Raising the Titanics

Hawkins Theatre, Papakura, Auckland

01/07/2010 - 03/07/2010

TAPAC Theatre, Western Springs, Auckland

23/06/2010 - 27/06/2010

Fletcher Building Dome, Hagley Park, Christchurch

11/08/2011 - 13/08/2011

Q Theatre, 305 Queen St, Auckland

07/09/2011 - 17/09/2011

Christchurch Arts Festival 2011

Production Details

The Titanic Rise and Fall of a Showband 

Raising The Titanics is a magical homage to the late and great Maori show-bands of yesteryear, this remarkable musical experience opens at TAPAC from June 23rd.

The play journeys from the present back to the golden age of the Maori show band era to reveal what really sunk the Titanics, who were perhaps the greatest Maori show band never to have existed. Somewhere beneath the oceans of music, mirth and memory lies the truth. 

Raising The Titanics is a testament to the Maori Showbands of the 1950s and 1960s, these remarkable groups changed the face of New Zealand’s musical landscape and paved the way for future New Zealand musicians.  The showbands contained elements from popular entertainment as well as traditional Maori culture, the humour and energy of the performers created a truly unique musical style that put NZ on the map. 

Raising The Titanicsharks back to a time when bands like The Quin Tikis story of discovery, dark secrets, whanau and redemption, the playwilltime travel from the heyday of the band, to the present day, where one woman’s investigation may uncover what made the band fall apart.  

The intricate webbing of the cast of characters, past and present, is yet another fine example of the penship of Chapman Tripp award winner Albert Belz (Your’s Truly, Whero’s New Net), who has received accolades for his work in theatre, film and television since 2001. Raymond Hawthorne, one of New Zealand’s most senior practioners in the performing arts, helms the production. 

Taking the stage are some of the countries biggest names in the entertainment industry; not content with composing the all live soundtrack to the performance, musician Tama Waipara takes to the stage alongside fellow musician Francis Kora (performer in popular New Zealand group Kora), plus Wesley Dowdell(Outrageous Fortune’s lovable loser Aaron Spiller).

Faye Smythe (Shortland Street’s resident nurse/siren Tania Jefferies) heads a strong female cast that includes Miriama McDowell (*seen in No.2and Dean Spanley) and Bronwyn Turei, star of TV2’s Go Girls. Turei is no stranger to working within the realms of music either; having released an album in 2006 entitled Empty Room.

Stick around after the show and watch the showband let loose! and Maori Volcanics were in vogue and at the top of the charts. However it is also a

Raising The Titanics plays
Wednesday 23rd June – Sunday 27th June, 7pm
(Thursday – Saturday 8pm, Sunday 4pm, Saturday Matinee 2pm)

TAPAC, 100 Motions Road, Western Springs, Auckland
Bookings through TAPAC: www.tapac.org.nz or 09 845 0295
Adults: $20, Students $15

Feel good crowd pleaser

Review by Nik Smythe 08th Sep 2011

Over a year down the track and, like the feelgood fun-time showbands that the title and play reflect, the Titanics are still on tour! What’s more, those plucky young Smackbang kids have scored a historic coup in christening the Rangatira Theatre at the mammothly anticipated Q, right there on the Auckland Town Hall strip.

To a large degree, my original review holds. Raymond Hawthorne continues at the helm of playwright Albert Belz’s latest play, which by now can already be regarded as a proven classic. Not to say further development mightn’t be recommended but all the ingredients required for lasting greatness are essentially there.

Half the cast of 2010’s inaugural season return true to form – Wesley Dowdell as Louie Devine, the shrewd, savvy, bicultural-before-his-time band manager and drummer; Faye Smythe as his executive-stressed solo-parent businesswoman daughter Aroha; and Tama Waipara’s lovable T. James / Tui Teka-esque Api Puoro, one half of the exemplary music/comedy act the Twin Tikis, world famous in Ruatoria.

The other three actors have big shoes to fill, and manage admirably, for the most part. Jamie McCaskill makes the self-proclaimed good-looking half of the duo Zac Puoro all his own, swaggering and sleazing in his lovably irascible way – perhaps not so suave as he intends, but always cheeky enough to get away with it, until…

Lana Garland plays lead singer, Lou’s lover and Aroha’s mother Ripeka with staunch vigor, her emotion often concealed by a disingenuous, proclamatory earnestness. Meanwhile, Roimata Fox as Maria, the fifth Titanic, is as sassy as she is saucy when she joins the band in the middle of recording a Rinso radio-ad.

