The Court Theatre, Bernard Street, Addington, Christchurch

10/09/2015 - 13/09/2015

Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

28/06/2016 - 02/07/2016

Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, University of Waikato, Hamilton

30/09/2016 - 01/10/2016

Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland

06/07/2016 - 15/07/2016

Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson

20/10/2016 - 21/10/2016

Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre, Rotorua

11/10/2016 - 12/10/2016

Gisborne War Memorial Theatre, Gisborne

04/10/2016 - 05/10/2016

Municipal Theatre, Napier

08/10/2016 - 08/10/2016

Baycourt - Addison Theatre, Tauranga

14/10/2016 - 15/10/2016

Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

01/09/2015 - 05/09/2015

Christchurch Arts Festival 2015

Nelson Arts Festival 2016

Hawkes Bay Arts Festival 2016

Production Details

Co-written by three members of the Luafutu family


Stunning New Play From The Conch Tells True Family Story Featuring Hip Hop Artist Scribe 

Renowned hip-hop star Scribe features with his father John and brother Matthias in a stunning new play telling the true story of his Christchurch family – the Luafutus.

Directed by Nina Nawalowalo and Jim Moriarty,The White Guitar has a preview season at Hannah Playhouse in Wellington from 1-5 September ahead of the world premiere season at Christchurch Arts Festival from 10-13 September.

A powerful and vital work, co-written by three members of the Luafutu family, The White Guitar traces the line of creative power at the heart of a family from its roots in the gifting of a white guitar to their grandmother in the Samoan village, to the collision of the migrants’ dreams with the harsh realities of 1950s New Zealand. It follows a harrowing path – a man’s journey from boyhood innocence into the heart of darkness; through violence, drug addiction, prison and gangs, to the possibility of hope, healing and inspiration.

“I represent the 1000 souls who never made it this far” – Scribe

With the intensity of a live gig, music pumps through the story’s veins, from the first songs of a grandmother sung to her white guitar to the power of rock ‘n’ roll, the beats of hip-hop and church hymns.

Scribe (real name Malo Luafutu) is one of New Zealand’s best-known hip-hop artists with a platinum-selling album and APRA Silver Scroll Award to his name. He has collaborated with his actor brother Matthias and his father, self-taught musician and writer John, to create the script for The White Guitar.

Scribe says creating the play has been an incredible journey for himself, his father and brother. “We’ve become even closer as a family as we’ve been bringing our story to the stage. We haven’t shied away from the truth of our lives.”

Matthias has been building a career in acting after attending a workshop while at Weymouth Residential Centre and has been part of Jim Moriarty’s theatre group, Te Rakau and performed on stage, television and in films for the past 16 years.

The White Guitar is a major new work for The Conch combining strong imagery, AV projection, a brave script and powerhouse performances. “This is a story about finding a voice in the midst of dark times, the triumph of survival and keeping the creative flame alight,” says director Nina Nawalowalo.

“We were drawn to the raw truth of the Luafutu ‘s story. It is particularly unique to have a story performed by the family themselves. These are three extraordinary men who have the courage to tell a story of hope found under oppression, a journey from hurt to healing, but above all a belief that the truth will set us all free.”

The White Guitar has a preview season in Wellington at Hannah Playhouse from 1-5 September with tickets available through Ticketek 0800 TICKETEK (842 538) The world premiere season takes place in Christchurch for Christchurch Arts Festival from 10-13 September at The Court Theatre with tickets available through

WELLINGTON: Hannah Playhouse
1-5 September 2015
Book at Ticketek 0800 TICKETEK (842 538)

CHRISTCHURCH: The Court Theatre
10-13 September 2015
Book at

2016 Season

HANNAH PLAYHOUSE return season
28 June – 2 July 2016
+ Sat 2 July 1pm

From sold out shows, standing ovations and stunning reviews The White Guitar opens at Q Wednesday July 6.

