Te Kaupoi

BATS Theatre, Wellington

10/06/2010 - 26/06/2010

Hawkins Theatre, Papakura, Auckland

21/07/2010 - 23/07/2010

Production Details


In the not too distant future, internal terrorism has rocked New Zealand.

Maori who protested against the government’s abolition of Maori seats are widely blamed for civil unrest.

The most notorious protester “Te Kaupoi” runs a pirate radio show that encourages Maori to gather and overthrow the illegal government.

On the barren plains of the North Island’s central volcanic plateau, a mysterious young woman, Sarah, lies unconscious, bloodied and beaten. Zeke Edwards is a cowboy on his last circuit before the government closes internal travel. His mother, Mary (aka Mere), lives in the old family homestead – planting trees, she stumbles across Sarah.

Who can you trust?

Starring Jason Te Kare, Tina Cook and Kay Smith

BATS THEATRE 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington.

Season: Thursday 10th – Saturday 26th June 2010

Time: 7.30PM

Tickets: $20 full / $13 concession / $15 groups (6+)

Email book@bats.co.nz

Booking Line: (04) 802 4175

The box office is open at least 2 hours prior to the first show for booking and collection of tickets. Please arrive at least 20 minutes before the first show to purchase tickets (and chill out in the bar!)

Te Kaupoi – Presented by Taonga Whakaari: Maori Playwrights Festival as part of Matariki Festival 10 in Auckland and Papakura.

Hawkins Theatre – Papakura

July 21-23. 7.30pm.

Bookings: http://www..ticketek.co.nz  0800Ticketek


Taonga Whakaari: The Maori Playwrights Festival arose from discussions at the 2007 Maori Playwrights Hui, which identified a need for Maori theatre practitioners to have a place to hone their craft. Hawkins Theatre -Papakura general manager Graeme Bennett, tasked with expanding the theatre into the community, saw a festival as a way to meet both objectives: “It’s an incredible opportunity for Maori to write, perform and produce their stories in a purpose-built venue, and the Maori Playwrights Festival gives the theatre the opportunity to interact with our local community.”

Rodeo announcer – Duncan Smith
Radio announcer – Fiona Truelove
Sarah Smith– Kay Smith
Zeke Edwards – Jason Te Kare
Mere Edwards – Tina Cook

Producers – Maraea Rakuraku and Leilani Unasa
Dramaturg – Jason Te Kare
Set and Costume design – Tony de Goldi
Lighting design and operator – Cameron Nicholls
Sound design – Jason Te Kare
Graphic design – Natalie and Reuben Friend, and Victor Te Paa

Sound operator – Whiti Hereaka
Stage Manager – Fiona Truelove
Rodeo Wrangler – Kiwa Halley
Choreography – Tai Paita’
Marketing and publicity– Rachael Peters, Faye Jansen, Pikihuia Little
Producer mentoring – Miria George, Hone Kouka and Amanda Hereaka
Gofers – Teuila and Mosese ‘Ofamo’oni
‘Porotiti’ from Te Whaio: Te Ku Te Whe Remixed – With kind permission from the Melbourne family.

Theatre , Te Ao Māori ,

Power reduced by unrevealed motivations

Review by Tamati Patuwai 23rd Jul 2010

It is rare to see NZ playwrights venture into an imaginary future. So I commend Whiti Hereaka for her bravery in crafting Te Kaupoi; an intriguing look at what is an almost credible prospect with regards to Aotearoa race relations.
The time is in the not too distant and politically volatile future. Mere (Tina Cooke) is a veteran activist who has devoted herself to regenerating the earth with native trees and to living off the land. Her son Zeke, played by Jason Te Kare, begrudgingly lives there too, paying his way with an ambitious Rodeo career. A tense world is drawn as the two roll along in an unhinged and paranoid relationship until one day an unconscious outsider appears on their door step.
Te Kaupoi seems to be a combination of historic and contemporary Maori rebellion, occupation and even the more recent ‘terrorism’ botch up in Te Urewera. In addition to these themes is an almost utopian twist around eco-living and communal idealism.
These ingredients are a potentially flavoursome mix of intrigue, politics and human desire. However the intrigue is never fully realised as fairly complex issues roll out with no clear sense of depth within the play’s structure and characters. As someone who is close to some contentious land and Iwi issues I wanted to see the motivating factors of these characters which are unfortunately never actually revealed. For me this slackened the impact and power of the piece.
Nevertheless the actors are energetic and believable in their work. Kay Smith as the activist sect member Sarah is strong and stands up to her more experienced colleagues. Tina Cooke as always is charming whilst the portrayal of the complex radical leader played by Te Kare is dynamic and intense.

