Mangere Arts Centre, Auckland

23/04/2016 - 28/04/2016

Production Details

There’s a new show in town

Pua, Aka and Popo, are emerging pig rappers who are ready to hit the big time until they are evicted from their home along with their heart-broken mum, Sabrina. The three pigs set off to build their own place out of objects found in the inorganic collection. In the meantime, Sabrina sets off to find a husband and meets a few wolves along the way, especially a pack of hungry wolves led by Lady Wolf. Pigs and Wolves? What could possibly go wrong?

Since 2013, Māngere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku has presented outrageous children’s shows during the April school holidays (Polly Hood in Mumuland and The Lolly Witch in Mumuland) with brilliant success. 2016 is no exception. After more than two months of rehearsals, the 26-strong cast has perfected the songs, from rap to gospel; the dance routines, from hip hop to high kicks, to wrestling moves – as well as creating a script full of great language and laughter.

This is a true community collaboration made up of first timers, like six-year old George, and seasoned professionals like Joy Vaele, nominated best actress for movie, The Last Saint in 2014. Many have returned year after year, like Jake Arona, Ida Ati, Luse Su’a Tuipulotu, Siana Vagana, and sisters Ella and Josephine Mavaega.   

The innovative creative team behind the show – including directors Troy Tu’ua and Alison Quigan, musical director Nastassia Wolfgramm, lighting designer Andrew Potvin, costumer Sarah Burren and Christine Urquhart as set designer – return to create this year’s production which promises to be every bit as fantastic as the last two years. This is a show for all the family to enjoy. 

“Wave after entertaining wave, it crashes over the audience and produces the best children’s show I have seen in years.” – John Givens, Theatreview 

Where:  Māngere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku 63 Orly Avenue, Mangere, Auckland
When:   Saturday 23 – Saturday 30 April 2016 
Show Times:
Sat 23 April (2pm & 7pm),
Mon 25 April (2pm), 
Tues 26 and Wed 27 April (11am & 2pm),
Thurs 28 to Sat 30 April (2pm & 6.30pm) 
Bookings:  www.eventfinda.co.nz Ticket prices: Adult $20, Concession $15, Child $10 

SABRINA (MUM):  Unaloto Funaki
PUA:  Lauie Sila
AKA:  Luse Tuipulotu
POPO:  Aaron Ryan
BB WOLF:  Jake Arona
LADY WOLF:  Joy Vaele
Plus a chorus of 15 and a small band 

Theatre , Family , Children’s ,

Totally ingenious and wildly funny

Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 25th Apr 2016

There’s something about family shows at the Mangere Arts Centre that bring out the worst in me so here goes: Pigs on the Run is a crackling good show. There, I’ve said it. While I hope that’s the last bad pun in this review I can’t promise there won’t be more, I can only apologise in advance. So, I’m sorry for the bad puns and yes, I am challenging to live with.

For the past two years Mangere Arts Centre has presented fantastic children’s productions – Polly Hood in Mumuland and The Lolly Witch in Mumuland – in the April school holidays and the full house on opening night bears witness to the success of these exhilarating theatrical ventures. In this case, as with the others, it’s true community theatre with over thirty people involved in creating the work. Ages range from six and upwards so it has something for – and from – everyone. There’s talent to burn and craft as well with co-director Troy Tu’ua building a track record that’s already more than impressive.[i]

Also in the co-director’s chair is Alison Quigan QSO who has ‘been there, done that, got the T shirt and the gong’ in pretty much all of our theatres and on all of our screens for more than a few years and who Michele Hewitson in the NZ Herald described, incorrectly in my opinion, as “a little-known power house of influence”. Quigan is, in fact, extremely well-known in all the right circles and for all the right reasons.[ii]

Quigan has also written a good number – twelve last time I counted – of first-rate plays and is more than a dab hand at the comedic. While there is no writer listed for Pigs in the Run [it’s devised by the cast and directors], it’s easy to see her finely fashioning hand on what is an excellent final product. I won’t even begin to list her acting accomplishments beyond saying she was bloody brilliant on the Pop-up Globe stage within the past two months. She’s also been Performing Arts Manager at Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu O Uenuku – since 2013 and we all benefit significantly from that.

