Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington
23/11/2019 - 07/12/2019
PACIFIC THEATRE ROYALTY CHALLENGE CULTURAL SENSIBILITIES IN AN OUTRAGEOUSLY FUNNY AND IRREVERANT PITCH BLACK COMEDY
Stars of the Pacific performing arts scene – Victor Rodger, Vela Manusaute, Anapela Polata’ivao and Goretti Chadwick join the incredible creative team that will deliver the premiere of UMA LAVA to the Circa stage in Wellington, from 23 November to 7 December.
Three strangers – an academic, a right-wing politician, and a minister with a penchant for spoken word poetry – walk into a room. It’s hate at first sight. But this isn’t just any room they’ve walked into as they’re about to find out when they try to leave… UMA LAVA is an outrageous, irreverent comedy of terrors where no sacred cow is left unslaughtered.
Challenging the preconceptions of what a good Pacific tale should entail UMA LAVA smashes down the walls of respectability and sees its stellar cast play to humour that is bawdy, lively and completely unacceptable. Award winning playwright Victor Rodger (Club Paradiso, At the Wake, Sons, My Name is Gary Cooper, Black Faggot) is well known for his passion in pushing boundaries in Pacific writing, “A lot of Pacific theatre is heart warming and moving. But Uma Lava isn’t going to warm anybody’s heart: instead, it’s a brutually and savagely funny comedy featuring three Samoan characters who, on the surface, are all community minded, but who are, underneath it all, incredibly self-serving,” says Rodger.
His playful vision has drawn the support of the crème of the Pacific arts scene. Award winning performers Anapela Polata’ivao and Goretti Chadwick reunite on the stage after eight years of carving out impressive careers in the performing arts. Rodger has always admired the work of both actresses who were in his 2007 play MY NAME IS GARY COOPER. UMA LAVA was written specifically for both of them.
Most recently Anapela has been awarded for both her directing of and acting in Tusiata Avia’s Wild Dogs Under My Skirt which, following an extensive nationwide tour, will play off Broadway in January at the Soho Playhouse – the same theatre where recent Emmy winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge performed her farewell stage version of her hit show Fleabag. Anapela was recently named the recipient of the Contemporary Pacific Artist Award at Creative New Zealand’s Pacific Arts Awards and has won numerous awards in theatre including a New Generation Arts Laureate Award, alongside an impressive career in film and television.
Goretti Chadwick (My Name is Gary Cooper, Mean Mums, Vermillion) last year won Best Performance at the Wellington Theatre Awards for her performance in Still Life with Chickens, a solo show that she has toured throughout New Zealand and internationally since 2018. After the Wellington season of UMA LAVA, Goretti will fly directly to China to perform it there.
Joining this powerhouse team is Mario Faumui – a graduate of the Pacific Institute of Performing Arts (PIPA) where his tutors included both Anapela and Goretti. This will be the first time he has acted with both of them professionally. Since graduating from PIPA, Mario has drawn acclaim as the creator of the fa’afafine creative ensemble Fine Fatale who will next year tour to Hawaii. As an actor he performed in Wellington earlier this year in Victor Rodger’s Club Paradiso opposite Robbie Magasiva.
Award winning Palangi Wellington actor, Paul McLaughlin (Kings of the Gym, How to Murder your Wife) bravely joins the Samoan aiga to add his comic presence to the shenanigans.
Vela Manusaute rounds out the creative team as co-director. This is the third Victor Rodger play that Vela has directed after co-directing GIRL ON A CORNER (2015) with his partner, Anapela Polata’ivao and CLUB PARADISO (2015, 2019) starring Robbie Magasiva.
UMA LAVA: An academic, a right-wing politician and a minister walk into a room… What could possibly go wrong!
UMA LAVA plays
Circa Theatre Two
23 Nov – 7 Dec 2019
Tues – Sat 7.30pm;
Tickets: $25 – $52
FCC (FLOW, CREATE, CONNECT) was created by Victor Rodger in 2015. Since then its productions have included
CLUB PARADISO starring Robbie Magasiva,
WILD DOGS UNDER MY SKIRT (Best Director Auckland Theatre Awards 2016; Best Production and Best Actress, Wellington Theatre Awards 2018),
THE MOUNTAINTOP starring David Fane and Nicole Whippy (Best Actress Auckland Theatre Awards 2017), and
AT THE WAKE featuring the legendary Lisa Harrow.
Hell is the inability to relate humanely to other people
Review by John Smythe 24th Nov 2019
In order to create an opportunity for award-winning actors Anapela Polata’ivao and Goretti Chadwick “to utilise their phenomenal talents by playing against type”, much-honoured playwright Victor Roger has put a Samoan twist on the premise of Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit (aka Huit Clos, which is the French equivalent of the legal term ‘In Camera’, meaning a discussion behind closed doors).
Most recently Anapela won directing and acting awards for Wild Dogs Under My Skirt and Goretti won a Wellington Theatre Awards Accolade for Outstanding Performance for her performance in Still Life with Chickens. Both shows are due to play internationally next year. And indeed anyone who saw those shows could be forgiven for not instantly recognising either of them in Uma Lava; their personalities are so utterly transformed.
