Te Tapa Toru

BATS Theatre, Wellington

13/02/2006 - 16/02/2006

NZ Fringe Festival 2006

Production Details

Written, produced and directed by Challen Wilson


An intimate journey of three vivacious wahine and a cultural awakening for all. Established through many mediums – theatrical drama, contemporary dance, Karetao ‘puppetry’ and multimedia projections.

Kiritapu Lyndsay Allan
Maria Walker
Sopa Enari
Terri Te Tau
Teanau Tuiono

Set designer Mark William
Costume designer Sarah Riley-Curtis
Visual and technical director Sam LaHood

Contemporary dance , Puppetry , Theatre , Dance-theatre ,

50 mins

Concrete to mystical

Review by Lynn Freeman 22nd Feb 2006

Te Tapa Toru is the first stage project for writer/director Challen Wilson. Four years of work and a film crew travelling the country to capture the images that first inspired the play – cherry trees, Te Horo marae, trains, sea – went into the work. That work and thought is very much evident in the production, which, the notes tell us, explores Wilson’s "understanding of whanau, culture and identity".

Ellen, invested with tremendous confidence by Kiritapu Lyndsay Allan,is alienated from her Maori roots, something Maria Walker’s sympathetic Jo tries hard to put right. Sopa Enari’s Sam is an almost zen-like figure. Their friendship represents bigger things but the sudden change from the concrete to the mystical right at the end of the play is totally mystifying.

There are some great touches though – a mischievous tui (Terri Te Tau) and old/young soldier (Teanau Tuiono) sit to the side, reacting to the onstage action and occasionally taking centrestage. Most of the cast doesn’t seem to have a lot of acting experience and it shows, but they’re not helped by lots of scene changes and multi-media elements, which give a frustrating stop-start feeling to the production.


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Youthful quest overblown

Review by John Smythe 14th Feb 2006

The opening video sequence is promising. What seems to be a sea of blood turns out to evoke birth. Out of pain comes new life. As a summary of where we are headed this is the contemporary techno-equivalent of the ancient tradition of dumb show.

Challen Wilson’s Te Tapa Toru, about a triangle of adolescent friendships, is a work of naïve passion, commitment and innocence from a talent yet to comprehend how stories work. It may look and sound like a play, delivered with a stylish blend of physical moves and cool banter (too often too hard to comprehend), while the ubiquitous Tupuna off to the side remain so connected to the central action they could be somehow directing it.

But the component parts do not accumulate into a satisfying whole. This is not a cultural thing. Maori myth, song and kapa haka adhere to the same principles of inherent cohesion that apply to stories told around the globe throughout history. They add up to more than the sum of their parts: that’s what makes them stories.

That said, Wilson’s characters are well observed. Kiritapu Lyndsay Allan infuses Ellen with authentic defensive wit and angst as she weathers the tempests of adolescence and cultural dislocation. Sopa Enari’s artistic Sam is gently afloat in his parallel universe. Maria Walker hangs in there as their more grounded and sorely tested friend, Jo.

Terri Te Tau and Teanau Tuiono, as the black-clad Kuia (who might also be a huia) and the WW2-uniformed Koro respectively, enrich proceedings with a prologue, an epilogue and other insertions in te reo.

Amid the many scenes that may well be sourced in actual experience, a core tale emerges. Trying to make it in the material world – in a fast food outlet, I think – is doing Ellen’s head in, cherry picking on the coast seems like a better option, but staying on a marae for the first time confronts her with her inadequacies. Meanwhile Sam has a dream that takes him off to see a sick uncle – which creates confusion when Koro (who I’ve taken to be a long-gone tupuna) steps into the role, uniform and all.

Dressing all three friends identically in light pyjama-like tunics (designed by Sarah Riley-Curtis) is also confusing. It’s not a futuristic sci-fi story. They don’t have to play multiple roles. What does it mean to dress them this way?

Mark William’s set design features a splendid dead tree that could well have given up waiting for Godot only to gasp for life on some polluted pavement in Auckland. The more realistic video sequences (visual and technical director, Sam LaHood) help relocate the action, evoke the joys of cherry-picking and capture the trials of highway hitch-hiking.

The girl’s realisation they are heading the wrong way (back to Auckland) – they should be supporting their friend Sam – is cleverly handled when they cross the road and get a ride immediately. But trying to pass off the coincidence of their being dropped off right outside the unknown uncle’s house as some kind of spiritual intervention is way too convenient and contrived for me.

That’s not the only time the writer manipulates the action to solve one problem without taking responsibility for the consequences. She has them at the marae on Christmas day, for example, without any reference to whanau or the usual rituals like exchanging gifts (what kind of friends are these?). Why? Just so Jo can give an unembarrassed Ellen a diary into which, conveniently, she can write her secret thoughts (also spoken aloud, of course) and Sam can jot his mobile number.

Back in the city the pressures of work finally overcome Ellen, who has been promoted to assistant manager. She freaks out, renders a cathartic, rebirthing karanga and returns to the cherry orchard (could this be a riposte to Chekhov’s landed gentry being evicted by progress?). Finally an archly poetic coda asserts the three friends equate to the three baskets of knowledge and now, in unity, they have the strength to move onward.

For me – whose own adolescence and idealism remain clear in the emotional memory – Te Tapa Toru is an over-blown attempt to dramatise the classic quest for identity, values and belonging. It wants to be a rite of passage story but falls short because it is too loose, too unfocused and, when it comes down to it, too ordinary. The stakes are not high enough and (think Stand By Me) the experience is not distilled enough.

The programme notes reveal Challen Wilson is exploring many means of artistic self-expression. May this experience prove a major stepping stone towards her choosing one to master.


Anonymous February 15th, 2006

Lets hope that more up and coming playwrights spend less time listening to critics like you and more time following their instincts and the applause of the audience. You obviously failed to grasp even the simplest of ideas in this play.

John Smythe February 15th, 2006

Since I took the time to articulate my response as clearly and fairly as possible, it should be quite easy for you to point out exactly where I've gone wrong. Perhaps you could start with "the simplest ideas in this play" that I have failed to grasp. I am always ready to be challenged and learn from it. Are you?

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