I see a lot of theatre – some 200+ productions in the past five years – and I’ll freely admit that the ones that excite me most are those that have their genesis in South Auckland. PIPA (Pacific Institute of Performing Arts) can lay claim to a lot of that success because, as a learning institution, it consistently turns out performers thoroughly versed in both culture and craft and itching to hit the ground running and to make a difference in their communities which they do, more often than not.

Pigs on the Run is an absolute hoot from start to finish. It’s classy, sophisticated, with a uniquely Pacific chic, diverse, droll, and every bit of it is encapsulated within a flamboyantly stylish, story-telling mode. Risks are taken, it’s as cheeky as all get-out, and my family and I huff and puff about it all the way home.

Outrageous things are done to the story and, when narrative cul-de-sacs are experienced, a mighty sledge-hammer is taken to the offending blockage, a new, and unchallenged, exit is breached and once more, dear friends, once more we charge on into it with the utmost trust. Such is our love of what is occurring in front of us that we set aside all traditional plot expectations and just go with what is being exposed.

From a theatrical perspective this is very smart stuff and full credit must go to the whole cast and the innovative creative team for taking us old stagers on such an exciting new journey. ‘Inspirational’ goes close to describing the experience but even that is inadequate because the infrastructure of the work is even more ingenious than that accolade can say.

Pigs on the Run is the latest in a gargantuan list of variations on The Three Little Pigs theme. Most occur in our expansive international literature but plenty of them occur in the performing and visual arts as well. The traditional tale uses variants of the ‘rule of three’ common in fables and fairy stories and this version is no exception.[iii]

The original anecdote features three pigs, each of whom builds a house made of dissimilar materials, usually straw, sticks and bricks. Their mother, as mothers in fables often do, sends her babies out to ‘seek their fortune’ but the wolf comes along, blows down the straw house and the stick house and gobbles up the little piggies. The wolf is unable to blow down the third pig’s house because it’s made of bricks. Pig number three tricks the wolf into coming down the chimney where the hairy beast falls into a cauldron of boiling water, cooks himself, and becomes a somewhat mocking meal for pig number three.

The first version in print appears in 1840 but the story is, I imagine, much older.[iv] No question, then, that this is a story that is fair game for adaptation and the Pigs on the Run team seem to have needed no second invitation.

The Mangere Arts Centre promotional material tells us that “three pigs, Pua, Aka and Popo, are an emerging rock band who have been evicted from their home along with their Mum Sabrina who is heartbroken. The three pigs set off to build their dream home out of straw or is it sticks or even bricks. BB Wolf has other ideas. In the meantime, Mum sets off to find a husband and meets a few wolves along the way.”

“What could possibly go wrong?” asks the press release, and, as it turns out, we’re happy that just about anything can in this laugh a minute production.

Entering the dimly lit auditorium after a warm and friendly foyer welcome we’re met by a buzzing full house and the attractive poster for the show projected on the stage curtain which separates us from the concealed performance area. There’s a band preparing – Joseph Taouma, Talia-Rae Mavaenga, Ella Mavaenga, Mark De Jong and George Chu Ling – and, by the end of the show we are more than aware that these guys really know how to play for live performance. They’re subtle, find a real groove early on and are suitably invisible allowing our concentration to remain fixed on the contrived madness on the stage.

The house lights fade, the stage fills with people and suddenly Phil Collins is in the house – “I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord, and I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord, can you feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord, oh Lord” – and it’s as good as the original, better, in fact, because now we have magical harmonies as well.

The choreography (Troy Tu’ua), as it is throughout the 70 minute show, is simple, realisable and clean with not a missed moment, not a bum note or a missed step. Augers well, I think to myself. “This is cool,” says my son, never one to be daunted by the conventional need to remain silent during a show.[v]   

The costumes (Sarah Burren) – pastels for the ensemble, specifics for the named characters – are great. Visually attractive, practical and supported by Christine Urquhart’s easy access, minimalist set, they allow for maximum movement and a high degree of pictorial pleasure. The music throughout (Nastassia Wolfgramm) is magnificent and covers a wide range of styles, nowhere better exemplified than during the ‘fight’ to rescue Sabrina (Mama) Pig from the umu where every round is a different style of music or dance.

