THE MOONCAKE AND THE KŪMARA
08/10/2015 - 08/10/2015
Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, University of Waikato, Hamilton
21/10/2015 - 22/10/2015
Baycourt - Addison Theatre, Tauranga
25/10/2015 - 25/10/2015
22/06/2017 - 24/06/2017
Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson
14/10/2015 - 15/10/2015
Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland
28/06/2017 - 08/07/2017
A MOVING STORY ABOUT A MIXED-UP, MAORI-CHINESE LOVE AFFAIR THAT SPROUTS AMONG ROWS OF POTATOES
The Mooncake and the Kūmara, a moving story about a mixed-up, Māori-Chinese love affair that sprouts among rows of potatoes that not only made its world premiere at the Auckland Arts Festival 2015 but sold out 3 weeks prior to Opening Night. Now with the help of PANNZ Touring and Creative NZ it will travel around New Zealand to Palmerston North, Nelson, Hamilton and Tauranga this October
Nearly ninety years ago on a New Zealand market garden, two families, one Māori and the other Chinese, became part of a romance that would uproot their lives over generations.
Layered with myth and fable, The Mooncake and the Kūmara tells that story, one intertwined with history, duty, secrets and the delicate balance needed to grow families.
Told in a rich mixture of English, Māori and Cantonese, The Mooncake and the Kūmara is the debut, award-winning play by Māori-Chinese playwright Mei-Lin Te Puea Hansen. Loosely based on the story of her grandparents’ relationship, the play started life as a ten minute entry, co-written with Te Puea Hansen’s cousin Kiel McNaughton (Shortland Street, Auckland Daze), in Short + Sweet Festival Auckland 2010 where it won Best Drama.
Uniquely it is one of the very few stories of Māori-Chinese families that have been told. Beginning in the mid-1800s, Chinese men came to New Zealand to work in gold fields, leaving their wives and children in China. They then moved to market gardening. At the peak in the 1960s, Chinese market gardeners produced 80 per cent of the country’s green leaf vegetables. In 2002 the Government issued a formal apology to Chinese New Zealanders for a poll tax which had been imposed on Chinese immigrants for more than 60 years.
Presented by The PANNZ Touring Agency, The Oryza Foundation for Asian Performing Arts and Betsy & Mana Productions in collaboration with Creative New Zealand
(Originally co-produced with Auckland Arts Festival. Premiered at Auckland Arts Festival 2015.)
The Mooncake and the Kūmara plays:
Oamaru, Oamaru Opera House: Thu 8 October 2015
Nelson Arts Festival, Theatre Royal:
Wed 14 & Thu 15 October 2015
Hamilton, Gallagher Performing Arts Centre:
Wed 21 & Thu 22 October 2015
Tauranga Arts Festival, Baycourt Theatre:
Sun 25 October 2015
For details of the touring works and more about PANNZ Touring visit:
Produced by Oryza Foundation for Asian Performing Arts and Betsy and Mana productions.
Hannah Playhouse, Wellington
Kia Mau FestivalPreview: Wednesday 21 June 2017, 7.30pm
Thursday 22 June – Saturday 24 June 2017, 7.30pm
Loft, Q Theatre, Auckland, 305 Queen Street, Auckland
Wednesday 28 June – Friday 30 June 2017, 7.30pm
Saturday 1 July 2017, 1.30pm & 7.30pm
Sunday 2 July 2017, 5.00pm
Wednesday 5 July – Saturday 8 July 2017, 7.30pm
Book: qtheatre.co.nz; 09 309 9771
Written by Mei-Lin Te Puea Hansen
Director: Katie Wolfe
Set Design: John Verryt
Lighting Design: Paul Lim
Costume Design: Elizabeth Whiting
Sound Design: Drew McMillan
Awhina-Rose Henare Ashby
1hr 40min approx, no interval
Pertinent then and now
Review by Vanessa Crofskey 02nd Jul 2017
The set is a quiet ghost of a fantasy. Cloth draped from driftwood billows outward, echoing a midnight nature. Several levels built from wood allow the actors to play into contexts of hierarchy and distance. Set designer John Verryt does well, matching the set to mythic histories.
The Mooncake and the Kūmara, written by Mei-Lin Te Puea Hansen and directed by Katie Wolfe, feels comfortably rooted in tradition, inserting idioms into the storyline with ease. It blends folklore and nonfiction together to create a memoir not bound to its own retelling. [More]
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Fluid, powerful and thought provoking
Review by Nikau Hindin 01st Jul 2017
It is a story we should all hear but not one that frequents our ears, let alone our eyes. Based on the true story of her grandparents, playwright Mei-Lin Te Puea Hansen shares with us the union of her Māori grandmother and Chinese grandfather. They worked the market gardens together. Despite inherent differences, they fell in love – digging up kumara; they found a home in each other.
