Pipitea Marae, Thorndon Quay, Wellington

01/03/2012 - 07/03/2012

Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland

20/07/2013 - 27/07/2013

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

15/06/2013 - 29/06/2013

New Zealand International Arts Festival 2012

Production Details


Tu brought to the stage 

Patricia Grace’s award-winning novel Tu is the inspiration for a new play by celebrated playwright and directorHone Kouka for the New Zealand International Arts Festival.

A sweeping family drama, Tu brings redemption to a man in exchange for his long-held burden. For the novel, Grace (Ngati Toa, Ngati Raukawa, Te Ati Awa) drew on the experiences of her father as a member of the 28th Maori Battalion in Italy during WWII. Grace is widely regarded as one of New Zealand’s finest novelists and short story writers. Tu won the Deutz Medal and the Montana Award for Fiction at the 2005 New Zealand Book Awards.

Hone Kouka’s (Ngati Porou/Ngati Kahungunu/Ngati Raukawa) previous work includes the internationally renowned Waiora and Nga Tangata Toa. He was the youngest playwright to win the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award (1992). He is also a screenwriter, essayist and producer and actor. Waiora was commissioned for the 1996 New Zealand International Arts Festival, and toured nationally and internationally in 1997.

Kirk Torrance, whose recent roles include Wayne Judd in TV3’s Outrageous Fortune, plays the lead in Tu. Weaving text and image together, the story travels from 1940s Wellington to the battlefields of Monte Cassino, to post-war Te Tairawhiti on the North Island’s East Coast, where Tu’s reconnection with his family gives him hope and the chance for redemption.

Tu has been developed by Tawata Productions over the last 24 months with funding from Te Waka Toi. Wellington-based Tawata created the acclaimed I, George Nepia as well as the musical He Reo Aroha, directed by Kouka, which charmed audiences at the 2010 New Zealand International Arts Festival. “People who think romance is dead in Aotearoa should make it their business to seeHone Kouka’s touching but impressively unsentimental production,” wrote The Listener.

Tu is at
Pipitea Marae
from 1 to 7 March 2012
Tickets $53 available from Ticketek. 

Circa One
15 – 29 June

20-27 July

Tues & Wed 6.30PM, Thurs – Sat 8PM, Sun 4.00PM (no show Mon)
Q Theatre, 305 Queen St, Auckland

Kirk Torrance– Tu
Matariki Whatarau – Tuboy
Karlos Drinkwater – Philomel (Pita in the book)
Taungaroa Emile – Woody, a.k.a. Boydie (Rangi in the book)
Tina Cook – Ma (Irihapeti)
Kura Forrester – Moana
Aroha White – Jess
Jarod Rawiri – Benedict
Erina Daniels – Rimini
Tola Newbery – Cousin Hoki

Set design – Mark McIntyre
Lighting design – Uli Briese
Sound and music design – Karnan Saba
Costume design – Claire Bowden
Haka composition – Hone Hurihanganui
Production manager – Ahi Karunaharan
Producer Tawata –Miria George 

2013 CREITS:

Tammy Davis              Old Tu
Jarod Rawiri                Philomel
Taungaroa Emile          Boydie
Kimo Houltham            Tu
Tina Cook                   Ma
Moana Ete                  Moana
Aroha White               Jess
Scotty Cotter              Hoki
Matu Ngaropo             Benedict
Erina Daniels               Rimini
Kaumatua                    Enoka Waitoa
Assistant Director         Jason Te Kare
Sound Design               Karnan Saba
Lighting Design             Ulli Briese                                    
Set Designer                 Mark McEntyre
Costume Designer         Clare Bowden                  
Wardrobe Mistress        Nikki Hann
Poi Design                    Wai Mihinui, Jamiee Warda, 12.01 Design House
Composer                    Hone Hurihanganui                  
Karanga                       Mokena Reedy, Moira Wairama
Set Construction           Scenic Solutions, Christchurch
Rehearsal Room Tutors  Ani-Oriwa Adds, Nigel Collins, Moira Wairama
Haka Tutor                    Tanemahuta Gray                  
Publicity                        Brianne Kerr                                    
Education Liasion           Pania Stevenson
Graphic Design              Rose Miller
Publicity Photography     Aneta Ruth
Production (2013) Photography       Matt Grace
Box Office                     Linda Wilson
FOH Manager                 Suzanne Blackburn        
Stage Manager               Ahi Karunaharan          
Production Manager        Laurie Dean
Producer                       Miria George