Mama Sabrina (Unaloto Funaki) receives a letter telling her that the family needs to find somewhere else to live, thereby setting in motion the kiddiepig’s need to find new accommodation. Who is the letter from? The landlord, you guess. So did I, but there’s a trick to this that you’ll enjoy seeing played out later as I did. It’s excellent stuff. 

Billy Revell plays Little Pig Pua with real pizzazz. It seems to be his job to stay on task as something approximating the straight dude while his siblings, Luse Tuipulotu as singing superstar-in-waiting Aka and Aaron Ryan as the wily Popo, run amok. They’re an amazing trio in every way and to think I’d come to see all small people as being akin to Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) when they’re not all like him at all. Thanks for restoring my faith, Aaron, and for sharing your talent so willingly. Ryan has a natural aptitude for clowning and the physical diversity in the Pig family enables directors Tu’ua and Quigan to maximise the potential for crazy knockabout comedy, which they do shamelessly.

Tuipulotu, dressed like a wild and uncontrollable Christmas tree all sequins and lycra, sees herself as the uber-talented pig on her way to the top. Her Aka is wonderful and her capacity to take the mickey out of herself a true delight. She adds significantly to the effectiveness of The Three Pigs comedy team and, while The Three Stooges and The Keystone Cops come to mind, so do White Face Crew, The Brownies and Naked Samoans. The refreshing (and at the same time, disturbing) difference is, of course, that out of all those fine artists she is the only female – and it shows in the result!

These fantastic pigs are, of course, nothing without their protagonists: the wolves. Yes, there’s not just one Big Bad Wolf in Pigs on the Run but a whole gang of them with their cute fluffy tails and their endearingly pointy ears. Are you getting the idea that there’s nothing particularly scary in this show? I hope so, because there isn’t. No-one gets eaten and no-one even gets particularly frightened.

The scariest thing from the whole night is a minister wearing more purple satin than you or I even knew existed and that’s not really scary at all. There’s a lot of posturing and posing but, by the end of the night, I’m reminded more of a West Side Story pumped full of sugar than I am of one of the scariest moral tales ever to be unleashed on unsuspecting children – and I far prefer this one!

The first wolf to introduce himself to us is BB Wolf (Jake Arona) who is indeed the leader of the pack, well, he tells us he is. BB is, of course, the acronym for Big Boss (I’d have guessed ‘Big Bad’ and been wrong) and it feels right when it’s applied to him – that is, until Lady Wolf (Joy Vaele) arrives on the scene and we discover that BB is actually short for Baby Brother. This is one of the fastest come-downs in the history of the modern stage and for a nanosecond I almost feel sorry for BB, but not for long because Vaele immediately has my complete attention.

Lady Wolf is one mean huffer and her crew are pretty mean too. Mean singers and dancers, that is, but about as scary as cotton candy. Arona and Vaele work extremely well as a double act and Arona, whose job it is to catch ‘dinner’, is a delight. I’ve seen Vaele in a number of shows now and she has real presence. If Quigan and Tu’ua had decided to take Pigs on the Run down a darker path she’d have been up for that too, such is her versatility and power.

For the first part of the evening the pigs and the wolves don’t mix much but when they do the show really kicks into top gear. When Sabrina Pig is captured and the umu prepared for her imminent demise the show really hits some high notes. Not that there haven’t been high notes already, some of which have been caused by Aaron Ryan taking advantage of his diminutive height and the subsequent close proximity of another character’s groin. There’s nothing makes kids (and adults) laugh more than some poor bugger copping it in the nuts – unless it’s farting, of course, which surely comes in a close second.

Saving Sabrina becomes the order of the day and it’s a ‘King of the Ring’ bravura event that will determine whether she lives or bakes. It’s Wolves versus Pigs and song and dance are the tools of victory. There are three rounds of fantastic artistry and joyous (non-fatal) execution followed by a satisfying, anti-Pyrrhic victory and a speedy – and uproarious – conclusion.

You’ll note that I’ve stayed well clear of describing the plot of Pigs on the Run. Suffice it to say it’s close enough to the original to be recognisable and far enough from the original to be totally ingenious and wildly funny. There are plot twists that would make Chubby Checker ache (look it up) and a cheekiness that will make you weep with laughter, as I did. It’s entertaining and enjoyable and I can’t think of a better way to while away a couple of hours with the kids (whatever the age) than by going to see Pigs on the Run.

