Strange Resting Places

Assemby, George Square, Edinburgh, Scotland

02/08/2014 - 25/08/2014

Whakatu Marae, Nelson

26/09/2011 - 26/09/2011

Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland

21/09/2011 - 24/09/2011

Te Puna Wanaka Marae, CPIT, 60 Madras Street, Christchurch

17/09/2011 - 17/09/2011

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

16/03/2009 - 21/03/2009

The Pumphouse Theatre, Takapuna, Auckland

04/03/2009 - 15/03/2009

Glen Eden Playhouse, Auckland

27/08/2008 - 30/08/2008

Owae Marae, Waitara, (not a specified venue)

01/08/2007 - 02/08/2007

Christchurch Art Gallery, Te Puna o Waiwhetu, Christchurch

27/07/2007 - 31/07/2007

BATS Theatre, Wellington

03/07/2007 - 21/07/2007

Auckland Museum, Auckland

18/03/2007 - 22/03/2007

The Real New Zealand Festival

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

Production Details

Writers: Rob Mokaraka and Paolo Rotondo
Original Director: Leo Gene Peters
Director (from 2014): Paolo Rotondo

(from 2014) CUBA CREATIVE

[Updated August 2008]

Strange Resting Places is a Taki Rua Production and premiered at Bats theatre in Wellington 2007. Since then it has toured extensively around the country, and overseas. This year that has included the Dreaming Festival in Brisbane, The NZ International Festival of the Arts in Wellington and The Pacific Arts Festival in Pagopago.

Strange Resting Places

Italy, 1944, a battle-torn theatre of war during WWII: the Allied onslaught stalls at Monte Cassino and the 28th Māori Battalion finds itself centre stage. A young Māori soldier goes out to steal food; an Italian takes cover in a stable. They find themselves trapped in a potentially deadly stand-off, but with the Germans just outside, their survival depends on co-operation.

With music and comedy in Māori, Italian and English and some hilarious and moving characters, Strange Resting Places shines a light on the complex emotional bonds of New Zealand’s wartime history and the three universals that Māori shared with the Italians – whanau, food and song – not to mention wily cunning, a love of vino and a passion for the ladies.

Strange Resting Places is theatre crafted from extensive research, contemporary storytelling and personal experience.

Tumuaki / Artistic Director’s note

Toi whakaari whakaihiihi mo Aotearoa, a, mo te Ao Whanui
Vibrant Māori theatre for New Zealand and the World

It is a privilege and a pleasure to be part of the 2008 Going West Festival. Taki Rua Productions invite you to celebrate and support home-grown Aotearoa theatre works and hope you enjoy Strange Resting Places.

– James Ashcroft

Director’s note

Strange Resting Places is the culmination of several years of work for Rob and Paolo. They’ve been dreaming about this show for ages and it’s been a pleasure to come on board to help realize their vision.

I’m particularly drawn to their questions around whakapapa. It’s necessary for us to form a personal relationship with our history. It seems we’re rarely encouraged to do this in our day-to-day lives. Theatre offers a beautiful place to ask these very practical questions as a community, in an entertaining and immediate way.

Our generation has very little personal experience dealing with something as immense as WWII. Often, I feel work made about war trivialises what occurred in order to evoke some easy sentimentality. If our purpose isn’t strong, the work quickly becomes cliché and we do a disservice to those who were there.

Paolo and Rob managed to bring such a distant and incomprehensible event into the process by relating to very specific and personal stories. With integrity they’ve followed their own very personal questions about who they are in relation to their history and their culture, through exploring this meeting between Māori and Italians. We’ve often marvelled at what it must have been like in Italy during the war: how different from today, how frightening and amazing. We’ve been constantly struck by the contradictions: brutal cruelty in one moment, inexplicable tenderness the next. The process has opened up so much for us; I hope the show offers something similar to you. Enjoy.

– Leo Gene Peters

Writers’ notes

Everything you see or have seen in this play is completely and accurately factual … sort of. The truth is that all our stories were someone else’s first … in part. Rob and I combined our own family histories with the assorted histories of strangers from books and people we met and interviewed during our research.

For us these stories are not dusty, distant recollections of a long forgotten past.  These are the stories of our families, our people. We are compelled to tell them, to look into them, attempting to understand them, they do after all, belong to our own flesh and blood.

WWII was the defining time and circumstance for the meeting of our two peoples. Rob talked to veterans and whanau from A Company (Taitokerau and Hokianga ki Tau Marere Branch). We travelled from the East Coast to the Hokianga, through Naples, Rome, Cassino, and from Florence to Faenza.

In Italy we followed much of the journey taken by 28th Māori Battalion in that dry heat. We interviewed the elders of my family from both fascist and partisan backgrounds. We dined with an ex-German soldier who had fought New Zealanders from Crete to the end of the war. We visited cemeteries from Cassino to Faenza. We ate gelato and talked war with Italian historians in Emilia Romagna. We became aware that the locals had put us in the very same house Kiwi soldiers had stayed in during the war.

