Massey University Drama Lab, Wallace St, Entrance A, Block 5, D14, Wellington

07/02/2020 - 09/02/2020

Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington

22/07/2022 - 24/07/2022

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

14/11/2023 - 18/11/2023

Production Details

Helen Pearse-Otene: Kaituhi , Kaiato Waiata, Kaihuawaere | Writer, Composer & Facilitator
Jim Moriarty: Kaitohu, Kaihuawaere | Director & Facilitator | Producer (2020)
Aneta Pond: Kaihautū | Producer (2020); Lisa Maule: Kaihautū | Producer (2022)

Presented by Te Rākau

THE SWING is a Theatre Marae project that seeks to unravel the shame and hurt that clouds & distorts the subjects of Ngau Whiore (sexual abuse) and Whakamomori (suicide), and is a creative, therapeutic, and kaupapa Māori investigation and response to these issues.

Recent studies in what works best in trauma therapies is complementary with traditional Māori practices.

The project is three-fold:

As a play it weaves the pūrākau of Tānemahuta and Hinetītama to portray a whānau struggling to recover from the shadow of ngau whiore and whakamomori.

As a community based rangahau project it is a hui for community members to process their lived experiences and research the resonance of the pūrākau through a Māori performance.

As an event it opens a public space for communities to connect with the wider community, organisations, policy makers and experts tasked with addressing incest, child abuse, family violence and suicide in Aotearoa-NZ.

Recent studies in what works best in trauma therapies is complementary with traditional Māori practices that invoke body oriented and group based approaches to healing. This has informed our research on applying the healing and educational potential of pūrākau in the context of the whare tapere (traditional house of entertainment). The research has occurred over 20 years of working with whānau (both rangatahi and pakeke), in the community and in prisons, caught up in the clutches of family violence and sexual harm. Our mahi has included youth residential facilities with both so termed victims and perpetrators.

Writer Helen Pearse-Otene is a registered and practising Psychologist pursuing her PHD and Jim is a Registered Psychiatric Nurse. They have spent the last few months working therapeutically with a group of women who were sexually harmed by family members, in response-based practices, exploring ways of moving forward. Jim and Helen have brought this work to the rehearsal room floor as Directors to inform rehearsals.

Te Rākau has received funding and support from Creative New Zealand, Wellington Community Trust, Wellington City Council and Massey University to present our latest work THE SWING to an invited audience from Government, Council, Health and service providers, Counsellors and Psychologists, Iwi, Māori community advocates and Education.

The performances are at Massey University in Wellington;
The Drama Lab, Blicl 5, Level D.
7 February @ 1pm & 7pm
8 February @ 1pm & 7pm
9 February @ 1pm

The event will be approximately 1.5 hrs including an opportunity for audience members to kōrero after the performance.

The Swing – in Motion

By Helen Pearse-Otene
Directed by Jim Moriarty
Filmed by Isaac Te Reina

“Powerful, profound, haunting, healing: a must see.”

Te Rākau Theatre presents a unique opportunity to preview Helen Pearse-Otene’s critically acclaimed play, The Swing, on the big screen this November.

In response to feedback from communities around Aotearoa, Te Rākau has produced a professional quality digital recording of The Swing and is inviting audiences to the premiere public screening at Circa Theatre.

Mirroring the pūrakau of Tāne Mahuta and Hine Nui Te Po, The Swing – in Motion provides a detailed, researched and caring account of one family’s attempt to manage ngau whiore (sexual abuse) and whakamomori (suicide) and navigate a process of restoration.

After watching the motion picture, audiences are invited to join a kōrero with kaituhi (author) Helen Pearse-Otene, kaitohu (director) Jim Moriarty, and other members of the creative team behind this moving digital experience.

This experience has been expertly crafted to bring the same uplifting, engaging and brave kōrero to the floor as the original live theatre version.

In addition to its value as a digital theatre piece, The Swing – in Motion is an ideal starting point for iwi, statutory agencies, health professionals, therapists, social services, training institutions, researchers and community advocates seeking professional or educational development. Find out more about wānanga available in 2024 on our website.

