Te Haerenga: a journey of identity

BATS Theatre, Wellington

07/01/2010 - 16/01/2010

Production Details

Te Haerenga will amuse, provoke, challenge and delight! The performance combines the ancient art of storytelling with the drama of theatre to interweave three individual stories into one shared journey of New Zealand identity.

Moira Wairama, Tony Hopkins and Ralph Johnson touch such diverse topics as the revival of Te Reo Maori, the black civil rights movement in America and the changing role of the New Zealand male

6.30pm Thurs 7 Jan –Sat 16 Jan ( no shows Sun or Mon)
Tickets $16/13
Book BATS ph 802-4175 email book@bats.co.nz

Baggage Co-op

Baggage Co-op was formed in 1996. Its aim is to create and promote performance pieces and art works that incorporate a variety of mediums, cultures and languages and that encourages people to risk new experiences.

Baggage Co-op Productions @ BATS:
1996: Baggage, Soul Food: A feast of Wellington Storytellers
1999: Questions
2001: Po@rt.nz, the art of poetry, Home
For a full list of Baggage Co-op productions check out www.bact.org.nz

Ralph Johnson
Moira Wairama
Tony Hopkins

Director: Ralph Johnson
Third eye/ lighting design: David Lawrence
Costume design: Janet Dunn
Voice Coach: Jade Valour
Lighting operator: Isaac Heron
Photos and images: Brett Whincup
Poster & Flyer design: On Design

1hr 5 mins, no interval

Good journey

Review by Lynn Freeman 20th Jan 2010

Te Hearenga is described as a journey of identity and the first words are ‘life is a journey’. Journey is up there with icon as being a word that’s overused but in this case, it is exactly what we go on.

Actors/storytellers Ralph Johnson, Moira Wairama and Tony Hopkins share their intimate stories with us, from learning what it is to be a man, to coming to terms with what it is to be both African and Native American, to being a Pakeha with a passion for Maori culture long before it was fashionable.

Johnson’s anecdotes about not being like the other rough and tumble, sports obsessed boys, to the point of dressing up in his sisters’ clothes, is both funny and poignant. Hopkins’ account of being involved in the Martin Luther King movement is fascinating while Wairama reminds us how much New Zealand has moved towards biculturalism over the past few decades.

This is an endearing show, you’ll leave with the cockles of your heart well warmed and possibly/hopefully a desire to delve into your own family history.
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A show of life and meaning

Review by Uther Dean 11th Jan 2010

There is a lot of wonder to be held in the simple act of storytelling. There are few other places or forms where such a direct connection can be made between audience and performer.

The Baggage Co-op (Ralph Johnson, Moira Wairama and Tony Hopkins) are three of the best story tellers going and their revival of their Aotearoa trotting trilogy of personal odysseys Te Haerenga mines this intimacy for all its worth. The three performers inter-cut (and very occasionally intertwine) their own life stories over the course of an hour or so.

Ralph Johnson focuses on the much mined territory of all the issues around being male. Johnson does very well in spinning an interesting, amusing and original story out of material that is, to be honest, hardly fresh. While there are a few moments when he does drift into some painfully hackneyed ‘men are like this, woman are like that’ material, they luckily leave as quickly as they arrive.

There is a lot to like about Johnson’s performance, but be does somewhat jar against the other two stories in his insistence on performing it a lot more. His young self, who he clearly takes much relish in presenting on stage, charms just as much as he annoys. You tend to get the feeling that Johnson just needs to trust that the power of his story is in the telling of it, not in the bounding of it across the stage.

Moira Wairama, on the night I attended, was clearly having a bit of a hard time. She stumbled over her words quite a bit and seemed generally rather distant.  This resulted in her tale of her quest to learn and spread Te Reo throughout New Zealand ringing a lot emptier and drier than the other two. This was unfortunate as it was probably just bad night and I have no doubt that she will excel on other nights.

