Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland

09/03/2016 - 14/03/2016

Te Papa: Soundings, Wellington

01/03/2016 - 05/03/2016

Q Theatre, 305 Queen St, Auckland

25/10/2017 - 04/11/2017

Auckland Arts Festival 2016

New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2016

Production Details

“A modern parable, part-Fellini, part-Beckett, part-Dalí and with more than a little Laurel and Hardy” – Metro on 360 – A Theatre of Recollections

A policeman, a priest and a blind man look for clues that will lead them to the missing playwright Bruce Mason. Where has he gone? What made him leave his desk and vanish into the night? And what is that seagull at the window trying to say? 

For all of Te Pō’s odd characters, finding Mason has become a matter of life, death and catching a big fish.

Te Pō is an eloquent and surprising comedy punctuated by Māori showband songs. It’s about searching for someone you have loved and lost and finding them again. 

From the same out-of-the-box team that produced the award-winning 360 – a theatre of recollections, including writer Carl Bland and director Ben Crowder, Te Pō leaves no theatrical stone unturned in its mission to give us a unique view of the world. 

Find something to hook your heart on at this original, extraordinary and moving show. 

Soundings Theatre, Te Papa
Tuesday 01 Mar – Saturday 05 Mar, 7.30pm
The performance on Thursday 3 March at 7.30pm will be New Zealand Sign Language Interpreted.
Adult $69.00
1hr 25mins (no interval) 

Auckland Arts Festival 2016
Q Rangatira
Wed 9 – Sat 12 March 2016, 8:00pm
Sun 13 March 2016, 1:30pm & 7:30pm
Mon 14 March 2016, 6:30pm
1hr 25mins no interval
Price $39 – $59 

Please note: This show includes themes that touch on violence, death, love and loss, and religion.

“…flawless” (Simon Wilson, Metro)

“Everything in the production comes together perfectly… This is imaginative and ambitious theatre, unafraid to ask the big questions, probing the nature of existence and grief. Reminding us that life can be funny and sad, meaningless and significant, universal and personal, all at the same time.” (James Wenley, Theatre Scenes)

“… inventive and intelligent… an incredibly satisfying experience.” (John Daly-Peoples, NBR Business Review)

Q Theatre Rangatira
Wednesday Oct 25 to Saturday Nov 4 2017
7 pm: Mon –Tue
8pm: Weds – Sat
No show Sunday
$25-$60 (booking fees may apply)

Werihe:  George Henare (2016); Rāwiri Paratene (2017)
Athol Sedgwick:  Carl Bland
Det. Insp. Brett:  Andrew Grainger
Boy:  Max Cumberpatch

Designer:  Andrew Foster
Costume Designer:  Elizabeth Whiting
Lighting Designer:  Nik Janiurek
Puppeteer:  Milo Cawthorne
Sound Designer:  John Gibson
Producer:  Louise Gallagher 

Production animals designed, created and sponsored by Main Reactor.

Theatre ,

1hr 30min (2016); 1hr 10min (2017)

An eloquent, enjoyable mind bend about the imagination, art, belief, the darkness and the light

Review by Kathleen Mantel 26th Oct 2017

In the beginning, there is darkness.  

Te Pō has returned to Auckland after its successful production two years ago at the Auckland Arts Festival.   

The show opens in style with a resplendent rendition of a John Rowles classic performed by Rāwiri Paratene. 

Playwright Bruce Mason has gone missing and Inspector Brett (Andrew Grainger) is searching for clues to his disappearance in the writer’s study.  Werihe (Rāwiri Paratene) is already there, sitting patiently waiting for Mason’s return.  Reverend Sedgwick (Carl Bland) enters, also looking for the writer.  The reverend needs Mason to bring his wife back to life, to change time. 

Te Pō is a detective story, a search for truth on many levels. What is real, and what is imaginary.  How central is faith in our lives – faith in god, life, humanity, and in ourselves? Te Pō is a comedy about love and loss and grief. 