The film is 80 minutes long followed by a 10 minute interval for light refreshments and a 30 minute wānanga. The creative team invite all audience members to stay for the whakanoa, and to let us know of your accessibility requirements ahead of time.

Content advisory: The Swing contains references to family violence, sexual abuse and suicide. Content and language that may offend or trigger some viewers. Recommended 15+ years, parental discretion advised.

Circa Two, Circa Theatre
14 – 18 November 2023
Price: $17 – $32
Groups: 10+ $25
Tuesday 14 November – 6pm
Wednesday 15 November – 6pm
Thursday 16 November – 6pm
Friday 17 November – 6pm
Saturday 18 November – 7pm

Reviews and community feedback

“Powerful, profound, haunting, healing: a must see.” – Lynda Chanwai-Earl for Theatreview

“It absolutely triggered me in the best way possible. Every time I heard Rewa’s name all I could think about was my cousins, nephews and mokopuna.” – Audience member

“We have been wanting to take disclosure wānanga to Marae [in our rohe]. I just didn’t know ‘how’ to start those conversations. After seeing your show, you are the ‘how’.” – Social service provider

KĀHUI:  Arihia Hayvice, Nova Te Hāpua & Paige Wilson
REWA:  Manuel Solomon
JEN:  Angie Meiklejohn
KATH:  Maria-Rose MacDonald
MIKE:  Saul Kolio
BRENDAN:  Noel Hayvice
MANEA:  Hariata Moriarty
LUKE:  Tamati Moriarty

Helen Pearse-Otene:  Kaituhi / Kaitito Waiata / Kaihuawaere  |  Writer, Composer & Facilitato
Jim Moriarty:  Kaitohu / Kaihuawaere  |  Director &Facilitator
Aneta Pond:  Kaihautū  |  Producer
Lisa Maule:  Kaiwhakahaere Whakaaturanga / Kaihoahoa Tūrama  |  Production Manager & Lighting Designer
Haami Hawkins:  Kaiwhakahaere Papamahi / Kaitito / Ringa Puoro  |  Stage Manager, Composer & Musician
Tony De Goldi:  Kaihoahoa Pae Whakaari  |  Set Designer
Cara Louise Waretini:  Kaihoahoa Kākahu  |  Costume Designer
Kezia Maule:  Kaiawhina Hoahoa Kākahu  |  Costume Assistant
Kimberley Skipper:  Kaitito Nekehanga / Kaiwhakaako  |  Choreographer & Tutor
Manuel Solomon:  Kaitito Nekehanga / Kaiwhakaako  |  Choreographer & Tutor
Sinead Cameron:  Kaiwhakaako  |  Tutor


There are many communities in Aotearoa that need to have this kōrero brought in to the light. We would like to tour The Swing to marae, prison’s, hauora providers, conferences, rural communities and internationally.

If you can support us on this journey in any way – contacts, funding, performance spaces, or spreading the word, please get in touch with us: |
Aneta Pond
(Kauhautū/Producer) - 021 272 2723
Jim Moriarty (Kaitohu/Director) - 027 443 9250