Q Theatre, Auckland
Jul 6 – 15 2016

2016 TOUR

HAMILTON: Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts
Friday 30 September & Saturday 1 October
Book at 0800 BUY TIX (289 849)

GISBORNE: War Memorial Theatre
Tuesday 4 & Wednesday 5 October
Book at (06) 863 1603

NAPIER: Municipal Theatre
Saturday 8 October
Book at | Part of Hawkes Bay Arts Festival

ROTORUA: Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre
Tuesday 11 & Wednesday 12 October
Book at (07) 928 4500

TAURANGA: Baycourt Theatre
Friday 14 & Saturday 15 October
Book at 0800 TICKETEK (842 538)

NELSON: Theatre Royal
Thursday 20 & Friday 21 October
Book at (Nelson Arts Festival)

2016 TOUR

HAMILTON: Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts
Friday 30 September & Saturday 1 October
Book at 0800 BUY TIX (289 849)

GISBORNE: War Memorial Theatre
Tuesday 4 & Wednesday 5 October
Book at (06) 863 1603

NAPIER: Municipal Theatre
Saturday 8 October
Book at | Part of Hawkes Bay Arts Festival

ROTORUA: Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre
Tuesday 11 & Wednesday 12 October
Book at (07) 928 4500

TAURANGA: Baycourt Theatre
Friday 14 & Saturday 15 October
Book at 0800 TICKETEK (842 538)

NELSON: Theatre Royal
Thursday 20 & Friday 21 October
Book at (Nelson Arts Festival)  

Fa’amoana John Luafutu
Matthias Luafutu
Malo Luafutu
Tupe Lualua

Tom McCrory
Kasaya Manulevu
Merlin Connell-Nawalowalo  

Creative team:
Nina Nawalowalo – Director
Jim Moriarty – Director 
Tom McCrory – Associate Director
Oscar Kightley – Script Consultant
Chris Winter – Sound Design
Owen McCarthy – A/V and Set Design 
Lisa Maule – Lighting Designer
Seraphina Tausilia – Costume  

Production team:
Sally Barnett – Producer
Mike Ainsworth – Production Manager
Reuben Morrison – Technical Operator
Sasha Gibb – Te Rakau Producer
Clea Matthews – Administrator 

Publicity and Marketing:
Sally Woodfield  

Theatre , Musical ,

1hr 40mins

The truth of the Luafutu family also sets us free

Review by Daniel Allan 21st Oct 2016

With a litany of celebrated seasons, standing ovations, glowing reviews and a position in the Nelson Arts Festival as the marquee theatrical event, there seems precious little worth in this small-town scribe’s opinion on The White Guitar. Let me confirm: it’s a phenomenal show. I could elevate the relevance of this review by telling you to rush out and buy a ticket but it’s sold out, so a stand-by place is your only hope. 

The White Guitar (he vainly continues…) is the utterly personal story of the male members of the Luafutu family. The father, Fa’amoana John – a musician – immigrated to Auckland from Samoa as a child in the 50s. His eldest son, Matthias, became an actor and his youngest, Malo, became a hip-hop sensation by the name of Scribe. All three of them battled through racism, displacement, domestic abuse and addiction, and all three of them play themselves in this brutally honest, cathartic and heart-rending show. 

After setting up the ancestral background, John, less comfortable as a speaker, retires to his guitar and, along with Tom McCrory, proceeds to underscore the show with a gorgeous mix of original riffs and contemporaneous references. The bulk of the plot is delivered as direct address narration with acted elements by the sons, Matthias and Malo, as well as a marginalised female Tupe Lualua, who plays the role of John’s mother with grace and dignity from behind a gauze.

The part of John is portrayed mostly by Matthias, who is a dead ringer for his dad, and it is fascinating to watch the muso look on, just metres away as Matthias plays out real scenes from his own life, especially in a scene depicting the father physically abusing his son.

While all four performers are excellent in their distinct ways, the continual spoken narrative has a slightly disengaging effect. The actors are together alone on their journeys, and considering the juicy dramatic potential of a family of performers on stage, I want them to engage with each other more. Yet the content of their stories is so fascinating that it hardly matters. A highly effective multi-media background adds to the visual stimulation, augmenting and never distracting.

Talking to hip-hop aficionados after the show, they inform me that a value held high by that establishment is that of ‘keeping it real’. They are taken by the idea that one of Scribes raps is spoken in poetic form at the start of the show, and speaks directly of his truth. Certainly, in the book-ending finale, new meaning can be read into the self-advocating lyrics of his iconic hit ‘Not Many’. Suddenly, with Scribes story as the pre-cursor, every aging Nelsonian in the house is a chorus-chanting hip-hop lover. As the crowd goes wild and Scribe stands in the nostalgic down-light of his hit record from a misspent youth, it is both triumphant and tragic in equal measure. 