2 hours, no interval

A profound theatrical experience

Review by Simon Wilson 29th Jul 2013

I know, the film festival offers treats galore. But it’s also the height of the theatre season and if there’s one single thing to spend your cultural pennies on this week, forget about all that stuff on screen and go see Tu. It’s terrific. 

Wellington company Tawata Productions has brought its acclaimed show, based on the novel by Patricia Grace, to Q Theatre for just one week. Writer/director Hone Kouka uses a traverse stage, with the audience sitting either side, for his cast of 10 to present their structurally complex tale of a family battered by war: he’s got two time periods simultaneously in play, a whole lot of deeply and gloriously mashed up Maori and Pakeha performance styles, and a story that unfolds with beautiful subtlety. It’s thrilling. [More


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Tū latest to show war's impact on Maori life

Review by Janet McAllister 22nd Jul 2013

Participation in 20th century international conflicts is a recurring topic in Maori theatre. In the past two years Auckland has seen at least five Maori productions (written over the past two decades) set during World War I, World War II (particularly the Maori Battalion in Italy) and Vietnam.

The primary focus is not usually the fighting itself, but war’s impact on romance, love and whanau life.

The theme of ocean-spanning ties (formed within living memory) is in contrast to arguably the most significant theme in Maori theatre: ancient ties to the whenua, the land. [More]


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Powerful homage

Review by Tamati Patuwai 21st Jul 2013

Ko ngā tātai whetu ki te rangi mau tonu ra
Ko ngā tātai tangata ki te whenua ngaro noa atu
Heoi koutou ngā tōtara haemata I hinga atu I ngā pakanga katoa o tea o
Aue taku tangi atu ki a koutou
Ko te tūmanako ka piritahi koutou I raro I te parirau o te Atua
Rātou ki a rātou, oki atu
Tātou ki a tātou
Kia Ora tātou

Wellington-based theatre ensemble Tawata Productions opened TU last night at Q Theatre’s Rangatira. This 2013 Auckland season sees some new players peppered throughout the many original cast members, giving an exciting collection of talents. 

Hone Kouka, now into his third decade of theatre composition, has written and directed a wonderful kaupapa of unique Maori heritage.

Based on the novel by the acclaimed kuia Patricia Grace, the play is generally aligned with the main elements of the book. However to distil a 300 page book into almost 2 hours of stage time is no mean feat and noticeable poetic licence is expected.

The book itself is an emotional homage founded on the lives of Māori soldiers and their families around World War II. Both novel and play are such honourable mihi to whanau Māori who have been forever impacted by the tumults of army life.

One simple point from the transitioning of book to play is a palpable sense of trust from novelist to playwright. Grace’s story is laden with her own father’s experiences as a soldier and now Kouka has embraced the narrative, whole-heartedly weaving his own natural flair throughout. One of the most exemplary shows of Kouka’s commitment to carrying the piece is through the substituting of character names to Kōuka’s very own brothers’ names. Ara, ko te ahua nei i whakaae a Whaea Patricia ki tēnei huringa, a, he tohu rangatira tēnei. Ka mihi ake au ki o korua hononga pūmau me o tirohanga mīharo. 

In addition to the delicate layers through cast and story, the crew have woven careful treatments that build an epic contribution to NZ theatre.  

Clare Bowden’s costumes are charming renditions of the elegant 1930s and 40s NZ fashion. Fine details of hairstyle and textured material illuminate an era of style and panache. Warm autumnal colours are also pleasing to the eye with delicious smatterings of grape and turquoise. Subtle and uniquely theatrical costume shifts are cleverly handled by way of pulling socks over trousers and swinging jackets on and off. 

Mark McEntyre presents a set design that encloses the performance from both ends. This arrangement envelopes the space giving an inward-looking focus on the family and character journeys. 