Kaitohu / Director: JIM MORIARTY
Kaitohu Tango Whakaahua / Director of Photography: ISAAC TE REINA
Kaiwāwahi / Editor: ISAAC TE REINA
Kaitito Waiata / Songs: HELEN PEARSE-OTENE
Kaitito Puoro / Composer: MICHAEL BARKER
Kaihoahoa Kākahu / Costume Designer: CARA LOUISE WARETINI
Kaihoahoa Tūrama | Kaitohu Toi Kiriata / Lighting and Production Designer: LISA MAULE
Kaihoahoa Taputapu / Props and Furniture Designer: TONY DE GOLDI
Kaitito Nekehanga / Choreography: JEREMY DAVIS, KIMBERLY SKIPPER
Kaihautū / Producers: LISA MAULE, JIM MORIARTY
Kaihautū Hāpai / Development Producer: ANETA POND
Manea / Hinetītama HARIATA MORIARTY
Rewa / Tānemahuta JEREMY DAVIS
Kaitohu Tuarua / Assistant Director
Kaiwhakahaere Papamahi / Stage Manager: DYLAN FA’ATUI
Kaitohu Teina / Intern Director
Kaiwhakahaere Papamahi Tuarua / Assistant Stage Manager:M ARI HAYVICE
Kaiwhakahaere Hangarau / Technical Manager: JANIS C.Y. CHENG
Pouako Whakaari / Acting Tutor: TAMATI MORIARTY
Ringa Hopuata / Camera Operator: DAVID HARRIS
Ringa Whakahaere Rama / Lighting Operator: JANIS C.Y. CHENG
Ringahopu Ora / Sound Recordist: TAHUAROA OHIA
Kaiāwhina Manaaki / Unit Assistant: NOEL HAYVICE
Kaitaka Kai / Catering: CHEF GIRL AND BAR BOY
Filmed live at Avalon Studio, Te Awakairangi, Aotearoa (Lower Hutt, New Zealand)
‘Ko Hinetītama’: Composition and lyrics by Helen Pearse-Otene
Music produced and arranged by Michael Barker
Performed by the cast of The Swing
‘Te Ōhākī a Hinetītama’: Composition and lyrics by Helen Pearse-Otene
Music produced and arranged by Michael Barker
Performed by the cast of The Swing
‘He Manu Au’: Composition and lyrics by Helen Pearse-Otene
Music produced and arranged by Michael Barker
Performed by the cast of The Swing
‘Te Hā o Hineahuone’: Composition and lyrics by Helen Pearse-Otene
Music produced and arranged by Michael Barker
Performed by the cast of The Swing
Chorus recorded at Ahumairangi Studios
Te Rewa o Puanga - Toi Rauwhārangi, Pukeahu, Te Kunenga Ki Pūrehuroa
Recording Engineer (Chorus) / Kaipūkaha Oro (Kāhui): MIKE GIBSON
Assistant Engineers (Chorus) / Kaiāwhina Kaipūkaha Oro (Kāhui): ROBBIE PATTERSON, DAN GOODWIN
Music played by MICHAEL BARKER
Music recorded and mixed by ANDREW DOWNES
Kaihautū / Executive Producer: JOHN MCKAY
Waihanga Tutuki / Post Production Facility: POW STUDIOS
Kaihautū Hangarau / Post Supervisor: ETHAN THOMPSON
Kaihono Tae / Colourist: KATIE PARKINSON
Kaiwhakaraupapa Hōtaka / Online Editor: KYLE AWA
Kaihono Oro / Re-recording Mixer and Sound Designer: YONG-LE CHONG
Kaiwāwāhi Kupu / Dialogue Editor: GEORGE PALMER
Kaiwāwāhi Oro / Sound Effects and Music Editor: MATT ASUNDER

Theatre Marae , Theatre , Te Reo Māori , Film ,

Approx 1hr 30min

Made with a heart-melting level of care

Review by Nitika Erueti-Satish 17th Nov 2023

There is some felt thought put into the pre-care of the audience before we watch the digital recording of The Swing because we are welcomed into the theatre with ushers and production crew on both sides of the aisles. Before the film starts, Matua Jim Moriarty opens with a karakia and mihimihi. He explains the journey the production of this piece has been on and goes on to explain the content and themes within the piece that are sensitive, and may be triggering to some audience members. This ensures we are well informed of the background of the piece and how it evolved so that we can ingest what we are about to see with an open heart.

The Swing – written by Helen Pearse-Otene, directed by Jim Moriarty and produced by Te Rākau – is about sexual abuse and family violence within isolated communities. It reveals in human form the incestuous story of Tānemahuta and Hinetītama through a small family who are struggling with the effects of incest and suicide.

The story begins with te ao wairua penetrating te ao o te ora. This scene represents the character who is lost to suicide because of the abuse they endured as a child. Manea was a victim of sexual abuse from her father Rewa who also fell victim to the same abuse from his father along with Rewa’s sister Kath. The trauma caused Manea to commit suicide, Rewa was convicted and imprisoned, and Kath went crazy and ultimately took her own life.

