Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington

29/08/2012 - 01/09/2012

Production Details

Te Manawanui pop: 522. Everything you need is here.  

Three kids on the cusp of adulthood and a Duchess holding them altogether. An isolated rural predominantly Māori settlement, 40 minutes from civilisation and an Uncle’s succession plan.

This is the setting for The Prospect that, explores the territory where the lines between gangs and whānau are blurred, communities are left to fend for themselves against an onslaught of violence and intimidation, a baldhead isn’t necessarily a Pākehā and the strength of your whānau is only as strong as each individual member within it. 

Featuring Tola Newbery, Joe Dekkers-Reihana, Moana Ete, Rob Ringiao Lloyd, Ralph Johnson & Grace Hoet. 

Design Laurie Dean (Lights), Karnan Saba (Sound), Wai Mihinui & Jaimee Warda (Set & Costume). 

7.30PM, August 29 – September 1, 2012 
Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Te Aro, Wellington 
BOOKINGS: / Tickets Available at the Door 
PRICES: Adults $20 / Concessions $15 / Groups of 8+ $12  

Good Prospect

Review by Michael Wray 05th Sep 2012

The Prospect manages something so few theatre productions find possible: it makes the Gryphon Theatre a warm and vibrant place. It’s the first time I’ve seen a traverse stage setting at this venue and with the packed audience filling both sides of the auditorium, a positive atmosphere of anticipation was generated. The Prospect, written by Maraea Rakuraku and directed by Tammy Davis, lives up to the buzz.

Te Manawanui is a small town of 522. Beyond the local store and the takeaway, used as a front for a drug-dealing operation, there doesn’t seem to be much to the place.

Grace Hoet plays Duchess, a formidable matriarch attempting to keep her teenage grandchildren from going astray, and forms a partnership with the friendly Pakeha storekeeper, Ray (Ralph Johnson). The threat is the avuncular Gilbert, skilfully played with measured pace but increasing menace and violence by Rob Lloyd. Lloyd is superbly controlled, giving us a character who knows his power. When he whispers directly to the audience, we feel intimidated and lean forward to catch the barely audible words. 

The three grandchildren are Te Manawanui or Mana (Tola Newbery), Hombre (Joe Dekkers-Reihana) Ugg (Moana Ete). Mana and Hombre are 16. Their escape route is planned; they will join the army, but an incident between 14 year old Ugg and Gilbert changes everything. Mana finds himself confronted with gang culture and difficult choices that will determine the fate of his whole family. The story is played out over four years and Ete and Newbury are particularly impressive in portraying the changes in their characters.

Karnan Saba’s sound design provides great attention of detail, not just for things important to the plot, but subtle ambient effects, complemented with lighting (Laurie Dean), music (Rawiri and Joseph Hirini) set and costume (Wai Mihinui, Jaimee Warda).

It’s powerful, excellently presented and deserved a fuller season. 


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Powerful depiction of town under siege

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 31st Aug 2012

There’s an appealing rawness in the writing and structure of this first play by Maraea Rakuraku. And while her characters are stereotypes as well as symbols of good and evil, one is always held by the possibility that they might do the unexpected such is the power of the dramatic tension that she is able to create in the key scenes of her whanau drama set in the small Bay of Plenty town of Te Manawanui; pop: 522 and “40 minutes away from civilization”.

There’s a canker in the midst of Te Manawanui and it’s destroying the young men and women with its promise of an easy life through drugs and membership of the local gang run by a Machiavellian local called Gilbert who is played with sinister force by Rob Ringiao Lloyd. There’s a touch of Shakespeare’s Richard III about him as he revels in his power and control of the town. At one point he tells the audience “I am the future.”

Opposing him and everything he stands for are Duchess (Grace Hoet), the tough but lovable nana of Hombre (Joe Dekkers-Reihana) and his sister Ugg (Moana Ete) and their cousin Te Manawanui (Tola Newbery). Supporting them is Ray (Ralph Johnson), the local store owner and an assimilated Pakeha whose family has lived in the district for five generations.

Hombre and Te Manawanui are two 16 year-olds who dream of escaping their small world by joining the army but Gilbert’s insidious schemes tempts Te Manawanui to get sucked into the world of the gang, which is effectively depicted in one or two scenes by beams of light through which the cousins have to cautiously weave their way.

The playwright tells us the play at one level is about colonisation but this time it is about when “the oppressed oppress.” And yet, she continues, it is also about “love, that a kuia has for her mokopuna, a brother for his sister, cousins for each other and a town for their township.”

The play could do with some editing – the long discussion between Duchess and Ray about the shortcomings of the today’s youth in comparison with their traditional upbringing covers a well-trodden path – but the scenes of major confrontation, all of which are powerfully acted, indicate a playwright to watch out for in the future. 


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A rich and insightful theatrical experience

Review by John Smythe 30th Aug 2012

While other theatre companies are risk-averse with their programming, Tawata Productions just gets on with the job of doing what theatre was invented for. New writing is their “life-blood” and writers their “soul, conscience and heart.” They honour the fundamental purpose of theatre in any healthy society.

Maraea Rakuraku’s powerful first play, The Prospect, is a stunning debut. What’s more it is the first venture into theatre directing for Tammy Davis (Forum North trained, with impressive credits in film and television). Tawata producer Hone Kouka has gathered a strong cast and creative support team to ensure the heart of the work pulsates to infuse and enthuse their audience with its uncompromising drama and humour.

It is a brave undertaking, to confront the gang question head on. “I wrote it to understand why gangs are such a present, violent and traumatic part of my life and that of the community I come from,” Rakuraku writes in her programme note. “Yet strip away the layers and at its heart – it’s about love. The love a kuia has for her mokopuna, a brother for his sister, cousins for each other and a town for their township.” Indeed.