I guess, in conclusion, I should tell you that Sabrina does find a man and he’s eminently suited to her needs. The journey to this ending is a sub plot with a difference and it’s woven seamlessly – and shamelessly – into the main plot. It’s a very Pacific matching which has us all murmuring ‘ahhh how cute’ as we roll helplessly in the aisles at the very same time.

Do I have a good time? I sure do. Why? Because this romp has so much going for it. If you’re a member of the public with no theatre smarts you’ll love it anyway and so will the kids you take. If you’re a tired old theatre tart like me you’ll love it because of its craft, its ingenuity, its community engagement, the opportunities it offers, the selfless sharing and the love that lies at the heart of everything we do. It’ll warm the cockles of that exhausted old heart of yours and ready you for another bout of Game of Thrones or Blindspot or whatever it is you watch to avoid being exposed to The Bachelor or The Block. It’s enriching and, regardless of your cultural background, I reckon it’ll really flick your late autumn switch.

Go on, you know you want to, and you’ll love it if you do.

[i] Auckland Theatre Company’s Sons (director Dave Fane), A Frigate Bird Sings (director Alison Quigan) and Polly Hood in Mumuland (director Gorretti Chadwick), Auckland Theatre Company’s collaboration with PIPA’s Sinarella (director Gorretti Chadwick) and with Kila Kokonut Krew for Taro King and The Factory (both directed by Vela Manusaute) the latter which also toured to Australia and played at the Edinburgh Festival.

[ii] I’d suggest that eighteen years as Artistic Director of Centrepoint Theatre in Palmerston North (it’s fair to say that it was Alison’s nous that ensured the survival of our only regional professional theatre during those embryonic neoliberal times) and eight years starring in Shortland Street should be enough to substantiate my point – and she’s mentored and advised more young actors than Steve Hansen has had hot dinners and that in itself is saying a lot – so there, Michele Hewitson, I’m right and you’re a journalist.

[iii] In the Aarne-Thompson folklore classification system The Three Little Pigs is categorised as a type 124 folktale. There, you so needed to know that tiny factoid, didn’t you? Imagine how learned you will seem at your next dinner party when you drop that wee gem into a tragically mired conversation?

[iv] The Three Little Pigs was included in James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps The Nursery Rhymes of England (1886) but is probably best-known as appearing in the ever-popular English Fairy Tales (1890) by Joseph Jacobs. Jacobs generously credits Phillipps as his source and, oddly, doesn’t mention Walt Disney at all. Jacobs’ dialogue between pigs and wolf has become part of the rhetoric of a Western cultural childhood and appears in skipping games and all manner of urban children’s street play:

  ‘Little pig, little Pig, let me come in.’
‘No, no, not by the hair on my chinny chin chin.’
‘Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in.’

  In some versions of this well-worn tale the first two pigs run to their brother’s house and after the wolf runs away, his butt burning with ‘here’s something I prepared earlier’ shame, all the wee piggies survive. Variations also appear in Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings (1881) and reappears in Nights with Uncle Remus (1883) but in Chandler Harris’s retelling the pigs are replaced by Brer RabbitThe Green Fairy Book (1892) has author Lang giving the pigs names and reinventing the antagonist as a fox.

[v] It’s more than OK here, but not always welcome when he decides to interpret a Hamlet soliloquy for the audience or to provide alternative behavioural options to a somewhat astounded Lady Macbeth. It’s an Asperger’s thing and here nobody cares – and that’s so very refreshing.


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Family theatre for contemporary and urban kids

Review by Dionne Christian 25th Apr 2016

Restraint isn’t a word that could be applied to Pigs on the Run at the Mangere Arts Centre. This show, based on The Three Little Pigs and co-directed by Alison Quigan and Troy Tu’ua, is a riot with a cast of 21, a live band, which includes six-year-old drummer George Chu Ling, and attitude to burn.

The entire cast, especially Lady Wolf Joy Vaele, shine (and sparkle) and keep the laughs coming without pause. Whereas Miss six watched Tom Sawyer, here she’s up on her feet, screaming at the wolves and the little pigs and dancing during every frequent soaring song and dance number. [More]


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