The road we travelled was and is sometimes overwhelming, yet uplifting. Rob and I have sifted through so many stories, and through our understanding of what happened we have woven together this play. 

– Paulo Rotondo

My Dad went to Vietnam as a young soldier and through his experiences returned a changed man. Growing up as the first-born son of a soldier was an interesting time. I loved the old man, but at times I was terrified of him as well.

Through my research with Māori Battalion veterans I discovered these soldiers were young men thrown into experiences that would change them forever.

I discovered my own whanau involvement in the 28th Māori Battalion and learnt a lot about the horror and humanity of war. This project has been a journey of discovery on many levels, but most of all through my experiences I have a better understanding and relationship with my Dad.

– Rob Mokaraka

Rob Mokaraka
Paolo Rotondo
Maaka Pohatu

Taki Rua Productions
Tumuaki/Artistic Director:  James Ashcroft
Marketing/Sponsorship Manager:  Renee Mark

Nga Kaiwhakahaere / Taki Rua Productions Board
Robyn Bargh, Mere Boynton, Jenny Clark, Tony DeGoldi, Mike Hollings (Chair), Tony Hopkins, Simon Garrett (Treasurer), Jo Morris and Cath Nesus

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

Cast: Rob Mokaraka, Te Kohe Tuhaka and Barnie Duncan

Director: Paolo Rotondo
Musical Director: Maaka Pohatu
Producer/Tour Manager: Mark Westerby
Operators: Mark Westerby & Tim Nuttall 

Theatre ,

1 hr 20 min, no interval

Beautifully constructed, creative and engaging

Review by Dione Joseph 21st Aug 2014

Since it was first presented in New Zealand in 2007, Strange Resting Places has won numerous accolades both at home and overseas and become widely known as the little show with big heart. And understandably so. Amidst the tumult of the Second World War we are taken to Monte Casino, Italy, where the 28th Maori Battalion is at the epicentre of the action.  

This is a story of two unlikely friends, one Maori serving King and country, the other an Italian deserter from fascism who is heading back to his wife and son. Both meet in a barn to salvage some tucker and it is in this make-shift continuously morphing site that we are offered a smorgasbord of stories.

The tales told highlight the new friendships formed between many of the Maori and local Italians, the tragedy that the nearby monastery was bombed when there were only civilians taking refuge within its walls and, on a fundamentally human level, the fact that language and culture are not limitations to our understanding of the world – rather they create spaces to build new relationships that relocate our perspective outside our often myopic vision. 

Co-written by Rob Mokaraka and Paulo Rotondo, this heart-warming and often hilarious tale is replete with Italian coffee to begin with, plenty of songs in Maori, Italian and English, farmyard animal impersonations, the deliciously awkward moments of burgeoning love and, of course, aromas of garlic and rosemary to add a layer of sensory engagement. In this world guitars turn to guns, men become boys, and statue of the Virgin Mary has plenty to say …

It is a beautifully constructed, creative and engaging platform to bring home both the horror of war and the unexpected relationships that lasted long after the clouds of dust settled.

But it’s also brilliant for another reason. Strange Resting Places is an example of text that comes alive through strong performers – Rob Mokaraka, Barnie Duncan and Te Kohe Tuhaka – and is distinguished by its subversion of stereotypes and expectations.

This is not about providing a cultural showcase and giving an anthropology lesson with the war as a convenient backdrop; it is a show that humbly and powerfully challenges knowledge about the untold stories from the war, the involvement of Maori as part of a huge delegation of NZ soldiers fighting for the Allies and the unexpected friendships that are borne in times of crisis and need. 

The show itself is a confident touring work and although all three actors have been involved in the production before, it is the first time they are all acting together which brings a fresh energy to the piece. The mastery of language, accents and human sound effects – ranging from the whirring of a plane propeller to an inconsolable baby Jesus – is accompanied by creative solutions that not only equip them to play multiple characters but also manifest some of the devastation inflicted by those so far above in the clouds they could never hear the screams below. 

The transitions are smooth, shifting swiftly from the various vignettes that support the main narrative and, although some of the structural placing of each story can be slightly confusing (especially for a younger audience), the obvious talents of the three male actors and their gifted musical talents do make for a riveting production. 

A highlight amongst the New Zealand season at Edinburgh and definitely a Fringe favourite.   



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Humour, pain and profound insight shared

Review by Nik Smythe 22nd Sep 2011

As a catchy medley of familiar waiata gets banged out by a couple of Maori soldiers in the background, a smiling, gregarious, cheeky Italian – unmistakably Paolo Rotondo – greets arriving patrons with effusive words of welcome, and warnings of the inevitable violence ahead. The sincerity of his hospitality is proven in his casually ceremonial offerings of espresso and pastry, so by the time the play proper begins we are more than ready for it. 