The 80 minute digital show is extremely well captured and makes me wish I had seen the live version of this show. The digitisation is in super high quality: you can see every crease of the skin and fine hairs on each character’s face. The lighting complements and enhances each scene as the show unfolds. The music and sounds of taonga pūoro help evoke emotion and meaning. Through the music you sense what the characters feel. I also see the acknowledgement of iwi though the use of poi and how it keeps a sort of rhythmic texture to the show, supporting the very fitting mōteatea.

Combining these elements makes watching this show very intense. It is a very striking piece to absorb. I take my hat off to Kimberley Skipper who plays Kath. The versatility and skill this wāhine possess in her craft is just WOW. She carries the mauri with all its shifts, highs, and lows throughout the whole show.

While the subject matter could be too confronting for some, I do believe The Swing has a purpose and that this is an important medium to influence change and spread awareness about what is described in the show as a crisis in Aotearoa. This digital version can be used as a tool to educate communities about sexual harm and violence. At the end, we are informed that Te Rākau hopes that this mahi will tour and become a resource for families and communities.

After the show we are invited to join in a Q&A and some kai. This is a whakawātea: a tradition through which we reset by bringing people together, checking in with one another and breaking bread. Tikanga Māori ensures we, as the audience, are cared for and reflects how the cast and the production crew have cared for each other while making this show.

The level of care felt amongst the people who attend melts my heart and exemplifies how shows with sensitive and aggressive subject matters should be made. Well done to all and a big congratulations.


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A carefully considered and expertly crafted experience that has real potential to be an instigator of change

Review by Fiona McNamara 17th Nov 2023

Te Rakau Theatre’s The Swing – in Motion is a new film of the award-winning theatre production, first staged in 2020. It is a powerful tale of how the intergenerational trauma of ngau whiore (sexual abuse, incest) and whakamomori (suicide) can tear apart lives, whānau and whole communities.

Mirroring the pūrakau of Tāne Mahuta and Hine Nui Te Po, it tells the story of a whānau over three generations. Siblings, Kath (Kimberely Skipper) and Rewa (Jeremy Davis) grew up in a home in which Kath was subjected to sexual abuse by their father. Rewa goes on to rape his own daughter, Manea (Hariata Moriarty), who tragically takes her own life.  

Sexual violence, family violence and suicide will touch all of us in our lifetimes. Knowing this, the creative team, led by writer, Helen Pearse-Otene and director, Jim Moriarty, have taken great care to tell this story with sensitivity, knowing what it might unlock in the audience. The production is informed by voices of survivors and whānau that support them. In opening the wananga space after the show, Moriarty tells us “we made it for our people – the people who’ve been hurt.” The team’s manaakitanga is felt – they have taken great care to hold us after the show, in a wananga space, followed by shared kai, providing the chance to connect.

The company has a big vision for The Swing – In Motion, aiming to take it to communities to be part of conversations and actions those communities are taking to collectively heal from trauma. Pearse-Otene and Director Moriarty are, as well as artists, health professionals. Pearse-Otene is a registered practising psychologist and Moriarty is a registered psychiatric nurse. For the past 20 years they have worked with survivors, perpetrators and family members affected by trauma. They worked with people who were sexually harmed by family members to explore new ways of moving forward, and this experience and the voices of these survivors informs this work. The team expertly combines their storytelling skills with their mental health and trauma-informed training and cultural knowledge to create an experience that is confronting, challenging and healing.

Kāhui – Huia Max, Erena Page, Brooke Wharehinga, Jewel Te Wiki, Rylee Herewini – with choreography by Kimberely Skipper and Jeremy Davis, paired with a haunting soundtrack, evoke a spiritual presence throughout. The design elements – lighting by Liza Maule, costumes by Cara Louise Waretini and set by Toni De Goldi – come together to create a simple yet effective image.

The live performance has been expertly filmed and edited by Isaac Te Reina. With close ups and wide shots, the film still feels immersive, as if we are sharing the same space as the actors. As with every element of the production, the decision to translate the live performance onto screen has been carefully considered, with the team acknowledging that for some the live version is too much. The screen creates a distancing effect, so we can remind ourselves we are watching fiction.