Carl Bland’s writing is extraordinary and each sentence is a treat.  Throughout the play Bland repeatedly and unashamedly turns the theatrical conventions of theatre on their heads.  He mixes surrealism with Stoppard, absurdism with bawdy Shakespearean soliloquies, slapstick with Tolstoy and Beckett, while constantly playing with the audience’s grasp of the truth. 

Director Ben Crowder manages to retain a consistency and authenticity in the production as he weaves these seemingly disparate elements through it. The performance of the 3 main actors is a joy to watch and the synergy between them is tangible. 

Theatre all round maverick Andrew Foster’s production design is exceptional.  The set – Mason’s modernist writer’s study with its concrete block walls and round window – is multi-functional, interesting to look at, and full of surprises.  The altering of the space part way through is stunning use of a simple device that provides an almost out of body experience, and perfectly complements the theme of the play.

Bruce Mason is one of New Zealand’s most beloved playwrights and Te Pō is a homage to his work.  It is also a nod to art and imagination in general and theatre’s ability to take an audience to another place.  The artist, unlike a human, can imagine any sort of world and bring it to life.  The writer has control over their art, who lives, who loves, and who doesn’t.

Bland wrote Te Pō after the death of his partner and long-term collaborator Peta Rutter.  The final mesmerising reinterpretation of big Mary was written by Rutter.  It is the end, and it is the beginning.  It is magnificent. 

Te Pō is an eloquent, enjoyable mind bend about the imagination, art, belief, the darkness and the light.   Grief can be a confusing darkness, black like the night.  But like the night, grief is a cycle running in its own time, and Te Ao Mārama, the light, will always come.


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Being and Nothingness

Review by Nathan Joe 14th Mar 2016

There’s something exciting about a play that starts off behind a curtain. Not only is it delightfully old-fashioned, but it also fills the audience with anticipation of what’s to come. Expectations are raised and you can bet we’re expecting to be wowed. So when the curtain is finally pulled back and we see Bruce Mason’s study, I’m not quite blown away, but I am incredibly impressed. And that seems to reflect how I feel about the show as a whole, a play that doesn’t quite connect with me on a personal level, doesn’t quite move me, but is inarguably made with impeccable craftsmanship.

Described as a play about grief by writer Carl Bland, Te Pō starts off as a comedic detective story, as three characters wait and search for our very own late, great playwright Bruce Mason and then evolves into an existential search for their own identities. And like any good absurdist play, little actually happens over the course of the show. [More]


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Close attention is rewarded with wonderful moments of delight

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 14th Mar 2016

In this fantastical Kiwi detective story, Carl Bland’s musings on truth and loss are framed as “three men in search of a playwright”. On the Case of the Missing Bruce Mason, we have policeman Andrew Grainger, priest Bland and blind man George Henare.

It’s old-school yet surreal – both the set and script pay homage to fourth-wall drama while casually transcending it. [More


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Mixes fact with fiction to create an entertaining whole

Review by Ewen Coleman 14th Mar 2016

At first, Carl Bland’s new play Te Po, playing at Te Papa’s Soundings Theatre, appears to be an ordinary detective story, but as it progresses it becomes evident that the play and its storyline is anything but usual, mixing fact with fiction and involving an icon of New Zealand playwrighting, Bruce Mason.

But we never actually see Mason in person, although we do hear his eloquent tones reciting pieces from his The End Of The Golden Weather.

The reason for this is that he has gone missing [More


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Funny, sad and full of life

Review by Heidi North 10th Mar 2016

Te Pō is at once a homage to playwright Bruce Mason and a comedy about grief. This seems an uneasy premise, and it is. But that’s what grief is like – and what Te Pō is like: it refuses to conform to the idea of what it should be doing, gleefully breaking the rules of theatre, bending time, and asking us to consider the question of fact vs fiction. The result is funny, baffling and quite engaging.

