Wellington Town Hall, Wellington

11/03/2006 - 13/03/2006

New Zealand International Arts Festival

Production Details

Produced & directed by Charlotte Yates

NZIAF and Toi Maori Aotearoa

Top Recording artists from around the country bring music to the words of renowned and much-loved New Zealand writer Hone Tuwhare.

Theatre , Music ,

2 hr 10 min, no interval

Rich tribute to a living treasure

Review by John Smythe 13th Mar 2006

CAn poetry be improved by putting it to music? Is music the better for having lyrics that have already made their mark as poetry? When Toi Māori Aotearoa commissioned Charlotte Yates to produce a CD of musical tributes to poet Hone Tuwhare, by setting his poems to music, 12 composer / musician / singer / recording artists responded and the CD was launched in late 2004. Now the New Zealand International Arts Festival and Toi Māori Aotearoa have produced the live concert version for three nights only. Does their work enhance Tuwhare’s poetry or vice versa?

The answer differs according to each work with the most sublime results suggesting a two-way exchange. As a concert, where hundreds gather to share the experience in a cabaret setting (downstairs at least), it offers a whole new level of entertainment. And so it should, with seats costing a good deal more than the CD itself. The added values include narrator Rawiri Paratene – alternately chatty, witty, passionate and moved – putting it all in historical context (with words well written by Yates) and video images (edited by Lala Rolls) capturing the ages and stages of Hone Tuwhare, and the elemental land and events that inspired him.

It’s worth adding that, thanks to the narration bridges, Yates and her crew have achieved something of a staging miracle in maintaining the flow through 12 very different combos without any of the re-setting fluffing around with leads, plugs and knobs that usually accompanies each new group taking the stage. Unlike Instructions for Modern Living (see above), this production knows what its audience is there for and delivers without extraneous fuss.

Hinemoa Baker’s lively ‘Where shall I wander’, performed with Waiting for Donald, uses a strong train rhythm with Brenda Liddiard’s mandolin evoking climes well beyond Aotearoa. Whirimako Black brings soulful depth to ‘Spring Song’, composed and performed with Jonathan Besser. With acoustic guitar and harmonica, troubadour Graham Brazier makes an upbeat ballad of ‘Friend’ (and I feel compelled to add that he is the only one who succumbed to the mercifully fading compulsion so many Kiwi musicians have to sing their original songs with American accents).

Apparently four composers vied for ‘Rain’ and Don McGlashen won the gig, blending a crystal clear piano (David Guerin) and his own earthy euphonium with a vocal clarity that retains all the value of Tuwhare’s words. Mina Ripia’s setting of ‘On a theme by Hone Taiapa’, composed with Maaka McGregor and sung with Gaynor Rikihana and Corrie Brooking, adds the beat of long poi to the percussion of McGregor and Desmond Mallon. Hone Hurihanganui’s deeply resonant and elemental ‘Papa-tu-a-nuku (Earth Mother)’, sung solo with guitar, would not be out of place in a Maori rock opera.

Mahinarangi Tocker, with the NZ Trio and Charlotte Yates on guitar, makes ‘A Northland heartscape’ deeply melancholic and ends it with a cry of grief, hands vibrating. Later, she also sings ‘Covetous’, composed by Paul Casserly and Fiona McDonald, with strawpeople (recorded) and Ashley Brown on cello. The only low point of the evening comes with Te Kupu’s inept rendition – read from folded paper – of Dean Hapeta’s rap version of ‘Speak to me, brother’. Ending it with "big ups [for] Hone Tuwhare" did nothing to redeem it.

The life-force returns with Charlotte Yates’ rendition of ‘Mad’. Dallas (Fat Freddy’s Drop) Tamaira’s draws surging primordial swirls from ‘We, who live in darkness’. Then (after ‘Covetousness’), Golden Horse rock it up big time with ‘O Africa’, composed by Geoff Maddock and Kirsten Morell, who fronts it with rip-roaring vocals.

All in all Tuwhare the show is a rich, wryly amusing and often moving celebration of a living treasure whose work is a gift to our nationhood. As for the question of whose work enhances whose in setting the poems to music, I’d have to sit down with the texts and the CD to answer that. And even then it would, as always, be an entirely subjective response.


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