning set, a combination of individual Pou and an up-curving Bullring that bridges the house, and creates the cliffs. 

The play opens with a blended fusion of Māori and Spanish imagery and music, encapsulating and igniting the heart and soul of the play.  

The opening korero of the Kuia Te Mamaenui and Whatupo the Ruru (morepork), personified beautifully by legendary dancer Taiaroa Royal, reveals the kaitiaki prophecy that a new leader will come and bring the Paniora whanau together again. This single-minded goal drives Te Mamaenui with a fervent passion to see this accomplishment fulfilled. She believes it is Maria that holds the key to this destiny.  

The ruru, who protects, warns and advises, speaks largely of Te Ao Wairua (the spiritual world); this realm is as real to Māori as walking on a concrete footpath. As a child I was taught the ruru was a wairua tupuna (ancestor’s spirit) that came to karanga (call) and welcome a loved one home; a heralding spirit. When the ruru calls three times, there will be a passing away of a loved one. Some see this as a foreboding tohu (sign), others as a bearer of news or a welcoming call to come home. 

Te Mamaenui fully aware of all this, recognises Whatupo for what he means: “Two times in 3 days you have visited,” the implication of its foreboding presence, the urgency of the message at hand. I love the theatrics of Whatupo so much I want him to be more prevalent and to hear him talk. 

In true East Coast Ngāti Porou style the humour is raucous and real with no holds barred.  Delivered with impeccable comedic timing, no prisoners are spared; a good Ngāti roasting is given especially from the Kuia Te Mamaenui.  Brunning’s performance is laced with a touch of the renowned female speaker from Ngāti Porou, Kuia Whaia McClutchie.  She is famous for her oratory skills and assertion for wahine to speak on the marae. Te Mamaenui is such a recognisable Kuia, not necessarily stereotypical but dynamically real, and Brunning delivers Te Mamaenui with a tour de force performance.  

The strength of Māori women is also demonstrated in the story’s reference to a female carver building the wharenui. An extreme rarity for most iwi, the carving of wharenui was highly tapu and considered a male domain. With the wharenui being the Paniora’s own personal house, they would have set their own tikanga (the Māori way of doing things) guidelines or protocols.

Subtle Māori nuances are played out by the Kuia with her verbal slight of Theo Rameka (Calvin Tuteao at his moody dark best), married to her mokopuna Maria Martinez. The Kuia refers to Rameka as coming from his Mountain of Mist, an indication that he came from Te Urewera, Ngai Tuhoe area, inland from Ngati Porou. Rameka becomes the scapegoat for past tribal indiscretions inflicted on the people of Taiawa and Te Mamaenui is cutting in her recollection of past iwi offences. Her utu is laid upon Rameka. 

A significant part of the play’s framework is the eye-catching choreography of Taane Mete. His superb choreography gives the audience a glimpse of haka stance and flamenco grace, creating a new mix of strength and eloquence. As a creative team the Okareka Dance Company breathes life into the stage, the set, the sand. Their physicality exudes sensuality, passion and fire that build’s throughout the play, leading to the catharsis of the dramatic bullfight. Capturing your eye is Lisa Greenfield, the sole female dancer, striking an elegant pose of Spanish expressiveness.   

The beauty of the physical/dance aspects of the play is that it drives the energy and fire of the production and keeps the audience absorbed.   

Bravado and passion at times abounds in large doses, the delivery of performance at first glance appears over the top, to the disadvantage of the actors. But when this is looked at through Māori eyes it is actually the normal vibrant full-on life of a large extended whanau coming home to a gathering on their papakainga, where past secrets and future mysteries raise their good and bad heads.  

Joyful Keporah Torrance does well to manoeuvre her character through the emotional minefield and physical obstacles set before her. Bonita is honest and as the eye witness to all the wrong doings of the whanau, going through the usual adulthood development in understanding her father is a mere moral. As the play progresses we see she is the saving grace of the Paniora whanau, their future lies in her hands.   

Plot-wise Paniora!’s many threads do not necessarily weave together to create a cohesive story. The many storylines at times are disjointed and clunky and not necessarily driven by a central character, focus or purpose.  The script does need some redefining for live theatre, however it could make for compelling TV drama.  Often live theatre is better delivered with a central driving core, unless the choice is made to be obviously alternative or avant-garde.  

Nevertheless, this is early days for Paniora! and a play of this magnitude requires continuous honing, crafting and redrafting.  This process is a recognised progression for all great works to become masterpieces and Paniora! is indeed a master work in the making.  

Accolades go to Briar Grace-Smith for her mammoth and courageous efforts and Colin McColl, having the maestro’s touch of drawing out the best in all his performers.  Paniora! is an impressively woven fusion of physical and text based theatre.

 – – – – – – – – – – –
*The Manuel José website tells us: “All we really know about this important ancestor is expressed in the poem ‘The Manuel José Enigma’ written by Hal Hovell of Te Araroa in 1981.”

