The Minister’s Son

Fortune Theatre - Hutchinson Studio, Dunedin

31/03/2009 - 04/04/2009

Galatos, Auckland

17/03/2009 - 19/03/2009

BATS Theatre, Wellington

19/02/2009 - 22/02/2009

NZ Fringe Festival 2009

Production Details

The Rev Pepe Nokise had a son, The Rev Dr Fele Nokise, who had a son that told jokes. 

Samoan / Welsh Comedian James Nokise recounts his father’s struggle with domestic violence during the early years of multiculturalism in NZ.

Brutally honest and hilariously compelling.

Presented as a part of the 2009 Fringe Festival:
BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington
Thu 19 Feb 09 – Sun 22 Feb 09,
every day, 8:00pm
Full $16, Concession $12, Fringe Addict $10.

Book at BATS Theatre
Phone: 04 802 4175, or email:
Presented as a part of the 2009 Fringe Festival.

Presented as a part of the Auckland Fringe 2009:
Galatos, 17 Galatos Street, Newton, Auckland
Tue 17 March 09 – Thur 19 March 09,
every day, 7:00pm
Full $17, Concession $12, Group $12.
Book:  Phone: (09) 361 1000
*service fee will apply

Dates:  31 March, 1, 2, 3, 4 April
Venue:  Fortune Theatre Studio
Time:  8.30pm (Duration 60 mins)
Prices:  Full: $17 Concession: $12 Group (6+): $12

Fight Choreography by Rickey Dey
Set Design by James Nokise
(Material from Lagi's Island Styles)

Povi Fou
One of the first Pacific Islanders in Wellington to attend University, he becomes a Minister and obtains a PHd from Canberra University. After working as Chaplin for Waikato University, Minister in Eastbourne, and as a counciler at the Family Center in Lower Hutt, he finally becomes Prinicpal of the Pacific Theological College in Suva.
Aganu'u Fou
Povi's son from his second marriage to Sarah, he is seven years younger than Jimmy.
Tina (child's perspective)
Povi's mother as seen through the eyes of young Jimmy.
Uncle 2
Sina's husband

Mary Cooper

A British Librarian who ends up working in the university Library of Papua Niu Guinea with her husband. She meets Povi and they become engaged after only a week. She stays in New Zealand after her divorce to raise her son.
Sarah Fou
Povi's second wife, a palagi woman from New Zealand.

Jimmy Fou

Povi's son from his marriage with Mary
Tama Fou
Povi's father, and one of the two first Samoan Ministers to work with Pacific parishes in New Zealand, he is incredibly respected by the Samoan community. His main Parish is in Island Bay, Wellington, where he lives with his family.
Tina Fou
Povi's mother, and matriarch to the Fou family. She has dedicated her life to helping her husband in his work.
Sina Fou
Povi's sister, she later becomes a minister and marries Uncle 2. She takes up work with the Parish of St John's, Arrowtown.
Uncle 1
Povi's uncle, who is also a chief of the family. He grew up with Povi and is more like an older brother.
Povi's nephew
A Samoan policeman who is member of Tama's congregation
UK Passport Controlman
Povi's childhood friend

55 mins

Warm, humorous yet honest portrayal of a still taboo subject

Review by Sharon Matthews 02nd Apr 2009

Not Even Production’s The Minister’s Son is a charmingly unsentimental exploration of family violence and multicultural relationships. This sounds unappealing, but the show is both gently funny and brutally honest.

Standup Comedian James Nokise has written an autobiographical exploration of the domestic violence in his parent’s marriage, and the difficulties his palagi mother faced fitting into a tightly woven Samoan family.

Three actors play a multitude of different parts, skillfully shifting personae with only a change of tone and a very minimal use of props such as a red scarf and a black cardigan.

Nokise is particularly impressive playing a total of nine different characters; not only the lead character of Jimmy but also both of Jimmy’s grandparents, his aunt, his cousin, and a UK Passport Control officer. Jimmy’s transitions from frightened and traumatized small boy to cocky teenager and then future author, are totally engaging and believable. 

It would be easy to demonize the figure of the father, Povi Fou, but he is portrayed by Asalemo Tofete in a non-judgmental and even sympathetic way, allowing us to understand some part of the family pressures he was under. The underlying theme in this production could be the unfairness of attempting to make our children into something they are not, even when this is done by our families with only, apparently, our best interests at heart.

In the same way Kathryn Tyree transforms the possibly stereotypical role of the abused wife into a symbol of strength and resilience. She plays both Mary Cooper and Povi Fou’s second wife Sarah in a beautifully nuanced depiction of the secrets we keep from our children.

I could quibble that neither woman is given an opportunity to show a deeper sense of the damage done, and the cyclic nature of family violence is hinted at but not fully explored. However we can have no illusions about the brutality of Mary and Povi’s relationship; the scene showing the beating which forced Mary to leave, choreographed by Rickey Dey, is horribly real and frightening.

The clarity and the strength of the performances is enhanced by the minimal set design. The dark grey and black costumes of the men are in stark contrast to the vibrant colourful floral of the backdrops.  Sarah’s brightly floral frock implies that for her the experience of multiculturalism was a far easier one.

James Nokise and director Sonal Patel have created a warm, humorous yet honest portrayal of a still taboo subject. The predominant image left is one of celebration of the strength of community and the joys and difficulties of family relationships. It is to be hoped that even with the difficulties of creating works when members of a collective are as far apart as Wellington and the UK that we may expect to see more work of such high calibre from this team.
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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Bad night?

Review by Nik Smythe 18th Mar 2009

Starting on Pacific time and playing to a quiet smallish audience, The Minister’s Son has a sluggish beginning.  To be honest I was expecting comedy, as I understand writer/actor James Nokise is a Wellington-based comedian of Samoan and Welsh descent. 

