In Good Company, Level 1, 166 Cuba St, Wellington

10/03/2015 - 14/03/2015

BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

15/11/2016 - 19/11/2016

NZ Fringe Festival 2015 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details

2014 Spirit of the Fringe winner James Nokise presents an original show unlike anything he’s ever done before.  

Jon Bon Fasi, legendary Pacific Performer, has been massively funded for his new show. He spent the money on a holiday. Here’s what’s left… 

Venue: In Good Company, Level 1, 166 Cuba St
10 – 14 March

2016 version

Returning to Wellington on Tuesday November 15th comes RUKAHU, featuring comedian James Nokise’s insane comic creation – Jon Bon Fasi.  

RUKAHU won the Best Theatre Solo and Makes You Think awards at the 2015 NZ Fringe Festival, where it was performed in a found space on Cuba Street. It’s BATS season will mark the show’s first performance in a traditional theatre space, and promises to up the chaos and comedy. 

“Bon Fasi is a character that came from hanging out with Clown trained performers at international festivals over the last couple of years. I’m always curious what we can get away with – both with the venue and with the audience.”  

RUKAHU is a show about a fictional artist Jon Bon Fasi – a senior pacific island performer – who has conned Creative New Zealand into giving him a grant of $75,000 for his new project “RUKAHU: In Search of the Pacific”. As the audience arrives on opening night, it becomes clear expenses have definitely been spared on the production. But where did the cash go? And how will a performer of such esteem justify this on his opening night?  

Comedic, confusing, and ultimately confronting, RUKAHU blurs the lines between performer and character, truth and lies. Jon Bon Fasi is on the edge of ridiculous and tragic, and subverts cultural expectations.

Created with Theatre Mavericks Jo Randerson and Erina Daniels the show is designed to surprise, delight and challenge. 

James Nokise is an award winning stand up comedian who has performed around New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom. This year he performed at the prestigious Stand venue in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Buskers Festival, Perth Fringe World, Adelaide Fringe, Glastonbury Festival and was featured on BBC One. Winner of Best Male Comedian and Best MC in 2013 at the NZ Comedy Guild Awards, Nokise’s blend of politics and comedy is as distinctive as his Samoan/Welsh heritage. James Nokise is an important political voice in New Zealand comedy and arts, enthralling audiences with charm, hilarity and savage satire.  

BATS THEATRE – The Propeller Stage
15th- 19th November 2016

Theatre , Solo , Comedy ,

1 hr

Loads to love about the questions raised

Review by Patrick Davies 18th Nov 2016

A Samoan, a Māori and a Palagi walk into a theatre… Talk about racial stereotypes! OK then, lets.

James Nokise is well known for his highly on-point comedy, whether it’s his stand-up, political satire series Public Service Announcements or his one man shows. In Rukahu he plays Jon Bon Fasi – Pasifika creator extraordinaire. Having received a CNZ grant of $75,000 he now presents the fruits of his labours, and what labours they are in his pursuit of ‘Pasifika Culture’.

His quest takes him to his traditional home where he engages with the local population, meets interesting people and provides us with excerpts of work that has already been produced in prior projects, or works in response to his journey that are in current creation.

From the start Nokise has a bold presence as he heralds his own powhiri into the theatre gathering hisses from the women who must only follow the men in. He does remind us intermittently in the show that this kind of bad behaviour is obviously racist. As would be any denial by CNZ of his funding as, surely, part of their purpose is to identify identity by allowing those who identify as that identity to identify how to discover their identity within our country.

The set is tapa cloth and greenery that will allow Fasi to move between and around as he takes us on his journey. It also allows him some great comic reveals of personal talismans that he has collected and will use in his performance. Things do not go entirely to plan and Fasi/Nokise is also very adept at going with the flow when recreating his journey. I use Fasi/Nokise because there is always a glint in the eye that’s difficult to separate from either.

As the show continues we realise that Fasi is recalling his visits to the Pacific, Asia, and Europe in an extended holiday where he enmeshes himself with the local from a plush hotel room, beds any woman that he can get and creates the same dance piece (with slightly different moves and sounds), the same poem and choreography, all at the tax payers expense. This show is a hastily put together piece in an effort to account for the grant (I do wonder what the CNZ person in the opening night audience felt, especially as the show came to its close).

As this story is repeated the audience click in and the engagement is only really held by the one-liners and improv that Fasi/Nokise uses. I do begin to wonder where this was all going, especially when his operator (Michael Trigg) calls out, “You’ve got twenty minutes to go,” form the lighting box. As Fasi begins yet another repetitive exploit his resolve and façade falter and here we get into the meat of the play.

Up until now there has been many a cultural reference both verbal and physical that we’ve enjoyed laughing at; some that are aimed and hit home with the Pasifika crowd but blissfully go over my head. Here Fasi stumbles and asks “What am I doing?” He repeats this to himself and then to the audience, staring at them and there’s a sudden boom of resonance (with older folk mostly) with “Whaddarya?”

There’s a palpable shift in the tone and response from the audience as Fasi lambasts all and sundry as to who has any right to define ‘Pasifika Culture’ through colonization, appropriation and the defining of the Other. How easy it is for us to see it as a Festival Only experience and something we can show to the world while here at home there is little to no integration. How it is represented and dealt with at CNZ; how our reaction to the ‘Boat Nigger’ incident created little outcry other than a shocked silence (“Why was it not immediately pulled from the air?”); where was Oscar Kightley and the rest?