The Manuel José Enigma 

You came to live on foreign shores a Castilian man alone,
Landed at Port Awanui, at Taumata made your home
You gave away a whaling life, at trading tried your hand,
A solitary Spaniard, in a raw, unbroken land.

Manuel José, where did you come from? What did you leave behind?
Were the seas you travelled troubled, the times hard or kind?
What lies hidden in your past, forgotten with passing time?
Shame or bloody glory, pain or violent crime? 

What made you leave your native shores to sail the southern seas?
Perhaps love unrequited, or some bold adventurous creed?
Now in the 1980s your descendents live far and wide
In this land that you adopted, under the Southern skies.

Though they descend from five wives, the family ties are strong
And the Spanish blood you gave them provides the common bond.
You remain their enigma, the Paniora with no past.
At Awanui, the last living link, an olive tree stands fast.

They have gathered in your memory, and raised a cross on high,
On the hill at Taumata within sight and sound of tide.
How many times did you stand there, and view that lonely scene?
Was there regret and sorrow for what you’d left across those seas?

Whatever thoughts filled your mind as you stood there alone,
We, your surviving family, are glad you made it home.
And we will stand here filled with pride and dignity as long
As the Paniora Blood remains to keep the family strong.


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Play punctuated with colour, movement and class

Review by Janet McAllister 24th Mar 2014

As the exclamation promises, Paniora! is a spectacle: full of dance, dust and colour. Briar Grace-Smith’s anticipated new play puts an often humorous, fairytale twist on the Maori family melodrama genre.

Auckland Theatre Company director Colin McColl and Okareka Dance Company choreographer Taane Mete have chosen an excellent beginning: Taiaroa Royal dancing in the dark, poised on the edge of a precipice, moving in flamenco and Maori motifs.

He’s joined by Nancy Brunning as the “difficult” abuela, the grandmother matriarch of the Spanish-Maori Paniora clan, and their short, controlled scene contrasts nicely with what we next see: a brightly lit, jostling, bristling crowd jockeying for power in an unacknowledged game of family musical chairs. [More]


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A complex story of cultural tensions, thwarted love and intergenerational expectations

Review by Stephanie Johnson 24th Mar 2014

It is refreshing to see a clever and humorous play that examines the collision of Maori tikanga with a culture other than Anglo-Saxon. In Briar Grace-Smith’s new Paniora! it is a Spaniard who came ashore and took a number of wives, so creating many contemporary descendents. Some of them have gathered for the dedication of a new wharenui. 

Jimmy (Kirk Torrance) has been active in raising the money, so too has his daughter Bonita (Torrance’s real daughter, Keporah) but it is his grandmother Te Mamaenui who provides true perspective for the audience in these opening scenes. Nancy Brunning entirely inhabits this acerbic, endearing kuia, from the point of her mantilla to the tips of her slippers. 

Te Mamaenui, whose name translates as “intense pain”, has spent years plotting for Jimmy to marry Maria (Miriama Smith) who was whangai’d to her at the age of two. From this union will come a new leader. [More


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Many memorable moments

Review by John Smythe 27th Feb 2014

The world premiere of Briar Grace-Smith’s new play Paniora! – commissioned and produced by Auckland Theatre Company, and presented in association with Okareka Dance Company, as part of the New Zealand Festival 2014 – is as complex in content as its staging is simple. Or that’s how it seems on opening night.  

The opening image captures the essence of the play’s foundation: an intriguing blend of Māori and Spanish music (composed, I presume, by sound designer Eden Mulholland) accompanies a dancer, high up, whose moves are also a fusion of both cultures.

It may help to know in advance that traditional Maori folklore finds significance in the appearance of an owl (ruru; morepork) close to a house. It could be a kaitiaki (guardian) coming to warn or advise, or it may bring a premonition of death in the family. Both are relevant to this play.

The first scene, then, is more than a bit of casual midnight banter from the insomniac kuia we will come to know as Te Mamaenui (powerfully contained within Nancy Brunning) with the owl now perched outside her home (embodied by extraordinary veteran dancer, Tairoa Royal). It holds a subtext of intrigue and trepidation.

The next scene brings us, as guests, to the opening of a restored wharenui, carved by a woman, that depicts and celebrates the Spanish history of the Paniora hāpu, established in the 1830s when a Spanish whaler settled in Aotearoa, married Māori wāhine and had many children. (The media release names the founding father of the Māori-Spaniards of the East Coast as Manuel Jos de Frutos Huerta; Grace-Smith calls the ancestor Manuel José in her programme note; in her play he is named as Papa Carlisto Martinez.)

The wharenui scene establishes the chorus of dancers who will physicalize the subtext and key points, and manifest some major drama involving cattle (dynamically choreographed by Taane Mete). All characters are also introduced here, as are the unresolved tensions that are destined to come to the surface over the next couple of hours. (Without a family tree to go by, I hope I get the connections right.)

