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

22/02/2014 - 29/03/2014

New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2014

Production Details

Opens CIRCA ONE, Saturday 22nd February 8pm 

Extraordinary visions of the South Pacific  

Circa Theatre’s exciting production for NZ Festival 2014 is the World Premiere of Pasefika, a dazzlingly theatrical re-imagining of French artist Charles Meryon’s life in 1860’s Paris – an existence that is firmly interwoven with his experiences in New Zealand’s French colony of Akaroa.

While juggling his relationships with his friend, the decadent poet Baudelaire, and two very striking women, Jeanne Duval (subject of Manet’s famous painting) and Louise Niveau, Meryon is haunted by his time spent in the South Pacific. His startling visions compel him to depict whales and waka over the skies of Paris in his famous and remarkable etchings.

And it was with one of these etchings, Le Ministère de la Marine, that it all started for playwright, Stuart Hoar (Rutherford, The Face Maker, Quartet).

“I came across an image of a print from the nineteenth century by an artist I had never heard of before,” he says. The image was mysterious, intriguing and provocative; here in the 1860s was a French artist imagining Paris being invaded by the Pacific. And so I did more research and discovered that Charles Meryon lived for two years in the then French colony of Akaroa (c 1844 -45). His experience of life with the Maori people who also lived there left its mark on his work and his imagination in a profound and strongly dramatic way.

“Later in his life when he struggled to make a living as an artist in Paris his experiences in Akaroa (and the other Pacific places he visited) were idealised in his mind and he never forgot them. In fact, several of his most striking etchings of Parisian buildings include hallucinatory visions of the South Pacific.

“I also discovered that Meryon had been approached by the poet, Charles Baudelaire, to jointly produce a work of etchings and poetry – this fact for me was the spark I needed to write what I hoped would be a playful history play supposedly set in Akaroa of the 1840s and Paris of the 1860s but ideally transcending the idea of period or history or biopic plays. 

I wanted to contrast the romanticism and cynisim of Baudelaire with the eccentric but heart-felt passion of Meryon, and compare their life in Paris in a theatrical rather than documentary way to an equally playful, dramatised version of Meryon’s experiences in Akaroa, and evoke the synthesising and profound effect his Akaroa experiences had on him as a human and as an artist.” 

Pasefika – a captivating tale of art, love and loss where Parisian sensibilities and Polynesian culture collide – was winner of the Adam NZ Play Award 2010. 

Starring George Henare, Jason Whyte, Emma Kinane, Aroha White,
with a creative team of Set Design: Andrew Foster; Lighting: Marcus McShane; Sound: Tane Upjohn-Beatson; Video: Johann Nortje; Costumes: Sheila Horton; led by acclaimed director, Susan Wilson.

“A fascinating and funny world … intelligent and entertaining … this is my sort of history”  – Adam Award panel

22nd  FEBRUARY – 29th  MARCH
Circa Theatre  1 Taranaki Street, Wellington 
$25 PREVIEW  – Friday 21st February  – 8pm  (Bookings – Circa Theatre 801 7992)
Performance times:
Tuesday & Wednesday – 6.30pm
Thursday, Friday, Saturday – 8pm
Sunday – 4pm 

TICKETEK   0800 842 5380800 842 538 or  
CIRCA Theatre  801 7992 
CIRCA THEATRE, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington 
Phone 801 7992 

Baudelaire / Te Rangi:  GEORGE HENARE
Louise Niveau / Ruiha:  AROHA WHITE 
Charles Meryon:  JASON WHYTE 
Jeanne Duval / Madame Bourgeois:  EMMA KINANE

AV and Projections Design:  JOHANN NORTJE
Lighting Design:  MARCUS McSHANE
Composer and Sound Design:  TANE UPJOHN-BEATSON
Costume Design:  SHEILA HORTON 

Stage Manager:  Ashlyn Smith
Technical Operator:  Matt Eller
Pre-production:  Glenn Ashworth 
Set Construction:  Iain Cooper 
Scenic Artist:  Therese Eberhard 
Choreographer:  Sacha Copland 
Publicity:  Claire Treloar 
Graphic Design:  Rose Miller, Kraftwork Design 
Photography:  Stephen A’Court 
House Manager:  Suzanne Blackburn 
Box Office Manager:  Linda Wilson  

Theatre ,

Baudelaire discovers Polynesian identity

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 24th Feb 2014

The word ‘flamboyant’ kept cropping up in my mind as I was watching the characters in the first scene of Pasefika prance, dance, pose, and strut their way about the stage. The language too is flamboyant and rapidly spoken. There’s nothing ‘documentary’ about this play.