This beautiful story sweeps us away as we peep down into a carefully crafted set. Crooked knotty branches attach themselves to four solid wooden platforms that climb as high as the kumara moon. The different levels of the set serve to disperse the various settings. The spotlight guides us from China and back to Aotearoa into the homes of Wae and daughter Elsie, their neighbours Choi and son Yee, and finally the Pākehā landlord Mr Finlayson.
Beautifully directed by Katie Wolfe, the transitions between these worlds are as smooth as the light fading. Uncannily, all of the characters remain on stage throughout the play, unmoving when in darkness but prompting the spotlight as they spring into life.
The play is unapologetically trilingual and I enjoy this. Te reo Māori, Pākehā and Cantonese intertwine as these cultures collide. I feel envious of the Chinese speaking audience members in the crowd chuckling away. I ache to know what wisdom is said as the characters’ delivery is so resolute, their facial expressions almost audible. We are so accustomed to English and its worldview, this is a pleasantly cutting reminder that there isn’t just one way of doing or seeing things. As the story develops, languages are shared and we see interplay of a strong Māori wairua with the customary Chinese way of living.
I can’t help but beam at Choi (Charles Chan), father to Yee, who is steadfast in his ways. He is defiant but leads through his work ethic. He elicits laughter with every comical stamp of his foot and shake of his hand. His is an exaggerated full body performance but it barely seems like he is acting.
Wae (Waimihi Hotere) is strong willed and assertive. She is the perfect parallel to Choi through their equal mistrust of foreign ways.
Elsie (Neenah Dekkers-Reihana) lights up the stage with her spirit and I enjoy her humble beginnings and transformation into a strong assertive woman.
In Yee (Sam Yang) we find her match and it is a pleasure to watch a true romance build naturally. The play carefully reveals facts slowly, forcing the audience to constantly recast their assumptions.
They write letters and read them out to us as projected scrawls in English and Chinese line the muslin backdrop. These letter monologues are revealing of the time, the pace of life and the distance between loved ones. They also show us the intricacies of the characters mindset, the hardships of migration, aching love and loss. Mr Finlayson’s letters (Jeremy Randerson) are painted with lies offering his insipid character more depth. I almost feel for him… almost.
Leilan (Katlyn Wong) is a mystical character; unseen by some, seen by others but felt by all. She is the only one who takes on various bodies, from a perfect peasant squat to the posture of an Empress. Her identity is unknown until the climax, as she narrates, responds to letters from Aotearoa and finally becomes the story of the moon.
Every element of this play is fluid, from the lighting, the character direction, the artful dialogue, the considered set, costumes and use of sound. Powerful and thought provoking, this story sheds light on a part of this country’s history I’ve not been exposed to and I come away feeling privileged to take away this story of planting seeds in new lands.
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An exceptional production on many levels
Review by John Smythe 23rd Jun 2017
We have of late enjoyed a number of plays about Chinese immigration to New Zealand, from Katlyn Wong’s Mui (2006) to Renee Liang’s Under the Same Moon (2015), and Liang’s The Bone Feeder play (2011) then The Bone Feeder opera (2017) which does have a Māori-Chinese connection, albeit post mortem. However Mei-Lin Te Puea Hansen’s The Mooncake and the Kumara is the first play I can recall that explores the Māori-Chinese cultural mix.
Set in the 1920s, it doesn’t purport to depict the origins of such cross-fertilisation. It captures a time when Māori were increasingly dispossessed of their lands and Chinese immigrants were subjected to appalling discrimination – not least (and I didn’t know this before) by the government, which made it very difficult for women to join their menfolk in the ‘new land’, presumably to avoid new generations of New Zealand-born Chinese insinuating themselves into ‘Godzone’.
Elizabeth Whiting’s costume designs seem more pre than post World War One, but we’re in some unnamed rural outpost so I trust her judgement on that.
It is a staple of our immigration stories (and Māori country-to-city stories, for that matter) that the younger generation resists the repressive ‘old ways’, and the restrictive rules surrounding love and marriage, let alone procreation ‘out of wedlock’, have generated drama ever since the art form was invented.
In this respect Mei-Lin Te Puea Hansen’s play, as directed by Katie Wolfe, tantalises us by not making the inevitable too predictable. Then, when it does happen, an obstacle is thrown in the way that makes us care even more whether love will finally prevail. The burgeoning romance sits at the core of a much bigger story that compellingly compares and contrasts interpersonal and cultural relationships across generations, with often humorous insight.