There is no programme accompanying the work, no referential notes to use as a sort of crutch to bring greater clarity and connection to the work as many historically based shows have done in the past. Fortunately, all the layers of meaning and significance are clear as can be, remarkably despite the fairly convoluted connections between the numerous characters whose stories all tie in to the tragic destruction in early 1944 of thousands of soldiers and citizens in and around the allied bombers’ target, Monte Cassino’s centuries old medieval abbey. 

Rob Mokoraka and Maaka Pohatu are the first people we encounter, two ‘happy Maoris’ (as Rotondo’s Italian host calls them) from the legendary 28th Maori Battalion, hunting hapless farm animals on the besieged grounds neighbouring the mountain of Cassino, circa 1944. (It does occur to me that either of these fellows could be the grandfather whom – in Raising the Titanics – Zac and Api sang of in their introductory number, ‘The battle of Cassino’). 

Rotondo’s primary role is an Italian farmer and a deserter from the Italian fascist army, who encounters Pohatu going after the same chicken in a deserted barn dangerously close to the battlefront. In the ensuing archetypal standoff between two enemies we gain insight to the differences between two men’s worlds – the Maori, invaded and colonised in his own land, now the invader of the simple local man who just wants to get back to his family. 

Meanwhile Mokoraka takes us back to the previous year, where he was cared for by an Italian peasant family before receiving his marching orders, where he meets the beautiful Adriana (played with notable conviction by the bearded, inescapably male Rotondo), who in their short time together becomes a lasting force in his life. 

On a physical level, there are numerous pleasing bits of business, from guitar-rifles to Rotondo’s multi-faceted conversations with himself as his own eight-year-old son, to Mokoraka’s poi-propellered American Airforce contingent; not to mention his amusingly moving depiction of a living 500 year-old statue of Santa Maria and bambina Jesus. Such ingenious theatrical devices are incorporated with deft ingenuity so that the form never upstages the content. 

The eighty minutes feel more like about fifty, thanks to the fluidity and driven energy of the cast. The credits inform us that Rotondo and Mokoraka wrote the play, however under the astute guidance of director Leo Gene Peters there is a sense of naturalism in which all three powerful performers own their words and actions completely. 

As I understand it, the characters and events are based on real-life accounts from the descendants of those involved. With true stories as perversely delightful as these there seems little need to make anything up! 

There are many fascinating cultural stand-offs and political juxtapositions worthy of hours of academic discussion, but the truly affecting heart of the piece is at a deeper, personal level – these people could be anyone you know yourself. Oh, and it’s laugh-out-loud hilarious a lot, threaded throughout with a brilliant live soundtrack from Mokoraka and Pohatu.

Knowing that they have staged this work countless times around the world for over four years, the freshness of their playful energy is all the more impressive. If there are any technical flaws, I can’t pick them; I’m just too engaged and entertained for any minor niggles to interfere with it, although I suspect there simply aren’t any.

Ultimately, it’s the kind of work that shares its humour, pain and profound insight best in its own natural theatrical form. The ten or more deservedly glowing reviews will only achieve their objective if they can persuade anyone who is able to experience it for themselves to do so. 
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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Flawless precision with generosity, freshness and energy

Review by Lindsay Clark 19th Sep 2011

It is not often that remembered pleasures are as rich the second time around, but, revisited, the warmth and humanity of this piece is, if anything, more compelling than when the same team delivered it in Christchurch in July 2007. Perhaps recent events here have also sensitised us to the emotional ties of home and family, but the standing ovation earned by this performance was in recognition of a very special experience. 

Framed around stories inspired by the Maori Battalion’s involvement at Monte Cassino towards the end of World War II, the play covers more cultural ground than territorial advance. Two Maori soldiers and a deserter from the Italian Fascist Army are at the heart of woven stories which encapsulate the truth of war’s confusions and tragedies for the little people who have to live with political decisions. 

One soldier has gone foraging for food but finds himself holed up in a barn with the deserting Italian, himself on the run. The other finds shelter with an Italian peasant family. For all concerned, lessons in another culture are matched by the respect and affection that comes with recognising our common humanity. 

Brimming with humour and the unexpected, events are played out on a set made up of ammunition cases which are used in ingenious ways. One contains a small hot plate where coffee is brewing as the audience arrives (part of an Italian greeting) as the two Maori soldiers play and sing waiata and marching songs. Consequently the whole audience is smiling, with some singing along before the actual play emerges. 

Stand-out theatrical strategies for the performance are its bold physicality which can transform space and mood in moments, as well as its evocative music. All three actors move with seamless ease through a range of roles, filling out the frame with engrossing detail. They play both male and female, old and young, statues and animals. Their virtuosity, directed with assurance by Leo Gene Peters, is always in the service of the whole and the tragic climax of the play is poignant in the extreme. 

