Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland

09/03/2023 - 12/03/2023

Lake Wanaka Centre, Wanaka

28/03/2023 - 28/03/2023

Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson

19/10/2023 - 20/10/2023

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

29/02/2024 - 02/03/2024

Auckland Arts Festival | Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki 2023


Nelson Arts Festival 2023

Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2024

Production Details

Written by Tutsiata Avia
Directed by Anapela Polat’ivao
Produced by Victor Rodger

Presented by FFC

Fierce, furious and fabulously unforgiving.
Commissioned by the 2023 Auckland Arts Festival.

The multiple award-winning FCC production of Wild Dogs Under My Skirt by Tusiata Avia has left audiences shaken and stirred everywhere from New Zealand to New York. 

Now FCC is proud to present the The Savage Coloniser Show,  a blistering examination of race and racism inspired by Avia’s The Savage Coloniser Book – the first book by a female Pasifika poet to take out the top prize at the Ockham Book Awards in 2021. 

Under the artful direction of the equally formidable Anapela Polata’ivao, Avia’s unapologetic examination of race and racism is full of bold humour, courage and lacerating truths.

Featuring Avia’s trademark brand of clear eyed, razor sharp poetry along with mischievous music and compelling choreography, The Savage Coloniser Show interrogates the legacy of James Cook, and questions Australia’s policy of putting refugees on small Pacific islands.  But in amongst all the anger and fire of Avia’s words, there is also room for compassion as she movingly examines a mother’s love for her child.  The Savage Coloniser Show is not for the faint of heart, but it is also not to be missed…

Lake Wānaka Centre 
Tuesday 28 March
$52/$47/$42 (students $25)

Contains strong language
Suitable for ages 14+

Aotearoa NZ Festival of the Arts 2024

Originally commissioned by Auckland Arts Festival.

This show touches on important but difficult historical societal themes such as colonisation, slavery, genocide, sexual abuse and racism. Contains strong language.

There is a post-show talk on Saturday 2 March, 4pm.

There is a Choose Your Price Kōwhiria Tō Utu session on Sunday 3 March at 4pm. Book here.

E whakamataoratia ana te pukapuka a Tusiata Avia tohunga tui i te kōrero, a The Savage Coloniser Book. Ko Tusiata te wahine tuatahi o Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa i whakawhiwhia ki te tohu toikupu a Ockham.

Ko Anapela Polata’ivao te kaitohutohu. Ka kitea tā Avia mātau ki ngā kaupapa nei, te tāmi, te hunga i tāmia, ā, e kī ana i te māia, i te kata, me te pono kōharihari.

Circa Theatre
29 February 2024 6:30pm
1 March 2024  8pm
2 March 2024  4pm
2 March 2024  8pm Sold Out!

Composer: David Long

Stacey Leilua
Joanna Mika-Toloa
Petmal Lam
Saane Vaipulu
Katalaina Polataivao Saute
Mario Faumui

Kasi Valu - Stage Manager
Peter Davison - LX Operator
Emily Hakaraia - Production Manager/Sound Operator
Andrew Malmo - Company Producer

Rachel Marlow & Brad Gledhill - Production Designers (Filament Eleven11)
Elizabeth Whiting - Costume Designer
Tupua Tigafua and Mario Faumui - Choreographers

Theatre , Performance Poetry ,

1hr 10 mins (no interval)

Reveals the worst parts of the human condition, honestly, truthfully

Review by Mitchell Manuel 02nd Mar 2024

“There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man’s notion that he is less savage than the other savages.” ― Mark Twain, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World.

Tusiata Avia, born and raised in Christchurch, is a brilliant writer and The Savage Coloniser Show as a theatrical play is extraordinary. The Savage Coloniser Book won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards in 2021. That is huge. So, I expect an amazing night – and get it.