Kouka’s finely written character treatments ask for actors to square off to each other constantly, sharing very complex and intimate moments. McEntyre’s traverse staging complements Kouka’s almost filmic directorial style.

Ulli Briese’s lighting is simple yet bold enough to give robust tonal accompaniments to the play. Slithers of light through the staging interrupt the plainness of the traverse planking, giving a dislocated sense appropriate to the layered themes of the piece. 

The familiar chord arrangements of acclaimed waiata composer Hone Hurihanga are welcomed and nurture aroha and tangi so masterfully. 

Haka smatterings, supported by Tanemahuta Grey, are featured consistently as ethereal type ancestral tableaus.  

This all speaks to the complex weft of writing and directorial prowess that Kouka brings to the fore. After three decades of this work, Kouka has certainly laid his mark on the stage. I am impressed so deeply with Kouka’s creative ambition that I would suggest that with more resource support and time Kouka could navigate us all into a theatre world that we have never dreamed of before. Penei na i nga tohungatanga o Robert LePage me Peter Brook. E H1 ka miharo tonu ahau ki o pukenga. 

The efforts of the actors are very powerful. Special mention to Jarod Rāwiri who supports the company masterfully with typical tuakana status. Rāwiri always impresses my sensibilities for surprise in acting. He spins trippingly between stern, tempestuous big brotherliness into an almost flaccid naivety. Aue to koi hoki e J! Tera ko te G.I.tanga I roto ne? 

Tina Cook as the whanau matriarch gives such a poignant soliloquy professing her distressed beliefs of war and politics. This moment, combined with the ngeri performed by the women of the cast, absolutely thunders through my heart as the most emotional and genuine calls of the play.  

Kali Kōpae is also a delight with such authentic ‘big sister’ impatience and worldly desire. 

It is clear that Kouka aspires to honour reo Māori as well as reo Pākeha so this has placed language demands of from the players. Maybe it was opening night nerves or the wintery air but often the vocal work from the actors was strained. Those evasive consonants and word endings can be a bugger for contemporary Māori. Kia kaha ra! 

Kahore e kore as the Auckland season settles in, TU should enjoy all manner of its deserved successes. There is too much care, respect and talent all over it to think otherwise.

Again I mihi to Whaea Patricia Grace for the foundation that Kouka has built on to create this beautiful play. Tena koutou e Tawata, nau i whakahaere ano tetahi hua pai ma te Iwi whanui.

Ka tangi ano taku Manawa ki nga tini toa i para tika te huarahi ki a tatou.
Aue ka tau.
Ka tau ki a matou enei tauira kia manawaora ki te ao ka tu.Tihei Mauri Ora!


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Many poignant and heart wrenching moments

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 09th Jul 2013

After a successful season at last year’s NZ International Arts Festival, Tawata Productions are returning with their fascinating and compelling production of Tu for a short season at Circa Theatre. 

The play is based on Patricia Grace’s novel of the same name which is a complex story of how war has affected three generations of one family condensed into 95 minutes. And although five of the cast are new from those seen in the original production, the longitudinal staging is the same as that seen in the original at Pipitea Marae. 

With little furniture and even fewer props the traverse stage allows the actors to move up and down effortlessly with the scenes flowing seamlessly one to the other. This form of presentation also focuses the action on the actors and draws the audience into the emotional turmoil of the family. 

The writing and presentation is abstract in nature with a lot of physicality and action used to complement the dialogue making the story telling very theatrical although initially this hinders clarity of the various threads of the story and who each character is and their relationship one to another. 

It is the 1970s and a niece, Rimini and nephew Benedict, who is about to go off to the Vietnam war, are brought together by their Uncle, old Tu who wants to explain, after 30 years of bottling it up, what happened to their father.  Then through a series of flash back scenes set in the 1940s we slowly find out.  Ma and her sons are trying to put their past behind them, a past greatly effect by her husband and their father after he returned from the Great War.  Through many poignant and heart wrenching moments the answers to Rimini and Benedict’s questions become clear.