The illusion of the thirty-year gap between the present day and the heyday flashbacks is shrewdly contrived, thanks in large degree to Judith Crozier’s classy, not to mention extensive, costume design. Following the Titanics’ conception and rise to almost-greatness, each new frock sported by the girls in particular draws more impressed gasps than the last.

The impression of passed time is further aided by the performances, particularly those of Dowdell and especially McCaskill, who transmutes from the youngest at heart in the 60s big-time, to the oldest and most serious in the 90s ‘present day’ – although it doesn’t take long for his smart mouth to resurface when the old gang is reunited.

Hardworking Waipara, who not only composed two key numbers as well as playing Api, has also taken on musical director role, augmenting John Gibson’s adroitly curated songlist – from the opening ‘Pa Mai’ (one of the first waiata I ever sang, when I was five), to the closing ‘E Ipo’ by Prince Tui Teka (#1 on Ready to Roll in its day as I recall).

Sean Coyle’s accomplished, modestly glamorous set-design is pretty much the same – possibly looking a bit flasher, or is it just Katrina Chandra’s clever sultry mood lighting?

As I remarked in my previous review, the real intensity of the story isn’t explored to full dramatic potential in a number of areas since the main objective is entertainment. That said, the family of characters is endearing enough that it’s certainly moving when the stubbornly guarded secrets are finally, inevitably revealed.

Actually, one thing I wanted to see more of is the comedy side of the Titanics’ stage act, shown only in the Twin Tikis’ introductory scene.

So how does Q’s main theatre Rangatira measure up? Great acoustics, impressive looking lighting grid, tacky but easy-to-ignore auditorium décor. The stage itself is interchangeable, as I understand it, so it will take a few viewings of different styles of play to draw any kind of verdict on that. All in all, good to have around!


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An irresistible charmer

Review by Lindsay Clark 12th Aug 2011

It was shiver down the spine time when the opening ‘Haere Mai’ number announced two hours of one of ‘our stories’ – the rise, fall and afterglow of a Maori showband beginning with the glorious romp that was 1960s and 70s entertainment.

Following the warm reception of earlier seasons elsewhere, the play is delivered with great vitality by the current cast and team. As the opening theatre event of the festival it brings an anticipatory taste of shared good times. Director Raymond Hawthorne refers in his programme notes to the “sense of humour and heart” which marks the writing. The combination is sure to please. 

The plot is shaped by an ambitious young journalist’s determination to write an update article about the band that her parents and their buddies made a sellout success in their youth. Her job is on the line and there are unanswered questions for her about the how and why of the band’s breakup thirteen years ago. Scenes of her persistent badgering and interviews are interspersed with a series of relived times, tracking the band’s formation and tours, with plenty of music, drama and humour along the way.

If the full-bodied harmonies of the songs are what keeps that spinal shiver going, there is an intriguing human story uncovered at the same time, tautly reflecting the pressure of life on the road, the tests of time, and the painful discords the closest of relationships can be faced with before the world is in tune again. It does set the challenge of quick changes and ageing as characters dip in and out of the past, but momentum is never lost.

As a purposeful and affectionate reminder of the greats of the showband era – Billy T. James, The Howard Morrison Quartet, Prince Tui Teka and the Maori Volcanics – the fictional band of the play does a fine job. From the time promoter Lou stumbles on the outrageous talent of the Puoro brothers Api (large) and Anzac (smooth) between their shearing commitments, through the perils of romance and on to the final moments of forgiveness and truth, it’s all there. Lou’s girlfriend Becky and the last to join the group, Marea, add real glamour as well as their considerable vocal strengths to the set-up.

Tama Waipara, who plays golden voiced Api, is also responsible for the musical direction and arrangement for this production (for the original that was undertaken by John Gibson).The joyful verve of both music and the Api role are strong points of the production. 

His wrangles and slick banter with his brother, (An)Zac, fuel many a moment. Zac is played by Jamie McCaskill as a sharp, lively, good time boy whose intense affair with Marea eventually triggers the ‘sinking’ of the Titanics before he turns to religion and gospel music (cue his solo part in the great Mahora Peter’s song Walk Together which opens the second half). 

The flashback promoter role is handled with convincing ease by Wesley Dowdell and the dogged bar owner he becomes adds real depth to the human story. 

His girlfriend, Becky (Ripeka), bristles with energy in Lana Garland’s depiction. In her turn she grows into a hardened and brusque partner in the bar, holding close the secret whose unravelling sets up the final moments of the play, when the band comes together again for a very special number. 

