Potiki's Memory of Stone

Radio New Zealand National, 3.04 pm Sundays, (not a specified venue)

21/10/2006 - 21/10/2007

Spring Season of New Radio Drama

Production Details

By Briar Grace-Smith
Directed by Ross Jolly
Engineered by Phil Benge

Radio New Zealand

Potiki’s Memory of Stone is a small-town, Gothic saga of love and loss from acclaimed playwright Briar Grace-Smith. It’s an adaptation of the original stage play and the second time we’ve seen the award winning collaboration between the writer and the director, Ross Jolly.  That earlier collaboration, in 2005, on “When Sun and Moon Collide” earned them the Best Radio Drama award. 

RNZ Drama Springs Back With Four New Plays

Avid radio drama fans – and there are an astonishingly high number of them across this country – are looking forward to the Spring Season of New Radio Drama on RNZ National. 

For the last few years new radio dramas have been broadcast between classic repeats and international fare.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t necessarily make the best use of the new stories and does little for our local writers.  So, in a deliberate attempt to give focus our own writers and to celebrate the new work, the Radio New Zealand will be batching new plays into a number of seasons of new work each year.  Each season will feature four or five brand new plays. The first of these seasons—the 2007 Spring Season is set to launch on Sunday 21st October in the Sunday Drama slot at 3.04pm in Lynn Freeman’s Arts on Sunday programme.

The Seasons format has real advantages for the audience and for the writers and actors.  It allows of much more targeted promotion and better use of the website.  Nowadays audiences are becoming ‘web savvy’ and expect to get more than just the performance itself: they are increasingly interested in getting the ‘inside’ information. As the Seasons idea takes shape listeners will be able to find more and more background information on the plays in each season and on the writers.  Things like audio excerpts from the plays and audio interviews with the writers are all possible using the RNZ website.

And what can we expect from the first season of new radio drama? From the sublime to the ridiculous?  Perhaps.  There’s the gripping Gothic tale of love and loss, “Potiki’s Memory of Stone”; there’s “Backwards in High Heels”, where science and love tangle on the dance floor; there’s the frighteningly possible future of “and what remains”, and then there’s the seedy, violent world of Victorian Wellington in “The Terror at Tinakore Road”.  Something for everyone?  Certainly, and in a collection of new works that demonstrates the tremendous power of radio to create very different worlds.

Jamie McCaskill ...      Potiki
Miriama McDowell ... Tui
Jennifer Ludlam ...      Connie
Jim Moriarty ...           Manaaki

George Henare ...       Tam
Tanea Heke ...            Noa Noa 

Theatre ,

55 minutes

Just survives the transition to radio

Review by John Smythe 22nd Oct 2007

Radio New Zealand National has launched its Spring Season of New Drama with an adaptation of Briar Grace Smith’s powerfully tragic-comic stage play, Potiki’s Memory of Stone. Produced by Ross Jolly, it employs all but one actor from the original stage production which was directed by Catherine Downes and premiered in Christchurch at the Court Theatre in 2003 before transferring to Wellington (Downstage) and Auckland (AK03).

Jamie McCaskill (replacing John Katipa and owning the role impressively) plays Potoki, rendered lame at the age of four when his father Manaaki (Jim Moriarty) became mesmerised by kokopu, a mythologically powerful type of pounamu (a.k.a. greenstone or jade). The incident, which nearly cost Potoki his life, remains central to the boy’s perception of life, even though he’s a young man now. "The stone for the boy!" the Kokopu seemed to say. "A deal made is a deal made," is the recurring incantation. "Someone has to pay!"

Since Manaaki took off, apparently after his fancy woman Alanah, Potiki’s Pakeha mother, Connie (Jennifer Ludlam) has kept the jade trade going, supplying ashtrays, pendants and other trinkets to the tourist market. Staying on as a father figure to Potoki is Tam (George Henare), Manaaki’s best mate from Vietnam days, whose dogged love for the bereft and bitter Connie is rewarded with sex on the 14th of each month.

This is the status quo in remote and tiny Tihore, until thesis-researching student Tui (Miriama McDowell) arrives on the trail of the piece of greenstone – kokopu, in fact – she holds close as the only token of her self-destructive mother’s love.  

With the Kokopu arguably a metaphor for the power of illicit love and/ or our greedy desire for what we may not own, a tragic yet cathartic outcome is both required and inevitable before ‘normal’ life can resume.

Briar Grace-Smith’s characteristic blend of contemporary realism and mythical surrealism, of human behaviour explored at every level from the poetic to the prosaic – often to great comic effect – manages, only just, to survive being shrunk from a 95-minute stage play to 53 minutes on air. Being very familiar with its original form, despite having the advantage of being able to visualise it clearly – or perhaps because of it – I feel the pressure to push forward with the plot diminishes the thematic power and remote rural ambience of the work.

Although the actors’ profound familiarity with the play pays off immeasurably, there are one or two places where one might have expected Ross Jolly to better adapt it to the aural medium, e.g. the moment when Connie, Tam and Tui – then Potoki – realise Manaaki has returned. Some of the transitions to new locations and tine-frames with new characters are also hard to follow.

Those cavils aside, Potiki’s Memory of Stone marks a fine start to Radio New Zealand National’s four-Sunday season billed as "new drama", comprising three adaptations of relatively recent stage plays and one written for radio [click here for further details].


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