With more attention to detail Te Kaupoi could actually stand as a highly innovative contribution to race politics in our society. My hope is that my brief comments can support another great aspiration to tell Maori stories. I say with regards to what is already there, turn the heat up on the Maori politics, dive deeper into the Maori psyche and this compelling play will go off.
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Cheeky humour escapes from repressive and brutal nz police state

Review by Janet McAllister 23rd Jul 2010

New Zealand has become a police state with no freedom of speech or elections, as virtual war has been declared by the Government against Maori activists. This is excitingly – possibly dangerous – inflammatory material, refreshingly original and daring for homegrown theatre.

Wellington playwright Whiti Hereaka damps down any incendiary political controversy – grievances mentioned are mostly imaginary, future ones – and her provocative scenario becomes the backdrop to more personal drama. Tongariro hosts a terrorist prison, "status cards" get you important privileges – a few more such brutal details of the repressive regime would have been fun, but no matter.

Instead, Te Kaupoi is about the opposing loyalties of being a protester: how can one juggle the conflicting claims of one’s lover, mother, son and movement? [More]
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Best years back

Review by Lynn Freeman 19th Jun 2010

This production feels like a flashback to the best years of Taki Rua, when we were regularly treated to gutsy, meaningful and unashamedly political Maori plays.

Whiti Hereaka integrates the recent so called NZ terror raids, the tendency towards rushing in legislation based on whipped up public panic and talk of abolishing the Maori parliamentary seats in a world set only slightly in the future.
Here Maori who don’t qualify for “status cards” may have their ancestral land back, but are starving. A resistance movement uses often-violent protest methods against the government while at the same time the mysterious Te Kaupoi, a prophet like figure uses radio broadcasts to gather his disenfranchised people to his cause.

Jason te Kare plays Te Kaupoi, brought up to be a prophet and beacon for Maori, as a man with tremendous charisma and emotional frailty, both in equal measure. He is tired of hiding and being starved of food and of company, having only his staunch gun toting mother and the occasional rodeo meeting to ease the isolation.

The arrival of an injured young woman, Sarah, kicks up all kinds of other emotions for both the cowboy and his mother. All three must eventually make choices with far reaching consequences.

It’s hard to believe that Kay Smith who plays the visitor/intruder Sarah, is just a few months out of Toi Whakaari. This is an assured performance, and the chemistry with Te Kare is blistering. Tina Cook as Te Kaupoi’s controlling mother Mere hits the right note as nurturer and jailer.

Hereaka’s writing is so taut and the performances so intense that the 90 minutes running time flies by.

Other writers would need twice as long to pack in half as much content and feeling. Nancy Brunning’s direction is pitch perfect, getting the maximum from her cast of three and the tiny Bats stage.
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History repeats, loudly

Review by Paul Diamond 13th Jun 2010

Te Kaupoi, Whiti Hereaka’s fourth play, is set in ‘the not too distant future,’ in an Aotearoa New Zealand beset with internal terrorism.

The abolition of the Mâori seats led to the unrest, and Mâori who protested against this have been driven underground. These include Mere (Mary) Edwards, played by Tina Cook (in her first Bats appearance for 19 years), living in a remote rural area north of Taupo. Mere’s son, Zeke Edwards (Jason Te Kare) lives nearby, when he’s not taking part in rodeo competitions around the country. 

As the play begins, Sarah Smith (Kay Smith) arrives, battered and bleeding, and is befriended by Mere and Zeke. Gradually, details about Sarah’s identity and how she came to be there emerge. It’s difficult to reveal more without giving away the plot, but newcomer Smith ably portrays the enigmatic Sarah.

We also hear from Te Kaupoi (‘The Cowboy’), a protester responsible for pirate radio broadcasts urging Mâori to unite and fight the restrictive government measures. Te Kaupoi’s broadcasts cut into a chilly state-run station ‘Radio 1—for freedom, fraternity, fidelity’. Te Kaupoi responds with his own critique, prefaced with a dystopian reworking of a pepeha (tribal saying):
“I have no mountain, or land—they have been stolen.
 I have no people—they are scattered.
 I was born of slavery and injustice.
 I am the son of everyone and no one.”