Writer /actors Rob Mokaraka and Paolo Rotondo, together with Maaka Pohatu each create multiple roles with flawless precision, their work fuelled by generosity and the joy of a true ensemble. The freshness and energy of their approach is outstanding so that in the theatrical moment and beyond, the ideas and values of this play reach us all.  
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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Truly a taonga

Review by John Smythe 17th Mar 2009

Monte Cassino is indeed a strange resting place for an East Coast boy. And how he – Anaru (Ngati Porou; 28th Mâori Battalion) – comes to be shot is even stranger: tragically unnecessary, like so many deaths in so many wars. When will we ever learn?

If you have never seen Strange Resting Places and you’re in Wellington this week, go! If you’ve seen it before but not for a while, go again! It remains one of the most assured pieces of non-naturalistic tragi-comic theatre ever to grace our stages, and it certainly stands revisiting.

Being the most reviewed production on this website, I don’t need to summarise the plot or wax lyrical again about the performances and ingenious production elements. Just click on any of the review links below to get a sense of what you are in for.

Suffice to say the onstage team – Rob Mokaraka, Paolo Rotondo and Maaka Pohatu – are simultaneously fresh and fully engaged, yet perform with a relaxed confidence and sure sense of purpose that can only come from deep familiarity with their material. They truly offer a taonga.

Strange Resting Places has been in the Taki Rua repertoire for two years now. It premiered in Auckland AK07) and has since played Wellington (BATS), Christchurch, Nelson, Taranaki, Tauranga, the Dreaming Festival in Queensland, Bay of Islands, Palmerston North, Going West (Auckland), Hamilton, Lake Taupo, Otago, Pacific Arts Festival, Waikato Museum, The Pumphouse (Auckland) …

Following this one-week Downstage season – where the original cast plays the 90 minute adult version in the evening while a second cast plays a 55 minute child-friendly version as part of the Capital E National Arts Festival (public performance 2pm Saturday 21 March) – the plays goes to Singapore, the Southern Lakes Festival of Colour, London (Origins Festival) and Cairns.


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Easy charm, great humour, natural delivery

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 05th Mar 2009

Strange Resting Places has been performed and reviewed many times since its debut 2 years ago, testament to its enduring relevance and popular appeal as a play that speaks with great heart to its audience.

Rob Mokoraka and Paolo Rotondo’s simple, superb writing shows the common human experience, regardless of culture or geographical location, amid the all-consuming conditions of war. This play will continue to resonate for generations to come.

While Strange Resting Places reverberates the universal understanding of love and loyalty to family, mixed with the horrors of wartime tactics over respect for sanctuary, life and environment, it is also an important and significant New Zealand voice, telling "our stories". In particular, the historical complexities of little a country sending so many of its youth to fight on the other side of the world, "as the price of Empire" for all. For Māori, there was the added convolution that fighting for New Zealand was part of "the price of citizenship".

Set in war-torn Italy during 1943 and 1944, in the lead up to the allied bombing of Monte Cassino’s ancient abbey, director/designer Leo Gene Peters’ uncomplicated, open and effective set consists of ammo boxes and essential army supplies. Similarly, his use of props is minimal and reinforces how quickly war consumes, as musical instruments become weapons of destruction and a poi becomes the propeller on the aircraft that sent so many to their graves.

Mokoraka and Rotondo concentrate on everyday experiences and resist the urge to grandstand or melt into sentimentality, making this war-ravaged play all the more sincere and enduring as a result. With the audience lights up for the entire play and all actors on stage the entire time, each switching between a vast array of characters and animals, there is also a certain honesty brought to the theatre, as actors and audience truly connect.

Under Peters’ sensitive, detailed direction, the strong multi-talented ensemble players – Rotondo, Mokoraka and the mighty Maaka Pohatu – bring each of their characters’ stories to us with easy charm, great humour and natural delivery, both in song and dialogue.

All three actors are superb and a pleasure to watch, from the moment you enter the theatre.

Transitions between stories and scenes are particularly well executed: the arrival of the Americans segues into an ill-fated swine; a man digging a hole slides into a sly chicken; the chewing of gum becoming a goat chomping cud; and finally, the mirror image of two mothers with their beloved sons in the abbey, is very effective.

After the play’s poignant climax, the dust settles and we can still smell the herbs and flavours our heroic storytellers have prepared. Just as the night began with offerings of music, coffee and pastries, so too do we end the night sharing and celebrating life’s simple pleasures: family, food and friendship. They break bread and invite the audience to share in the heart and aftermath of their journey.

This is the first time I’ve been to the PumpHouse for a while: the venue is looking and feeling fresh and invigorated. Full marks to the Theatre’s team for a great start to their Autumn Collection Season. While Auckland’s Fringe Festival is in full swing and the bi-annual Auckland Festival is about to begin, Northshore residents might want to also consider supporting great theatre closer to home. For those on the other side: cross the bridge. Strange Resting Places speaks loudly to our nation, and is well worth the drive.