Circa Theatre’s foyer is a hive of activity: people dining, e-tickets being presented and banter. I’ve heard, prior to the show, about a number of Kiwis who have complained about excerpts of The Savage Coloniser being printed in news print and online. I mean, who are these Kiwis? And I wonder if there might be protesters there in the foyer planning to express their disgust at how Tusiata’s work might incite riots and hate, and perhaps offer up a different prospective of New Zealand’s colonialism.

But based on the loud applause and standing ovation at the end of the seventy minute play (no interval), if that is anything to go by, the answer was a clear, no.

In the theatre, a large semi-transparent screen greets the packed mature audience of largely Pākehā looking men and women with a minority of Pacific Island and Māori in attendence. The screen is very intriguing, creating a matt from a painting and we are the viewers looking at Art pieces.

The rest of the show was astonising.

Tusiata Avia writes about the things we know to be true but unlike her are afraid to admit or question, certainly not publicly. Tusiata’s work is public. She says things people are stunned to hear or read, revealing the worst parts of the human condition, honestly, truthfully. She explores our capacity to accept a narrative or find empowerment in the power of a woman’s voice to be the catalyst for cathartic change – if we want it. The show contains a plethora of white supremacy barbs: its generational affects from the time of colonial occupation to the present.

The ensemble of six – Iuni-Katalaina Polata’ivao-Saute, Joanna Miki-Toloa, Stacey leilua, Mario Faumui, Ilaisaane Green and Petmal Petelo – give us a flawless performance from singing, dancing and reciting to educating. From begging to end: the eerie arrival of Samoan voices urging opposition, resistance, to the colonial fathers of Christchurch, one of which is linked to the Parihaka invasion which founded the racism of the past and is still present; its own massacre in March 2019 and its “This is not us” because we’re not here for you, but Avia’s chant is: That is us. Seemingly innocuous hand clap games reference our OZ neighbours imprisoning refugees in, of all places, islands of the Pacific. And as the evening progresses with a variety of gut-wrenching performances, it ends with a mother and daughter.

One could see the last act as a prophecy offering up a society of matriarchs within the South Pacific who will lead with passion, dignity, truth and love.

Kudos to the amazing Director Anapela Polata’ivao and her incredible performers; Choreographers Tupua Tigafua and Mario Faumui; Composer: David Long; Production designers Bradley Gledhill and Rachel Marlow; Stage manager Kasi Valu – and Producer: Victor Rodger.


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Outstanding stage spectacle stimulates thought and debate about how we look at the past to define our future

Review by Adrienne Matthews 25th Oct 2023

The Savage Coloniser Show, based on Tusiata Avia’s The Savage Coloniser Book of poetry, has received rave reviews for being, amongst other things, “disruptive, empowering and honest.” It is all those things and many more.

Samoan born/South Auckland raised director, Anapela Polata’ivao has directed the production with precision and flair, giving it wings to fly far above the mundane while producer, Victor Rodger, also deserves great credit.

The opening of the play takes us far back in time, pre-colonisation, to an ethereal spiritual realm, setting an atmosphere on which layers of subsequent experience will evolve. A cleverly crafted frame with transparent screen stretched across the scene enables images to be projected throughout. The atmosphere of a deep spiritual other-worldliness is quickly overcome by fierce, vehement words that fly like barbs to represent Tusiata’s experiences of racism in Christchurch as a “brown girl”.

The images on the screen change as her words rage against the Christchurch founders, artist Paul Gaugin and a doctor, amongst others.

There are so many ways of seeing, hearing and experiencing this work which is probably its greatest achievement. Tusiata has made abundantly clear in many interviews that she likes to shock people and, in this case, particularly “white people”. The dialogue is peppered with references to “brown girls” and “white men”. “Brown girls” are the symbols of those who were colonised in New Zealand and “white men” are the colonisers.

The play encourages me to confront my own ancestry and the cruel reality that there is barely a race on earth that hasn’t been colonised at some stage in history, many more than once, and we need to empathise with those who still suffer the results. Tusiata, in taking us back to pre-colonial times, reminds us of our own varied history, its losses, brutality and cruelty.

