The Last Taniwha

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

04/03/2013 - 07/03/2013

Mangere Arts Centre, Auckland

23/06/2011 - 25/06/2011

Globe Theatre, 104 London St, Dunedin

14/03/2013 - 15/03/2013

Auckland Fringe 2013

Dunedin Fringe 2013

Production Details

Māori playwright produces original theatre

Emerging Māori playwright Chris Molloy’s first professional production, The Last Taniwha, will be on show from 23 to 25 June at the Mangere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku as part of Matariki Festival 2011.

Directed by Kiel McNaughton (Scotty, Shortland Street) and starring Rob Williams (Korero Mai) Ash Jones (The Warriors Way) Joe Folau (King Kong); The Last Taniwha tells the story of a night of adventure for two young boys that ends up in an appalling act of bloodshed. Twenty years later, when they meet again, it seems an ancient taniwha’s curse is still very much alive in the town where they grew up.

Chris was compelled to write The Last Taniwha in reaction to a number of recent alarming cases of infant and child deaths at the hands of close family members. As a result, the play delivers a powerful social message.

Chris Molloy says, “Being from a small rural town, I experienced myself how normalised violence was. An ordinary, even joked about, way of life. In this play, I want to explore the reasons of why that is. Who or what is to blame?”

The play also conveys an unmistakeable atmosphere and sense of nostalgia for people and places in the Urewera rohe (region). 

Better known for his role as Scotty from Shortland Street, The Last Taniwha will be Kiel McNaughton’s first full-length theatre production in the director’s chair.

The Last Taniwha is also the first Māori play to be staged at the Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku since it opened in September last year.

The Last Taniwha is proudly presented by Indigenous Theatre Group with the support of Mangere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku and Toi o Manukau.

Event information:

Time and dates:  7.30pm
Thursday 23, Friday 24 and Saturday 25 June 2011
Ticket prices:  $20 waged
$15 unwaged

$12.50 groups 10+

Schools matinee:
Time and date:  12.30pm, Fri 24 June
Tickets:  $7.50 
Mangere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku
Cnr Bader Drive and Orly Avenue
, Mangere, Auckland
Ph 262 5789

Auckland Fringe runs from 15 February to 10 March 2013. For more Auckland Fringe information go to

4th – 7th March 2013, 5:30pm
Duration: 60 Minutes
Venue: The Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Avenue, Auckland CBD
Tickets: Adult $20, Conc $15, Group $12.50
Bookings: iTicket –  or 09 361 1000  


Globe Theatre
March 14, 15, 16, 17;
7:00pm (14-17), 2:00pm (17)

Dunedin Fringe 2013

Te Kohe Tuhaka / Koro 
Rob Williams / Moko 
Chris Molloy / Guts 
Mohi Critchley / Mouse and Buster  

1 hr

Potential yet to be realised

Review by Kimberley Buchan 22nd Mar 2013

The Last Taniwha is a tale about a cursed town. It is in the same vein as Niu Sila. Two adult men meet with oceans of history between them. We view the hilarity and tragedy that bonds them as children and the actions that drive them apart. The Last Taniwha adds a third layer as well: an historical and supernatural element. 

It is a fable about the difference between what is on the inside of a person and their exterior appearance.  This is contrasted between the two main characters Moko and Guts, played by Rob Williams and Chris Molloy respectively. This contrast, and the violence that arises between them physically as a result of violence done in the past, does raise the question of responsibility. Are you absolved from your actions because you are under a curse? Or societal inequity? 

The play has three intertwining plots which could easily become chaotic and confusing but Chris Molloy’s script has structured it in such a way that each story complements and enhances the the other. Each loop back through the three different time periods reveals something that has a sometimes devastating impact on the rest. 

Some cues were mistimed and the actors covered for each other in the instance of a couple of dropped lines. The miming needed work.The play is clearly underrehearsed and lacks the polish of other shows in the Dunedin Fringe Festival. However, unlike some others it at least is trying to say something rather than offering a glossy surface; pretty to look at, but no substance. 