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Story telling from the heart: bravo!

Review by Sian Robertson 28th Aug 2008

Although the story centres around the misinformed bombing of the monastery at Monte Cassino towards the end of WWII, which resulted in tens of thousands of casualties on both sides, it is at its core about comradeship and family.

The paths of Anaru, member of the 28th Māori Battalion, and Salvatore, an Italian deserter wanting to reunite with his wife and son, collide on the way to Cassino. Initially suspicious of one another, Anaru (Maaka Pohatu) and Salvatore (Paolo Rotondo) soon bond over a mutual love of food and song and the importance of whanau. The meeting of cultures is humorous from the start, launching with Salvatore’s apt perceptions of Māori as the happy warriors, and the war’s dependable, expendable soldiers.

Although there are many comic moments, there are just as many poignant ones, and the humour serves to bring into sharp relief those precious moments of generosity and strength in spite of the war’s seeming futility and violence, and the pain of being uprooted from family and home.

Written by Paolo Rotondo and Rob Mokaraka, Strange Resting Places was several years in the making. Having travelled around Italy and New Zealand interviewing Italian, German and New Zealand veterans and their families, they have combined thorough research with their own family histories and those of strangers, to weave a colourful link between the generations and cultures.

With a lot to encompass in an hour and a half, the play is busily populated with minor characters – a German soldier, an Italian family, an Italian Padre, a pig and various other farm animals (Mokaraka’s chicken impression is a highlight), an American fighter pilot, Salvatori’s wife and son, and others – these snapshots of life could easily have cluttered the story, but instead they add depth and anecdotal detail to the experiences of its main protagonists.

Rotondo plays an array of Italian characters, sometimes two in the same scene: Salvatori and his son; Adriana and her mother (bringing coy girlishness and brisk matriarchy to the characters without overdoing it). Mokaraka and Pohatu also play a several Italians, New Zealanders, a German, and an American between them.

Through (mostly hilarious) misunderstandings, the scenes switch suddenly from tolerance to intolerance, brotherhood to enmity. Although they have their striking differences, and not all survive the war, these people live on in each other’s memories, becoming inextricably interwoven in each other’s family histories.

Many of the songs and significant chunks of the dialogue are in Italian and Māori. The songs tell parts of the story and infuse it with authenticity, as do the aromas of coffee, rosemary and garlic (Salvatore concedes to the strange practice of cooking food in the ground but draws the line at depriving it of seasoning).

A simple set, consisting mainly of an arrangement of ammunition boxes, and minimal props (guitars double as weapons) provide a basic setting for a makeshift camp, a house and a monastery. All of the scene and costume changes take place on stage in plain view, making use of the actors’ ingenuity – much as their characters do out of necessity, working with what they’ve got (and what they can steal from the local farmers).

With energetic and multi-talented performances all round, the cast of three have poured their blood sweat and tears into crafting this play, and it shows.

Judging from last year’s reviews (see below) about an over-long scene in the monastery, it appears the play has been developed and refined since its debut, returning to Auckland since touring New Zealand and Australia over the last year and a half.  

Strange Resting Places is a nearly flawless piece of story telling that comes from the heart, authentically imbued with the history of those who were actually there.



Luke Hyland March 4th, 2009

Strange Resting Places is back for a season at the Pump House in Takapuna, I had the pleasure of seeing their dress/preview last night and was blown away by the strength and tightness of this established piece.

There wasn't a stray scene or spare dialogue in the entire hour and a half, everything pushing the story forward and informing the story. The staging and inventiveness of the actors in embodying large scale events quite simply on stage really packed a punch.

I couldn't help but think of all the chatter on this website about smoking on stage and the need to do something for it to be "real". This play really showed me what bullshit that argument really is.

I went with my partner who works in television and after years of student productions and half assed devised work at Bats she finally understood why I keep coming back to working in theatre, a great emotional fillup before this weekends talkfest.

Greg Wikstrom August 31st, 2008

I concur. By far and beyond the best show I saw last year when I was back down in Aotearoa. Bravissimo!

Paul McLaughlin August 29th, 2008

I laughed and cried, I sat  beside Gavin. This is the best work of theatre I have seen in many, many years. Go boys.

Gavin Rutherford August 28th, 2008

This is one of the finest, most fulfilling theatrical pieces I have seen in years. I laughed, I cried, I didn't want it to end. Thank you again, fellas.

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Music and charm carry the day

Review by Lindsay Clark 29th Jul 2007

It begins with song and black Italian coffee for those in the front row. Well, you share the coffee because of course it is war time and such things are scarce. The performing space is like a makeshift camp temporarily, before the story gathers momentum and it becomes whatever the moment requires – a stable, the sky, the monastery at Monte Cassino… a context for  re-crafted wartime memories magicking us back to the Māori Battalion in Italy during the last years of the Second World War.

