Playhouse, Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, Hamilton

14/10/2017 - 14/10/2017

Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland

18/10/2017 - 21/10/2017

Production Details

Sister Nurse Hinemoa and her siblings – Magazine Magnate Atawhai and Prodigious Businessman Petera – were raised in the glow of privilege; enjoying a whakapapa of sailing on the lake, gin with Indian tonic water, Coppertone on tanned Māori skin and a seemingly endless summer. 

Long after their childhood at the lake, the race for wealth and empire have splintered the whanau and now too their children.  Daughter of Hinemoa is Child Scientist, Kiwi, and son of Petera is Champion Gymnast, Te Rāwhitiroa… of course Atawhai never had children; she prefers the company of her award-winning horses. Meanwhile, cousins Kiwi and Te Rāwhitiroa have grown up estranged from one another. 

Finally, the siblings have been called together: the Sister Nurse, the Magazine Magnate, and the Prodigious Businessman. They must agree to expand the empire – even if it means destroying the world in the process.

Money can’t buy you happiness.

No, wait – maybe it can.

The Vultures is the new play by Mīria George and premiered in the acclaimed theatre and dance platform, Kia Mau Festival. The Vultures features design by Natala Gwiazdzinski, Sopheak Seng, Tony De Goldi and K’Saba.

Presented by Tawata Productions, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube for more info.

“Stylish, entertaining and thought provoking”  Theatreview

“Powerful piece of theatre pulls out all the stops”  Dominion Post  

“Writer/Director Mīria George has pulled out all the stops to create a very stylish, accomplished and powerful piece of theatre. The writing is tight and snappy….Yet through the heightened and often stylised performances….there are great moments of climax, as the tension rises between the five, each vying against the other for what they want. A powerful and very engaging piece of theatre.” Dominion Post  

PLAYHOUSE THEATRE – Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts,
University of Waikato
Saturday 14 21 October 2017
at 8pm

Q THEATRE, Rangatira
Wednesday Oct 18 – Saturday Oct 21 2017
Show times:  7pm Wed; 8 pm Thu, Fri, Sat 
Ticket price:  $30 – $50, booking fees may apply

Director/Writer:  Mīria George

Costume:  Sopheak Seng

Set Design:  Tony De Goldi

Lighting Design:  Natala Gwiazdzinski

Sound Design:  Karnan Saba

Cast:  Nicola Kawana, Te Kohe Tuhaka, Ani-Piki Tuari & Erina Daniels

Sponsors:  Tawata Production, Wellington City Council, Auckland City Council, Creative New Zealand, Q Theatre

Produced by: Tawata Productions

Theatre ,

1 hr 15 mins

A force to be reckoned with

Review by Genevieve McClean 19th Oct 2017

Kia Mau! 

Miria George brings poetry to the stage in The Vultures, using a vernacular that is particular to the whakapapa of Whakaari Māori.  I have a personal affinity for a theatre work that uses language to create unease, for post-structural language in theatre and for brave interdisciplinary thinking manifest onstage.

Interpreting the play as a kind of dance work might help those who find the juxtapositions between melodrama, comedy and dramatic storytelling challenging; one that references contemporary, even futuristic, politics as well as showing a landscape that will be very familiar to all: of two households within the same family …. quarrelling.

The actual dialogue is led by equally unnerving juxtaposed character creations.  Each has a different take altogether on archetype, and it will be very interesting, I imagine, to hear Miria speak about her directorial process for this reason. 

In one family, Atawhai (Nicola Kawana) and Petera (Te Kohe Tuhaka) exist, on a minimal stage, like ghostly incarnations of Freudian aspects of the mind, or irritated demonic spirits stuck in a limbo that is more ‘Godot’ than purgatory. Kawana comfortably extends limbs as well as spirit into the melodramatic providing the main sparking moments in the play.  Meanwhile Te Ra (Kimo Houltham) for some time just floats, the only inroad to his character at first being that he is dressed in a way that is reminiscent of a burlesque circus strong-man of the 1930s…  When his character is further revealed for the story, it’s a surprisingly sheepish boy-next-door quality that seems to represent a departure from the demonic family stem to rejoin with whanau from the other stem. 

The other family contains the young and undeniably grounded horticultural biologist Kiwi who, played by Ani-Piki Tuari, exudes a very recognizable and endearing variety of scorn and a perpetual wide-eyedness that most will relate to. Her mother, Hinemoa – a stoic performance by Erina Daniels – is the most likely candidate to be analysed as the prominent authorial mind inhabited by the world of the play, as she confronts, encounters and deliberates within the rumbling combustion that is the frisson between the two houses. 

But it’s a theatrical language onstage that cradles the impacting divide of Māori and Pākehā.  The awhi of the play seeps into the spirit of its creation, and the hopeful spirit of its intent.  The sense of community around this show, and the business of experienced practitioners upholding community, is tangible in the house of the opening night crowd.  Such is the kawa of Tawata productions. 

Jarring methodical characters and language that seems disconnected from narrative and drive may be a result of the desire to bring so much into the room, leaving little time for processing in the rehearsal period.  I suspect that the show is a little uncooked as a result.  Hopefully that is just like an artist hanging their paintings in the gallery; still a little wet to touch! 

Depending on where you sit in interpreting the show – as a complex nod to a history of retaliative cultural (re)-appropriation or simply wanting to experience an evening of story on stage presented a little differently – you may or may not notice that the paint is still fresh. 

As frustrating as it is to see opening night nerves on stage, it’s probably caused by a discombobulation with the cast as well, for all the same reasons.  This leaves the show looking a little tentative and is likely more to do with the dynamic of George taking on both writer and director roles. It takes a high level of trust and professionalism for actors to invest in a post structural vision, and what’s weird about that is that it requires a momentum of successes resulting in a status of ownership of new language.  There are only three more nights to see the show (in this season), so bring it!