Hereaka cites the 2007 so-called ‘terror raids’ as an influence in this play, which also made me think of other times Mâori were regarded as terrorists in their own country, including the New Zealand Wars and the earlier police raids in the Ureweras leading to the arrest of Rua Kenana and his followers.

Te Kaupoi challenges us to consider what the impact might be if, as some do argue, the Mâori seats were to be abolished. More potent perhaps, are the play’s themes centred around Mâori culture, the essence of being Mâori. Navigating the choices inherent in being Mâori is not an easy, straight-forward business. 

Should Mâori culture be shared? There’s a spooky reference to the lists compiled as part of Treaty settlements being used to round people up to be sent to a terrorist detention camp in Tongariro. Could Mâori culture be used as a weapon? After seeing this play, the ubiquitous taonga worn around the necks of many New Zealanders will never look the same again. 

And yet, this play argues, the culture may be inherently resilient. As Te Kaupoi says in his broadcasts, it’s difficult to arrest and ideal or the protest movement. It’s reminiscent of the whakatauki (proverb): e kore au e ngaro, he kakano i ruia mai i Rangiatea (I shall not be lost, the seed that was sown from Rangiatea). 

In this production, the intimate Bats stage is divided into two areas—Mere’s realm on one side and her son’s on the other. All three actors turn in strong performances. The language in Hereaka’s plays is significant and it was frustrating that sometimes her words were lost when actors raised their voices at each other. Quiet, controlled delivery can be more powerful and effective than loud declamation.

But this is a minor quibble in the 90 minute production which managed to maintain the mounting tension, culminating in the startling revelations about Sarah’s raison d’etre.

The blackboard outside Bats Theatre bills Te Kaupoi as ‘The raunchy new political drama in town’. It’s a fair description.

It feels like a long time since we’ve seen Mâori theatre in Wellington. And now we have Te Kaupoi at Bats and a return season of He Reo Aroha at Circa Two [from 16 June, and the next iteration of Mark Twain & Me in Mâoriland at Downstage from 17 July – ed].

This may mean the drought is over, but in case it doesn’t, fans of Mâori theatre should get along and see both productions. Kia kakama e hoa mâ.  
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Well placed between the Ureweras and Whanganui

Review by John Smythe 13th Jun 2010

I saw the second night of Te Kaupoi and feel it is a significant work that needs more room to breathe and ‘be’ in its space, with itself, in order to invite us in.  

Te Kaupoi may look and feel like a Kiwi version of a Sam Shepard play but it’s about much more than the troubled relationships between three people in a remote part of the North Island’s volcanic plateau, two day’s walk from the nearest town.

The entirely credible premise is that in the not too distant future the Mâori seats have been abolished, subsequent protest action has caused widespread civil unrest, the perpetrators have been branded terrorists and civil liberties have been abandoned. So-called ‘terrorists’ can be tried and found guilty without being arrested. Mâori need to achieve ‘status cards’ in order to avoid being suspected terrorists.

It’s a future fashioned from recent events in the Ureweras and geographically placed between memories of Te Kooti and Rua Kenana to the east, and the Pai Marire (aka Hauhau) to the west. Imagine a government led by Michael Laws and it seems more probable than possible.

As a political play Te Kaupoi focuses on the dynamics between activists and idealists, direct actionists and passive resisters, talkers and doers. As a play about humanity its heart is in the space between love and hatred: love of self, whanau, a partner and one’s fellow human being, including strangers; hatred of people and systems that disenfranchise, disempower, displace – and provoke distrust.

What, then, is to be done? And in considering possible answers, who can you trust (as the poster’s slug line puts it)?

Director Nancy Brunning’s programme note speaks of the rituals of encounter and gathering in large groups and asks what would become of Maori culture if they were supplanted by the paranoia that would be engendered by such legislation. This is the bigger picture that radiates from playwright Whiti Hereaka’s particular attention to her three characters.  

The human need for love seethes beneath their flinty surfaces and their contradictory behaviour in seeking it keeps them – and us – guessing as to what exactly is driving them and what the outcome will be. Meanwhile volcanic outbursts keep punctuating any potential for repose.