The delivery lives up to the conception, driven by the playwright’s very strong need to ‘come out’ and answer our collective and undeniable need to know. And the director’s solutions to some of the challenging production requirements are as surprisingly simple as they are effective.  

Fictitious Te Manawanui (pop 522), up a remote East Coast valley, is 40 minutes drive from the nearest police station. On one side there is the Pakeha-owned general store, on the other the Māori-owned take-aue shop. And in between, one representative whanau: the nanna they call Duchess, her mokopuna Ugg (real name Joanna) and Hombre, and his inseparable cuzzie-bro Te Manawanui.

“No greater endorsement than being named after the town,” says someone (the name means big heart, by the way). But that is no guarantee his life, or anyone’s, will be sweet.

At 16 the boys have long shared a plan to join the army as their ticket out to the big wide world – “to waste a few Arabs and get bin Laden” (the play starts about three years back from ‘the present’.) They just have to keep out of trouble. But money to keep the whanau going is, as always, scarce. There is a list of names in the store window of kids banned for shop-lifting, and Ugg is one of them. 

So when the boys’ desperation for a feed of burgers and chips leads to ‘Uncle’ Gilbert the shop-owner offering Te Manawanui a job at fifty bucks an hour … well, what would you do?

Gilbert, played with a potent blend of menace and paternalism by Rob Ringiao Lloyd, is a king-pin in the local chapter of the unnamed gang (its bandanas are green). “I am a businessman,” he keeps on saying; “it’s a business proposition.” His shop is a front for a drug operation which, judging by the size of the fish ’n’ chip-style packages, is probably cannabis if you want to be logical about it.

Gilbert also has ‘commandments’, the first of which puts loyalty to the group – the gang – above the individual. But his way of enforcing the rules is brutal. Despite his rhetoric he rules by fear and intimidation, reducing individuals to becoming mere cogs in his machine. Which, we may argue, is also what the army does, albeit in more subtle ways.  

The violence is visceral, convincing and mercifully brief. There is even a sequence where Te Manawanui is beaten up by a mob of gang bros, all simply imagined on stage and no less shocking for that. This directorial lightness of touch, which nevertheless grounds the action in instantly recognised truth, is also used to manifest the whanau at a tangi for a deceased gang member. Because we are so held by the developing story, such devices for keeping the story ‘real’ are welcome.

As embodied by Grace Hoet, Duchess is fearless in the face of Gilbert and rigorously loving of her mokopuna, including the tough love that – for example – makes her insist Ugg works off her debt in the store she robbed. She keeps her loyalty in perspective and maintains the balance between individual and community that challenges us all on a daily basis.

Moana Ete is intriguingly enigmatic, initially, as Ugg. It’s hard to know quite where she stands until, in attempting to save Te Manawanui (her cousin, for whom read the whole town) from joining the gang, she stands up in no uncertain terms to Gilbert. And pays for it (the euphemism “tune her up” will forever be bile-inducing now.) Ete has that quality of ‘being’ that draws us into her character’s experiences.

Ralph Johnson plays Ray, the “I don’t want any trouble” store-keeper, with a clear understanding of his position, and the relationship between him and Duchess is strong. Loyalty makes a claim here too, this time bound by human decency and a natural aversion to bullying. 

And so to the central pair, whose fate is the focus of the play. They are such boys to start with, interchangeable in their attitudes, still innocent as rural 16 year-olds and a ripe for the plucking as the oyster they hope their world will be.

With his whanau, Joe Dekkers-Reihana’s Hombre is an open book when it comes to his feelings But elsewhere – in the presence of Gilbert, for instance – he is monosyllabic to the point of surliness. His graduation from fairly ineffectual kid to military policeman is compellingly credible – yet in the play’s final moment the vulnerable boy reappears: a moving moment.  

The authenticity Tola Newbery brings to Te Manawanui – the prospect of the title – is the anchor-stone. The gut-wrenching empathy I feel for him, despite my middle-class horror at the decisions he makes, proves how well crafted the play and its production are. As with Ete, his ability to ‘be’ his character reeks of truth and so draws us in.

There is some expositional dialogue that could be trimmed, despite the actors’ abilities to sustain dramatic energy in delivering it. And the moral message is probably a bit too clearly spelled out for a sophisticated audience – although Gilbert’s rejoinder that “it’s the Pakeha that put us in this position” does remind us it’s not that simple and compel us to double-check. One of the play’s great strengths is that every character’s self-justified point of view is clearly stated, leaving each of us to work out where we stand and just how realistic our desired position is.

With a first production I think it is valuable that the playwright is able to articulate everything clearly then see for herself what the audience gets without being spoon-fed, rather than having edits imposed before their need is proven.

In the traverse setting (the best use of the Gryphon space I’ve seen), Tammy Davis keeps the action flowing seamlessly, achieving transitions in time and location with deceptive ease – abetted by Laurie Dean’s lighting. Wai Mihinui and Jaimee Ward’s set and costume designs, Karnan Saba’s sound design, and Rawiri & Joseph Hirini’s music all contribute to conjuring up the community which, despite its remoteness, is in many ways a microcosm of the whole country.

There is a resonance, too, with the whole question – as Maraea Rakuraku notes – of the trauma of colonisation: “How one culture assimilates another and the trail of destruction wrought as a result.” And there are moments that also echo the atrocities and justifications wrought by fundamentalism in every guise around the world and throughout history.

In short, The Prospect proves how universal a culturally specific story can be. As for the prospects for our futures – that’s up to us all, and seeing this play will contribute greatly to our collective understanding, as well as giving us a rich and insightful theatrical experience.

Hopefully this very short initial season means another is in the offing – soon, I hope.


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