His rant, and it is a rant full of vinegar and piss, includes himself and what he has done. Where is our moral compass? It certainly stills the audience except for the murmurs of agreement. It’s an arresting moment, but not one lacking problems.

This show is finely wrought by Erina Daniels who recently directed the extra-ordinary Shot Bro. In both cases she has allowed the performer/creator to clarify each show to their own perspective. In Rukahu’s case I think stronger dramaturgy and a harder look at the execution would improve the show.

Rukahu means ‘liar’ or ‘deceiver’, depending on which dictionary you use. After seeing this show I prefer the latter, though both are almost too strong hints as to an agenda; even while I’m laughing at the great cultural jokes, and because of Nokise’s reputation, I’m constantly looking for the turn of the card. Once the repetition of the structure is evident I’m ahead of the game in waiting for the change. This is, of course, from the perspective of someone who’s seen a lot of this kind of work as well as Nokise’s shows.

When Fasi is, with a very authentic voice, speaking to Culture and it’s appropriation in its many forms, I am unsure as to how complicit Fasi is in having appropriated thousands of CNZ grants from this and many other products. Did he start as an authentic artist and get on the gravy train or was he on it from the word go? His anger, while justified, seems rooted in self shame but when he talks of all those who should be up in arms shouting from the rooftop he seems to take no blame in creating the very atmosphere he is railing against.

For me the overall impact is blunted by the almost toddler like ‘you made me this’ attitude. By coming in for a bow as James Nokise it frames the show as having a message/idea/point – no problem with that, Fasi is no more and we can, as Nokise says, have a chat outside. I wonder if there’s more impact in Fasi leaving as he does and engaging us in the bar. Of course, that’s up to the artist, but by bowing we clap as our catharsis, have a beer and a whinge and then go back home to pretty much our usual routine.

In a world of Sacha Baron Cohen and David Brent I think we are let off lightly. Also, by being at BATS, is Fasi preaching to the converted? I would really love to see this work performed at the CNZ offices, Toi Whakaari, or similar.

One of the other problems is the use of ‘bad theatre’ in that this show seems to be hastily put together. It takes a lot of rehearsal and planning to pull off things purposely going wrong in a theatre show and here it doesn’t quite work. It must be said that the production was delayed by the earthquake so that ameliorates to some degree. If the Operator (Michael Trigg) is ‘barely holding it together’, missing cues, etc. then I’m not sure why he’s running around the foyer at the start, it’s mildly amusing to see Trigg running around plainly doing nothing but there’s a problem when you have a known BATS House Tech doing it in the clothes you usually see him in – we just think it’s him being weird.

The missed lighting spot gag does get old pretty quickly and I can see Nokise moving to be out of the light before it happens, ruining the joke. I’m certainly not sure why it’s necessary for the cloth to fall on him as he exits, it does look like he’s just pulled it onto himself. As I say these gags and lazzi need extensive planning and rehearsal to pull off without looking naff and are a disappointment.

There’s loads to love about the questions raised by this deceiver and I hope Fasi makes a return in the future.


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Enriching manure

Review by John Smythe 11th Mar 2015

I can’t find the title in a Samoan dictionary but in Māori rūkahu means: (v) to tell lies; (modifier) be false, untrue, fake, insincere; (n) lie, fabrication, person who tells lies. In other words, James Nokise’s latest show is total rubbish; bullshit. About bullshit, I mean. 

Not that it’s James. Here he has produced legendary Pacific Performer Jon Bon Fasi who, having applied unsuccessfully to Creative New Zealand over 23 years, suddenly got funding for his proposal to explore the origins of ‘Pasifika’. This show is the result (or is outcome the preferred term there?).

In effect, Jon Bon Fasi is taking a spot in the NZ Fringe to deliver his obligatory report to Creative New Zealand. And the question that arises is: where does the bullshit lie?

Who knew his quest would take him all over the world; that there are echoes of Samoa in far-flung climes and that women the world over would remind him of his various wives? It is an astonishing odyssey he leads us on – in a first-floor Cuba Street studio that, on a warm opening night, reminds us all of Samoa.

James Nokise has a comic style and sensibility that allows almost anything to raise a laugh, even as we wonder whether that was intended or not. He is a consummate comedian with a warm and winning persona.

Just when it seems Jon Bon Fasi has truly lost his way amid the potted arboretum that both evokes his travels and hides his technology, he launches into an angry denunciation of the bureaucratic bullshit that renders all artists dishonest. Go just to witness this and to glean more detail than I will reveal here: it’s powerful stuff that cuts to the heart of cultural colonisation!

Of course some may see it as an elaborate justification for squandering his grant on sybaritic indulgence. Or is that the comedic ‘Trojan horse’ through which he smuggles his message into our open minds? Again you must go yourself to arrive at your own conclusions.

The ‘bullshit’ theme is thoroughly and entertainingly explored – and there is every likelihood Nokise’s Rūkahu will enhance your growth and enrich your life, as any good manure should. Either that or your conscience – your raised cultural consciousness – will overwhelm your creative juices. Or you will be part of the revolution when it comes, brashly hurling the manure … Or maybe this is bullshit too.


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