After a somewhat slow start with the actors taking some time to get into their stride they eventually bring the piece alive and Hone Kouka’s direction of the large cast starts to pay dividends as the emotional trauma of not only war but the love of mother to son and brother to brother is tested to its limit.

Powerful and engaging in its final moments this is a unique piece of NZ theatre and worthy of a return showing.


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Potent emotional story makes for resounding theatre

Review by Hannah Smith 17th Jun 2013

War and conflict, love and identity: these huge themes writ large in history books are concentrated in the experiences of one family and how they are affected by war. 

After an acclaimed season in the 2012 NZ International Arts Festival, Tawata Productions bring back to the Wellington stage with a production at Circa One.

A father goes to war and returns a changed man – and the devastation this wreaks on his family reverberates down the generations, changing the lives of his wife, children, and grandchildren. War is a terrible force of destruction, but failed communication and being too cowardly to express your love can also rip a family apart. In we see both the bright and dark faces of familial love and sense of duty.

Writer/director Hone Kouka (inspired by the Patricia Grace novel, ), creates a world of high tension and wrought emotions.  The performances are strong and the ensemble cast work seamlessly together. Non-verbal sequences show us the tangled and troubled history of the characters; the rhythms, imagery and theatricality of these arrangements connects powerfully with the audience and drive the energy forward.

Some scenes work beautifully – the developing relationship between Jess (Aroha White) and Philomel (Jarod Rawiri) is exquisite. The precision of the choreography as they circle the bakery counter is beautiful counterpoint to the text, and all the awkwardness, pride and tentative vulnerability that heralds the blossoming of a new relationship.

In other scenes the self-conscious poetry of the dialogue interferes with the natural charm of the characters, and the words do not feel as effortless as the physical action that accompanies them. The structure is also confusing in places, and plot points (the decision of certain characters to join the forces) does not get sufficient explanation or weight.

Mark McEntyre’s set provides an excellent backdrop to the action, and the traverse staging suits a production built from dance-like sequences of advance and retreat. Karnan Saba’s sound design underscores the emotional shifts, and Ulli Briese’ lighting design signals jumps between tone, time period and action with clarity.

While I feel the story telling would benefit from greater clarity in the script, the acting and direction in this production is exceptional. Strong ensemble work and striking stage choreography make this potent emotional story into a resounding piece of theatre.


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Life in the raw after the war

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 15th Mar 2012

The effects of war at a personal level rather than global are the subject of another of the NZ theatre offerings at this year’s NZ International Arts Festival. 

Based on Patricia Grace’s award winning novel Tu, this play of the same name distils down the essence of the book into a 2 hour piece of theatre yet never loses the intensity or power of the personal traumas the characters go through.

Three generations of one family and three wars combine to convey the all too real inner conflicts that develop in men that go to war.

A father returns from WWI a changed man, full of rage leaving his wife to cope with bringing up his three sons and daughter. Then the three boys all go off to WWII, against their mothers wishes. Only one son returns, Tu, and it is his story that he tells to the third generation, his nephew, who has found the reclusive Tu in order to learn about the parents he never knew before he goes off to fight in Vietnam.

Simply staged on a longitudinal set that runs the length of Pipitea Marae, directorHone Kouka, who also wrote the play, and his 10 actors bring to life the characters with commitment, energy and a real sense of theatre. Using nothing in the way of props and with a couple of benches and shop counter, the actors effortlessly move these about to create a myriad of scenes.

With lots of physical movement to compliment the poetic style of language, the numerous scenes flow seamlessly one to another bringing the complex but engaging story to life.

Particularly impressive is the creative way Old Tu and his nephew and niece watch as Tu’s life story plays out, sometimes from the sideline at others as part of the action. 

And the raw emotions expressed by the actors when key events happen to the family are powerfully real; particularly the anguish felt by the mother when told her son has been killed in action, like having her womb torn from within her, making this a most engaging and dynamic piece of NZ theatre.  


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A profound experience that goes to the heart

Review by John Smythe 02nd Mar 2012

Hone Kouka and his Tawata Productions have created a powerful, moving and resounding play inspired by Patricia Grace’s novel, Tu. It is an adaptation – the story is, in essence, the same although some character names have been changed – but the means of expressing it, of showing that essence, is very different.

