Allen Hall Theatre, University of Otago, Dunedin

07/12/2022 - 10/12/2022

BATS Theatre, The Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

13/06/2023 - 17/06/2023

Kia Mau Festival 2023

Production Details

Writer/Director Jessica Latton

A Prospect Park Production


Ōtepoti based writer/director Jessica Latton (Ngāti Wheke, Waitaha, Kāi Tahu) brings to life a story of gods, creation, and humanity in her new play, The World’s First Lovers. The exciting work pays homage to Hineahuone, the world’s first woman and the mysterious feminine aroha that guides us through the dark times.

Jessica has woven the specifically Kāi Tahu telling of this narrative with a personal story, examining what it means to be an indigenous woman in a colonised, patriarchal society. From the birth of the world, to Tānemahuta’s crafting of Hineahuone, to existing as a young Māori woman in the 1980’s, we are taken on a journey to understand our history through a unique lens.

“It is a Dunedin story. These stories and characters in it are local, and by writing them I realised that my personal experience was in fact a pattern woven through a generation. In being conscious of our own myths, we can reread our own narrative and rewrite the future…  I am so grateful to have such an amazing team of creatives bring this super-local, universal story to life.” – Jessica Latton

Originally written as part of the Ōtepoti Theatre Lab Playwrights Programme in 2021, The World’s First Lovers has enjoyed a continued period of development, including workshops at Puaka Matariki Festival, a residency at Te Whare o Rukutia and inclusion at the prestigious indigenous writing festival, Breaking Ground (Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington), where Jessica further workshopped the script alongside some of Aotearoa’s leading theatre makers.

The World’s First Lovers is now taking the next step, inviting the first public audiences to see the show in a special development season, taking place at Allen Hall Theatre in December. Featuring a local cast and crew of talented Māori creatives, the work weaves together theatre, dance and waiata, and features costumes created by Amber Bridgman of Kahuwai Clothing.

Proudly presented by Prospect Park Productions, The World’s First Lovers comes to Allen Hall Theatre for a season that aims to bring people together to create that sense of belonging and connection that we all long for.

“Each one of us longs to belong, to have meaningful interactions, to be untidy and extraordinary and glorious together. I hope this performance will remind you how deeply you do belong. Ka rua, ka muri, walking backwards into the future.” – Jessica Latton

“Being Indigenous in a colonised country has been an intrepid navigation. Being an Indigenous woman in a colonised patriarchy has been a minefield; soothing and cajoling those who have power, apologising always for speaking, standing, existing. Living in the cracks to survive it. Not any more. We refuse. We make space in the world for ourselves, and so for our children. We are the uri of Rangi and Papa. We walk in the light on the earth that loves us.” – Metiria Turei (development creative 2021/2022).

The World’s First Lovers opens at Allen Hall Theatre,
Wednesday 7th until Saturday 10th December 2022.
Tickets available via Eventbrite

Kia Mau Festival 2023
13 – 17 June 2023

Creative Team:
Writer/Director Jessica Latton:
Kaumatua: Moana Wesley
Producer: H-J Kilkelly
Assistant Producer: Sahara Pohatu-Trow

Actors: Catherine Shroder, Nick Tipa, Mārama Grant, Grace Turipa, Manu Symes-Hepi

Costume Designer: Amber Bridgman
Lighting Designer: Marty Roberts

Stage Manager: Tabitha Littlejohn
Operator: Jordan Wichman
Photography: Kassandra Lynne Photography

Dance-theatre , Te Reo Māori , Theatre ,

An otherworldly experience: my body gets it, my brain does not

Review by Waitahi Aniwaniwa McGee 16th Jun 2023

“In being conscious of our myths, we can reread our own narrative and rewrite the future”

The World’s First Lovers, nā Jessica Latton, directed by Juanita Hēpi, is a visceral journey through the experience of a South Island Māori using the experiences of intergenerational pain, addiction, racial violence, mental health; using their knowledge of Māori gods to forge a new path among all of it.

We begin in a traverse, us audience always lit, performers always in our sights. This relationship between cast and audience remains throughout the piece, always being seen, we are always in relation to one another. The cast – Jessica Latton, Nick Tipa, Grace Turipa, Manu Syme-Hepi and Catherine Duval – alongside GOM Arts Collective’s set design means the stage is always active, no word lost and no action missed. It is very exciting to be witness to. 

This piece talks to very serious and painful themes, however Latton is able to command the power of both light and darkness. Because of this, we as an audience allow ourselves to be taken through it all – the suffering, lust, confusion, laughter and waiata.

Taoka Puoro is incorporated throughout the piece: as you watch, Ben Whitaker provides another layer of tau to this work. I reckon his engagement with the work is different to everyone else’s. As the show progresses, you can see a deep listening as he plays, a constant feel for the mauri. While his listening is constant, he has the freedom to change his playing as he feels necessary.

The World’s First Lovers shows Pōneke a different way of storytelling. There is a quality to this work that I’m lost for words to describe. It is an almost knowing – my body gets it, my brain does not. The best way I can say it, is to grab a ticket and have a look yourself. I think (despite being based in the experience of Aotearoa across time) it is otherworldly.


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Multi-layered and generous storytelling

Review by Antony Deaker 08th Dec 2022

I loved this show. This is a multi-layered and generous piece of storytelling. I learned a lot, I remembered a lot, I laughed out loud, I grieved some more. I marvelled at the complex weave of dance, waiata, mau rakau, bi-lingual dialogue, costume, music, soundtrack and lighting made simple in the compact spaces of Allen Hall.

Multiple story lines intersect, are revisited and run in and out of each other. Our actors play diverse characters slipping effortlessly between the 20th century, the time of atua, the time of bringing Hineahuone, the first woman, to life, and the time of the creation of the South Island.

Our focus returns to the lead character (Fortune) throughout the play, who tells us the story of her childhood on the Otago Peninsula and the identities she gave herself to make sense of not knowing her whakapapa. How her early appetite for risk and adventure became dangerous and disastrous in later years. As this personal story unfolds she is supported more and more strongly by knowledge of the creation of the world, of woman and of the South Island. We feel our lead woman grow in confidence over time. This shift from uncertainty to knowing feels like the central point to me, as it was mirrored in the energy of the cast, who by the end of the show were somehow larger and at full power.

I relate personally to the story. I grew up in a southern Kai Tahu family uncertain of our whakapapa and therefore of our place. I remember Dunedin in the 1980s and 90s and the anarchic excitement of dark music venues and dance parties, alongside moments on the street that could slide into violence too easily. I remember latching onto part understood pieces of knowledge and building mansions in my mind; this is ongoing.

It was incredibly affirming to have the Kai Tahu creation story performed and in the southern dialect of our tipuna, when the versions shared in our local schools too often don’t.

The story line set in the present ends well. There is redemption for the central character, and we are reminded that the cultural transformation that is underway nationally, led by individuals and Iwi and coming through in our institutions, may finally mean the deeply embedded mamae of colonisation could recede over time and not grow.

Amber Bridgman’s wardrobe design is just right. The colours and form don’t change much from start to finish but always work between ancient and contemporary times.

Alongside a great cast, our one-man-orchestra Ben Whitaker with a collection of Taonga Puoro and guitar is incredible. His presence usually on the very edge of the action isn’t distracting and his timing with beautiful aural treats is also just right.

Jessica Latton’s writing is poetic and beautiful. It has a simplicity and direct style that belies the complex web of knowledge and emotion shared across generations. Beauty and humour run alongside pain and conflict. Her directing is thoughtful and precise.

The World’s First Lovers is a performance, story and song that feels both familiar and found.



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