Like memory, the story is sometimes detailed and sometimes created in broad brush strokes. Occasionally it feels too generous in its territory and too imprecise in its bearings to hold the main line of development. Characters and ‘detour’ scenes, often humorous in themselves, are set up and discarded in what seems like an overdose of creativity, so that the relationships and outcomes we are most interested in following have to wait. This is not to imply that the actors lose our attention however, and the final scenes, where a stoic Māori soldier and an Italian fugitive are holed up within sight of the great monastery, sacrificed to the Allied drive northwards  in 1944, are completely arresting.

The compilation is unusual and welcome not only because it explores the shared love of Italian and Māori for mirth, family, food and song, but because it  reduces the enormity of war to simple snatches of experience, celebrating what can be celebrated and keeping the rest in perspective. There is no shock and horror, no gratuitous gore or cruelty. Death is not allowed to become more important than life.

The cast embodies the spirit of the play with unpretentious enthusiasm. Rob Mokaraka, Paolo Rotondo and Maaka Pohatu are a formidable trio, carrying the wide ranging scenarios with ease. Their music and charm carry the day, along with some nifty physical theatre techniques.

Predictably from such a welcoming team, the performance ends with kai and wine – and the celebration goes on.


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alive, respectfully challenging, memorable

Review by Melody Nixon 17th Jul 2007

Both Mãori and Italian traditions are interwoven in this piece of brilliantly inclusive theatre by Paolo Rotondo and Rob Mokaraka. Strange Resting Places contacts with what is “real”, and creates a genuine theatrical interaction. Its direct acknowledgement and manipulation of medium is an appreciated change from the sometimes frustrating nonchalance of realism in much current theatre.

The open approach is similar to Te Rakau Hua O Te Wao Tapu’s theatre marae style, in which a kai and a korero form part of the whole theatrical proceedings. The Strange Resting Places audience is welcomed with coffee and pastries, and farewelled with bread, and garlic oil made fresh on stage. The actors, far from scampering into the shadows after closing, invite us to share a glass of vino and chat amiably as the garlic oil is devoured. The house lights are kept up throughout the play and the audience, quite literally, is not left to ponder by themselves in the dark.

Writers and actors Paolo Rotondo and Rob Mokaraka have worked together for upwards of four years to research and write this piece. Such commitment and thoroughness shows; along with both actors’ ability to manipulate and control theatricality, and avoid falling victim to script. Mokaraka and Rotondo create a feeling of polished improvisation – their movements seem spontaneous, yet connected perfectly with the stream of action. Fellow actor Maaka Pohatu completes the onstage trio, providing consistent and hilarious comedy, particularly in his role as the large, aggressive Italian ‘mama’ and the bewildered, hungry soldier from the 28th Battalion.

There are elements of Dario Fo in the acting of all three cast members; the physicality and spontaneity of that Italian writer/actor coming through in the play’s most humorous moments. Jokes are taken to their logical extreme, and then pushed further, until the humour no longer lies in the joke itself but in its ridiculousness. Strange Resting Places uses the interweaving of scenes and stories to gain a circularity and non-linearity, which also moves it away from the standard conventions of modern theatre.

In a smooth hour and a half of otherwise flawless performances, there were some minor glitches. Mokaraka’s initial portrayal of the two pilots in the bomber plane jarred at first; Mokaraka seemed breathless and the strain of the high voices detracted from our enjoyment of this scene. However, by the end he seemed more comfortable with this role. Also, the sorrow of the death scene, inevitable and appropriate for the subject, could have been drawn out more to allow audience members to better feel its emotional weight. After the humour and then tension of preceding scenes, the powerful change in emotion needed to be worth audience members’ investment. As it stands this ‘little’ sadness – and climax – does not detract from the power of the whole piece, but could perhaps do more to add to it.

On another note, the view of Mãori from an Italian perspective in Strange Resting Places is particularly rich. It allows the script more room – or perhaps simply more daring – to make fun of Mãori characters in a way a Pakeha writer might not feel it is their place to. This cultural interaction adds a fascinating layer to the play’s stories of love and war. The extensive use of un-translated Italian gives a sense of the alienation Mãori soldiers may have felt when fighting in Italy, surrounded by a foreign language interpretable only through its occasional Latin-based similarities to English.

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of the play for a New Zealand audience is the varied and “real” representations of Mãori characters, which do not fall into stereotype. The 28th Battalion’s “Padre”, as played by Pohatu, is a hilarious send up of a self-serving and slightly delusional Catholic priest. And nervous, glasses wearing “Hemare,” knocks the stereotype of Mãori soldiers as fearless and violent warriors. Mokaraka must be given credit here for succeeding in forming these characters in genuine and – dare the word be used – original ways.