Unobtrusively lit by Paul Lim, John Verryt’s multi-levelled set, apparently supported by un-milled branches, allows for seamless transitions between the homes of Wae and her daughter Elsie; Choi and his son Yee; up a level to the landlord of both truncated families, Finlayson; and most aloft and removed, Leilan, whose specific relationship to the ‘present’ story is not disclosed for a while, so I won’t reveal it here.
Drew McMillan’s sound design is especially effective in bringing an ‘other worldly’ feel to Leilan’s scenes.
We are also made to wait and really want to know before we discover why Wae and Elsie are so disconnected from whanau, hapu and iwi, and what exactly happened to the husband/ father, Taki. The background to Choi and Yee’s circumstances are also gradually revealed, and there is more than meets the eye to Finlayson as well.
Despite Wae’s knee-jerk ‘because they’re different’ prejudice against the Chinese, their need to earn money to pay rent to Finlayson compels them to work for Choi, who distrusts them too, work ethic-wise. He insists everything is done “Chinese way!” Their gradual coming to know and understand each other brings effortless energy to the well-crafted narrative structure.
Jeremy Randerson (who also played the role in 2015) offers a surprisingly two-dimensional Finlayson, possibly because he is pre-judging the character rather than ‘being him’ him, flaws-and-all, and leaving us to do the judging. I objectively understand him (it’s all in the text) but I don’t believe in him enough to empathise – which would have more impact, politically.
Waimihi Hotere and Charles Chan are original cast members and their performances are rich in detail. Hotere’s Wae is entertainingly eloquent in her unspoken responses to what’s happening, and she’s a force to be reckoned with whenever she speaks up.
Chan’s Choi is deeply-felt and sometimes seems stylised (a nod to Chinese Opera conventions, perhaps?) which is entirely appropriate, given his attempts to adhere to tradition.
Leilan is clearly a sad figure who alleviates her disenfranchisement through fantasy, and Katlyn Wong is utterly compelling as she traverses a range of states of being. Her meta-theatrical agency as an observer, listener and deliverer of letters and tea adds an enriching directorial touch.
As Yee, the young man wanting to embrace this new world and life while conscious of his duty to what he has left behind, Sam Wang is convincingly riddled with the complexities of his situation.
Elsie is the most inclined to move on into a new and unknown future with no-nonsense determination, and in a richly nuanced performance Neenah Dekkers-Reihana embodies the role with whole-hearted flair and energy. The evolving relationship between Elsie and Yee is a life-affirming counterpoint to the downward pressure on all their lives – which makes the aforementioned sudden turn of events all the more dramatic.
I confess I’m surprised, on arrival, to see Neenah’s name in the programme, as I hadn’t noticed it when loading the production details a couple of weeks ago. Besides, hadn’t she been doing her solo show, This Is What It Looks Like, just last week at BATS? Only afterwards do I discover she stepped up to replace a flu-hit actress on Tuesday – two days before opening! The Hannah Playhouse bar is abuzz with the miracle of that achievement!
The Mooncake and the Kumara is an exceptional production on many levels. With just two more performances in Wellington you’ll have to get it quick – it heads for Auckland next week.
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A beautiful hui of language
Review by Emily Mowbray-Marks 26th Oct 2015
It’s a warm winded eve. I’m driving away from my sister’s 7 day-young baby and homemade hamburgers at ‘The Mount’ to sit in a 7pm showing of The Mooncake and The Kumara. I’ll admit, I’m a little reluctant tonight. The Kaimai comes closer in a magical mirage-like light as I farewell the air of our moana, and I think on how beautiful our land is.
We are approaching the season where only the deeply committed wish to sit in a darkened theatre; the others stay with our ra then marama: our wondrous mother nature. Still, I keep driving towards my J4 Baycourt seat.
It’s a full house for opening night. The audience are not ‘so Caucasian’ tonight. We are struck by the set as we find our letters and numbers. It reminds me of a gamelan – with its steps or tiers. The colours are similar too – a honey coloured wood like bamboo. I love the levels, and the soft open-weaved silk screens behind, framed in tall fallible tea-tree pole. Immediately there is a ‘taste of Asia’ with a twist of Māori with those kanuka branches. John Verryt (Set Designer) gets a tick from me.
It’s satisfying to see the levels realised too, when each whanau have their own whare within this multi-tiered arrangement of organic platforms. The real lanterns – and is it a Victorian lamp? (I’m not a prop historian) – interspersed, add a homely glow and help to emphasise the cultural statement of place too.
I’m enjoying this show. It has a gentleness, a quiet. Drew McMillan’s sound design is suitably soundtrack like – accentuating the dynamic, helping to punctuate the mythical elements of this simple tale of complex motivations and relations.