The scene is Paris in the 1860s and the chief prancer and preening poseur introduces himself as Charles Baudelaire, poet, flaneur, dandy, critic, translator of Edgar Allan Poe. He is broke and looking for ways to make money and find cheap lodgings. [More


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A highly stimulating imaging

Review by John Smythe 23rd Feb 2014

What fun to be immersed in this wonderfully playful imagining of something that could well have happened but didn’t. Yet now that playwright Stuart Hoar, director Susan Wilson and a stellar team of designers, actors and artisans have brought it alive, the well-wrought mythology becomes a vividly remembered reality. That’s how ‘history’ happens.

The legend of the play’s conception involves the coming together, in Hoar’s creative mind, of an etching by French artist Charles Meryon (‘Le Ministère de la Marine’ 1865, print 89/123 of which is in the Christchurch Art Gallery collection) and a footnote in history wherein French poet Charles Baudelaire asked Meryon to collaborate with him on a work of etchings and poetry that would record the fast-disappearing Paris of old.  

What memorable Charlies they turn out to be in this world premiere production.

A cast of four play seven characters and from the moment they rise to the stage as if materialising through a Meryon etching, we are hooked. Their performances on Andrew Foster’s timber deck flanked by gauze and backed by angled screens on which Johann Nortje’s Meryon-inspired images are projected, combine with Marcus McShane’s lighting, Tane Upjohn-Beatson’s composition and sound, and Sheila Horton’s costume designs, to create a dramatic experience to be savoured.

George Henare’s sardonically suave, morally decadent and chronically broke Baudelaire, self-described as “a flaneur”, is our droll narrator in 1860s Paris. He charts Baudelaire’s changing fortunes with superb insight and comic timing.

Jason Whyte is a hunched, haunted and obsessive Meryon in Paris, given to attempted sexual predation and foul-mouthed outbursts (a biography on describes his condition as “melancholy madness, complicated by delusion”). His younger Meryon is a complex melange of romantic naiveté and colonial chauvinism as a French Navy sailor in 1840s Akaroa (then a French colony).

In Paris all the characters capture the qualities (if that’s the word) of having to survive in a ruthlessly ‘laissez faire’ culture, not unlike our own.

Emma Kinane brings a stylish intrigue to the role of Jeanne Duval, frocked as she was when she modelled for Manet’s ‘Baudelaire’s Mistress, Reclining’. Hoar takes the opportunity to draw conclusions from what both she and Baudelaire suffered from health-wise, to show how ruthless libertarianism can get.

Deliciously played by Aroha White, the café waitress, Louise Niveau, whom Meryon claims is his fiancée, is also adept at playing status games while trying to preserve her integrity in the process of seeking a better life. I take it she is entirely fictitious, as are the Māori characters.

The setting transforms to Akaroa through the masterful alchemy of lighting, projection, sound and costume changes. Henare metamorphoses into a majestic Te Rangi, firmly grounded in cultural tradition and adept at using it as a weapon when it is to his advantage. As Ruiha, his daughter, White is outwardly strong and inwardly conflicted by Meryon and the French presence. And the wittily named Madame Bourgeois, Te Rangi’s common law wife, is strongly portrayed by Kinane to convey a disenfranchised Pakeha perspective.  

Pasefika quickly declares it will not be an historically accurate documentary by wilfully inserting contemporary concepts to bring the story into our frame of relevance, like the litany of coffee styles that are found only in 21st century New Zealand, and references to antiseptic shopping arcades and malls. The broad Kiwi accent used by Madame Bourgeois also serves to jolt us out of seeing them as ‘other’ and compel our empathy.

The juxtaposing of 1860s Paris with 1840s Akaroa, with Meryon as the common denominator, underpins the dramatic build of Baudelaire’s quest to make a small fortune by getting Meryon to collaborate with him. And the climax comes with the artist exhibiting the extraordinary works that suggest a Pacific invasion of the old world, personified by Paris.

All is played out with wit, flair and stylised physicality at certain moments that I assume may be ascribed to Sacha Copeland, credited as the production’s choreographer. Susan Wilson has overseen the development of a splendid theatrical artefact which could not be realised on paper or screen.

“You have to live here, you have to be one of us, to get it,” Stuart Hoar writes in his programme note, echoing Meryon’s response to Baudelaire’s proposal. In conjuring up this particular imagining, Pasefika brings some surprising new perspectives to the colonial experience and the ‘new world’s sense of distinction in relation to the ‘old world’. As such it is a highly stimulating experience.

The only thing that leaves me bemused is why it is called Pasefika, given none of the islands we normally associate with that word are part of this specific story.


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