The biblical catch-cry of the show is “the truth will set you free” and as a continuation of John Luafutu’s redemption from the auto-biography he wrote in jail, there is a cathartic purpose for the proceedings. The truth of the Luafutu family also sets us free. There is a shared humanity in something so personal, and we can all reflect on our own honesty as a result.

At shows end, we leap to our feet. The performer’s truth is out, it is in us, and we want to give it back tenfold. How many shows you know roll like this?


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Incredible story earns respectful ovation

Review by Kim Buckley 09th Oct 2016

A rich and breath-taking tapestry of life, love, loss and healing. From the moment tonight’s performance starts, the energy emanating from the stage is intense. Jim Moriarty and Nina Nawalowalo of The Conch, direct the three Luafutu Men in the telling of their true and extremely personal story, The White Guitar. This telling is done with such an open willingness and raw honesty, that it draws immediate empathy from the audience.

The content of this honesty is not very often seen in the public eye, although we all know it is there. Mostly, it lurks under our society’s surface, but sometimes it splashes about on top, in headlines in newspapers or on the television news, a small column on page three, or sometimes even making it into a parliamentary bill for change. 

The stage is set with a chair, an empty beer crate, a white electric guitar and an amplifier to the side. Across the stage in a crescent hang the simplicity of five long gauze screens that transmute into different vehicles to help tell this story. My favourite is the mist through which the memory sees behind. Add to this projections, sound bites, lavalava, an acoustic guitar and a couple of ukuleles.

This is, in the first telling, a migrant story. One Woman’s dream to give her children a better life situates her family into the midst of a 1950s New Zealand that is not only baffling in its ignorance and staggering in its intolerance, but harsh in its judgment of people whose skin is a different colour, whose language has a different sound, and whose culture is of a different flavour. Which leads us, in the second telling, to the coming of age story.

Fa’amoana Luafutu is the father of two young men, Matthias and Malo (Scribe). As a child, Fa’amoana’s first Pākehā teacher teaches him his Samoan name has no relevance, and consequently, neither does his culture. His peers treat him – John, now – as an outcast. Those who are meant to love him teach him, “I hit you because I love you.” Those who are meant to be caretaking him, abuse and shame him. The fact that he is standing on stage for the entirety of the show, bearing witness to the incredible pain of both his sons before this cycle of drug addiction, violence, gangs and prison is broken, is testament to the change this man has made to his life and the unfathomable accuracy of ‘the truth shall set you free’.

The two young men wear black, and they each take on different, ages, stages, characters, voices, demeanours, physical personalities, situations, and encounters. Scribe recites some lyrics of “Dreaming” and it sounds like a poet’s truth. Later he sings us his first hit “Not Many” and the audience rocks out and sings the chorus loudly when asked by Scribe. Matthias tells us about his ‘off this earth joy’ upon acceptance into Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School.

Fa’amoana John Luafutu tells us that while he was in prison, he wrote to Albert Wendt. Wendt replied “write it down”. 30 years later, I am sitting in the Napier Municipal Theatre bearing witness to this incredible story of one family’s life journey and standing in appreciation amongst this respectful ovation. 


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How many shows you know roll like this? Not Many

Review by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth 14th Jul 2016

It was great sitting down this evening with a much more representative cross section of New Zealanders in the audience than we often see at the theatre.  The diehard theatregoers that had heard good things about the show were there, alongside the supportive extended Luafutu family and Samoan contingent.  In addition there were the rap fans that either wanted to see Scribe perform again, check out his acting prowess, or those that were merely inquisitive as to what he and his family had to say. 

The White Guitar is not just the story of the Malo Luafutu aka Scribe’s rags to semi-riches experience but a brutal and honest catalogue of the effects of immigration, violence, drugs, family, religion, decline and redemption for generations of a family struggling to survive and more importantly, to find a voice despite the curve balls that life throws them. [More]  


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A seminal work of courage, forgiveness and reconciliation

Review by Tamati Patuwai 13th Jul 2016

“God is great!” 

These are some of the very brief and poignant words expressed by Tigi Ness as he saluted, with fist held high, the White Guitar crew at the conclusion of the Auckland opening night at Q Theatre. Tigi is one of a few elders who stood to congratulate the performance ensemble and to ease wairua in Q’s Rangatira.  