Within her story is also an odd blindness to the potential political implications of her actions. No matter how well meaning her quest, people are still allowed to have issues with a white woman fetishising Maori to this degree. She just does not seem to understand that and one cannot help but feel that even an implicit reference of acceptance of this within her story would improve it.

Tony Hopkins’ personal voyage through the American Civil Rights movement is the clear highlight of the show and worth the price of entry alone. He is effortlessly engaging, taking the audience with him on a perilous journey through his life right up to this moment. He balances the endemic comedy and horror of the real world with such ease that you cannot help but be sucked into his story. It could very well sustain a show of its own if properly expanded. 

Te Haerenga – a journey of identity is also one of inconsistency. The three stories seem pitched at slightly different audiences with slightly different tones. But, this is in no way a deal breaker, it is still a show of life and meaning and one that is more than worth your time.

Although, I could have done without the singing.
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The teasing question of racial and personal identity

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 09th Jan 2010

The theatrical year has begun at Bats with two three-hander, 80-minute plays that are wildly different in approach and style. One [Te Haerenga: a Journey of Identity] is reflective, wryly humorous, the other [Mo & Jess Kill Susie] ‘in-yer-face,’ tense and disturbing. However, they both probe away at the teasing question of personal, racial and political identity.

In Te Haerenga three middle-aged actors /storytellers (Tony Hopkins, Ralph Johnson, and Moira Wairama) look back on their lives and assist each other to relate in a skein of short scenes how places (Sumner, Stokes Valley/ Washington D.C.), people (a Dutch skinhead, a Maori teacher, a Californian hippie), ancestors (Irish, Cherokee, English) and historically important events since the 1950s have shaped their lives.

All the personal stories are told simply and directly and they make one aware of the amazing complexities of chance, circumstance, and personality, not to mention the turbulence of events here and overseas such as the women’s movement, the Maori renaissance, and the push for racial equality in the States, that went to make up the second half of the 20th century for three individuals – as well as for all of us.

Telling moments are beautifully captured: one result of the women’s movement is encapsulated in Ralph Johnson tip-toeing across the minefield of language fearful that the use of “chairman” and other sexist words might explode beneath him; Pakeha-born Moira Wairama is humiliated for speaking Maori at a Maori function; how the differences in skin tone once defined society’s pecking order in the U.S.
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Diverse journeys resonate

Review by John Smythe 08th Jan 2010

“Life is a journey all of us share,” so their opening song goes. “Where have your come from? Where will you go?” And who is this “you” person anyway?

The quest for identity, as an individual and as a member of some group(s) or other, is fundamental to human experience. Despite the rather unsophisticated ‘theatre-in-education’ conventions of their presentation, this Baggage Co-op production is bound to appeal to anyone who approached adulthood in the 1960s and 70s, not to mention their parents’ and children’s generations.

By detailing three particular life-so-far stories in a lively style, universal themes and experiences are touched on and explored, resonating within the immediate context of half a century of local and global social history.

Moira Wairama’s ancestry goes back to Ireland, Wales and England before finding a special focus with her mother’s people in the Hutt Valley. From a position of thinking Maori was the surname of all those people down the road in Taita, she develops a passion for learning, then teaching, te reo Maori. The question of where a pakeha woman fluent in Maori really fits into marae culture remains open – and now the soil of her ancestral Ireland beckons …

Ralph Johnston, born in Wellington but raised in the port hills of Christchurch, explores the nature of being boyish, bullied and becoming a man – his own man – along with his relationships with women as he recreates a journey that also takes him to the UK, USA and back home to find the freedom to be himself.

Tony Hopkins starts his story with an encounter in the Swiss Alps and blends his personal globe-trotting story with that of Afro Americans, traversing his identifications with the Black Power and Flower Power movements, and discovering his Cherokee heritage too en route to concluding that while he may be of Africa but not African, born American but not American, he is a Black Cherokee Storyteller.

With the ease of practiced storytellers the trio inter-weave their diverse journeys and personalities into an intriguing hour-or-so that’s well worth hooking to.
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