On for a further week at BATS theatre, Strange Resting Places is a thoroughly worthwhile experience. It presents the kind of theatre Wellington needs; alive, respectfully challenging, memorable; and through the use physicality and audience interaction, no longer trapped within a vein of lounge room realism.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


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An absolute winner

Review by Lynn Freeman 11th Jul 2007

Paolo Rotondo and Rob Mokaraka have taken their own family stories and those of others involved in World War Two, soldiers and civilians, to craft this mini-epic, set in Cassino before and during the destruction of its monastery.

Rotondo greets the audience with pastries and coffee while Mokaraka and the third actor Maaka Pohatu welcome you in with song.  They also ease you into the story with two Māori soldiers in Italy stealing a pig to eat (the animal impressions are one of the many highlights of the work). 

Into their lives comes an Italian man desperately trying to get to Cassino to see his wife and son.  The play later takes us inside the monastery to meet those sheltering there while the war escalates around them.

It’s a rapid-fire summary of a play contains many characters, delightful and funny. Perhaps though a few too many.  Even with its three exceptionally fine actors and Leo Gene Peters’ high adrenalin direction, the middle section flags at times and the monastery section is a fraction too long.  But don’t get me wrong, this is an absolute winner of a play.

It’s also about a lot more than a series of individual stories.  It’s about family-whakapapa, loyalty, war and survival.  It’s about how ordinary people cope in extraordinary situations.  It reminds us of the relationship between Māori and Italians and those bonds forged during wartime, like those still shared between the Turks and the Kiwis sixty years after WW2. 

The stories are well told, relying on the actors’ considerable skill and some basic but wonderfully evocative props.  The monastery in Casino is represented simply by a bell on top of a mound of earth – and it works.  The many costume changes happen on stage as the performers delve into the numerous boxes.  Their timing is impeccable and the genuinely shocking twist at the end is even sharper, being unexpected.


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Camaraderie and culture clash

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 09th Jul 2007

The sense of camaraderie is at the heart of Taki Rua’s latest production Strange Resting Places currently showing at BATS where two Mâori cousins from the Mâori Battalion and an Italian meet during the occupation of Italy in WWII and form a friendship that extends far beyond the end of the war. 

This friendship is not built on the horrors of war – though that does provide a backdrop to their actions – but on the necessity of having to deal with a situation they had no control over. So, through the sharing of food, wine, songs and homely hospitality these three survive the war. 

But it’s not always plain sailing as the clash of cultures is just as evident as their developing friendship. An incredible amount of research has gone into putting the play together by writers Paolo Rotondo and Rob Mokaraka who give the characters and their situations a real sense of authenticity ably assisted by a very creative and functional set. 

The two also perform in the play and, along with Maaka Pohatu, play an assortment of characters besides the Mâori Soldiers, including an Italian deserter, an ill-fated German Soldier, a young Italian beauty, a priest, an assortment of chickens and pigs, and a very believable statue of The Virgin Mary.

There is no real story as such just a series of incidents to show the developing friendships and cultural clashes and while some of the scenes end rather flatly and the scene in the Monastery is a little drawn out the three actors perform superbly with gallons of energy, slipping from character to character and situation to situation with fluidity and ease. 

There is a great mix of physical theatre, narrative and singing, the production moving deftly from moments of broad comedy to brutal reality, from the hilariously funny to the poignantly tragic. 

It is also the humanity and honesty of the actors and the way that they unpretentiously present their characters that makes this a refreshing and uplifting production.


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A celebratory commemoration that deserves long life

Review by John Smythe 07th Jul 2007

Strange Resting Places is as piquant a piece of ‘celebratory’ theatre as you may ever hope to experience anywhere. While ‘celebration’ may seem a strange quality to bring to a war story, it turns out to be an inspired way to make truly moving theatre.

On the road now after its debut at the Auckland Festival AK07, this Taki Rua mainbill production is playing BATS en route to the Christchurch then Taranaki Arts Festivals (click on the title above for dates and venues).

Conceived, researched and written by Paolo Rotondo and Rob Mokaraka – who blend their own family histories with those of strangers – it explores cultural differences in the run up to the February 1944 US Airforce bombing of the historic (524AD) abbey on Monte Cassino in Italy.

The abbey was destroyed because it was feared it already harboured, or may at some time in the future harbour, German artillery-spotters. In fact the only casualties were Italian civilians taking refuge from the occupations. (The bombing occurred amid the three Battles of Monte Cassino that claimed the lives of 54,000 Allied and 20,000 German soldiers.)

It is the humanity that prevails before it is obliterated by inhumanity that Strange Resting Places celebrates.* And its final political point is made simply, through just one representative example of the senseless deaths that inevitably grind from the inexorable machinery of war.

