Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

13/06/2017 - 17/06/2017

Matariki Festival 2017

Production Details

Playwright: Cian Elyse Waitī – Te Arawa, Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa
Director: Te Kohe Tūhaka – Ngāti Porou

It’s 1962 and Te Puhi Johnson has just been crowned Miss New Zealand, the first Māori wahine to receive the prestigious title. The reluctant beauty queen only entered the pageant after being convinced by her sister, to help raise money for her whānau’s kapa haka group.

Five years on, Te Puhi is living in London, a successful singer on the hip West End.  An urgent letter arrives from home prompting a hasty return to Rotorua, where Te Puhi and her whānau must deal with the fallout from her long absence.

The inspiring coming of age story by Cian Elyse Waitī is an homage to the first Māori beauty queens, Maureen Kingi, Moana Whaanga (Nee Manley) and Cian’s own aunty Keita White, who used their unique platform to promote Māori in a positive light.

Emerging playwright, Waitī, currently stars in hit TV show 800 Words. The celebrated cast includes Roimata Fox (The Ring Inz, The Pā Boys), Eds Eramiha (Mahana) and Taupunakohe Tocker (Pūkana, I AM TV) as Te Puhi.  This world premiere is directed by Te Kohe Tuhaka.

“Te Puhi explores themes around what it is to be successful, from a Māori perspective, and today (with people being so stretched that the concept of whānau is being left behind) it feels more universally relevant than ever.’’- Briar Grace Smith.

Finalist – Best Play, 2016 Playmarket Adam Awards.

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre
12 JUN – 17 JUN 2017
$15.00 – $30.00

Te Puhi is part of Matariki 2017

Cast and crew
Eds Eramiha – Ngā puhi
Roimata Fox - Ngāti Porou
Taupunakohe Tocker - Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Tainui, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Maniapoto & Ngāti Raukawa
Antonio Te Maioha - Ngāpuhi & Tainui
Sophie Lindsay 

Designer: Jane Hakaraia

Theatre , Te Ao Māori ,

1 hr 40 mins

Te Puhi definitely a beauty

Review by Dione Joseph 16th Jun 2017

Te Puhi, written by Cian Elyse Waiti, delves deep into family politics against the background of an iconic moment in our history: the crowning of the first Maori beauty queen in New Zealand.

It’s Rotorua in the early 1960s and Hineruhi Johnson (Roimata Fox) has been prepping her baby sister, Te Puhi (Taupunakohe Tocker) for the Miss New Zealand pageant. Eager to please her big sis and help out the whanau the younger Johnson sister puts in the hard yards to achieve the perfect mix of “not too Maori” and “not too Pakeha” – and successfully walks away with the title. [More


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Chuckles and tears for a different time

Review by Nikau Hindin 14th Jun 2017

Classic 60s music plays to the chittering audience, in the sold out Herald Theatre. Surrounded by whānau we sit excitedly for Cian Waitī’s Te Puhi – directed by Te Kohe Tūhaka – to begin.

Edmund Eramiha as Rākei Johnson is fierce in the cool dappled light as he leads the haka pohiri, a Māori welcome by Rotorua’s finest: Te Marama concert group. Rākei performs the wero, the challenge, to one of the male audience members sitting in front row, who stands to pick up the taki, allowing the performance to begin.

Kotiro in piupiu and tama in maro are all smiles and pūkana as they take the stage singing Te Arawa waiata. It is as if we are their tourist audience in Rotorua in 1962, showing up to goggle at Te Māori.

In his flashy silver suit, Antonio Te Maioha as Uncle Tūhawaiki Johnson, is a true charismatic showman who explains Māori traditional ways. “These are poi” – the girls flick them expertly with their wrists – “they depict the flight patterns of birds and insects… and this is our ancient Māori instrument called the Kū-tā.” The groupparts with a big grin to present the two female guitarists claiming these taonga as their own.

It is a stage show within a stage show as we are inserted into the play from the perspective of a group tourists watching this ‘exotic’ performance.  

From stage to home, the six white viscose dividers spin to reveal a side cabinet, coat rack, and dressing table. We are in the warm whare of Hineruhi Johnson, played by Roimata Fox, and we can almost smell her homemade vanilla sponge.

Hine is drilling Te Puhi, played by Taupunakohe Tocker, in the ways of a Beauty Queen but the reluctant Queen-to-be is more concerned with her grumbling puku than her posture! There is wonderful play on language, as the sisters weave in and out of Māori, Pākehā and transliterations. “Mai te tope!” (From the top!) Hine barks and easy laughter flows from the audience.

Te Puhi practices her speech which first is “too Māori”and then “too Pākehā”. The sisters are ever compromising their Māoriness to the tastes of Pākeha. At the beginning it is obvious Te Puhi is much more at ease in te ao Māori than the world of pageantry she is being thrust into. Nevertheless she smiles brightly and obediently, trying her best for her whanau. Tocker is the perfect Beauty Queen: humble, earnest, naive, shy but with a wicked sense of humour, which emerges when she playfully interacts with Rākei, her sweetheart.

Dressed like a wee pink meringue with her proper New Zealand English accent, Judith, played by Sophie Lindsay, presents a resounding contrast to Hine and Te Puhi. She makes up for her petite physique with vigorous energy as she strides around the stage and at one point, even jumps into the audience. Without a husband or children or other such “hobbies”, the Beauty Queen minder has no idea of tikanga Māori as she mistakenly places her hair brush on the kitchen table. Cringing, the sisters attempt to subtly remove the hairbrush without offending Judith.

Meanwhile, Te Puhi is cluelessly curtsying and Hine is censoring their flirtatious and dirt-covered Uncle Sis (Tuhawaiki). This humorous table-hair brush dance paints an unsettling picture of the Māori-Pākehā relations in the 1960s and lightly draws attention to the struggle ‘assimilation’ posed for Māori trying to navigate these two worlds.

Waiata propel the plot forward and deepen our emotional experience. With a talented cast of vocalists, the voice becomes a powerful tool and intensifies the atmosphere. Heartbreak moments become more heart-wrenching as Tocker flawlessly harmonises with Fox and Eramiha. In duets with both, their voices intertwine, melodically solidifying their bond.

The play is punctuated by haka. The electrifying climatic haka follows the collapse of Hine, sends shivers through the audience. Kua hinga te tōtara i te wao nui a Tāne. The haka is cathartic, cleansing and re-establishes order. Te Puhi realises what is important again: he whanau, he ukaipō – Family is home.

Fox sets the bar in her gravitas performance, encompassing her character as mother figure to her sister and poutokomanwa of her whānau. Tocker too sustains a captivating performance as she struggles with homesickness; tears are never far away.

It is wonderful to see strong Māori women monopolise the stage, down to the two female guitarists (a role usually male-dominated). Impressive debut playwright Cian Elyse Waitī transports us to a different time and sheds light on the political landscape for Māori in the 60s. I warn you though, tears will be shed as well as plenty of chuckles and fittingly, you won’t be able to take your eyes off our first Māori beauty Queen.


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