Her daughter Aroha is played by a stylish Faye Smythe. While it is difficult to accept her as a desperately over-committed mother of two, she gives the indignant daughter and persistent journo a sound run, killer heels and all. 

Roimata Fox plays the elegant Marea with slinky and sophisticated grace, completing a cast you are very happy to watch and especially listen to.

For their music making furnishes the core strength of this play and fittingly, Sean Coyle’s design has a performing stage at the centre of things, where the band instruments remain set up, It allows wide, curving movements which power the action along. Less successful, was the placing of ‘domestic’ scenes in small areas at either side of the main stage where intimacy was lost for some of the audience.

But close ups are not really what this play is about. It’s a showcase for great songs, presented with colourful panache in the spirit of a memorable era. Costumes by Judith Crozier (original designer, Maria King) and lighting by Katrina Chandra (for the original production Vera Thomas) heighten the impact. 

Overall it’s an irresistible charmer.  
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Hilarious moments, brilliant timing, mesmerising performances and song

Review by Tamati Patuwai 03rd Jul 2010

“Pa mai to reo Aroha.”

These were the opening words in Raising the Titanics and I feel I must relay them back to the cast and crew: “Your tender song is felt.”

Raising the Titanics is an absolute must see!

Albert Belz has written a gem.

This is Maori theatre at its very best.

How’s that for a rave review? But wait there’s more!

I have never seen or been part of an audience whose response was to literally applaud after every scene (and to be honest, I think it was me who led the applause every time).

Set in the late 1990s, Aroha, a tenacious young journalist, hustles to find a story that will take her career to the top. Only to find that this very story must be an account of her parents’ swinging 60s band The Titanics. The history of how the band came together has everything she needs: drama and romance, music and frolicking good times.

Lou and Ripeka, Aroha’s parents, reveal the truths of their success as a the showband who toured the South Pacific and Saigon. The audience is carried through Aroha’s search as we meet the Twin Tiki’s Zac and Api, the epically talented Maori brothers who are reminiscent of Tui Teka and Howard Morrison all in one.

This, by the way is no little statement and my assertion is that Raising the Titanics captures the spirit of this era with brilliant eloquence.

The only criticism I have of this play is that the season is way too short. Opening on Thursday the season finishes tonight, being Saturday. Now, with hours to spare, I have to run around in an attempt to get my entire family to see it.

Note to the Producers: please ensure you rally the support for another LONG season. Soon! All of Aotearoa must be given the opportunity to enjoy this wonderful taonga.

I am in awe of the masterful direction of Raymond Hawthorne. I was enraptured from the beginning to the end as this delightful story unfolded and emerged. I give thanks to Hawthorne’s mastery in weaving this charming tale together.

Equally evident was Set Designer Sean Coyle’s skill with a simply understated yet subtly poetic set design.

I must acknowledge the boys, Tama Waipara, Francis Kora and Wesley Dowdell for such charismatic and tender performances. Your charm and music is a feast for the soul. 

When Waipara takes centre stage his vocal prowess hypnotises and lulls us deeper into the emotional journey of the Titanics’ world. E te Matuitui, tangihia mai, waiatahia mai, mauria mai o taonga ki te ao whanui.

The women, Faye Smythe, Bronwyn Turei and Miriama McDowell, are all completely vivacious and absolutely stunning. Beautiful!

McDowells ability to encapsulate the will of the cougar Marea is enchanting and performed with dexterous flair.

Congratulations to you all; an exquisite cast.

There are so many hilarious moments, brilliant timing and mesmerising performances and song. I cannot do the play justice in this short review.

This is all I can write without spilling over completely (though I think I already have). Oh well what better play than this to go overboard?

If you haven’t seen it already, you only have one night. Tonight! Please see this play!

Mauri Ora ki te Titanics! 


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Comical Kiwiana Epic

Review by Nik Smythe 27th Jun 2010

The central aspect of playwright Albert Belz’s latest offering is a nostalgic feel-good homage to the classic Maori show-bands that took the world by storm from the 50s to the 70s. Probably the most famous archetypal specimen back home was the Howard Morrison Quartet, but the most successful internationally was Prince Tui Teka’s Volcanics, which the fictional title band’s name loosely references.

It’s 1997; Lou and Becky own a Karaoke bar in Auckland City. Their ambitious modern journalist daughter Aroha wants a story to sell, and has her heart set on that of her folks’ successful 5-piece band The Titanics, who toured the South Pacific in the late 60s and early 70s.  