At the outset they do have a forced air of humour but it’s soon apparent this is a serious story, based on the life of Nokise’s father Povi, his relationship with his parents, two wives and eldest son Jimmy (Nokise).  As an autobiographical tale about the identities we assume by the life paths we choose, the play fits with the existentialist theme I’ve repeatedly noted running through many of these Fringe productions. 

Asalemo Tofete fills four roles with a generally light demeanor, not above becoming tyrannical and physically violent under stress in Povi’s case.  Kathryn Tyree plays Povi’s two love interests, Jimmy’s Welsh mother Mary and 2nd wife Sarah.  Nokise takes the lion’s share of bit parts, not least the essential role of himself. 

Clearly Nokise and company are passionate about sharing this historical story, which is commendable to be sure.  As the narrative plays out there are many interesting points to the story.  A number of conventions are utilised, from naturalistic scenes to character narration, to vignettes and space jump scene changes. 

This opening night all these diverse theatrical elements simply didn’t gel together to the desired effect.  I feel Galatos is an inappropriate venue for this kind of theatre; the actors enlarging their performance of intimate scenes at the cost of intended poignancy.  The loud air conditioning unit combined with the awkward proximity of a raised stage designed for bands not plays make an uphill battle for the cast.

For whatever reason, atmospheric or otherwise, key moments in the story lack the friction they could provide, such as Povi’s wooing of each of his brides-to-be.  The didactic tendency of the performance overwhelms any genuine chemistry between the characters.  It’s always fairly apparent what is being implied but I was often left wanting for an emotional connection.

I am mindful that I don’t have a great deal of personal experience with Samoan culture, like Mary – pointedly used as an excuse for Povi’s exasperated violence.  But I’ve seen Samoan comedy that made me laugh more, and Samoan drama that made me cry more.  Notably there are more favourable reviews from the hometown season in Wellington, lending weight to my theory that I encountered The Minister’s Son on a bad night.


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Review by Lynn Freeman 04th Mar 2009

One of the most memorable Fringe shows at Bats this year is also autobiographical, from comedian James Nokise. James’ father was a Samoan Reverend who struggled with his temper and those who bore the brunt of it were his Welsh wife and son.

James plays himself from child to adult in The Minister’s Son, with Asalemo Tofete taking on and playing with heart and compassion in the role of the Reverend Nokise. Kath Tyree plays his wife as a victim of domestic violence who stays in this impossible situation too long out of love and loyalty, but never is she turned into a helpless victim.


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Fluid, fluent and dynamic

Review by John Smythe 20th Feb 2009

What saves The Minister’s Son from being a slightly embarrassing snoop into someone’s private life, and his therapeutic confronting of it, is the truth that anchors it and the skill with which the story is told and performed.

Based on the minimal media material available and James Nokise’s impressive track record as a stand-up comedian, I’d assumed this would be an autobiographical one-man laugh show. In fact it is a fully scripted 3-hander, written by Nokise, directed by Sonal Patel, performed by Nokise, Asalemo Tofete and Kathryn Tyree; somewhat fictionalised (I think – the was no programme on opening night) with different character names, and as dramatic as it is comic.

Through a series of tightly-written scenes and deft transitions through time, location and character, a particular yet universal story unfolds, with all three actors impressively nailing the heart of each character and scene.

As a young man, Povi (I think) – the Samoan father-to-be of Jimmy – is subjected to strong discipline by his minister father and, despite being chosen to train as a diplomat, he too is forced to become a minister. His calling is not from God but from his family and community.

While studying he meets and marries Mary, a very loving British librarian, and they have a child: Jimmy. But when she fails to intuitively align to Samoan culture – Povi is never there to show her how – the minister beats her. Despite interventions from an uncle, the violence continues, escalates … and Mary leaves.  

When Jimmy directly addresses us in the audience, at about this point, it feels like a sudden change in style. I take it the shock is intended to nudge our awareness that this is a real and personal story … Either that, or Nokise has realised some parts of the story are better handled through narration. Either way, it’s the moment that anchors it in truth.

By this time I’m getting a bit confused as to who exactly is whom on occasions, and the lack of a programme with character names, etc, doesn’t help. Samoan-speakers may be able to track it all more easily – and I totally approve of using the language; it’s to be expected when we immerse ourselves in another culture. But I’m more of a visitor-from-abroad than I want to be.

It is clear that Povi meets another Palagi woman, Sarah, and he mends his ways, including running a men’s group – of which more could be made, if this is the means by which he addresses domestic violence in himself as well as in his wider community.

Jimmy does well at school, winning a speech competition … And when he decides to do performing arts instead of becoming a lawyer or doctor, his way is not blocked, as evidenced by the performance itself (not to mention his career to date). The final moment, when he phones his father to say has written a story about him is riveting. Not that we hear the reaction. Maybe that is yet to come. Meanwhile we get to conjure with the possibilities.

Theatrically The Minister’s Son is fluid, fluent and dynamic, if a little obscure at times. Imbued as it is with cultural and personal veracity, it generates much humour as it compels our judgement, empathy and compassion.

Asalemo Tofete extends his already extraordinary range, contrasting his familiar lightness with a new and frightening aggression. Kathryn Tyree communicates a great deal non-verbally, fully ingabiting each state of being for her two characters. James Nokise blends some delicious caricatures with his heart-felt connections to the action.

Well worth seeing.

[Clarifications, corrections of spelling etc, welcome]


Kathryn Tyree February 21st, 2009

Thank you very much for the review John.  Our next season is in the Auckland fringe, we're also going to Dunedin, but no info posted yet. Cheers, Kathryn

[Auckland info and character information now added to the production page - ed]

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