Every element of this production and the tikanga and community development process that surrounds it has been carefully considered and expertly crafted to create an experience that is much more than a night out at the theatre or cinema. The Swing – in Motion has real potential to be an instigator of change by opening conversations that can build movements to stand up against abuse and stop cycles of violence, and move communities towards collective healing.  


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Confronting the truth to inspire positive action

Review by Mitchell Manuel 16th Nov 2023

The Swing is the most potent and reflective film I’ve ever watched.

Te Rākau Hua o Te Wao Tapu Trust was formed in 1989 by Jim Moriarty and Jerry Banse. Currently, Te Rākau is led by director Jim and writer Helen Pearse-Otene. They use the unique Te Rākau Theatre Marae model to create theatre productions, run workshops and build health within our communities – including at schools, rural communities, Marae, prisons and youth justice facilities – covering a huge and diverse diaspora of Aotearoa.

Written by Helen Pearse-Otene and directed by Jim Moriarty, The Swing adds to a rich legacy of splendid theatre that is both immersing, captivating and diverse. Originally a stage play (reviewed in 2020 and 2022), it was recently transposed into a digital film by Isaac Te Reina with Lisa Maule and Jim Moriarty as producers.

It juxtaposes Māori mythology with the present, the myth being the ancient incestuous pakiwaitara (folk lore) of Hinetītama (dawn maid) who is the mother of all people, the daughter of Hineahuone (earth-formed woman), the first creation of Tānemahuta, the god of the forest and eldest child of Papatūānuku (earth mother) and Ranginui (sky father).

When Hinetītama grew of age, Tānemahuta enticed her as his wife and had several daughters, but when Hinetītama wanted to know her father, Tānemahuta deferred to asking the ‘posts of house’. Hinetītama knew then that Tanemahuta and her father were one and the same. Feeling guilty and ashamed, she told Tānemahuta that he would take care of the living while she would live in Rarohenga (the underworld) to look after the dead, and she’d forever be known as Hinenuitepō (the woman of the darkness).

The present is set in a rural, largely Māori community where whakamomori (suicide) and ngau whiore (incest, sexual abuse) are present. For me, The Swing shows us we have the ability to encounter, acknowledge and confront societal problems and issues—to have whaikaha, the strength and ability to not only be well but to function in a meaningful, caring and responsible way within our communities and society.

The Swing is literally based around a garden swing. It is as much a metaphor as it is the central piece of the story. Think about a swing: it is dormant, sitting idly and dualistic. We cannot live without the lows and highs; it is a pendulum swinging back and forth. The Swing is about the tragic and worst parts of human frailty, the gravity of which must be confronted, questioned, realised and positively acted upon. When the swing’s equilibrium is in a state of leathery inaction, neglect, indolence and apathy, we not only allow the tragedy to happen, we condone it. It takes a little push, faith, belief and conviction of truth to change, to question it and say, “Who am I, who are we, and what can we do to change?”

The cast is stellar: Louis Tait (Brendan), Angie Meiklejohn (Jen and Hineahuone), Kimberley Skipper (Kath), Kauri Leach (Luke), Hariata Moriarty (Manea and Hinetītama), Saul Kolio (Mike), Jeremy Davis (Rewa and Tānemahuta) supported by Huia Max, Erena Page, Brooke Wharehinga, Jewel Te Wiki and Rylee Herewini. Their performances are breath-taking, convincing, emotional and astral. I find the exploratory themes provoking and challenging and would encourage anyone from all walks of life to see The Swing and experience it.

And about myths:
Myths have become a synonym for craven, heathen, un-godly and untrue stories, but the mythology expert Joseph Campbell has said that myths are truths; they convey values, emblems and symbols. He says, “Myth is much more important and true than history. History is just journalism, and you know how reliable that is.”

We know of the Māori creation myth that begat Hinetītama thanks to our own Tohunga (ancient Māori priests), our truth tellers. That’s the truth.