The heart of the play shines through the charisma of the two main actors. I am sure with more time to get to know their characters the actors would have been able to capture the soul of them too. Rob Williams and Te Kohe Tuhaka have great stage presence and play Moko, Koro and the Taniwha with power and pride.

Chris Molloy plays Guts as a man who has been defeated by life. Mohi Critchley as Mouse is a bit overshadowed at the start of the play but comes into his own a bit more later on in the performance and also provides some comic relief as Buster. 

It is a play I would like to see again and have more people see as well, as a festival tends to split audiences in Dunedin. The actors have a lot of passion for this play and it would be great to see this script have it’s potential realised.  


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Strong text and performers undermined by directorial inconsistencies

Review by Jonathan W. Marshall 15th Mar 2013

Since producing the script for The Last Taniwha in 2011, theatre-maker Chris Molloy has admirably been getting out and about ensuring its performance, playing the less charismatic of the two protagonists in the piece, and intermittently taking on the role of director as well.

There appear to have been at least two prior productions, though it is difficult to be entirely sure without a program being provided. The cast has varied considerably. Somewhat misleadingly, the cast of the 2011 production by Native Factory seems to be posted on the Dunedin Fringe website, and not the mostly new cast (3 out of 4) by Indigenous Theatre Group. This is not therefore the well-travelled, seasoned production which a casual reading of the promotion might have suggested: a somewhat problematic issue for those who might have bought tickets on this basis.

The strength of this new Dunedin showing depends in no small part on the highly charismatic, and physically weighty performance of original cast member Rob Williams in the lead. He is ably supported by the equally embodied, muscular presence of Te Kohe Tuhaka, recently seen in the Taki Rua production of Michael James Manaia, here for the first time playing the narrator and assorted elders, including the mythical beast of the Taniwha itself.

Williams plays the more sympathetic of the protagonists, and his visibly strong physique aids him in establishing a commanding presence on stage. His very height and mass means that at those points when he does collapse in anguish, or his chest caves in from its usual expansive girth as the character begins to weep, that a palpable sense of drama moves through his flesh. When all three of the younger characters approach a Māori cave lizard – a mimed taiaha stretched between their hands, and the furious passion of wiri escaping out their fingers as they circle the beast – it is Williams who truly transforms at this moment into a warrior of legend (although it is actually another character, Mouse, who will later best the Taniwha by cunning).

Focussing on these elements, the general charisma of the cast, the fairly skilful if not altogether unprecedented study of male rites of passage within an economically and socially depressed rural backwater, and all of this produces a strong new studio-style adaptation with several highlights. The more serious or high dramatic material, where the tendency towards comic exaggeration tends to fall away, to be replaced by intensity and male grappling or barely repressed aggressive stand offs, is all extremely good and highly watchable.

Having said this, the piece felt on opening night to be under rehearsed. The absence of original director Kiel McNaughton to serve as an outside eye for the actors and the production as a whole is a problem. Dramatic inconsistencies arise, notably in the use of miming and props. 

Why mime smoking – the handling of cigarettes and that of cigarette lighters – in the first half of the play, only to then produce both cigarettes and an actual lighter in the second half, and then on top of this, to perversely decide to not light the now bizarrely foregrounded real object which the audience is now looking at with renewed interest? This is clearly a question no one had time to ask, busy as they were addressing their own performances. Whilst ostensibly a relatively minor point in itself, it is indicative of a broader failure to consider The Last Taniwha as a theatrical piece, rather than a showcase for words and actors.

Tuhaka, doubtless still slightly exhausted from having committed to memory the richly expansive, blizzard of words he delivered alone and at some speed for Taki Rua, struggles to remember his lines at several points in the far smaller role of the narrator of The Last Taniwha, which sadly tends to make these other shortcomings more obvious. If a production is to showcase text and acting, one had better get these elements spot on.

Nevertheless, when Tuhaka really gets to chew the scenery, exaggeratedly modulating his voice as a Māori cave beast, or twitching his simple cane up in a lighting movement so it rests like a dagger at the throat of one of the simple Māori boys who trouble him, he is superb.

