Te Pou Theatre, 44a Portage Road, New Lynn, Auckland

17/08/2017 - 19/08/2017

ONEONESIX - 116 Bank Street, Whangarei

22/08/2017 - 23/08/2017

Mangere Arts Centre, Auckland

07/09/2017 - 09/09/2017

Otamatea Repertory Theatre, Maungaturoto,

15/09/2017 - 15/09/2017

Rawene Hall,

16/09/2017 - 16/09/2017

Turner Centre, 43 Cobham Road, Kerikeri

17/09/2017 - 17/09/2017

Kaipara College, Helensville, Auckland

29/09/2017 - 30/09/2017

Production Details

Written by Naomi Bartley
Director: Chris Molloy

Dramaturge: Murray Edmond

February 1963. The Queen was visiting for Waitangi Day celebrations. Keen to support a local kaumātua who was to receive a special honour from Her Royal Highness, a bus load of Helensville locals went north to join the festivities at Waitangi. On the journey home, the bus lost its brakes and despite the driver’s best efforts the bus went careening over a 30 metre ravine. 

15 people were killed, many of them from the small town on the banks of the Kaipara Harbour. To this day it remains New Zealand’s worst road accident. 

Te Waka Huia is a play inspired by the crash. It is a fictional tribute to those who died and to those who have lived with the loss ever since.  Playwright Naomi Bartley who has spent years in Helensville, only heard of the accident for the first time nearly seven years ago after a conversation with a friend in the supermarket. Intrigued by the story, she then spoke to some of the survivors and whanāu members of those who died or were injured to help her learn more about the accident and its lasting effects. 

“I have always wanted this play to honour their story and perhaps provide a healing space for other local whānau who have lived with the loss all their lives.”

The play begins its season on 17 August at Te Pou Theatre, New Lynn before going to Mangere, then on a tour of Northland that loosely follows the original route of the bus from Waitangi to Helensville. 

Director Chris Molloy says “it’s great to be able to be able to bring such high quality theatre to communities who don’t often get it.” 

Naomi Bartley says another intention of the tour is to gather collective memories of the accident, “for instance, from the first responders from Maungaturoto and the hospital staff from Whangarei.” 

But the performances she’s most looking forward to are the two final shows on 29 and 30 September at Kaipara College in Helensville. 

“This project started nearly five years ago after I had the opportunity to talk to two local survivors from the crash, Louis and Pirangi Nathan,” she says. “I have always wanted this play to honour their story and perhaps provide a healing space for other local whānau who have lived with the loss all their lives.”

Visit:  https://www.facebook.com/TeWakaHuiaTheatre/

Preview: https://youtu.be/GsMB9Y-JmaI

Reviews: “We knew nothing of this tragedy until seeing the play, and it really highlighted a historically important event. We felt Naomi dealt with the subject with great empathy and care. The acting by the four readers was marvellous, and really brought the characters to life. We felt privileged to view this reading and I think it crystallised the loss and grief that many people felt.” – Nicholas Ward, Helensville

“As one who is not so much into the performing arts, nor movies, I still found myself captivated by the Te Waka Huia reading. It was clearly a very “simple performance” compared to a full blown play yet it reflected a deep, cleverly written story line that held a wonderful balance of meaningfulness and well scripted humour…both informative and entertaining as it cut to the heart.” – Geoff Smith, Waimauku

“My wife and I attended the reading of Te Waka Huia and were extremely impressed by not only the performance itself, but the brilliant way the play had been written to help raise awareness of the tragic events that occurred in February 1963 and help a community continue to grieve those lost. The play was sensitive to the whānau involved; rich with metaphor; creatively written; evoked a wonderful array of emotion; and will no doubt go a long way to help the community heal after such tragic loss. I cannot endorse it highly enough!” – Samuel Schuurman, Kumeu

Tour Dates & Venues: 

Te Pou Tokomanawa Theatre, New Lynn 
August 17-19, 8pm 
Tickets $20, Concession $15.
Book at iticket.co.nz. 

Māngere Arts Centre, Ngā Tohu o Uenuku, Māngere 
September 7-9, 8pm
Tickets $15, Concession $10.
Book at eventfinda.co.nz. 

Otamatea Repertory Theatre, Maungaturoto 
September 15, 8pm
Tickets $20, Concession $15.
Book at iticket.co.nz. 

Rawene Hall, Hokianga 
September 16, 8pm 
Tickets $20, Concession $15.
Book at iticket.co.nz. 

Turner Centre, Kerikeri 
September 17, 8pm 
Tickets $20, Concession $15.
Book at turnercentre.co.nz. 

ONEONESIX, Whangarei 
September 22-23, 8pm 
Tickets $20, Concession $15.
Book at iticket.co.nz. 