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Powerful, profound, haunting, healing: a must see

Review by Lynda Chanwai-Earle 24th Jul 2022

From the moment the audience enters the venue, we are embraced by a fierce, dramatically choreographed pōwhiri (welcoming) by the Kaitito Nekehanga (Choreographers) Kimberley Skipper and Jeremy Davis. It’s a signature of Te Rākau Theatre’s kaupapa and seasoned Director Jim Moriarty’s style. Helen Pearse-Otene’s play The Swing has already begun.

Te Rākau’s programme clearly states what to expect in terms of content trigger warnings for the audience, with offers of facilitated kōrero and support from experienced mental health practitioners at the end of the play: The Swing is about sexual abuse, family violence and suicide.

The audience is seated across from each other in Tony De Goldi’s deceptively simple, stunning traverse set design. Pivotal props – a child’s swing and leaves – are illuminated by lighting designer Lisa Maule’s subtle touch.

Like an intricate kōwhaiwhai pattern, the present-day intergenerational story of incest and family violence is woven with the ancient pūrākau (ancestor narrative) of Tānemahuta, who raped his daughter Hinetītamai. In her rage and grief, Hinetītamai took her life and became Hinenui Te Pō (Goddess of Death) and brought about the mortality of humankind.

Based on true life stories, The Swing sweeps us into the familiar, acutely uncomfortable drama of incest and rape. These are stories that, if we are to be honest, affect too many of us, across communities, across cultures and across the globe.

Yet The Swing, deftly written by Pearse-Otene, has huge heart. It’s a gently told story that demands to be heard. Her play confronts us with the hardest subject matter, yet it is full of hope. Rather than demonising, Pearse-Otene humanises the characters who are perpetrators of violence, to take us on a vital journey towards healing.

Using kaupapa Māori research methods and therapy models, Te Rākau Theatre have explored the ancient pūrākau of Tānemahuta to show how this story is universal, as humankind’s allegory towards understanding why incest and family violence are universally forbidden, and importantly, to show us ways of embracing the issues.

Programme notes explain; “The Swing came about as a community-led response to current thinking in sexual abuse services and therapy practices – what works and what doesn’t. It’s the creative outcome of a research project carried out by adult survivors of incest and child sexual abuse, as well as parents of survivors and their supporters.”

Three years in the making, Pearse-Otene began writing The Swing as part of her PhD in Psychology at Victoria University of Wellington – Te Herenga Waka. The process included marae-based wānanga and performance enquiry in theatre, which sought (in her words) “to evoke the healing and educational potential of pūrākau in the context of whare tapere, or the house of entertainment (theatre).”

The actors double up in their roles as present-day characters, and characters from the pūrākau of Tānemahuta. In the present-day story children Kath and her brother Rewa are painted powerfully by Kimberley Skipper and Jeremy Davis. These siblings experience horrific abuse at the hands of their father Sid, a character physically absent but present in a haunting soundtrack throughout.

The siblings grow up in all too familiar ’80s small-town Aotearoa. The community has turned a blind eye and worse still, mates of Sid, men who are community leaders, have drunkenly participated in the statutory rape of Kath as a child. Even the local cop has turned a blind eye. The intergenerational family violence is perpetuated when Rewa rapes his own daughter Manea. With no dialogue, Hariata Moriarty gives a striking performance as daughters Manea/Hinetītamai who, in their grief, have taken their lives.

To find restorative justice and peace from her own grief, Manea’s mother Jen, played by Angie Meiklejohn, is taking her daughter’s ashes back to the family marae. Jen and Rewa’s surviving son Luke (played by Kauri Leach) shows us how this community violence has impacted on the next generation in a small-town torn apart by dysfunction. Why the play has been titled The Swing is finally revealed in a spine-tingling moment by Kimberley Skipper as Kath.

The traverse set means we the audience are aware of each other throughout, and importantly at the end of the play, when refreshments appear and the facilitated kōrero takes place with the cast and crew of Te Rākau, we have a chance to express our responses. If we wish, we can share our own stories in this safe environment.

This is perhaps the most important part of the whole outstanding theatrical experience, which demands that the role of drama be more than just entertainment. In the three decades or more of Te Rākau Theatre performance, their kaupapa has demanded that theatre should be transformative and healing.