Her determination to throw the blanket of responsibility for “colonisation” in New Zealand on the collective “white people” however, begs to be challenged.  She has used The Savage Coloniser Show as a platform from which to speak of her own experience and beliefs which will resonate with many others but also to place the burden of colonialisation on all “white people”, regardless of their own history. This could be seen as insulting and dismissive because, like her and most others living in New Zealand today, most did not choose to be born here and did not choose the actions of their ancestors, European, Māori, Pasifika or otherwise.

The play also raises the question of what is “white”? New Zealand was colonised first and foremost by those from Britain but also peoples from many other nationalities whose skin varies in colour. Is Tusiata accusing all races of colonialism except those of the Pacific? She asserts that New Zealand is a country based on white supremacist violence but in reality, it is also built on pre-colonial Māori tribal violence upon Māori and Māori violence upon the indigenous people of the Chatham Islands, the Moriori. There are many layers to this land’s history and to deny some at the expense of others is to see the world through a narrower lens than should be applied.

Throughout The Savage Coloniser Show Tusiata covers all her bases to discourage criticism of her views by joking about how “white people” will respond. A section of the play is devoted to a ‘how to guide’ for entering a room of “white people” which includes: “Hear white people say it’s hard to be white and I’m utterly sick of being demonized for my ethnicity.” The implication is that those who criticise her opinion are both laughable and dismissible.

The work, however, is a tour de force in the quality of its production. The actors – Frankie Adams, Mario Faumuii, Ilaisaane Green, Vaimaila Urale Baker, Joanna Miki Toloa, Petmal Petelo Lam and Iuni-Katalaina Polata’ivao-Sauteare – are all extraordinary in their commitment and delivery and the precision in every aspect is remarkable. The choreography is at times challenging but always executed seamlessly with transitions between scenes exquisitely done.

Composer David Long has to be commended for his contribution, particularly ‘Blacking Out the Va’ which is fearsomely beautiful yet restrained. Cast member Joanna MikaToloa’s rendition of Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’ is out of this world and all the music used throughout contributes richly to the performance.

The Savage Coloniser Show really gets me thinking about the significance and power of words; what they can contribute to our world, what they can illuminate and what harm, good or otherwise they can do – and the role of theatre as a vehicle for that.

I do call into question the language used in the infamous poem ‘250th anniversary of James Cook’s arrival in New Zealand’ that has previously drawn such controversy.  Tusiata uses Cook as a symbol of ‘colonisers’ and despite Claire Mabey’s instructions on ‘How to Read a Poem’, available online in response to this piece, I have the following issue with it. Tusiata is referring to a historical figure but also his descendants:

These days
we’re driving round
in SUVs
looking for ya
or white men like you
who might be thieves
or rapists
or kidnappers
or murderers
yeah, or any of your descendants
or any of your incarnations
cos, you know
ay, bitch?
We’re gonna FUCK YOU UP.

I have no problem with criticism of figures past but that Tusiata includes “any of your descendants” concerns me greatly because they are real, living people today and the language she uses toward them is violent, threatening and abusive.  Prior to his journeys to the Pacific, Captain Cook spent time charting the coastlines of the St Lawrence and Nova Scotia area regions. During this time, he fell in love with a local woman who had his child from whom his only descendants originate. The language referred to by some critics and commentators as “figurative” and permitted because it is a “work of art” leaves me questioning whether this is the case or whether, in fact, this is violence and revenge dressed as art.

As a stage spectacle The Savage Coloniser Show is outstanding. That it stimulates thought and discussion is to be commended but it is certainly not a conversation because there is only one prevailing view expressed. That of course is the writer’s privilege. Tusiata is bound by her own cultural voice and her experience and few who feel and see her pain through this work could argue it is not important to be heard. But how does that anger, still so raw after so many years, bring New Zealanders of all races and combinations, closer to understanding each other?