A very New Zealand tale – beaches, childhood, an old Maori man, loss and love – Carl Bland’s Te Pō is at first a detective story. Eminent NZ playwright Bruce Mason is missing. It falls to Detective Inspector Brett (Andrew Grainger), riddled with self-doubt, to solve the mystery by questioning both Reverend Sedgwick (Carl Bland), a priest who’s losing his faith, and an old blind Maori man, Werihe (George Henare).

Bland’s tale may, at first, seem simple, but like everything in this moving feast, it’s not. The play starts by breaking the fourth wall, and time and space seem to contract and expand. While you’re grappling with that, other bizarre happenings begin to occur on the seemingly ‘ordinary’ and quite lovely box study set, and you realise, along with Detective Inspector Brett, that that’s exactly the point.

Slowly, the idea of the way grief plays tricks on time starts to emerge, along with the theme of fact versus fiction.

Each character comes from a Mason play, rooted wonderfully in that time, with fabulous costumes by Elizabeth Whiting to match. While the characters may have their genesis in Mason’s work, the slapstick and sense of irreverence of Te Pō is all Bland.

Having said that, there is a rawness of grief here that peeks through in some electric moments. It’s a brave move of Bland to place himself in the widower priest’s shoes as it’s no secret that Te Pō (which means ‘the night’, and which seems to be referencing the place we came from and will all return to), is in part a refraction of Bland’s response to his partner and collaborator Peta Rutter’s sudden death in 2010. But he does it well, playing Reverend Sedgwick with lightless and comedy.

Between scenes, the immensely watchable George Henare wears a stylistically challenged satin jacket and sings Maori band tunes. There are gorgeous puppets and a tragi-comic soliloquy reimagining the Virgin Mary.

Director Ben Crowder has pulled together a slick production carefully accentuated with sound, design and costuming.

Te Pō is an interesting piece of theatre, funny, sad and full of life.


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A richly entertaining experience

Review by John Smythe 02nd Mar 2016

Carl Bland’s existential, absurdist and increasingly surreal comedy is named for the darkness, the underworld, the place where the souls of the dead reside: Te Pō.  

Nothing engenders an existential crisis quite so profoundly as the death of a dearly loved partner, one without whom you feel incomplete, whose permanent absence is almost incomprehensible. It makes you want to believe in an afterlife where loved ones are reunited. It makes you confront your own mortality in rather unusual ways.

Bland is open about the fact that this play arises from the grief he has experienced since the premature death (from a brain tumour) of his partner and Nightsong Productions collaborator Peta Rutter in July 2010, just a few months after their play 360 premiered at the NZ International Arts Festival. But it was two years later, was when he was playing Detective Inspector Brett in Bruce Mason’s Awatea with the Auckland Theatre Company, that he found a way to dramatise his existential crisis.

Also in Awatea were George Henare, in the pivotal role of Werihe Paku, and Andrew Granger as Sergeant Jameson. The idea that evolved is not so much ‘Three Characters in Search of Their Author’ as ‘Waiting for Bruce Mason’, although it is Tom Stoppard’s plays – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, for example – that I hear echoes of in Te Pō’s metaphysical questioning of existence. As for the surreal touches … I need to be circumspect about them but they are something else again – and an ideal fit for director Ben Crowder.

The setting is Bruce Mason’s study, imagined and apparently realistically designed by Andrew Foster in 1970s style: concrete brick back wall featuring a circular window; varnished wooden bookshelves, fully stacked; a desk with typewriter, papers, phone and a brick; art works, posters (including the iconic Graham Percy one for The End of the Golden Weather); a piano and chairs …

While I must avoid spoilers, perhaps I could go so far as to say a number of elements in the set become somewhat animated.  And there is a brilliant juxtaposition of Mason’s twin passions: writing and piano playing … (say no more).