Staged in the traverse at Pipitea Marae (between raked banks of theatre seats), just a tiaha-throw from the all-important Molesworth Street cake shop, it inhabits the story’s ‘home’ environs (I have always assumed the Ngati Poneke Cultural Club was about where the marae is now).

Mark McEntyre’s robust wooden stage, Ulli Briese’s strong lighting and Karnan Saba’s powerful sound design, aligned with compositions by Hone Hurihanganui and Moira Wairama, conspire to transport us to 1940s Wellington, the war in Europe which took two of three brothers, and back to 1960s New Zealand.

A visceral non-verbal opening establishes the surviving brother, Tu (Kirk Torrance), as adrift and haunted by a past for which he carries unresolved guilt: “This ugly passenger that sits upon my shoulder,” he calls it later. He has sought out his nephew Benedict (Jarod Rawiri) and niece Rimini (Erina Daniels) to tell them what happened and who, therefore, they are – and they are wary of him.

The story that emerges belongs to us all and to any family in the world whose sons have been drawn to war through three generations (yes, Benedict wants to join ‘the boys’ in Vietnam).

Holding the family together in the 1940s is the widowed mother – Ma, Irihapeti– and her oldest son, mostly referred to as “older brother” and not named Pita, as in the book, but Philomel.* The inability, in those days, to talk openly about a misunderstood and shameful past generates much of the dramatic intrigue and tension.

Only Philomel knows the danger and damage their father brought back from his war and his abiding fear is that the same blood flows within him. Only Tu, decades later, knows the truth he needs to tell his nephew and niece.

Tina Cook exudes a matriarchal strength that’s equal and opposite to the emotional fragility Ma holds deep within. Karlos Drinkwater’s older brother / little father is an agonising essay on the internal battles of those committed to not perpetuating cycles of violence – contrasted with glimpses of his capacity to love, if only he could trust himself.

Aroha White’s cake shop worker Jess, in love with Philomel, embodies the wartime woman determined to make her own way in business, with her own cake shop. His tragedy becomes hers and she makes us feel that.

The middle brother, Woody, a.k.a. Boydie (Rangi in the book), self-styled ladies man and the first brother to sign up for WW2, is played with flair and focus by Taungaroa Emile. 

Tuboy, as he is called in his youth, is the youngest brother and Matariki Whatarau captures the role he’s assigned and the desire to become a man with a delightful innocence that tellingly contrasts with Kirk Torrance’s older – and wiser (if such damage can lead to that)? – incarnation.

As the only daughter, Moana, Kura Forrester gives us the dance required to assuage a mother’s fears while being drawn to the romantic sophistication of American soldiers on leave in Wellington.

Tola Newbery completes the cast as cousin Hoki, another Maori Battalion soldier, memorably panicked by a sniper at Cassino.

Torrance, Rawiri and Daniels excel in playing the subtext of unspoken issues spawned by unanswered questions, some of which they don’t even know need to be asked.

Nothing is lost by way of drama, comedy and insight through the simple staging, where the home, streets, trams, shops and the battle of Monte Cassino are readily evoked with a minimum of fuss. This is a production that trusts its audience to use their intelligence and imagination.

Kouka and his team use the power of performance, supported by lighting and sound, to engage us in a profound experience that goes to the heart of our heritage as a bi-cultural nation that fought two world wars for ‘the old country’ then aligned with the USA in Vietnam.

While not overtly political, it cannot help but be so, simply by virtue of telling the truth of how it was, and will be if we do not learn from history. As a play it resonates well beyond its immediate times and places to expose universal truths about people, families, communities, nations and that ever-present human invention, war.

Tu stands proud as part of the International Arts Festival and should be added to your ‘must see’ list.

*Philomel: presumably after the training cruiser HMS Philomel, commissioned for service with the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy at the outbreak of war in 1914. Philomel was also an ancient Athenian princess and a stringed instrument. 


Sylvia Bagnall March 10th, 2012

I wondered what the visiting American woman next to me would make of it. She was moved to deep sobs.

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