Maaka Pohatu joins Mokaraka and Rotondo in a wondrous display of ‘poor theatre’ ensemble performance, directed by Leo Gene Peters. Rotondo welcomes us into their canvas-clad ‘camp’, strewn with boxes and ammo cases, offering tastes of Italian pastries and freshly-brewed coffee, while guitar-strumming Mokara and Pohatu treat us to a medley of popular Mâori waiata, culminating in an Italian language rendition of ‘Ten Guitars’. Song, both original and traditional, garnish the next 80 minutes with an ease that belies the exquisite musicianship of all three performers.

The play proper begins with an Italian perception of the "happy Mâori" who is also seen as loving to fight, and the most dependable yet expendable part of the Allied Forces. Rotondo’s core character is Salvatori, a deserter from the Fascist Army, desperate to return to his wife and son. Mokara becomes Hemaara from Pungaru, the Roman Catholic side of The Hokianga. Pohatu is Anaru from the East Coast, intent on getting his mates a proper feed of pork and chicken to alleviate the regulation diet of tinned corned beef.

Two stories form the narrative spine: the culture-clash encounter (all those sheep and you make no cheese from their milk?) between Salvatori and Anaru, both on illicit missions and trapped  in a barn beyond which Germans lurk; Hemaara’s experience of being billeted in Napoli with Signor and Signora Fornari and their daughter Adriana.

While Rotondo plays both Fornari women to Pohatu’s Signor, and Salvatori’s son Giordino to Pohatu’s wife Isabella -all beautifully rendered without gratuitous camping-up – Mokara excels as a chook, a goat, a US Airforce bomber pilot and a range of religious statues. A pig, a padre, a German soldier and a couple of monks also come into the mix.

Props do multiple duty too, with the guitars and a mandolin becoming rifles, a poi twirling as a propeller, a mound of dirt being endowed as Monte Cassino with abbey on top, and a handful of flour representing the bombs (shades of Apocalypse Now in the visual poetry of destruction).

As the stories unfold from this delightful celebration of theatrical art and artifice – eloquently told in English, Mâori, Italian and visual language – we cannot help but get to know and empathise with each idiosyncratic character (except the German soldier, who is at least given a wife and family to make him more than a cipher). So when one man seeks to protect himself and another from certain slaughter, and the other – who is driven by an equally fundamental human need beyond his conscious control – happens to have a rifle to hand, the outcome captures in microcosm the tragic futility of what occurs in the all-too-real theatres of war.

Strange Resting Places is a celebratory commemoration that deserves to remain in the permanent repertoire, to be seen throughout New Zealand, Europe, Australia and America at least.

* ‘The bit before the better known events’ seems to be Paolo Rotondo’s special area of interest. A graduate of Italian and NZ universities, and the Philippe Gaulier (London) and John Bolton (Melbourne) schools, he also wrote Little Che, inspired by ‘Che’ Guevara’s posthumously published The Motorcycle Diaries and focusing on the years before he became a socialist revolutionary. Directed by Andrew Foster, Little Che was performed by Rotondo with Taika Cohen (2000) then Eryn Wilson (2002).


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Motley crew of sweet characters

Review by Kathryn van Beek 18th Mar 2007

If only all plays began with an Italian man handing out free cups of freshly brewed espresso! In this play about culture there is no shortage of Māori and Italian hospitality, from the offerings of food and music to the poignant insights we are given into the lives of the characters.

The story revolves around the culture clash experienced by the Māori Battalion stationed in Italy in World War Two, the friendships that are formed from necessity, and the beauty of humanity that can transcend war.

Actors Paolo Rotondo, Rob Mokaraka and Maaka Pohatu between them play Māori Soldiers, an Italian deserter, an ill-fated German Soldier, a young Italian beauty, a priest, an assortment of chickens and pigs, and The Virgin Mary (among others).

The various threads of narrative are woven together through brilliant use of physical comedy, and several extremely well-written and performed songs (if this play tours, Taki Rua Productions should consider selling an EP). The incredible amount of research that has gone into the play is evidenced by the photocopies that hang either side of the stage and the sense of authenticity that infuses the characters and the storylines.

All three actors are superb. Within a split second they transform into new characters, completely changing the mood from delicate to brutal, or from tragic to hysterically funny. In its many flashes of brilliance this play reminded me of the best productions at the Silo of yesteryear, where plays could literally be life-changing experiences.

Towards the end, Strange Resting Places is let down by a dragging scene set in a Cathedral, and a climax that seems a little rushed and lacking in emotional resonance. But these are small and easily fixed flaws in what is overall an engrossing and heart-warming production.

Not all the endings in this play are happy, but there is such a sense of camaraderie and joy throughout the piece that it is refreshing and uplifting throughout. Themes such as the importance of accepting diversity and treasuring family have a strength and honesty to them that connected me to the characters and kept them ticking over in my head all night.  

Strange Resting Places has a heart to it that is missing from a lot of the theatre currently offered on Auckland stages. I could easily have watched another hour of this motley crew of sweet characters fighting for justice on a dusty stage. 


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