To be accessible during these covid times Te Rākau has also filmed this production, so that the play may be used as an online interagency educational resource. They also hope to tour The Swing across our country to where it is needed the most, to Aotearoa’s small-towns and communities where stories like this are crying out to be heard, and healing is waiting to happen.

Without judgment, this is a chance for the audience to recognise themselves in The Swing – or, if not ourselves, we must all know somebody who has been affected by family violence. The Swing is a powerful and profound call for meaningful action; haunting and healing. See it. Spread the word. Help with the healing.

(Full disclosure as the reviewer: I am of Ngāti Hainamana and Pākehā descent. I spent six years working with Te Rākau Hua O Te Wao Tapu (Te Rākau Theatre) from 1995 to 2000. During this time, I had the privilege of working with the rōpū as a performer and script facilitator. Te Rākau brought tikanga Māori theatre practice not only into theatre venues but also into schools, prisons, marae and small-town communities across the country).


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An invaluable kaupapa that is totally engaging at every level

Review by John Smythe 11th Feb 2020

As a Theatre Marae play being presented in a short development season to an invited audience only, this iteration of The Swing was not to be reviewed. Then on the day of its premiere, its makers decided it was ready to take its place in the written record of Te Rākau plays by Kaituhi/ Playwright Helen Pearse-Otene, brought to life by Kaitohu/ Director and their Paepae Auaha/ Creative Team and Kaiwhakaari/ Performers (most recently The Undertow quartet).

Yes indeed, it most certainly does cry out to be acknowledged, celebrated and supported – on behalf of all those it seeks to serve. But first, an awareness of its cultural context and evolution will help us understand how profoundly important and powerful this work is for multiple levels of our social infrastructure.

“Theatre Marae applies the complementary spiritual, social and political concepts of the Greek theatre and Marae into a performance hui,” a programme note reminds us. The Swing has evolved from Helen Pearse-Otene’s two decades of working with survivors, perpetrators and family members as a programme facilitator, group therapist, researcher and now as a registered psychologist.

It “has come about as a community led response to current thinking in sexual abuse services and therapy practices,” Pearse-Otene notes. “For most Māori drawn to group settings that I have worked in, they have reported experiences of 1:1 talk therapies being negative, retraumatising, judgemental and culturally irrelevant. Kaupapa Māori group based therapies and holistic services that are provided in Māori communities such as iwi social services are effective but underfunded (or not funded at all), and do not meet the standards for ACC sensitive claims services.

It appears, then, that while The Tohunga Suppression Act, 1907 – introduced by James Carroll (known to Māori as Timi Kara) and supported by Āpirana Ngata, both later knighted – was repealed by the Maori Welfare Act, 1962, a residue remains that continues to impede the efficacy of tikanga Māori.

“More recent studies in what works best in trauma therapies is complementary with traditional Māori practices that invoke body oriented and group based approaches to healing,” Pearse-Otene concludes. “This has informed my current research on applying the healing and cultural potential of pūrākau in the context of the whare tapere (traditional house of entertainment).”

The ancient legend (pūrākau) she brings to The Swing’s contemporary story of a whānau struggling to recover from the shadow of ngau whiore (incest; sexual abuse) and whakamomori (suicide) recalls the coupling of Tānemahuta – the god of forests and birds – with his daughter Hinetītama, to become the progenitors of humankind. When she realised he was her father, Hinetītama fled in disgust to the underworld and became Hinenuitepō, the goddess of death. Thus was death brought to mortal beings. (Intriguingly there are resonances here with the Greek legend of King Oedipus and the Christian lore of original sin.)

And so to The Swing and this ‘in development’ presentation.

The audience, chatting and waiting in a corridor, is silenced and riveted by the karanga and steady advance of a kāhui of rhythmic poi-wielding wāhine toa (Arihia Hayvice, Nova Te Hāpua and Paige Wilson) led by Hariata Moriarty, who will embody the spirit of Manea in the story to come. Their call is simultaneously a summoning of the life force, a welcome, a challenge and an assertion of mana; of agency reclaimed. 