Indeed, The Last Taniwha shares with the Taki Rua production of Michael James Manaia, and especially Tuhaka’s performance within that piece, a tendency towards an almost burlesque excess. Eyes widen, noses flare, smiles curl about the entire visage, producing work which is at once sculptural as well as often verging on the comedic. Whilst this served Taki Rua well, to my mind, far too much of The Last Taniwha is here played for laughs. Even the young boyhood friends who Williams and Molloy repeatedly return to performing, as the elder characters reminisce, would not behave in such a comically exaggerated and self-consciously awkward manner as these actors portray them. 

The presentation of The Last Taniwha essentially as a studio piece is similarly somewhat disappointing. When the two characters finally get down to threatening each other, and arguing over culpability for the death of William’s beloved elder, some very basic but powerful stage structures arise.

Much of Molloy’s performance is given down-stage left, intermittently gazing into the distance beyond the audience, whilst Williams stands to the right and slightly behind him, on a diagonal line which emphasises his strength, height and size relative to his dishevelled adversary, his arm holding the shotgun across between them like a deadly gesture of accusation. Molloy can only see his tormentor by painfully turning his head and glancing over his shoulder at Williams, a method which Molloy skilfully uses to at times seem helpless, and at other times to seem far more in command of the situation than the by now shaking Williams.

Little other use of spatial dynamics occurs. The audience lights might as well have just been left on for all the use of changes or of focussed light that is deployed here. Consequently the dull black box of the Globe is never carved into a more lively, changing environment. The audience can either see the whole, messy space behind them (sometimes in normal light, and occasionally in a red wash) or nothing.

Although black tank tops and black tracksuit pants are not without a certain realism for the relatively poor characters shown, like the lighting, it can tend to reduce everything down, spatially and visually, to a dull monotone. It is worth noting that the photographs on the Dunedin Fringe website show the 2011 version to have featured a far more interesting and considered use of costume, lighting and space. 

Molloy’s aim here, of course, is to produce a performance which “supports the text” without adding anything else unnecessary. However given the slavish – and again often comic – use of rather poorly recorded sound effects to evoke the off stage world (stock recordings of ‘generic car starting #1’; ‘reggae at stoner party #2’) this caricaturish mode jars with the moral weight which the author appears to be aiming for.

The Last Taniwha is meant to read as a parable about the curse of masculine violence in Māori communities. Such a message needs a more complete approach to the totality of theatrical method, otherwise one might well be listening to a radio play.

In short, there is great promise here, but one cannot help feeling that proper rehearsal time with the new cast was not what it should have been. Moreover very, very, very few actors are truly good at directing pieces which they themselves are currently performing in (in my opinion, even Steven Berkoff tended to make a balls-up of this). Perhaps it is time to bring back McNaughton for a fresh look, or even sell the script to Taki Rua or Playmarket for further development. The text is fine, and the performers strong, but more work remains to be done until this can indeed become the new Māori theatre classic which some reviewers seem, perhaps prematurely, to have implied that this is. 


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An important and thought-provoking work

Review by Heidi North 05th Mar 2013

The Last Taniwha is a story woven out of a myth of a people who have turned away from their true path, and a modern day Maori community who are locked in a cycle of domestic violence.

In the myth, the last taniwha travels from Hawaiki with Kupe. Originally a guardian, the taniwha takes on an evil aspect in response to the violence of the culture. When the unlikely boy Mouse (a spirited performance from Mohi Critchley) defeats the taniwha, Mouse takes on its strength and becomes an undefeatable warrior and the hero of the myth. Or is he? 

The heartbreak in the play is the way in which we see the strength of the taniwha manifest in the cycles of violence that haunt the Maori community in modern day Murapara. The blood of the taniwha courses in the veins of its dependents still, driving them forward on a cycle of destruction.

Moko, a successful Rugby player (Rob Williams), is home in the small town for the unveiling of his beloved Koro (Chris Horlock). While in town, he seeks out his cousin and childhood best friend Guts (Chris Molloy), drug dealer and part-time gang member: the one who didn’t get away. Moko has a score to settle with his old best friend, and as the play unfolds and we are drawn deeper into the relationship between the two, we come to see that our assumptions about Guts were wrong. 