In my opinion, George’s work is a force to be reckoned with.  It taps into a recent history of Māori theatre (and culture) that is wrestling with Kingitanga and the many languages that are used to meet Pākehā at the divide in relation to nobility; a history that is being further brought to light in Dame Anne Salmond’s recent book Tears of Rangi:

“On 13 November 1820, two tall, tattooed Māori chiefs arrived at Carlton House in London to meet King George IV. …
… When Hongi Hika and Waikato (dressed in European court costume but with flax cloaks across their shoulders) were introduced to the king, they bowed gracefully, laying their cloaks before him and saying “How d’ye do, Mr King George.” – Dame Anne Salmond (Experiments Across Worlds, from Rutherford Lectures: People and Power, 2014)

The archaic concept of ‘Noble Savage’ which was made literally overpowering by colonial intentions filtered down to the stage in New Zealand shortly after this. By the 1840s each of New Zealand’s big cities held not one but several large theatres, where international troops would stop by for seasons of Shakespeare and classical exposés.

The last I saw of Te Kohe Tuhaka on stage was in his Othello, so it’s fitting to see him here in a role that perhaps consciously toys with the delivery of ‘Pakeha language’. Equally Nicola Kawana brings a venomous vocality to her Macbethian character that sounds very much like a local dialect of a very current nouveau-riche Aucklander of local Pākehā heritage…  (whether these characters are based on real people or not I do not dare to consider).  These dialects are out of synch with each-other, but for me that is part of the delight. 

I suppose that in te Ao Māori, the noble savage concept was a challenge to meet: a wero; a gift loaded with implications at the very shoreline of communications that formed the colonised world.  While colonial politics unfolded, local theatre stepped up to entertain the masses in-between European theatre troupes and circuses that would arrive by ship and travel by horse. 

Thus we have these references to early New Zealand melodrama parading around on stage in Miria George’s The Vultures.  How Māori were parochialised in early melodrama is re-calibrated here as part of a growing trend to reinvent and reinstate ‘nobility’ on stage in all its permutations.  George is cleverly levelling the playing field by harvesting a rich history and promoting it through direction, while the play itself remains colloquial and accessible. 

I hope the actors, and any actors in the future, relish the opportunity to perform in this play, pull out all the stops and give themselves over to the jarring and physically challenging requisites the play demands of them.

The players must be puppets to the whims of this show, extend and bring a full investment of theatrical magic and athleticism to the work.  There is nothing wrong with unease, difficult pacing, questionable comedy within the tragedy, and a promotion of serious issues all juxtaposed and clamouring in the void; archetypes that fly convoluted across the scenes as if pulled by ropes of the early 19th century, it just needs to be turned right up because the direction in this case holds the purpose of the chopped narrative and supports it. 

Otherwise anyone with a mind to analyse a new play on whakawhanaungatanga and the contemporary archaic Māori should not be disappointed with this show, as it places the colonial divide entirely within Te Ao Māori, which is rich pickings for essay topics! But those seeking a comedy might be left wondering how to extract it from what they’re seeing. 


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Packs a powerful punch

Review by Gail Pittaway 16th Oct 2017

This contemporary black comedy is full of intriguing concepts and unexpected pulses of action, as members of a family, collected together for a conference about their shared land, pick each other apart and distort their traditional values, all to protect their wealth.

From the opening scene there is a sense of decay, then decadence. Hinemoa (Erina Daniels), one of three siblings, arrives at the family home in which they had all shared happy childhoods, enjoying a life of wealth and privilege. But hers is not a happy arrival– and her daughter Kiwi tries to persuade her not to lift the veil, literally, on the past, to enter the house of the vultures who wait within. It is fitting that there is no predatory bird in Aotearoa to symbolise the depth of predation that is exposed. The set is covered with a large opaque veil and as she pulls it away, the evidence of the recent past is revealed – as neglect: a shabby, tired old building that rests against a toxic lake. 

The other two siblings are the true vultures and their first appearance is symbolic, with half korowai stoles made from the feathers of birds of prey, while Hinemoa’s stole is of fur. Atawhai (Nicola Kanawa), dressed in the jodhpurs and jacket of the hunt, has a magazine empire to boast of, but feels the new digital age taking a bite out of her territory, while Petera (Te Kohe Tuhaka), their brother, has dabbled in the global markets and needs a boost for his flagging funds. His crooked back under a shiny suit is a debility and vulnerability, but also a symbol of his crookedness in business.

Only Hinemoa, still working as a nurse, a sister in name and occupation, has any sense of loyalty to family. This is exploited by her grasping siblings who have summoned her to sign a new deal to purchase neighbouring land and expand their farm to form a vast dairying enterprise, one that will be attractive to outside interests in the long term.

While Petera and Atawhai claim their plans are to benefit their whanau, the next generation, Hinemoa’s Kiwi and Petra’s son Te Ra (Kimo Houltham) are not consulted in these negotiations, at all. Their innocence is pivotal for revealing the essential evil of the vultures and their slowly established rapport offers some of the play’s softer moments, even as they try to influence their elders in this conflicted situation, all jostling and tugging against the lapping waters of the toxic lake.

The cast is uniformly excellent and give strong performances of their extreme and stylised characters. The play flicks between dark comedy and expressionism, especially in moments when the scene freezes in a grotesque tableau and Petera and Atawhai assume demonic poses, or hiss or growl in unnatural rage.

This playful form toys with the audience’s expectations, as the traditional Māori values of protecting land and water dissolve against greed and corruption. While there is some unevenness in the pace and unfolding of the plot, it packs a powerful punch. 


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