In The White Guitar, The Conch, Tour-Makers and co-directors Nina Nawalowalo and Jim Moriarty have collectively fashioned an exquisitely sentient and powerful piece of theatre. For real! It is epic!

Moriarty’s ancestral haka ‘Ka mate Ka mate’ reverberates in the mind as this homage to the hopeful Pacific migration pounds on the Q fale walls. ‘Tis death, tis death, tis life, tis life’ aptly swells in the soul when every humble submission and passionate confession is wrought forward into the house. 

Fa’amoana John Luafutu is the tragic hero of this true-life narrative. It is in fact Fa’amoana who, with help from many literary and creative supports, has compiled an anthology of sorts from his own life and writings with works from his two son’s Matthias Luafutu and Mālo Luafutu. The result is a searing and unrelenting depiction of Fa’amoana’s own life as told by his boys. It is raw, it is rough, and it is ready!  

More familiar Pacific romance is equally present with echoes of island life and a palpably sweet representation of Fa’amoana’s Mum and her dreams of a good future for her family in Niu Sila. 

The predominant flavours of the play inevitably rumble through the life chronology as Fa’amoana Samoan goodness and communal grace are swallowed up by industrialised new world savagery. [It is here he is renamed John – and he’d told us: “You can call me John.”]

The kaupapa threads are truthful and multifaceted, from the larger-than-life passage from Samoa navigating through iconic city features and the white power movements in the South to the Black Power movements in Auckland. One of the most climactic moments interrupts the flow: the Christchurch earthquakes. With the deepest regard and lament from the troupe, this tragic moment becomes a significant pivot point, giving even more poignancy to the real life drama of the production. 

Drug life, domestic violence, hope, and more violence are pervasive and emphatically represented. It really highlights the courage that The White Guitar affirms as the players hold strong to their aesthetics of choice; being Marae Theatre, Hiphop and Rock. Markedly it is these foundational crafts that constantly demand authenticity and total fearlessness. 

John himself grew up through an eclectic urban Pasifika, developing a great love and skill of Guitar. He is the side pillar of the performance house and provides the soundscape, riffing through the emotive layers of the piece with ambient Hendrix blues and the occasional Samoan lilt. The tones are so warm and souled up, this musical weave could be more prominent, giving the Blues guitar more time and space to linger.

John’s eldest boy Mathias Luafutu is a trained actor and has worked with Moriarty and his troupe Te Rākau Hua o Te Wao Tapu. Aptly so, he carries the bulk of the narrating role, steering the audience through this fānau memoir. As the chronicle unfolds Mathias’ own journey unravels, exposing heart-wrenching truths that in due course give honour to his position as Tuakana and even hero.

Mālo Luafutu is most well known as the Rapper Scribe. His ease on the stage is clear as he whips up some of the most delightful moments of the piece. His skill as a performer is remarkable as he summons forward colourful personalities from their family history, at times with cheeky wit and at times with deep sobriety.

Tupe Lualua plays Fa’amoana’s mother. Her presence is centre stage, warm and wonderfully established. She is the home fire. She is the flame of hope.

With reflection on Jim Moriarty’s decades of commitment to tautoko, and craft with the tools of Marae Theatre this sojourn is no surprise. These finely-tuned abilities combine with the capacity of Nina Nawalowalo and Tom McCrory’s The Conch to offer a deeply provocative spectacle that could possibly be a first of its kind on the Q theatre stage.   

Though fairly heavily weighted with dialogue and word-based narration, there are occasional glimpses of more typical Conch signatures. The floating screen pillars, the red feathers that drop from the sky, are certainly features that – given the immense subject terrain – could have been more prominent as a poetic respite. However it is clear that all of the dramaturgical supports are geared towards the essential core, which is these men and their family journey. 

The technical settings are fairly simple. Corridors of light, by Lisa Maule, isolate and expand the spaces with clean lines and ambience.  Chris Winter’s sound design complements the live work being performed by Fa’amoana and the biggest ‘audio feast’ rocks the house when Scribe blasts out his entire single, ‘If Any’.

Given the minimal technical treatment, it seems The White Guitar is perfectly designed to Tour – which it has and must! Through communities, up and down Aotearoa, the Pacific and the World.

The White Guitar marks a new migration that is led by a family of brave and inspired individuals. They are opening the pathways of truth and challenge us to sit with them for a while; to amass our collective courage together and to square up to the darker parts of ourselves, scars and all. 