It is in Mason’s study that Werihe Paku, Det Inspector Brett and the Reverend Athol Sedwick (from Mason’s seminal work The Pohukawa Tree) converge.

Werihe – reprised by George Henare somewhat sprightlier and less blind than the old man was in Omoana – “has an appointment”. Brett, who is investigating Bruce Mason’s disappearance, is now played by Andrew Granger, with more angst and energy, and less urbanity than Mason gave him. Carl Bland takes the role of Sedgwick, who had dinner with Mason last night and has returned to find the text of a sermon he’s left behind.  

Bruce Mason himself, in voice-over, also performs excerpts from The End of the Golden Weather (the recording made shortly before his death, I take it, where cancer of the jaw necessitated his holding up one side of his face to achieve articulation). His voice makes manifest a manuscript Brett discovers, which sets him on a futile quest to discover the whereabouts of ‘Te Parenga’.  

Having written the recently-published book The Plays of Bruce Mason – a survey (VUP & Playmarket), and seen and reviewed the ATC productions of The Pohutukawa Tree, The End of the Golden Weather and Awatea, I have a familiarity with Mason, his plays and his characters that Bland and his team cannot expect all in their audiences to share. Fortunately I judge such specialised knowledge to be less necessary here than knowing your Hamlet when seeing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (although those plays are often produced in parallel).

Indeed too much learning could be a disadvantage in that those who know Awatea well will realise Bland has taken a large slice of artistic licence in deciding Werihe and 12 year-old Bruce chatted on a daily basis that summer at Takapuna Beach (aka Te Parenga). And here I can say – given he is credited in the programme – that Max Cumberpatch plays ‘Boy’ with intelligent flair.

The esoterica of the premise is not a problem because Te Pō is really, as indicated above, about grief and the existential questions it provokes. This aligns with the question of whether a person created in fiction any less real than someone living. Or dead for that matter. And when linear time also comes into question, the existential stakes are raised even higher.

Lest I have made this sound too cerebral or serious, rest assured the play and production are readily accessible. Comedy-of-angst is joined by a recurring slapstick routine that likewise arises from deep-felt emotions.  

Then there are the surreal elements which I cannot detail. Suffice to say the major one extends itself to great effect, magically drawing us into to an empathetic experience of returning consciousness. The work of Main Reactor in designing and constructing the Animals, and Ella Beecroft in operating them, is extremely memorable.

John Gibson’s music and sound design, Nik Janiurek’s lighting and Elizabeth Whiting’s sometime surprising costumes (Rev Sedgwick in a purple suit and green sneakers?) all add to the rich dynamics of the Ben Crowder-directed production.

Of course it is the three central performances that ensure the play works a treat. Henare, Grainger and Bland honour the ostensible crime story dynamic while hitting all their emotional marks to ensure the play’s true import prevails and the comical moments erupt. What begins as a four-square box set play soon reveals itself as entertainingly unpredictable and the alacrity with which the actors navigate its contours ensures we trust it and enjoy the ride.

Actually, I lie – about how it begins, I mean. It opens with George Henare channelling John Rowles with the first of a number of saccharine but heartfelt love songs; the sort you may cringe at until something happens in your life that makes them suddenly insightful. They do seem a bit tacked on and I can’t help but wonder if they’re there to give the backstage crew time behind the curtain (yes, there is a curtain!) but they are fun all the same.

Likewise the last of what feels like a number of endings: the sermon (written by the late Peta Rutter). While its importance to Sedgwick is flagged throughout the play, and it’s very funny, it doesn’t feel like an epilogue to what has gone before. It stands alone as a tribute to Rutter and what has been lost with her passing, and as such it must be respected.  

The flimsy black plastic used as a backdrop to the beach scene is distracting, especially when I think the idea is that this is the titular darkness and pinpricks of starlight are supposed to shine through. Hopefully a better solution will be found when it transfers to the Auckland Arts Festival in a week’s time.

Such quibbles aside, Te Pō is a richly entertaining experience.


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