Kaipara College, Helensville 
September 29-30, 8pm 
Tickets $20, Concession $15.
Book at iticket.co.nz   

Cast: Chye-Ling Huang, Junior Misomoa, Isaac Te Reina & Retts Van Dam

Theatre ,

The wairua of the production is conveyed with care

Review by Tamati Patuwai 20th Sep 2017

A waka huia is an elaborately carved ornament that is typically crafted to carry a precious item of some kind. The term waka refers to a carriage whether it is a water or land vessel. A Huia is a now extinct native bird of New Zealand.  The tail feather of the Huia was highly regarded and was worn as an emblem of status and honour.

The name is a fitting title for this debut production that stands as an homage to real events, real people and in fact a very real mamae that resounds through the living progeny.

Te Waka Huia premiered this year at Te Pou and moved to the Mangere Arts centre. This is part of a tour that hopes to honour some of the significant themes held in the first appearance of the piece.

Written and produced by Naomi Bartley, Te Waka Huia represents actual events based on the tragic Brynderwyn Bus crash that happened in the Kaipara region in 1963.

Bartley was in fact handpicked by some of the victim’s family members to write the play, tasked to steer a project that would honour their whānau and express a shared grief to a contemporary audience. This feat in itself is certainly the most notable challenge and triumph of the work. Bartley must be applauded for the service she has provided the family and ancestors. 

It really takes something to step forward as a mouthpiece when there are lives that are deeply impacted by such an event. Bringing in Chris Molloy to direct the play has been a prudent move. Malloy’s clear experience massages careful twists and turns through the plot, grounding what is potentially a risky effort into a delicate tribute. 

Entering the space, the audience is quite casually welcomed by the entire cast and musician. It is almost like coming into an informal gathering of some kind. Given the topic of the play, with its emotional and spiritual components, this relaxed entrance is disconcerting. However, once the audience is seated the performers sing a song that was gifted to them by whānau member Louis Nathan; one of the surviving passengers from the bus. Knowing the song and what it carries, whānau members in attendance give way to the plays intention, which is to mihi to the tūpuna.

The story is appropriately simple, as we follow two youngsters, Emily (Chye-Ling Huang) and Jack (Isaac Te Reina), whose burgeoning relationship revolves around a ‘dilapidated bus’ that sits abandoned in the middle of a paddock in their local Helensville hometown. Their timid teenage affair is interrupted when Pahi (Junior Misomoa) appears. Pahi is the protector of the bus, guardian of its memories and the spirits that dwell there. Again the plot is fairly simple, being careful to assuage the very imminent kaupapa of the actual true life kōrero.

The entire troop convey the wairua of the production with care. The spirit is palpable and Junior Misomoa in particular embodies a performance agility, moving between deep emotional reveries to light hearted play. 

The set, by Andrew Denton, sits boldly in the open theatre space. It is not hidden, it is simply stated and in plain view. The perfect metaphor for the productions entire aesthetic.

Once again, commendations must be given to the production team’s efforts.

In line with the guardianship of the kaupapa, particular acknowledgements go to the whānau, who had the courage to open the korero up to the team that now offers a healing gift to the wider Kaipara and to the broader community impacted by the loss of loved ones.

Kei aku whanaunga o Te Taou, tēna koutou. Ka nui nga mihi ki a Whaea Sab raua ko Matua Louis. Kei te rahi o nga whānau mo ou toa, me te mamae e pīkautia nei e koutou ka nui te aroha māu.

Huri noa ki nga hunga wairua ra, ka tangi te ngākau i te ngarohanga atu.

Heoi ano, kia tau koutou i raro i te parirau o te Atua.

Rātou ki a rātou,

Tātou ki a tātou

Mauri Ora 


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Grief and Belonging

Review by Vanessa Crofskey 21st Aug 2017

It’s a hard thing, to write something from tragedy and history, knowing that a lineage of survivors will be reviewing your best attempts to honour them.  

Directed by Chris Molloy, and written and produced Naomi Bartley, Te Waka Huia responds to New Zealand’s worst road incident: the 1963 Brynderwyn bus crash. It follows an interpretation of historical tragedy, through the weaving pathways of 3 main characters – Emily, Isaac and Pahi, and the connections they forge with each other through the physical site of a rusty bus, left behind in an abandoned paddock.

In spite of this sombre context, Te Waka Huia is joyful. [More]


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Told with aroha and tender care

Review by Gabriel Faatau'uu Satiu 18th Aug 2017

Driving over to Te Pou theatre on a cold Auckland night, my anxiety kicks in. I am nervous for the show as it’s based on a real life tragedy. I recall my busy day and I remember that I haven’t mentally prepared myself for the emotions that may surface. As I arrive and collect my ticket, I’m greeted by a staff member who is warm and inviting. The waiting area is filled with important faces. My normally good memory for names doesn’t serve me so I avoid making eye contact with anyone, in the hope that no one approaches me. An elder Māori gentleman meets my view and greets me in Samoan. I raise my eyebrows and respond back with a half-smile, slightly thrown off by the kind gesture.