Te Mamaenui, named for the great sadness that followed her father’s death, is the last surviving Martinez. She married a Hotai and is scathing of how her son, Jimmy Hotai (his complexities strongly explored by Kirk Torrance), is trying to reinvigorate their Spanish ancestry, not least by planning a bullfight. He even brings a dodgy Spanish barman – Esteban Valdez (Barnie Duncan in wicked form) – up from Wellington to do the Matadorial honours. 

Returned from Spain, whence she fled at 16 to avoid a marriage, is Maria Martinez (a sizzling Miriama Smith, revealing more than initially meets the eye). Insisting her name is now Raweka, she is in a fraught relationship with Theo Rameka (Calvin Tuteo at his brooding, surly best), whose ‘hill people’ forebears committed atrocities against the Paniora which have not been forgiven.

Jimmy’s niece (I think that’s right), Bonita – and called “Bonita Banana” by Te Mamaenui – works on Jimmy’s farm and is the character who changes most in a positive way as the drama progresses. Keporah Torrance is compelling as she confronts a range of obstacles, both physical and emotional.

Jimmy’s wife, Terry (a bright-eyed Hera Dunleavy), initially offers comic relief as the Pakeha keen to enrich her life with Spanish infusions, not least through her Spanish Cooking Club.

Nic Smillie’s costume designs subtly capture where people are on the multi-cultural spectrum. It all plays out on Sean Coyle’s set of free-standing pou and a curved and upward-sloping pathway that ends above a doorway, lit as much for darkness as for light by Jane Hakaraia. Director Colin McColl maintains a seamless flow of action and draws out strong performances all round.

The characters are largely archetypes. Some lines, as written and delivered, seem somewhat soap-opera-ish and some of the passions ‘over the top’, but then I think if this was actual opera and sung in Spanish, all that would seem perfectly appropriate. Special credit, by the way, to those in the cast who deliver English, Māori and Spanish dialogue with equal authenticity.  

Soundings Theatre at Te Papa does have a distancing effect, not helped by the thin acoustics for spoken voice, and I wonder how it might play in the three-quarter round; more suited, I’d suggest, to a sense of battle within an area.   

Perhaps it’s intentional, to avoid predictability, or it may be a function of not having had the week or three of previews brand new plays and productions often enjoy elsewhere in the world, but the equal emphasis on the multiple story lines, often revealed through the exposition of backstories, does leave me at a bit of a loss to detect the play’s centre.

Plot-wise there are many threads to follow and they don’t, in the present moments of performance, seem to weave around a thematic core. No one character or quest is driving the action forward, although the looming bullfight does offer something along those lines, despite the dubious nature of Valdez’s credentials. And just when that seems to have become a ‘blind alley’ it does pay off in a spectacular way.

On the other hand, the question of succession – of who will carry the Martinez genes forward after the passing of Te Mamaenui, given Maria’s apparent inability to conceive – could be the dominant issue. And it could be argued the two coalesce in the climax.

In retrospect, and on consulting the programme notes again, it is clear the question of cultural identity is what unites most of the plotlines, and I would have to see it all again to work out whether it is the production, script or both that need refining. These are issues a preview season – which this may be seen as – should resolve.

Meanwhile it is exciting to be in on the ‘birth’ of a brand new work by some of our leading theatre artists, and there are many memorable moments, both dramatic and comical, to savour: the attempts at flamenco; the lonely woman on the hillside at night; the stampede with dust flying; the Spanish chest and its contents; the bullfight; the haka that reclaims what was nearly lost.

We would all like certainty in the ‘message’ we take away, I guess, but it’s fair to say life is not like that, especially when it comes to identity issues in an increasingly global community. In the end I see Paniora! as a play that asks us to work out who or what is true, what or who is bogus, and whether it is simply what we choose to believe in that makes things real for us.

It’s implications concerning Aotearoa’s cultural politics add a further level of intrigue and potential debate.


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Perfect synthesis of dance styles

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 27th Feb 2014

Paniora is an extraordinary piece of theatre. I can’t think of any New Zealand play, Maori or Pakeha, which is anything like it, combining as it does storytelling, dance, music, family melodrama, and a touch of farce and sprinkling of magic realism. Without the dance, however, it might be a disaster.

While the playwright herself has described it as “like a tele- novella” with “love and lust in the dust” as the driving force of the familiar plot line and with various themes that take us into racial, tribal and nationalistic differences and how two cultures clash, come together and then, maybe, find a modus vivendi.

The cultural clash is between the proud Maori descendants of a Spanish whaler who married five Ngati Porou women in 1835 – the start of the Paniora hapu. The Hotai-Martinez family are holding a family hui to celebrate the restoration of their grand homestead on the East Coast. [More]


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