As she drags the details – like pulling teeth – from her reticent parents, we rewind thirty years to meet the nexus of the band the ‘Twin Tikis’, brothers Zac and Api Puoro from Ruatoria on the East Coast. When the young Lou, a band promoter from the big smoke, sees them play he finds in the boys a powerhouse of talent he had never encountered before and invites them to try their luck in Auckland. 

With Lou on drums and his girlfriend Becky on vocals, they make a strong initial impact. But when fifth member, the svelte looking, ‘hori’-speaking Maria joins the band, she marks both their rise to the bigtime and the beginning of the end …

On a dramatic level the generous cast perform solidly under the capable direction of Raymond Hawthorne to tell a comical tale of Kiwiana-epic proportions. As a band the five fully-fledged, engaging and unique characters take us, along with Aroha, into their wondrous world of music and laughter. 

Wesley Dowdell plays lovable Lou, sole pakeha (believably enough the holder of the purse-strings) and a shrewd, straight-up coordinator with goodwill to spare. Opposite him Bronwyn Turei’s Ripeka (‘Becky’) embodies his muse with forthright determination, an angelic voice of operatic proportions and some superb frocks courtesy of costume designer Maria Kingi. 

Faye Smythe is well cast in her stage debut as Aroha, being from a younger more independent generation. She obviously loves her family, but has a touch more of a more self-serving disposition as the product of her time. 

Big brother Api Puoro, played by Tama Waipara, embodies the quintessential show-band leader with charisma and seemingly effortless virtuosity. Little bro Zac (Francis Kora of Kora) is the baby-faced prettyboy though no less impressive in his musical-comic chops.

As Maria, Miriama McDowell is a potential rival to Becky with her sensual beauty, her up-for-anything demeanour, and equally brilliant gowns. However, when the mystery that underpins the entire play is finally revealed, not everyone’s part in the scandal is what you might expect, or what certain characters have believed all these years. 

Being the story of the untold secret behind the band’s demise on the verge of major international success, the play naturally contains some more stringent dramatic elements. However, any serious issues like racism, sexism, the terrors of war-torn Saigon, familial spite and all, are mostly vehicles for a wholly entertaining musical journey into the lives of some lovable hard-case folks. 

Some areas could have gone deeper than they have, commanding greater sympathy, tension or sense of desperation. This is clearly not the agenda though; it’s a comedy not a tragedy, and the message is one of love and forgiveness.  The closing scene is a strange turnaround from the penultimate one, as though we skipped a couple of scenes, although it’s not hard to imagine what’s occurred in between.

Although the characters are wholly credible, in the ‘present day’ late 90s scenes where the members of the band are now in their fifties, some suspension of disbelief is required to belie the real-life youth of the cast, with Dowdell giving the most convincing middle aged performance.

Like Kingi’s definitive costumes, Sean Coyle’s open-plan set design carries the Broadway style of Belz’s script very well. Numerous long banners hanging down, sporting photos and posters of the Titanics’ heyday, evoke both the excitement of the time and the nostalgia of the present. 

Lou and Becky’s bar, down-stage left, represents the now; down-stage right is where all Aroha’s interviews take place, which invariably sweep the action thirty years into the past on the centre stage. And of course, upstage, on split-level rostra, the full band set-up creates a sense of anticipatory expectation, which is most satisfactorily delivered on, when they start to play.

Last but the opposite of least, the whole rip-roaring saga would amount to little without the outstanding accomplishment of musical director John Gibson who sourced and arranged a plethora of show-band classics, from Ruru Karaitiana’s seminal ‘Blue Smoke’ through to Mahora Peters’ ‘Walk Together’, plus two strong original ballads by Waipara underpinning the more personal plot elements. 

In summary: the story is fine, the play good, the music on the whole a true delight. 
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Raising the roof with showband Titans

Review by Janet McAllister 25th Jun 2010

Quick, someone get this band an agent. A homage to the Maori showbands of the 1960s, the Titanics have all the harmonies, musicality, glamour and humour of their heroes.

It’s a dream line-up for the play’s premiere outing: composer Tama Waipara, aka Sir+Plus without his Requirements; Francis Kora of the band of brothers, Kora; Bronwyn Turei and Miriama McDowell – whose distinctive voices are as beautiful as they are; and drummer Wesley Dowdell, as the lone Pakeha.

Choreographer Vicky Haughton’s sharp, well-rehearsed moves help wind back the clock in the Smackbang production, as do the sleek bob and beehive hairstyles, and excellent period costumes by newcomer Maria Kingi. [More]
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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