The Mooncake and The Kumara’s quadrilingualism is a stand out feature: Cantonese, Te Reo Maori, English and Sign make me feel excited. I’m excited I can understand some of the Māori (I’m improving). I’m excited this 516 seat auditorium is full to hear and see this beautiful hui of language.
I could have heard more waiata. Waimihi Hotere (who plays Wae) and Awhina-Rose Henare Ashby (who plays her daughter Elsie) sound positively oceanic together.
It is novel (wouldn’t it be great if this wasn’t the case) to have two signers dressed in black standing stage left, under a spotlight for 100 minutes of Mooncake and Kumara. Their dynamic is captivating. One is a lot shorter than the other very slender tall one. And pardon me but I can’t find names for these generous beings on the programme. Shorter is animated, engaged and engaging. Taller has eyes to the stage floor and returns to her place of neutrality between translation (hands crossed one upon the other, at the top of her thighs). She is possibly trying to ‘do nothing’ and to not ‘gain attention’. Little do many of us realise, we are all fascinating, the more we try to contain ourselves the more curious our audience become. We are nosey for secrets.
The play’s story line feels familiar and when I go to write this I recall a review previously written for Kiss the Fish. Two stories of love, of working the land, of family’s expectations, and a greedy ‘white fella’. Curious.
Speaking of Kiss, I’d forgotten how electric a stage kiss can be. I’m not going to give away who kisses who – you’ll have to go see it to see it. But it is … electric.
I am transfixed with Leilan (played by Chye-Ling Huang). Later, I ask my neighbour thespian-type, could she see the dance-like quality I saw. She concurs. Huang’s physical story-telling is spell-binding. Is this intuitive or a directive from the Tauranga-raised director, Katie Wolfe? Huang articulates her emotion with graceful arm and hand movement creating a serene poetry.
Another stand-out physical moment is the ‘headless chook’ moment with Jeremy Randerson’s Rodger Finlayson. Kramer-esk and dysfunctionally adorable, I forgive Randerson for his flailing accent, in this moment of complete vulnerability when arms, head and torso flail in his chook outburst.
Yoson An plays a positively handsome and reliably acted Yee. Charles Chan plays Choi: it’s beautiful to see a shiny headed ‘mature’ Chinese actor on stage. The Māori mama (Hotere) and kōtiro (Henare Ashby) have a relaxed ‘can depend upon one another’ quality; Hotere the epitome of earthy, spiritual maternal goddess, someone everyone would wish a hug from.
The acceptance, kindness and aroha of Elsie’s final speech is a moment of power and wisdom; a collection of writing with mana, and worth being there to hear. There is everything we can learn from each other all the time. We can grow by participating in each other’s culture; each other’s rituals. And then there’s the magic of language: how it is composed of philosophy and leads a people; how the English ‘sorry’ differs in feeling from the te reo Māori equivalent ‘aroha mai’ (literally: love me). For that is what we all are wanting to know: do you still love me? Even after this mistake I have made. Do you still? Aroha mai.
Hunt The Mooncake and The Kumara down at your next Arts Festival.
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Has the bones of a very fine play
Review by Gail Tresidder 15th Oct 2015
This play has powerful themes. Yee grieves for his village in China. Wae mourns her lost turangawaewae. The young find love, the grief-stricken Finlayson is an inconsolable drunk and somewhere, far away, there is a teller of tales: a metaphorical frog who lives in a well.
The ramshackle set (by John Verryt) works well, effectively portraying the hand to mouth existence of these Chinese and Māori gardeners. Letters to and from home, in Chinese and English, are projected on to muslin-covered bamboo screens. The layered stage provides house-room for all.
Charles Chan, as Choi, plays a lovely little tune on a Chinese flute, and bumbles his way somewhat ineptly, in to a real relationship. He is touching throughout.
Awhina-Rose Henare-Ashby, as Elsie, manages to be strident, brave and tender simultaneously.
Rodger Finlayson, as played by Jeremy Randerson, is ultimately unconvincing. He is just too twitchy, too irritating, and his messy accent grates. One should feel some sympathy for him, the party-pooper, the unwanted, but it doesn’t come. Perhaps a new perspective on this character would much improve the play.
Waimihi Hotere as Wae is close to perfect in her persona. She is lovely, funny, brave and performs an excellent waiata. Brava and also bravo to Yoson An as Yee. He is absolutely convincing and funny too, in his pivotal role.
Strong themes, of prejudice and New Zealand restrictive policy to the Chinese immigrants, remind us of how it used to be – and how much better it is now in this land “on the other side of life”.
The Mooncake & The Kumara has the bones of a very fine play though it could be shorter and sharper.
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