They lead us into the studio space and huddle at the centre as Kaitito/ Ringa Puoro (composer/ musician) Haami Hawkins plucks his guitar and we find our seats on either side of the traverse space. The titular swing takes centre stage, a woman is hoisted onto it and a disembodied male voice seductively croons the old 1918 pop song ‘K-K-K-Katy’ – which Kath (Maria-Rose MacDonald) hates. And the Kāhui and Manea remain watchful, as they do throughout, a-tremble with tāwiri.

The posturing, taiaha-brandishing man who advances on Kath turns out to be Rewa (Manuel Solomon). A blend of stylised and relatively realistic action evokes the past and present, the living and dead, the ancient pūrākau and two much more recent cases of sexual abuse.  

Ingeniously crafted to avoid expository dialogue, linear narrative and any hint of simplistic moralising, the action – enhanced by the choreography of Kimberley Skipper and Manuel Solomon, and Hawkins’ music – swirls and spirals moko-like (or like a twisting, swaying swing?) to encapsulate the stories.

Thus it emerges that Rewa, the protective older brother of Kath, left their apparently happy childhood and home to be with his Pākehā partner Jen (Angie Meikeljohn), with whom he fathered Manea and Luke (Tamati Moriarty). But Kath had been subjected to sexual abuse by their father, and by old Mr Goff (a local Town Councillor) and their mates. And Rewa has since gone on to abuse his own daughter, Manea. The sins of the ancestors and father have been visited on new generations. And Manea has taken her own life.

The ‘present’ action, two years on, sees Jen and Luke bring Manea’s ashes to Kath so they can be interred at the urupā – via the marae for a proper tangihana, Kath insists. When Rewa arrives, unwelcome, having completed a sexual offenders treatment programme that has earned him early release, his redemption is by no means a foregone conclusion; nothing will bring back Manea. Any inclination we might feel towards giving Rewa a break – especially given Solomon’s compelling performance – is brought up short when Luke blames his mother, Jen, for “not being a proper wife”. There is still lots to be resolved and much healing work to be done in this community.  

More prosaically, Brendan Goff (Noel Hayvice), the small town lawyer, and Mike (Saul Kolio), the local cop, drop by to convey the council’s concerns about the safety of the swing on the old macrocarpa tree. I see this as a metaphor for the issue or problem many would just like to go away; to be consigned to darkness and forgotten. But of course it doesn’t work that way.

Humour born of insight and truth offsets the pain, anguish and inevitable confrontations. MacDonald and Meikeljohn especially bring deep feeling and great strength to their interactions with Solomon’s utterly human Rewa. And the whole cast is powerfully aligned to the purpose of this mahi – which doesn’t end when the play concludes.

While many people’s experiences over many years have informed the making of The Swing, its presentation as marae theatre opens a space for “Bringing this talk into the world of light,” as Jim Moriarty puts it, “that we may help to unravel the hurt and support safer pathways forward for everyone affected by nga whiore and whakamomori.” 

Helen Pearse-Otene is a registered and practising Psychologist pursuing her PHD and Jim is a Registered Psychiatric Nurse. They have spent the last few months working therapeutically with a group of women who were sexually harmed by family members, in response-based practices, exploring ways of moving forward. And here they make themselves available to anyone who needs support or who wants to be connected with the appropriate support communities.

The creative mahi of Lisa Maule (Kaiwhakahaere Whakaaturanga/ Kaihoahoa Tūrama: Production Manager & Lighting Designer), Tony De Goldi (Kaihoahoa Pai Whakaari: Set Designer), Cara Louise Waretini (Kaihoahoa Kākahu: Costume Designer) and Aneta Pond (Kaihautū: Producer) must also be acknowledged, along with everyone else in the Te Rākau whānau.

As theatre, The Swing is totally engaging at every level. As a kaupapa for ‘breaking the silence’ it is invaluable. It deserves unstinting support and a long life on marae, in community halls, on campuses – and in theatres and at festivals that see their roles as truly serving the interests of their communities.


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