The ultimate distinction of The White Guitar is courage, forgiveness and reconciliation, and it is this well-crafted veracity, hard as it might be, that positions it as one of the most seminal pieces of contemporary Aotearoa theatre today. 

Much respect and alofa to the whole White Guitar crew.

Regards also to our tupuna. 

Ia lafoia i le alo galo! 

Manuia fa’afetai! 


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Brutal honesty in fine performances

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 08th Jul 2016

Theatre doesn’t get much more real than this. Two brothers and their father stand onstage to give an unfiltered account of their lives. The hook is that one of the men is the rapper Scribe – who in 2003 enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom on the back of the mega-hit Not Many.

Buried within the play is a Pacific Island Eight Mile – every bit as tough and inspiring as rapper Eminem’s rags-to-riches biopic. But rather than focusing exclusively on this material, The White Guitar presents Scribe’s achievements in hip-hop as one strand in the dense texture of a multi-generational family saga. [More


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Raw truth shared with unflinching honesty, humour, humility and forgiveness

Review by Lena Fransham 29th Jun 2016

The script of The White Guitar was collaboratively written and is performed by Malo Luafutu (famously known as the hip hop artist Scribe), his brother Matthias Luafutu and their father Fa’amoana John Luafutu, with a supporting performance from Filoi Valaau (Tupe Lualua in teh Auckland season). It is a confessional work based on the lives of the Luafutu men and their relationships with each other.  

It begins with Malo’s lyrical, rapping prologue and then the three men step into place onstage. The concave backdrop consists of white translucent panels arranged to reveal glimpses of the space behind (set design by Owen McCarthy).

The beginning, they tell us, was with the young men’s grandmother Lupepe (a gorgeous performance by Filoi Valaau); her songs on her treasured white guitar and her hopes for the future of her family as she urged them to leave Samoa for the promise of education and opportunity in New Zealand. We see her through the gauze of the backdrop as if through the mist of memory.

With fantastic application of lighting and AV design (lighting by Lisa Maule, AV by Owen McCarthy), the backdrop functions as a projection surface, as a means of concealment and as the means by which backstage periodically shifts to centre stage, effectively evoking the centrality of the memory and legacy of the character of Lupepe, whilst emphasising her physical absence. Along with her white guitar, she is a force moving through and symbolically uniting the tri-fold narrative. 

Fa’amoana steps aside, allowing his sons to take charge of the narrative while he plays a white electric guitar as an ongoing accompaniment to their performance, which moves from spoken narration to song and rap lyric to the embodiment of events in the lives of the three men.  

Matthias and Malo relate their father’s experience as a child in New Zealand, with Matthias shifting into character as a heartbreakingly vulnerable Fa’amoana at Grey Lynn school (where he is casually dubbed ‘John’ by a teacher who can’t pronounce his name), whose slide onto the wrong side of the law is facilitated by the willingness of white authorities to cast his childish misdemeanours as criminal acts. His survival of the ensuing years and his later relationships with his wife and sons are portrayed with unsentimental honesty and empathy.

The shifts between Matthias as himself/narrator and Matthias as his young father are at first quite difficult to follow, which delays and detracts from the flow of story for me as I struggle to decipher distinctions. But Matthias’ performance flair and animation make for riveting storytelling. As his own story emerges, it is indeed so naturally intertwined with that of his father that they are like branches grown from the same tree.

Malo has quite a different onstage presence but he, too, evinces a moving vulnerability and he moves through his story with spoken narration, rap, song and a climactic rendition of his own Not Many. When he collapses into withdrawal from opiate addiction, and when he relates the horror of the 2011 earthquake, you are right there, feeling it with him.

The three personae and their stories move through the NZ landscape and history. For the most part they interact and transition organically, manifesting the interconnectedness of the relationships they represent; a testament to the scripting (assisted by Oscar Kightley) and direction (Nina Nawalowalo, Tom McCrory and Jim Moriarty), but also, no doubt, to the realness of the relationships depicted.

The fact of Fa’amoana’s presence and interaction with his sons, as they tell some extremely painful truths about their lives with him, is where the theatre becomes real breathing life. We are gifted with something raw and true and human. It’s a powerful moment when Fa’amoana returns to stand between his sons and to conclude the story with his own words. 

