ASB Theatre, Hutcheson St, Blenheim

24/06/2021 - 26/06/2021

Production Details

A play about the ill-fated attempt by Nelson colonists to confront Te Rauparaha and a party of his men at Tuamarina in 1843, in a dispute over ownership of the Wairau.

It was the first major armed clash between Maori and Pakeha in New Zealand, the only one ever in the South Island. A pivotal point in the Wairau’s early history, and indeed, colonial New Zealand race relations, with massive repercussions echoing to this day.”

The full play has been developed from a series of staged readings and Q and A’s over two years, and research and consultation has been undertaken with the Ngati Toa Rangatira Iwi to develop this story and bring it to life in a truthful and balanced re-telling.

The play is to have its ‘world premiere’ in Wairau (June 2021) at the ASB Theatre Marlborough.

Featuring: Jaemes Peter Churchward, Kiri Naik, Cameron West, Nick Kemplen

Supported by Ngati Toa Rangatira ki Wairau.

ASB Theatre, Blenheim, Marlborough
24 Jun – 26 Jun 2021
at 7:30pm 

Theatre Royal Nelson, 1-3 July 2021
& 3 July, 2pm

Pirihira – Kiri Naik
Abbott – Jaemes Peter Churchward
Captain Arthur Wakefield – Nick Kemplen 
Magistrate Henry Thompson - Cameron West

Writer Justin Eade
Director Giles Burton
Producers: Judene Edgar, Justin Eade
Set Designers:  Roger Wadham, Geoff Anderson
Stage Manager: Brooklyn Saunders
Music Bob Bickerton
Lighting Designer: Wendy Clease
Costumes: Pauline Farley
Technical Operators Ben Allott (ASB Theatre)
Nick Davidson (Theatre Royal) 

Theatre ,

Flawlessly acted, intelligently written, delightfully directed

Review by David Searle 26th Jun 2021

The tragic conflict between The New Zealand Company and Te Rauparaha on the plains of the Wairau provides a ripe backdrop for this competent production. 

Growing up in Blenheim in a middle class Pākehā family during the 1980s and 90s meant while I was aware of the Wairau Affray, I did not realise the remarkable nature of the battle and aftermath until much later. Why would I? An ‘affray’ better describes a historic disagreement between myself and a Ford Ranger than it does the tragic and unnecessary deaths of 26 humans. 

But that, of course, is the point. Colonialists wrote the history and generations of New Zealanders grew up knowing little but racist stereotyping of the events at best. Local writer Justin Eade is to be commended on addressing this unfortunate gap in our collective knowledge.

The ASB Theatre is packed – the second full house in as many nights – and there is a collective sense of anticipation. The staging is delightfully minimalist and well-considered with an excellent use of lighting (particularly during the climax). Costuming is impressive and assists the actors nicely in transporting us to 1850s Nelson/Marlborough.

The conflict and commentary on the wider issue of race relations and English notions of Manifest Destiny in New Zealand is framed through the lens of a newly married inter-racial couple: Abbot (Jaemes Peter Churchward) and Pirihira (Kiri Naik). Abbot is genuine, earnest and naive — but not anachronistically so. His viewpoints largely mirror Commissioner Spain and Governor Fitzroy’s later positions. Abbot also acts as the narrator for the audience throughout, and as interpreter for Te Rauparaha – who we never see but who casts a large shadow throughout.

Churchward’s performance is charming, and his te reo impressive. Pirihira, by contrast, is more of a realist, informed in no small part by her history. Naik carries the emotional weight of the show beautifully – as demonstrated by the audience’s reaction to her reveal.

Captain Arthur Wakefield (Nick Kemplen) and Magistrate Henry Thompson (Cameron West) are the villains of the show. Kemplen articulates a more rounded and complex figure than Wakefield has been portrayed as in the past. Thompson is more a base character, and West consistently provides the best laughs of the night – the gag around korero/koreru is outstanding – but he never strays into cliché or parody.

Director Giles Burton has done an excellent job balancing the need for pacing with the frequent narrative interludes. It is not a long show but hums along nicely – aided in no small part by the respect and affection the cast clearly has for each other. It may be a small thing, but Kemplen and West’s ability to remain frozen in place during narration or scenes in the whare is testament to their professionalism.

The climax of the show is an artful blend of set, lighting, direction and acting. This is a historical play – we know how things are going to end – and yet there is still an emotional punch in the execution. That takes skill.

Flawlessly acted, intelligently written and delightfully directed: this is a show that needs to be seen, and seen widely.

It has taken 178 years for this story to be told from a Pākehā perspective. That is too long. I trust it will not take another 178 years for the conversations between Te Rauparaha, Te Rangihaeata and Nohorua to be dramatised. The fact that the biggest laugh of the night was a te reo pun delivered in front of a largely middle aged, conservative, Pākehā audience suggests Marlborough is ready for that journey. 


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