Mere Edwards (Tina Cook) is no laid back greenie communing with nature as she plants trees for the next generation. She carries a shotgun and lives in fear that ‘they’ will come and ‘get’ her, as they did her activist husband, who was killed during protest action after she left him to return with their son to the old family homestead and more peaceful ways. As a nurse she seems to have acquired some pretty radical drugs and has no time for the niceties of ‘informed consent’ when administering them because she ‘knows best’.

Her son, Zeke (Jason Te Kare), competes on the rodeo circuit to earn them a living and in the hope of getting the Status Card that will allow him more freedom. He blames his mother for leaving his father and not being more assertive in her activism and he fights his very boyish need for love with ‘being the tough man’ stuff.

The wild card thrown into this diminished family set-up is Sarah (Kay Smith), found by Mere, beaten up, semi-conscious and dumped in the bush. Fear and suspicion transcends the natural urge to tend and nurture but Mere does that anyway, albeit by tying her to the bed and administering the aforementioned drugs.

The questions of who Sarah is and how she came to be there keep arising (why would they not?) and I take it that whatever else emerges to be scrutinised for veracity, her sense of abandonment and displacement – because ‘they’ took her mother and imprisoned her when Sarah was very young – is real. Likewise her entrancement at the unconditional love between Mere and Zeke: a state she has never experienced and now desires more than anything.

Given all this, I feel it’s essential that we get some sense of family life in repose, away from ‘the troubles’, and that the growing love between Sarah and Zeke be given the time and space to evolve as a scarily pleasurable contrast to the fear and anxieties that normally pervade their lives.  

At present, because the short scenes, time jumps and ever-present paranoia put pressure on the forward momentum (and throws everyone into ‘when in doubt shout’ mode), the revelation at the end comes over as ‘this was always the case and anything that seems to contradict it was a conscious and deliberate lie.’ That’s why people say the revelations are predicable.  

[To discuss this further may be a spoiler: you have been warned.]

I don’t think it matters that we quickly guess Zeke the rodeo cowboy is also Te Kaupoi on the radio: the rogue broadcaster spreading his subversive message through the ether. Nor does it matter that who Sarah turns out to be has been clearly flagged (that, after all, is a basic rule of ‘who dunnits’ and thrillers).

What matters is how their coming together and experiencing a quality of love neither has known before changes them, fundamentally. Specifically, we need to find Sarah’s pregnancy credible and a manifestation of a whole new realm of possibility.  

If we believe in the truth of this, the outcomes of sudden reversion to type and summary ‘justice’ predicated on who people might have been before rather than who they are now, leave us with much more to chew on that’s directly relevant to the world we are part of today. [Warning ends]

All three actors do a remarkable job of capturing each dimension of their characters in moments of emotional truth that would register strongly on a big screen, supported with visual language and a subtle sound track. More time and space is needed to draw a live theatre audience in; to engage our empathy and compel us to ask what we would do in each changing circumstance.


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Mother Mere, full of depth

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 13th Jun 2010

Advertised as a politically raunchy drama, the latest production to open at BATS – Te Kaupoi – is all that and more. 

The setting is New Zealand sometime in the future where civil unrest is rife and the country is on the verge of becoming a police state. The government has abolished the Maori seats causing protests and terrorism, stirred up by Te Kaupoi – a DJ on a pirate radio station. In complete contrast to this is the tranquillity of rural headland NZ where tree planting Mere Edwards (Tina Cook) lives with her rodeo cowboy son Zeke (Jason Te Kare). 

Into their midst arrives Sarah (Kay Smith), bloodied and disorientated who nevertheless inveigles her way into their household upsetting the dynamics between mother and son and creating tension and ultimately havoc. 

On one level this is a well constructed and portrayed drama full of intrigue with many twists and turns – is Sarah really who she says she is; what is Zeke’s “little secret”? – while on another level it is about relationships and the clash of ideals when an outside force imposes itself on that of an established family unit. And although the scenario of the play is hypothetical and it would be hoped never arises, there are nevertheless many issues exposed like sovereignty and personnel freedom that surface through the plays many layers that add depth to intrigue of the storyline. 

While the production takes some time to establish itself and the cinematic structure of the many short scenes initially hinders the flow of the production, once the actors settle into their roles the tension develops and it becomes gripping and engaging. 

Jason Te Kare’s makes a good cowboy in his role as Zeke, his inner turmoil obviously seething below the surface until his relationship with Sarah changes everything. 