The third lead is played by Mario Faumui, a graduate of the Pacific Institute of Performing Arts (PIPA) where Anapela and Goretti were his tutors. Wellington saw him earlier this year in Victor Rodger’s Club Paradiso and next year hisfa’afafine creative ensemble Fine Fatale will tour to Hawaii.
Completing the cast is Paul McLaughlin, who went to Toi Whakaari with Victor and has been absent from Wellington stages for far too long (last seen, I believe, in Equivocation).
The question, then, is does Uma Lava simply serve as a showcase for these actors or does the play have a greater purpose for them to serve? A bit of both, I think.
Sartre’s No Exit and Rodger’s Uma Lava both confine three highly incompatible people in a locked room in Hell. In the final moments of Sartre’s play the one male, Garcin, says: “All those eyes intent on me. Devouring me. What? Only two of you? I thought there were more; many more. So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone … Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE!”
Torture for Garcin, then, is having nowhere to hide; having his callous cowardice (and closet gayness?) exposed for all to see. Estelle’s need to validate herself through sexual relationships with men (some commentators call her a nymphomaniac) is compromised by the angry and jealous gaze of the would-be manipulative lesbian Ines, whose advances she has rejected. All three have committed grave mortal sins in pursuit of their desires and have not faced up to them let alone sought redemption Hence their consignment to Hell.
Rodger brings the sexual incompatibility of his trio of doomed souls to the fore and explores their corrupt behaviours in a thoroughly modern Kiwi context. Rather than have them trying to justify themselves, then having their crimes exposed, they –and we – are treated to video replays of their life-cum-death-changing moments.
Designer Sean Coyle has exemplified the legendary ‘landlord from hell’ with his bare and barely furnished windowless room, dripping with slime and riddled with mould, exacerbated by Jennifer Lal’s alternately cold, hot and sometimes frightening lighting. Unnerving sound effects (uncredited) also play their part.
The first to be shown into his new accommodation is Garth. Mario Faumui fully embodies this politically questionable upwardly mobile professional whose repudiation of his Samoan culture, distain for those he sees as beneath and primary concern for his image has caused misery and death. Garth’s cowardice lies in his failure to own his own sexuality. (Sartre linked Garcin’s cowardice to his being a conscientious objector, for which he was executed.)
Anapela Polata’ivao is seriously scary as Lina, the aggressively predatory lesbian who is also a hard-working academic claiming to be “in charge of her own narrative.” It’s her jealous rage at being passed over for tenure that has led to the action that’s brought her down. Look for an on-screen cameo from the playwright himself, in this context. What commitment, to sacrifice himself thus in the cause of art!
There’s a big surprise in our discovering the occupation of the third arrival, Stella, which I won’t spoil here. As she expresses her horror at finding herself in Hell, and reveals herself to be ‘a woman with needs’, Goretti Chadwick’s physicality is a joy to behold. Because the video evidence of her crime was shot clandestinely, the sound is muffled – and I have to confess I needed to ask around afterwards to understand exactly what had happened.
In place of Sartre’s low-status Valet, we have TD himself (no prizes for guessing what the initials stand for) as mein host, played with confident directness by Paul McLaughlin. TD’s choices of torture and torment require no over-playing of evilness and they are all the more effective for that.
Director Vela Manusaute, who is also the videographer, has presided over a dynamic and impactful production that elicits horrified laughter on cue.
You may have seen claims, as on the Circa website, that “This show contains material that hopefully offends most people.” We are warned that it “contains strong language, sexual content, and blasphemy” and that “Uma Lava is a riotous, irreverent comedy of terrors where no sacred cow is left unslaughtered.” True to its promise, then, we are witness to things not normally seen on stage where the extreme discomfort of the characters involved is equal and opposite to the hilarity of our shocked reactions.
Beyond all that, in the interests of engaging us more subjectively, I can see the potential for more being made of each character’s attempt at self-justification and their inability to face up to what they have done. As for the consequences, Uma Lava means ‘the definitive end’ but in this context there is no end to this ending: the characters are stuck in it for Eternity – and I feel more could be made of that too (cf: the definition of Eternity in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man).
Towards the end of the play Stella, Lina and Garth ridicule the way the Samoan concept of ‘va’ has been elevated to ‘The Va’ with a capital V. (In his 1996 essay Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body, Albert Wendt writes, “Important to the Samoan view of reality is the concept of Va or Wā in Maori and Japanese. Va is the space between, the betweenness, not empty space, not space that separates but space that relates, that holds separate entities and things together in the Unity-that-is-All, the space that is context, giving meaning to things. The meanings change as the relationships/the contexts change.”)*
The point of Uma Lava, then, is that these three detainees have neither the inclination nor the capacity to achieve a true connection with each other across the spaces that separate them. They are doomed to remain disunited – trapped together but alone – for E-ter-ni-ty … This Hell is the inability to relate humanely to other people.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
*(More recent MA theses on the subject include The Potential of Vā: An investigation of how ‘Ie Tōga activate the spatial relationships of the Vā, for a Samoan Diaspora community and Patterns and motifs in the Va: a Samoan concept of a space between.)
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer