Whitireia Performance Centre, 25-27 Vivian Street, Wellington

17/01/2013 - 19/01/2013

Aotea College, Okowai Road, ROMEO AND TUSI

09/04/2013 - 13/04/2013

Little Theatre, Library Bldg, 2 Queens Drive, Lower Hutt

16/04/2013 - 19/04/2013

WHITIREIA THEATRE - return season, Wellington

30/05/2013 - 01/06/2013

Mangere Arts Centre, Auckland

03/09/2013 - 07/09/2013

Positively Pasifika 2013

Production Details

Written by Erolia Ifopo and Oscar Kightley
Directed by Sasha Gibb

Jandals Inc

After a well received season in Wellington, Jandals Inc. is bringing back its production of ‘Romeo and Tusi’ for a second bite of the big time!

A story of two teenagers growing up in a state housing area, whose parents are constantly at war with each other. With fate having them meet at ‘the housie’, the two fall in love – but will their different ethnicities keep them apart?

Written by Erolia Ifopo and Oscar Kightley, ‘Romeo and Tusi’ takes a hilarious Pacific twist on Shakespeare’s timeless classic.

Previously performed as part of the Whitireia Graduate Season, ‘Romeo and Tusi’ is performed by a combination of Whitireia’s Stage and Screen and Performing Arts graduates. This includes the show’s director, Sasha Gibb, who graduated from Whitireia in 2010, and has been assisting with the Whitireia Graduate season for the last two years. Since graduating, Sasha has been working as a Producer/Co-Director for Theatre Company Te Rakau Trust, lead by Artistic Director Jim Moriarty.

‘Romeo and Tusi’ is performed as part of Positively Pasifika 2013, made possible by the Wellington City Council.

Where: at Whitireia Performance Centre, 25-27 Vivian Street, Wellington
When: 17th January – 19th January 2013
Time: 6:30pm

There will be a 1 pm Gala Performance on Saturday 19th January 2013

April 2013 Tour:

Where: Aotea College, Okowai Road, Porirua.
When: 9th of April – 13th April 2013
Time: 7pm
Matinees: 9th April and 10th of April
Time: 12pm

Where: The Little Theatre, Library Bldg, 2 Queens Dr, Lower Hutt
When: 16th of April – 19th of April
Time: 7pm
Matinees: 17th April, 18th April and 19th April
Time: 11:30 am

May 2013
Whitireia Performing Arts Centre, 25/27 Vivian Street.
Thursday the 30th of May until Saturday the 1st of June
all 7pm shows.

September 2013
Mangere Arts Centre, 3 – 7 September, 7pm


Mrs Aiu: Judy Iva
Tusi: Mel Andrew (January) | Seruia Pou (April/May)

Mrs Heke: Sina Leasuasu
Anaru: Shaun Martin

Minister: Taofi Mose-Tuiloma (January) | Jessie Magurem (April) | Saufoi Fa'avale (May)
Ruby: Matthew Dussler (Jan/May) | Saufoi Fa'avale (Apr)
Cop: Ngahiriwa Rauhina (Jan) | Kahu Taiaroa (Apr/May)

Production team
Production Manager: Shaun Martin
Stage manager - Sandra Malesic
Lighting- Sasha Gibb
Sound- Kayla Gibb
F.O.H- Hugh Phillip

Theatre ,

1000% energy, attack and commitment

Review by Johnny Givins 04th Sep 2013

Theatre can be fun!  All performing cultures have a style and desire to reflect their audiences back at themselves which makes them laugh. Pacific Island theatre has evolved at startling speed over the last 20 years to capture our imaginations and make us laugh. Remember The Naked Samoans, films such as Sione’s Wedding and TV’s Bro Town! All great reflections of a culture stepping into the public spotlight with skill, energy and enthusiasm – and we all loved it! 

One of the key writers has been Oscar Kightley with his many theatre and TV scripts.  His latest was the accurate timely and engrossing TV drama Harry.  This was a sophisticated, real and powerful drama. 

Way back in 1997Oscar teamed with Erolia Ifopo to write Romeo and Tusi. It’s a coarse, caricature, slapstick comedy with no subtlety or real drama.  It is sheer comedy.  

Jandals Inc, a theatre company built by the graduates of Whitireia Drama School in Wellington, have revived the original 1997 script with some updates and are touring to the delight of the Pacific and Maori audience. The script unfortunately remains really dated with references and stereotypes of the 80s and 90s but the characters and situations still resonate. It is a flashback to those early days. 

Romeo and Tusi takes the R&J Shakespearean masterpiece and throws out everything of value. There is no real love, real passion or real tragedy.  It is a vehicle for the broadest caricature stereotypes from Porirua and South Auckland.  The object is “make ’em Laugh”.  This cast takes every opportunity to do so.

Director Sasha Gibb takes a group of seven actors, four chairs, a sound track of hideous music and very simple lighting, to link a series of skits.  It is sort of pantomime, sort of clown, sort of commedia del’arte and it blows up to be the size of a skyscraper.  There is 1000% energy on stage as the cast throw excellent gags, cutting dialogue and act roller coasters of emotions that are painted with a Taubmans brush.

Romeo-Anaru (Shaun Martin) is acting as a teenage Maori in the ‘once were warriors’ house with big brash and butch Mrs Heke (Jess Maguren). Juliet-Tusi (Via Pou) is acting the Samoan teenager with the overpowering, dramatic, poly diva mother Mrs Ai’u (Judy Iva).  These are ‘Two households’ of sorts, but with little dignity.

Yes they do ‘fall in love’ and in the end happiness reigns as the two youngsters act in the school production of Romeo and Juliet … well … sort of!  Ruby (Saufoi Fa’avale), the Fafafine director, takes every opportunity to upstage the young and take over the show. 

The minister (Taofi Mose) is hilarious as he grinds the best laughs of the night from the cartoon Polynesian Minister constantly with his hand out to his congregation for money for his new scheme, new car, or bigger house.  He dispenses wonderful advice: “Children are like a box of chocolates, have too many and you get sick!.”   Mose is a natural comedy actor that I am sure we will be seeing again in a variety of roles.  By the way, he also plays an excellent tree!

All the actors in this graduate production are uncompromising in their attack and commitment to the laughs with side gags, over the top performances and big voices.  They all do their part in this historical comedy. 

It’s a style of show that fits with the European tradition of performances in the old town square by the travelling players for the groundlings.  I suppose this is a PI equivalent. It could have been satire but it wasn’t. It was just fun. 

The audience of young students and families loved every minute of it.  The seven year old boy – who slipped from the back of theatre to a spare seat next to me in the second row so he could see more and hear more – roared. What a great night of theatre for him to remember and I am sure he will and come back for more!


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Big hearts and enthusiasm – but is the play dated?

Review by Maraea Rakuraku 01st Jun 2013

“You are a coconut, he is a Kumara!” So says Mrs Ai’u, the Mrs Capulet of this Polynesian reworking of the Shakespeare classic, Romeo and Juliet.

My memories of Romeo and Tusi are fond.  I saw a Pacific Underground performance (celebrating their 20th Anniversary this year) in one of my favourite venues, the Auckland Watergardens, well over 12-15 years ago.  Dallas Tamaira (yes, that Dallas) played Anaru (the Romeo of the title) and Mishelle Muagututi’a was Mrs Heke.

Back then the story and references were potent and had the brown audience laughing uproariously as a Māori boy, Anaru Heke, and Samoan girl, Tusi Ai’u, try to hook-up in spite of their warring families, or more specifically Mums. 

Years later, despite the inclusion of contemporary references (like Jeremy Kyle and Lord of the Rings), and musical numbers wonderfully choreographed to hilarious effect, the script reveals itself as having not aged particularly well. 

Yes, I know what it means saying that in a work that includes Shakespeare. Let me explain. Surely we’ve moved on from this dated commentary on Māori/ Samoan relationships?  I can imagine many of my nephews and nieces, who straddle both their Māori and Polynesian cultures confidently, not really ‘getting this’ but enjoying the music and dancing.  Having brought a 14 and 11 year old to the earlier Pasifika Season, that’s exactly how two of them responded.  If you know Polynesians, we are always up for a laugh at the expense and about ourselves.  Always. 

For me, there is just something about Romeo and Tusi, all these years later, that gets stuck in the throat now. While, I get the Once Were Warriors references, I’m just not sure anyone under the age of 18 has even heard of the book/film or is familiar with its soundtrack and the tired use of Taonga Pūoro, the purerehua, to pre-empt violence.

In a week where a certain cartoon lampooned Māori and Polynesians, I’m not sure if it’s beneficial for us to reinforce even our own racist beliefs because we end up aligning ourselves with mainstream views of us. I’m not saying that’s the intention here with this Jandals Inc production because I absolutely celebrate their tenacity and obvious love for this work.  I’m just saying it’s something we need to be wary of and think about. Obviously in this re-working there was a commitment to including modern day references and music.  If that’s the case surely it can apply thematically and in other areas as well? Nuff said. 

I recognise the beginnings of Bro Town in the stereotypes.  Fa’afafine (check), smoking TAB-going Māori (check), School uniform wearing characters (check). Shaun Martin (Anaru Heke) even reminds me of a young Oscar Kightley.

I always wonder why Maori parts are played by other Polynesians?  Surely in Aotearoa the pool of choice is larger than say other countries. Though perhaps it’s a quirk of Romeo and Tusi, Michelle Muagututi’a played Mrs Heke back then But then perhaps it’s just matter of availability. But say it’s not any of the above,it begs the question which I asked in the review of of the Dog and Bone production (Te Rakau Hua o Te Wao Tapu Trust) which coincidentally featured many members of this cast. Are Maori not doing the course at Whitireia Performing Arts, and if not why?

Everytime, Judy Seluia Iva (Mrs Ai’u) is on stage she is in danger of out-staging them all, that is until Saufoi Faavale (the nonsense-spouting Minister/ Sione) enters. He gets some of the biggest laughs.

While Matthew Dussler is commendable in his role as Ruby, it does have me wondering why not use an actual fa’afafine? Mel Andrew (Ling Ping/ Cop) has great comic timing, though, I do cringe, both outwardly and inwardly, when the Ling Ping character says, “He’s a Maoli, yuk.” 

There is something mesmerising about Sina Leasuasu’s voice (Mrs Heke) and delivery, and Seruia Pou’s Tusi Ai’u totally owns the stage as a smitten teenager.

Thank goodness for the musical and dancing interludes, as some of the performing veers towards wooden and having seen an earlier mounting of this performance they could be in danger of hitting the same note. That said, each and every one of them comes alive when there’s a dance number.  The pure physicality displayed should be celebrated. 

The space at Whitireia is large and it’s used to good effect.  Particularly in the re-enactment of a story in the background as it is been told in the foreground.  The result: hilarious. 

The accents used by the cast are such a strong feature of Romeo and Tusi. However, because of the amount of dialogue (there is so much) you lose words which means as an audience member you work that little bit harder. This starts to get annoying but the pure goodwill and open hearted delivery of it keeps you hooked in and it doesn’t faze the Polynesian kids in the audience an iota, who hoot and laugh throughout the performance. 

With such big hearts, enthusiasm, beautiful energy and love, the cast, crew and producers should be celebrated for bringing this production of Romeo and Tusi to life.  While the music and lighting add some pizzazz to the production, I’d love to see it staged outside as it was when I first saw it. It could also benefit from a thorough re-working, akin to that undertaken in the latest version of Michael James Manaia (Taki Rua) for it to really hit the spot.  That’s my opinion.

Even so, for the closing number alone, it’s worth seeing. It’s only on until Saturday. Get along to it.


Sasha Gibb June 1st, 2013

Thank you for reviewing the performance. I just wanted to note that the Heke house is played by Maori actors - Shaun Martin is Cook Island Maori and Sina Leasuasu is half Maori, half Samoan. Thanks

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A populist play with political bite

Review by John Smythe 11th Apr 2013

Oscar Kightley and Erolia Ifopo’s Romeo and Tusi was the first Pacific Underground show I saw, in 1999 on an open air stage at Frank Kitts Park. It’s wonderful to see a new generation – Jandals Inc, comprising graduates of Whitireia’s Stage and Screen Performing Arts course – giving it fresh life under director Sasha Gibb.

The broad ‘commedia Pasifika’ humour we have come to know and love since, through Pacific Underground offshoots The Naked Samoans, Bro Town, etc, permeates the tragic-comic tale of star-crossed lovers Tusi Ai’u and Anaru Heke. Their respective PI and Maori mothers are equally prejudiced against the other culture, and ‘coconut v kumara’ comedy carries the message with alacrity.  

It’s fascinating that, with a small audience at the relative large Aotea College auditorium, Mrs Heke’s anti Pacific Islander diatribes – as delivered by Sina Leasuasu – got the biggest laughs from a group of young Pasifika women.

Mrs Ai’u is a formidable opponent and Judy Seluia Iva brings a superb comic sensibility to the role in a delightfully specific Pasifika style.

New to the role of Tusi (she played supporting roles in the January Pasifika Festival season), Seruia Pou blends teenage romance and stroppiness beautifully.

Shaun Martin’s Anaru Heke is wonderfully poker-faced yet deeply felt. The play’s success absolutely rides on our buying into the central love story and Martin and Pou ensure we do.

Stepping into the fa’afafine role of Ruby, who is attempting to direct a school production of Romeo and Juliet with Anaru and Tusi in the leads, Saufoi Faavale has all the moves and clear motivations, and will doubtless relax more into it.

Also joining the cast anew as the Minister (a blisteringly satirical role originated by Oscar Kightley himself), Jessie Maguren unaccountably opts for a Southern Baptist American accent, which distances the gobbledegook homilies and constant demands for donations, especially, from the Samoan culture it’s sending up. Taking the ‘holy roller’ idea literally, her consciously comic antics only sometimes work.

Kahu Tairoa completes the cast in the dual role of fresh-off-the-boat Sione and the local Maori cop (again strangely signified with the American cop’s badge) who answers the calls of both warring mothers.

A populist play with political bite, Romeo and Tusi deserves large and raucous audiences wherever it plays.


John Smythe April 12th, 2013

OMG facepalm - I knew that! Corrected - and thanks! 

justanote April 11th, 2013

*KUMARA! Just thought I'd let you know. Great review by the way :)

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A visual and rhythmical whirlwind

Review by Nancy Catherine Fulford 19th Jan 2013

“What’s in a name?”  

Romeo and Juliet: a phrase as synonymous with a love story as any combination of words could ever hope to be. So prevailing is the association that even “Romeo and” leads us to anticipate star crossed lovers and a balcony scene.

And so it is, waiting in the foyer of the Whitireia Performing Arts Centre, that we imagine the character Tusi will be young, beautiful and hot for Romeo, though it’s a good guess she won’t be from “fair Verona” but more likely hail from an island in the South Pacific that abounds with swaying palms.

Indeed playwrights Erolia Ifopo and Oscar Kightley have deftly set us up to expect a Pacifica take on conflict between clans, clandestine love and some notable supporting characters along the lines of Nurse and Friar Lawrence who bumble the course of true love which never did run smooth; don’t we all know it.

The play delivers all of this, bringing fractious neighbours from different cultures together through a high school production of R and J. True love prevails, though of course I can’t tell you the precise ending (that would spoil it), but that’s it for plot. The genius of this production is all in the telling.

Opening night, Whitireia’s large foyer was abuzz. The Pacific community in particular had come out in force. While the chat was still high, a no-nonsense character in an ecumenical robe stepped up to a podium at the entrance way and brought us all to attention. Within a sentence of Samoan minister speak, I fell under the spell of the Pacifica Friar Tuck who doesn’t take no for an answer, especially with regards to the holy task of tithing. We are invited to begin on the spot via the large bucket Friar carries with Donation written in bold letters across its middle and so begins the social commentary that knows no sacred cows.

Friar is played by Taofi Mose-Tuiloma, and while short of stature (perfect for the role) she is large of presence. It is hard to resist ‘the Minster’, on or off stage, with her hyperbolic advice peppered with quotes from the Bible, the Beatles, and TV Three News.  Even better are her semantically challenged parables brought to life with side-splitting comi-ography. As with the rest of the cast, Minister Ms Tuckala Taofi is musical, circus agile and has legendary comic timing.  I won’t say too much lest I spoil it for you but if you don’t laugh out loud at Friar’s antics, you’re cold-stone dead and nobody’s had the heart to tell you yet.

We are led into the auditorium by ‘Minister’ and left in darkness to wonder how much this event is actually going to cost us.  In the opening scene three coloured spots bounce up with classical music at a raucous volume. In one sits the Capulets; in this play that’s teenage Tusi (Mel Andrew) and her Mother Mrs Ai’u (Judy Iva) who frenetically fans herself and wears a floral mumu. Across the stage are the Montagues, albeit Anaru Heke (Shaun Martin) and his Mom (Sina Leasuasu) in something altogether more casual than a Swandry.

In the third spot upstage centre is Ruby (Matthew Dussler), the leggy fa’afafine with a terrific passion for… everything really, and the quoting minister who comes up to Ruby’s armpits, almost. They offer a fabulous dialectic and foil to all things mundane. They could both have their own TV shows and I’d be tuned in.

Two other actors – Ngahiriwa Rauhina and Seruia Pou – appear as friends to the teenage lovers and as the cops who arrive after the families dob each other in for being illegal ‘Coconuts’ or dope growing ‘Kumaras’.

That’s the team and team they are. The opening scene might as well have begun with a starter’s gun, this production moves at such a pace, though the mode of delivery and the rhythm of the different characters is widely varied. The energy of the actors in combination with the dynamic stage chorography make it a whirlwind of a comedy in the opinion of this audience member.

I am in awe of the slick transitions and the productions general love affair with the space. I find it hard to believe it was opening night, but this is not a first effort. Romeo and Tusi has been a long time in the growing. After the show I talked to the director Sasha Gibb. Ms Gibb had directed this production previously and the current Positively Pasifika Festival 2013 season has given her an opportunity to take things further. She says one of her goals was to devise a physical score that took the actors out on a choreographic limb and extended what is already a solid comedic text a step further. “We do a lot of work on character development, becoming sure of our back story and relationships. It optimizes our ability to bounce off each other.” The positive results of their collective efforts are clear from the audience response.

I also managed to talk to two members of Pacific Underground Theatre, which celebrates it twentieth anniversary this year. Playwright Erolia Ifopo had come along to support this Jandals Inc. production, as had actor Mishelle Muagututi’a who played Tusi during the play’s first run in 1997. “It was some of the best times of our lives.” They both said that in different ways, and spoke of how they had done a lot of serious work creating theatre concerning issues facing the Pacific community so this was a comedic blow-out in a really good way. “It was like a working holiday. Even though we did it over and over again we’d still step back and see the humour in it and crack up. In fact it was really hard not to crack up on stage. But you can’t of course.” I could hear their commitment to the craft. “But tonight watching in the audience you realise how funny it is”, said Ms Muagutui’a. I agree.

I personally can’t remember laughing that loud, that often in years, maybe ever. There is so much I love about the show but a stand out scene for me is the love dance between actors Shaun Martin and Seruia Pou. It is an innovative mish mash of farce, slapstick and the ridiculous so how can I resist telling you the result is sublime. As physical comedy goes, it truly is.

While the director has chosen to work with only a few chairs on stage, the production is well supported by light and sound. The music is a strong feature of the script with an eclectic mix of classics from across the ages subverted to a comic end and forming a platform for many of the memorable ‘dances’. Gene Kelly’s ‘Singing in the Rain’ jumps to mind with Minister runing along pews, dancing his heart out as per usual. The lighting was sharp and impactful.

While this play relies heavily on identification with or at least recognition of the exaggerated – worse case, stereotypical – Island and Maori families who live at the TAB and poke fingers at each other, even if you had just arrived from Iceland the universal rivalry between different cultures that are forced into proximity rings true.

Romeo and Tusi is a visual and rhythmical extravaganza and while living in New Zealand and having an awareness of the current social climate will privilege you to the full range of humour, anyone would easily access the comedic entertainment value and social commentary.

I highly recommend going and taking the whole family.


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