The most inspiring thing about this play is that, of all the influences related by these men as shaping their lives – all the splintering effects of racism and marginalisation, displacement, violence, betrayal, addiction and incarceration – their extraordinary courage has delivered them to a place where they can stand together and share their story with unflinching honesty, humour, humility and forgiveness. I want to be that brave. 


Editor June 30th, 2016

Here is Patrick Davies' RNZ Afternoons review of THE WHITE GUITAR. Aucklanders especially take note (the Wellington season is sold out except for the Saturday matinee which has a very few seats left at the time of writing).  

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Laughter and tears, joy and loss

Review by Erin Harrington 11th Sep 2015

This review can be condensed like this: The White Guitar is the best and most affecting piece of theatre I have seen, hands down, for a long time. 

The piece tells the story of three of the men of the Luafutu family – father Fa’amoana, and sons Matthias and Malo, the latter being better known as the rapper and hip hop artist Scribe. It charts the family’s initial emigration from Samoa and the shifting fortunes and relationships of the men through to the present day, melding anecdote and the retelling of family history with powerful first person accounts.

There is some weighty material; the play addresses cycles of addiction, violence, incarceration, racism, and the impact of cultural and spiritual dislocation. Trauma is acknowledged and not waved away. I find the material on the way that children hold their fallible fathers up as gods to be horrendously powerful.

That said, everything is presented with humility and an incredibly light touch. Matthias and Malo are charming performers who quickly form a relationship with the audience, while Fa’amoana watches on, playing his guitar and offering occasional comment. Their characterisations and rapid shifts are adroit, and they each have exquisite comic timing.

This is an impeccably executed production. Directors Jim Moriarty, Nina Nawalowalo (who has had some excellent stuff in the Arts Festival this year), and Tom McCrory create some truly unexpected moments of theatre magic and weave together multiple stories, timelines and tonal shifts with expertise. 

Production designers Chris Winter, Owen McCarthy and Lisa Maule create an interplay between shadow and light that is rendered with great effect across the Court Theatre’s broad stage. The dream-like way that beautifully designed images and films dance across five large hanging panels of gauzy fabric softens some of the more traumatic material and offers a dynamic expression of the shifting nature of memory.

Pain and beauty are juxtaposed throughout: it’s almost horrifying watching Fa’amoana witness his sons’ retelling of the ‘loving’ beatings they received at his hands, while he sits playing his electric guitar with a seemingly effortless grace. It’s rare for a redemption story like this (if it’s even fair to pigeonhole The White Guitar this way) to be presented in a manner that refuses to try to simplify complexities or offer a neat moral. 

The production subverts expectations in other ways. Art – be it music, or literature, or theatre – is marked throughout as a form of expression and liberation, but the story teases with – and in parts refutes – the (usual) liberal humanist route that posits art (for art’s sake) as the great redeemer. Here art and creativity, instead, are deeply embedded into the complicated tapestry of story and family, offering modes of expression and connection.

It is the choice to reconnect and engage with loved ones, and to begin the challenging task of piecing together broken relationships, that offers the hope of redemption and expression.

This is an enormously complex show, and my little academic brain has been whirring away happily since the show finished, trying to work my way through some of the piece’s emotional and performative relationships. It’s also the first time that I have been in an audience that leapt to its feet at the end as one.

There’s laughter and tears, and a profound sense of both joy and loss, and overall I can’t help but think that that’s me ruined in terms of expectations of theatre for the rest of the year.


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A theatrical experience not to be missed

Review by Ewen Coleman 04th Sep 2015

Like many families arriving in New Zealand for a better life, the one in The White Guitar is no different to any other.  They dreamed of a new beginning when leaving Samoa, but as so often happened, those dreams turned into a nightmare which was the case with the Luafutu family. Young Fa’amoana (John) arrived in Auckland with his parents into an alien culture and struggled to establish himself for much of his life.  Then moving to Christchurch he married and had two boys Mathias and Malo, who became the pop icon Scribe. But like their father, Scribe also had to fight, often literally, for survival.

Theirs is not an unusual story, elements of which have been experienced by many people of many races throughout New Zealand and told previously in many different ways. But what is unique about their story is why whanau and love overcame adversity and how they portray this through their performance on stage. [More]


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Brave, generous and unconditional

Review by John Smythe 02nd Sep 2015

When John the Apostle said “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), he was closing the deal on converting a group of Jews to Christianity. It was his ‘truth’ versus their ‘truth’. But when Fa’amoana John Luafutu quotes his so-called namesake in The White Guitar he means that taking personal responsibility for your own actions and inaction, and seeking forgiveness from those you hurt, including yourself, will set you free.  

