Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson

26/10/2023 - 27/10/2023

Nelson Arts Festival 2023

Production Details

Written/Created by Donna Mcleod

Māori Theatre about the Nelson Tenths with pūrākau, taonga pūoro, waiata, and poetry, from the artists behind sell-out hit Parihaka.

“As a mokopuna of Taranaki, Donna McLeod carried her Nanny’s kete to hui in the 70s, where the kaupapa was the Nelson Tenths.
In 2023, her whānau live on papakāinga in Motueka. Donna refuses to let her mokopuna carry her kete.
Intergenerational history. My history. Your history. Our history.
Māori Theatre with pūrākau, taonga pūoro, waiata, and poetry. ”
Written by Donna McLeod, performed by Te Oro Hā, Tense weaves together poetry and storytelling with waiata, taonga pūoro and kapa haka.

Venue 1. TE NONINGA KUMU MOTUEKA PUBLIC LIBRARY (As part of the Nelson Arts Festival)
Wed 25 Oct | 7.30pm
Venue 2: THEATRE ROYAL (As part of the Nelson Arts Festival)
Dates: Thurs 26 Oct | 8pm |
Schools Show: Fri 27 Oct | 1pm
Prices: Pay What You Can (PWYC)
Booking Link: https://www.nelsonartsfestival.nz/event/tense/
All Ages
Content Warning: The content of this show touches on important but difficult themes which are relevant both historically and to the present day. May contain strong language.

Performed by Motueka-based collective, Te Oro Hā. 

Dance , Performance Poetry , Music ,

60 min

A deep and troubling story told with heart and eloquence

Review by Adrienne Matthews 27th Oct 2023

Tense, written by Donna McLeod and performed by Maori theatre group Te Ora Hā, is a triumph. Donna (Te Āti Awa) inherited her great respect for her whakapapa from her Nanny whose kete she would carry as they travelled to hui at which important events were discussed. Her great love of oral history, music and telling stories has enabled her to craft a number of works throughout the years and this has to be her best yet.

The opening is inspirational. Esteemed local tutor, Keri Takao, gives a heartwarming welcome and karakia, encouraging audience participation to enable everyone present to feel part of a collective while setting the scene for a deeper understanding and appreciation of what is to come.

The haunting sounds of the taonga pūoro played by musicians Bob Bickerton, Cindy Batt and Callum Oleary, anchor the scene in a historical context, invoking the sense of bringing ancestors to the stage and a story not just about the Tenths, but also the deep connection of people to their whenua.

Donna’s script contains the heartfelt personal tale of her journey to Motueka from her birthplace in Taranaki along with the 180-year-old story of the refusal by the NZ Company to honour the agreement that when they purchased land off Māori in the region for European settlement, one tenth was to be set aside in perpetuity for use by Māori as whenua of cultural significance. Instead of setting aside 15,000 acres, the Crown reserved less than 3,000 and for all the years since there has been an ongoing attempt by local Māori to have the error overturned.

Donna wrote this play thinking that the final settlement would have taken place by the time it was due to be performed but the case in the High Court is still ongoing and she clearly had to rewrite sections right up until the last minute to keep the story current.

An example of her nanny’s kete is always centre stage. Crafted by weaver Soraya McConachy, it is a symbol of the journey taken to resolve the case so that Donna’s mokopuna will not have to bear the weight of the trauma that comes with the loss of land as she and her forbears have.

The writing is rich and soulful. Donna has an ability to tell stories that draw on the emotions and shine light on dark places. There are ten sections to the work and fellow cast members Gaynor Rikihana-Tākao, Maihi Barber, Nyiah Tākao and Debra Lee Wilkie bring the story to life in an all-encompassing way through a combination of action, dance, words and song.

Central to the work is the clever set design by Lee Woodman which includes a series of ten light boxes, symbolic of the Tenths but also left to the audience to interpret. Within them are shapes that could be, for example, houses or mountains. In the final scene, some are joined together to represent a waharoa, asserting definitively a house built on land. The superb lighting by Antony Hodgson allows the boxes to glow and sound by Matthew Bauer enables the work to have an even deeper impact.

Every part of the performance is excellent with the story of the Tenths conveyed clearly along with the deep hurt caused by the Crown’s unwillingness to resolve the issue. The most engaging aspect for me is Donna’s ability to make this relevant to anyone who has any kind of history with land and her challenge for all to examine their past and their relationship to it, acknowledging too the need most people feel for a home. It is clear too that for the original landowners to be able to receive a successful result in the Tenths case following the decades of trauma around, it is symbolic of rebuilding the future.

To be able to tell a deep and troubling story with such heart and eloquence is a credit to all involved in Tense and it is a work of such quality that it could take its place proudly at any art’s festival anywhere in the world.  Its relevance is universal and its production quality superb.
 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
whakapapa: genealogy
kete: woven basket
hui: meetings
karakia: an incantation to evoke spiritual guidance and protection
pūoro: traditional Maori instruments
pūoro: traditional Māori instruments
whenua: land
mokopuna: grandchildren
waharoa: the entrance to a Marae


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