The dynamic between the two men is excellent, and they, along with the two other cast members, vibrate with energy and passion, delivering punchy performances.

Chris Molloy has written a polished script, one that delves into a world of domestic violence and a community of poverty yet manages to make us laugh, albeit guiltily – can we really laugh at kids boasting about their ability to take an array of domestic abuse? It seems we can.  

While the question of why Moko takes his final action isn’t quite answered for me, it is an incredibly powerful production, keeping the audience gripped with in turn hilarious and truly chilling moments – for example, when Koro’s truth is revealed at the end.

Everything about the production feels deliberate: the subtle use of lighting, the sparse and well-used props, all of which help to contribute to the slick and clearly delineated movement between time and place which utterly create the world of the play.

In the ending, the playwright asks us, who is the winner here? It’s a question unanswered, leaving the audience with the uneasy, and messy truth: we are not always strong enough to fight the violence within us. And what does that mean? An important and thought-provoking work. 


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Brutality dealt to with depth and good humour

Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 25th Jun 2011

Chris Molloy has begun his writing career auspiciously. He’s never written a play before which is not to say he’s new to the theatre as he has an Advanced Diploma of Maori Performing Arts from Te Wananga O Aotearoa ki Rotorua, a Bachelor of Performing and Screen Arts degree from UNITEC and a Master of Arts in Drama from the University of Auckland. 

Kiel McNaughton hasn’t directed a full length play before but he’s a UNITEC graduate also and it’s an impressive debut. This is also a first time production by Indigenous Theatre Group. Well done them! 

Virginity is a fragile thing, however, and they’ll never be first timers again. Virginity is like that. When it’s over, it’s over.

Having said all that, you’d never know they were first-times from the quality of the work. It’s raw, real and painful (in a good way) to watch, in part because of the nature of the play’s themes but also because of the company’s no-holds-barred approach to the play. 

Murupara is where the narrative of The Last Taniwha unfolds. For those of you who don’t know Murupara, it’s in a remote part of the Bay of Plenty between the Kaingaroa Forest and Te Urewera National Park. Murupara means “to wipe off the muck” and Murupara is a gang town.

Moko (Rob Williams), Guts (Joe Folau), Koro (Chris Horlock) and Buster (Ash Jones) are all products of Murupara and it shows. It grips them and they cannot get away.

The narrative of The Last Taniwha is multi-layered and all the layers interact seamlessly. There’s the legend that Koro tells the kids of Kupe’s journey from Hawaiiki and the role played in this by the many taniwha who travel with the waka and protect the fleet from the sea monsters. This is woven beautifully into the other layers of the piece: the present, the recent past, the past of antiquity. The curse of the last taniwha hideously marks the lives of all the present-day participants.

There is a clue to what lies behind the play emblazoned across a heavily tagged, ramshackle 1950s state house on the programme cover. “It is in our blood to war.” it says. 

The production also encompasses, again without a glitch, a wide range of acting styles and the actors slip effortlessly from one to the other, from Koro’s traditional story-telling to the hip hop jive of the ever-wasted Buster.  

The Last Taniwha is about family violence, violence towards women, violence towards kids and towards each other; it’s about violence, anger, retribution, death and prophecy. Don’t let these themes put you off participating in this work, however. It’s also very, very funny with some magic lines and some really recognisable characters. There are moments when you’ll catch yourself hooting and, at the same time, thinking “I can’t laugh at that!” but you will, and that’s part of the message. Expose us to enough of it and we’ll become immune. 

I’m not going to give a synopsis of the plot as this would give it all away but I will say that this is a work of fine balance that builds to a powerful and uncompromising end. 

The Last Taniwha has a currency that moves beyond the current flippant media debate that seems rooted in some ‘whether or not’ argument to a far more cavernous place, a place of horror and self-revulsion that is rarely explored on the stage outside Medea and her killing of the children, or perhaps Titus Andronicus. There is no gratuitous violence, just a brutality driven by rage, retribution and the hope that this will provide a path to redemption. 