The doors to the theatre open and standing at the door is the director, Chris Molloy. Chris greets us in te reo and invites everyone inside. I decide to sit in the far corner of the second row from the top. On stage is a half opened bus, one loose tyre and the entire cast and crew. Chris and one other have a guitar in each of their hands and they all stand there in silence. It’s awkward.

The silence is broken by an announcement that the show is sold out so the crowd shuffle along to fit everyone in. Once most people are seated, the cast and crew sing. The song rings a familiar tune to my ears but my memory doesn’t serve me again so I hum along quietly in the hope that it may trigger the lyrics. It doesn’t.

The lights dim down and my anxiety sits in the back of my throat. The story unfolds as characters Jack (Isaac Te Reina) and Emily (Chye-Ling Huang) spend the first half of the show explaining their story and how they are connected to the bus. They are both students at a high school in Kaipara. Emily is an exchange student living with a host family. Jack is of Māori descent and barely knows the history of his town. I realise the show is set in the present when the students are given a history assignment, eventually leading them to the history of the Brynderwyn bus crash. Jack must leave town and makes plans to meet his grandmother so she can unfold more history of the bus, leaving Emily on her own.

The first half is filled mostly with exposition and although necessary, the pace of the show feels slow. For my anxiety, I think it is okay. The scenes are broken up with use of the full ensemble singing the chorus of ‘La Bamba’, by Los Lobos and Gypsy Kings. It’s a nice visual break from the dialogue and it adds a lively element to the mix. 

We finally meet Pahi, played by Junior Misimoa. Junior has an accent and does an excellent job delving into the essence of small-town, Māori-fella, Kiwi-bloke. His accent occasionally changes (just ever so slightly) but is forgivable because of the character he represents. The actor plays someone much older than his age too. Pahi appears to be slightly crazy, as he talks to invisible characters on the bus. We get a sense that he is connected to the bus crash back in 1963.

So as the story unfolds, Emily and Pahi meet. Their first encounter is not friendly. They both argue and fight about who owns the bus. Emily defends her ground as it is the one place she can be herself, practice her music and study quietly without the interruption of anyone. Pahi argues that the bus is his and doesn’t give us a valid reason. They meet again overnight and they form a strange bond. The bond is sealed in a montage scene that shows the passing of time.

Jack returns and bumps into Pahi. They both learn from Tracy (Retts Van Dam) who plays a woman of authority from the local board and council. She advises Pahi and Jack that the bus will be disposed of in 3 days’ time, panicking the teenagers. Emily and Jack conspire together to save the bus. They try to convince Pahi and all hell breaks loose. He mistakes Emily as someone else, but is calmed with the soothing song she has written. The panic and Pahi’s outburst prompt the reveal of the tragic event. We learn that Pahi was 16 years old at the time of the crash. He was on board the bus and his twin brother died on it, along with his family – a total of 15 fatalities.

The show nears the end when Emily shares that she is returning to Taiwan tomorrow, revealing the truth about her host father. Although he did not physically hurt her, her real father is convinced that Emily is a drama queen. This results in leaving Jack to lead the motion to keep the bus and do something nice for Pahi. Although we don’t get know what happens with Pahi and the bus, Te Waka Huia leaves me wanting to research more about the real life tragic event.

The lights dim to black and we roar in cheers, tears and applause. The director invites everyone to stay back for kai and questions with the cast and crew. I take my time leaving my seat as I wipe back a few tears, taking a moment to reflect and pay homage to those that were so unfortunately killed, but also to the survivors, the families and friends of these people.

As we are led outside, I pass a few of the important faces I ignored earlier and smile to a few of them. They return the gesture. While waiting in the foyer, although still very quiet, the energy in the room is lifted. The crowd naturally forms a circle as if preparing for a hui. Naomi Bartley, writer and producer of the show, explains the kaupapa and base of her story and her need to tell it correctly, with aroha and tender care.

The cast and crew come out and join her in song. We sing along too. And in response, we hear from a kaumatua as she expresses her gratitude and thanks on behalf of two survivors, also in the room. As we all sing the waiata ‘Te Aroha’, I can’t describe the energy in the room; but I know that the anxiety I felt earlier is at ease. Although I don’t stay back to break bread, share soup and korero over kai, my spirit is satisfied knowing that two of the survivors are satisfied too. I can only wish the cast and crew best wishes as they go on tour, loosely following the same bus route from Waitangi to Helensville.


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