In the role of Sarah, Kay Smith portrays well the duplicity of her role: contained, controlled and never allowing the real self of the character to be exposed. 

But it is Tina Cook as the mother Mere that steals the show, her honesty and the authenticity of her pain in why she is living in the country and when everything breaks down is real and telling. 

Under the direction of Nancy Brunning this new and highly entertaining play by Whiti Hereaka is full of action with many surprises yet also thought provoking and well worth watching. 
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Worth seeing despite flaws

Review by Helen Sims 11th Jun 2010

Te Kaupoi commences with a presentation of diverse images – a backlit rodeo rider, a woman with a kete and a gun, and a young woman lying moaning on the ground after a beating. The clipped voice of the radio news announcer of Radio One, “for freedom, fraternity and fidelity” updates the concerned public on the latest in the battle against Maori terrorists. The woman with the gun finds the beaten woman and takes her in. A long haired cowboy lassoes a metal drum.

The connections between the three people are quickly, if incompletely, established. The woman with the gun is Mere/Mary Edwards (Tina Cook), a former political activist and mother to the cowboy, Zeke (Jason Te Kare). They live in isolation, ostensibly self sufficient and out of reach of the authoritarian government – but within radio coverage. Their radio broadcasts oscillate between Radio One’s official propaganda and the outlawed messages of ‘Te Kaupoi’, urging “the people” to reclaim their voice and their rights.

Mere and Zeke live in a state of tense but peaceful standoff, both angry with the other over the past. This is represented beautifully and simply by Tony de Goldi’s set design, which places a room of Mere’s house on one side of the stage, in opposition to Zeke’s camp on the other side. Beams stretching out from both structures suggest the connection between them and are evocative of the ‘ribs’ of a meeting house.

It emerges that Mere brought Zeke to this isolated spot somewhere in the Central North Island to protect him from the government’s crackdown on Maori. Protest is illegal, meetings are forbidden and most Maori are deemed terrorists. She believes they live outside the law, as they don’t have the status cards needed to travel and access goods and services legitimately. Mere plants trees for the future generation. Her son believes this to be a worthless endeavour and makes money in the rodeo.

Zeke is initially deeply suspicious of the mysterious young woman (Kay Smith) his mother is caring for. She identifies herself as Sarah Smith and says she was part of a group trying to break Maori protesters out of a prison in Tongariro. The other members of the group were arrested at their rendezvous point – Sarah never made it. She says she was beaten unconscious and left for dead. Zeke thinks she is a spy from the army, a Maori collaborator with the government. Sarah sets out to prove her commitment to the anti-government movement.

The bulk of the first thirty minutes of the play is devoted to relaying this complicated background. The radio broadcasts provide a welcome respite from the angry exchanges of the characters. Multiple themes are tossed into debate – freedom, restraint, community, family, rights, fate, sovereignty… The need to relay all of the information leads to some stilted dialogue.

Also, the default setting of the actors seems to be to shout. This, combined with the use of blackouts between even very short scenes, serves to strip the play of much needed pace and variety in tone. The result is that the play often feels heavy handed, rather than heavy-hitting.

This brings me to my primary critique of this play – it feels like playwright Whiti Hereaka has sacrificed story and characterisation in pursuit of political message. Whilst the play comprehensively creates an interesting and frightening vision of New Zealand in the not-so-distant-future and the politics of the play are crystal clear, the thin plot cannot really sustain engagement over 90 minutes.

The characters become largely symbolic after the initial flurry of backstory.  The revelations and twists are highly predictable and frustrating. I wondered if that may be the point – that society has advanced to a point where the fate of these characters is inevitable – but this does not seem to be consistent with the bulk of the play.

In addition, although one level of Hereaka’s thought and research into the delicate balance of rights, law and social contract theory that preserves a right to protest is clear, she doesn’t seem to have fully engaged with post-colonial theory that challenges the use of concepts such as rights and sovereignty as inherently racist and exclusive.

Despite these weaknesses, there is much of interest in this production. The design is uniformly excellent, and Jason Te Kare puts in a strong performance as Zeke, “the action man who has done nothing”. Tina Cook also portrays some lovely moments of regretful nostalgia. Kay Smith’s relative inexperience is often evident, as Sarah’s sullenness sometimes crosses over into woodenness.  

It’s rare to see such overtly political home-grown dramas – for this reason, Te Kaupoi is worth seeing, despite its flaws.
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