It is not unusual for revenge to be the motive behind works of art and this play is such an example. The shock tactics in the language used are designed to encourage “white” members of the audience to feel guilt. It looks backwards to the history of colonisation in anger but without any suggestion of how to move forward in a way that is helpful.

The effectiveness of anger is limited. Yes, it can be useful to illuminate and expose but on its own it can prevent other, more positive and constructive ways of seeing and being. Shock tactics are useful until they flip a backlash in response.

I hope that this work will encourage more debate about how we look at the past and define the future. I hope too that it gives others of all races and backgrounds the momentum to speak their own truth because only by hearing the voices of others can we develop understanding and hope for the future.


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Lifts the veil with unflinching truth, pockets of humour, cathartic cursing and dancing

Review by Camille Khouri 29th Mar 2023

Adapted from Tusiata Avia’s The Savage Coloniser Book, The Savage Coloniser Show is a confronting and intense immersion into the experience of being Pasifika in Aotearoa.

For those with Pacific roots – or indeed anyone who experiences racism in New Zealand – this is likely a cathartic watch. For white audience members, it has you squirming with brutal hits to the heartstrings, and may even have you lying awake thinking about things you have – inadvertently or otherwise – said or done, and how you can change. This is, for sure, the desired response and it hits the mark, with full credit to director Anapela Polat’ivao, producer Victor Rodger and of course to Avia’s poignant and unrelenting words.

The performers – Frankie Adams, Mario Faumuii, Ilaisaane Green, Vaimaila Urale Baker, Joanna Miki Toloa, Petmal Petelo Lam and excellent young newcomer Iuni-Katalaina Polata’ivao-Saute – do an incredible job, both collectively and in their individual performances, of maintaining the rhythm of the show and bravely delving into the depths of its subject matter.

‘Savage’ takes on many meanings throughout the show, as the harsh nature of being a brown person in a modern, white world is depicted with touching clarity, and tales of the violent history of colonisation are deftly delivered, at a time when the label of savage was given to the victims but was deserved by the perpetrators.

The show uses spoken word poetry delivered as segments of conversations and performances. Among the horrors that are the true stories of colonisation, delivered unflinchingly with no details left to the imagination, there are pockets of humour, much of it at the fair expense of white people. One such example is a ‘how to guide’ for entering a room full of white people, with snippets of uncomfortably recognisable conversation.

Perhaps the most confronting piece comes at the outset of the show with a look into the history and current state of racism in Christchurch. The savage acts and grandiose titles of the white men whose names grace the city’s main streets are detailed and delivered alongside the name and acts of the 2019 mosque shooter. This lays bare the cold irony of lending this high regard to these colonisers and also equates the acts of violence committed by them with the modern day act of terrorism in the city. There is a sharp intake of breath among the audience when the reality of this comparison becomes starkly clear. 

The show uses the effective device of a white veil suspended across the stage front. Most of the performances are seen through this opaque fabric, providing a sense of historical softening in a deliberately ironic way. The veil is also used for projections, as a means of stage setting for the different stories depicted. When the actors move in front of the veil, the performance gets truly gritty with a good deal of cathartic cursing and some awesome dance numbers that include plenty of cheehoo-inspiring body shaking and twerking.

At the finale, the curtain lifts and a touching familial moment between mother and daughter gives promise for a future where the realities shown previously are better acknowledged.

The choreography by Tupua Tigafua and Mario Faumuii is excellent throughout, with the simple yet effective use of chairs, fabrics and pighunting knives as props. Equally the costume design by Elizabeth Whiting is deftly used to bring a Pasifika flavour to the stage. The music with compositions by David Long is on point and emotive throughout, with a standout musical number being Joanna Mika-Toloa’s joyously naughty performance of Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’.

Despite potentially playing to the palest audience in New Zealand in Wanaka, the cast receives a standing ovation and are even serenaded by audience members as they leave the stage.


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