The name is important. There is a memorable moment when Malo Luafutu (aka Scribe) impersonates the palagi schoolteacher in Auckland who finds Fa’amoana far too hard to pronounce so declares his name to be John. It marks the turning point of dislocation, dispossession, disorientation, disillusion and lost self-esteem experienced by him as a small child. His parents’ dream of a better life for their children also collided with the cultural ignorance of mainstream New Zealand in the 1950s. Then there is parental punishment: the ‘I hit you because I love you myth’.

Of course tangata whenua were also dispossessed of their culture (as exemplified in Dover Samuels’ testimony to the Waitangi Tribunal over being beaten for speaking Māori at school). Massive Company’s multicultural The Brave and Freya Desmarais’ Home: The Hilarious Comedy about How I Nearly Killed Myself … are more recent examples of how facing, dramatising and sharing personal truths sets people free. The White Guitar follows such works in proving how distilling the particular can articulate universal truths that touch us all in every generation.

The titular guitar belonged to Fa’amoana’s mother, Lupepe (known as Pepe), the daughter of a high chief, lyrically manifested by Tupe Lualua, who also plays an aunty. I take it the way the guitar and Pepe were mistreated by a male cousin exemplifies the “slavery” from which she sought liberation. Throughout the rest of the play it symbolises a route to redemption, and for much of the time Fa’amoana provides a subtle soundtrack on his own white electric guitar as his sons, Matthias and Malo, reveal his story and their own.

Malo (Scribe) opens the show with rap lyrics, spoken as a soliloquy then picking up rhythm, and towards the end of the show gives a full on rendition of ‘Not Many’, to which many of the packed opening night audience respond with alacrity. For most of the 100 minutes, however, the storytelling appears unadorned but of course the raw material has been crafted and structured with almost invisible skill, through the agency of script consultant Oscar Kightley and the directors, Nina Nawalowalo and Jim Moriarty.

Matthias personifies both his father, Fa’amoana, and himself at various stages of their increasingly violent, self-destructive and then redemptive journeys, capturing each moment with unvarnished and well-centred truth. The ‘like father, like son’ syndrome is emphasised, making a virtue of the momentary confusion we may sometimes face in trying to work out which he is being.

Malo’s persona is very different and he brings a gentle comedic sensibility to his storytelling and role-playing. In his case his descent into drug addiction and crime to feed it seems far away: owned and not forgotten but not quite present in the action.

The constant presence of Fa’amoana on stage as the stories unfold, often casting him in a very negative light, speaks volumes: his ability to witness his sons telling their separate and collective stories with such generous humanity, and to own his own part in what happened, proves how powerfully the truth can set you free.

The personal and redemptive nature of this work has long been the stock-in-trade of Jim Moriarty’s Te Rakau Trust, which Matthias joined for a time. He was also inspired to rekindle his ambition to be an actor by seeing Miranda Harcourt perform Verbatim when he was in prison – and his incomplete sojourn at Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama school is part of his story.

Nawalowalo’s specialises in bringing a touch of magic to the staging of Pasifika stories and here she does that judiciously – abetted by Owen McCarthy’s A/V, Chris Winter’s sound and Lisa Maule’s lighting designs – to support and punctuate the core stories. “It needs you the audience to listen and weave in the heart the threads of your own stories,” Nawalowalo notes in the programme. We are not here for the spectacle.

Empathy is the most powerful force in the actor/audience relationship and The White Guitar gives back in abundance what we choose to invest in it.

The way the Luafutu men share their truths is brave, generous and unconditional; a gift that arguably returns greater value to them by setting them free of their emotional burdens. Yet it also gives New Zealand as a nation, and each individual who has misunderstood and/or mistreated Pacific Islanders, the opportunity to accept responsibility for their own actions and inaction, and seek forgiveness. More generally there are many levels of personal experience on both sides of the abuse equation that The White Guitar awakens us to.

Much is made about there not being a happy ending and yet there it is, staring us in the face. The question we are left with is what will it take to sustain this state of grace. Meanwhile don’t miss the opportunity – at this Hannah Playhouse preview season or at its Christchurch Arts Festival premiere season – to share in the oloa (taonga) that is The White Guitar.


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