Theatre that uses symbols effectively often does so through the names of the characters. Ibsen changed his characters’ names draft by draft until he was satisfied that they worked on every level. The symbolism inherent in the names Guts, Moko, Buster, Koro, Kai Mokopuna and Mouse can’t be denied and it has to be said, in the hands of Christ Molloy, it’s a very effective tool.

The scariest thing about Moko (Rob Williams) is that he makes sense. The torrent of violence and anger, repressed as it often is, that flows just below the surface of this character has a logic that is frighteningly Pintereque. It’s excellent work and drives the action with the power of an old Holden Kingswood.

Guts (the very experienced and skilled Joe Folau) is often the foil and ultimately the undeserving victim of the piece. Guts is funny, he has smarts that keep him safe and which also allow him to provide a faint moral voice in the darkness. He creates the off stage character of Black Arse in a chorus-like way that would have made Sophocles brown with envy and is the epitome of everyone who ever took the blame for someone else’s actions. His smattering of “When I get my dole money” dreams are priceless. 

Chris Horlock’s Koro is a sweet grandfatherly figure with a dreadful story to tell. He anchors the chronicle and provides us with a link to his tipuna but he also allows us to see how the power of the legend can still work today. His generous impotence and warm ineffectiveness allow us to see just what a complex issue this family violence is and how easily the cycle can be allowed to continue. He makes no excuses and there is no explanation. Courageous stuff this. 

Ash Jones’ loopy, drugged-out Buster is as gangsta as anyone south of Harlem could possibly be. His performance is a comic gem but he is also right there at the core of the text. He is the new Guts, the boy talented and stylish enough to leave the clutches of Murupara but who we know never actually will. It’s fine playwriting and a beautifully realised performance. 

This is an exciting first effort from an already skilful line-up and Kiel McNaughton can be very proud of his first major directorial task. He and Chris Molloy make an excellent team. My only niggle – and it’s probably just an elderly person’s grizzle – is that the actors need to be aware that mannered and accented language such as is used to great effect in this production can take a bit of getting used to, especially early on and, at times, vital plot points can be lost. It’s a matter of knowing where your key points are and ensuring that even elderly Pakeha women sitting up the back can catch them! 

The set is simple: a bare stage, two tall banners, a beer crate and a roadside cross. It works a treat as the actors weave whatever they need in the space with a physical lyricism that plays right against the content of the text. Costumes (Vanessa Molloy) are naturalistic and appropriate and the lighting (Katarina Chandra and Steve Renwick) and sound (Carl Austin) work well in the magnificent performance space at the Mangere Arts Centre. What an amazing facility this is. It should be compulsory for local government to build one in every town. 

This is ‘daring bloke’ theatre, but it’s still bloke theatre. No criticism, no complaints and much admiration but, having experienced The Brothers Size and The Last Taniwha in the last two months and been blown away by both productions I feel forced to ask. “Where are the women and the girls?” 

On a personal level I’d like to see some Maori and Pasifika women’s narratives such as Makarita Urale’s Frangipani Perfume and Dianna Fuemana’s Mapaki. Having dined well at the bloke table, I’d like a second helping with the women. Or perhaps I’m being just a bit greedy. It’s possible, of course, that they’re happening and I’m just in the other place right now. 

The Last Taniwha is a powerful night at the theatre and, if you like serious work that addresses sombre issues with depth and good humour, then this might well be for you.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.   


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Distinctive voice of the taniwha

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 25th Jun 2011

Current events suggest the show’s title is somewhat premature in proclaiming the imminent extinction of the taniwha. But the spirit that haunts Chris Molloy’s play is of a very different order from the remarkably resilient species that has been turning up at recent planning tribunal hearings and city council meetings.

The playwright presents a lively account of the original taniwha which travelled with Kupe from Hawaiki as a guardian but took on a malevolent aspect in response to the pervasive violence of a warrior culture. In the most compelling moments we see how the taniwha’s curse is manifest in the cycles of violence that plague modern Maori communities. [More
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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