VANILLA MIRAKA

James Cabaret, Hania Street, Wellington

04/11/2014 - 07/11/2014

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

20/09/2016 - 24/09/2016

BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

27/09/2016 - 01/10/2016

Radio NZ Drama Online, Global

03/04/2020 - 31/05/2020

COVID-19 Lockdown Festival 2020

Production Details


Created and performed by Hayley Sproull
Directed by Jo Randerson

Taki Rua Productions


New Taki Rua Work Combines Comedy and Music to Explore Identity 

“What right do I have to call myself Māori? I don’t look Māori, I wasn’t raised Māori. To the outside eye, I’m your regular, pale skinned Kiwi” 

Wellington actor and comedian Hayley Sproull explores her identity in the new fast-paced one woman show Vanilla Miraka in Wellington for a limited season in November.

Taki Rua Productions presents Vanilla Miraka at James Cabaret in Wellington from Tuesday 4 to Friday 7 November.

Created by Hayley and directed by Jo Randerson, Vanilla Miraka combines theatrical performance, stand-up comedy and music to tell the story of a wāhine grappling with her whakapapa, her identity and her place in multi-cultural Aotearoa.

Hayley said she began writing the comedy three years ago after a number of conversations with friends about being Maori and what that meant to her.

“I’ve always known about my Maori background, but my family lost some of the links along the way and being Maori was never talked about or explored when I was a child.”

Hayley (25) said she became interested in exploring her whakapapa and Vanilla Miraka includes real-life situations which arose on her journey.

“People will see different things in the show depending on their own backgrounds.”

This Wellington season of Vanilla Miraka is presented by Taki Rua Productions as part of its development programme.

VANILLA MIRAKA
James Cabaret Theatre, Hania Street, Wellington
4-7 November 2014
7pm (1 hour).

Tickets are available at http://www.eventfinda.co.nz.

For more information: http://www.takirua.co.nz

Auckland 2016

Whakarongo mai, guys. It’s time to taihoa on all the chit chat.

Jumping between stand-up comedy, song and sketch, Vanilla Miraka explores what it is to be a disconnected, quarter-caste Māori, with white skin and no clue what is happening on the marae.

Brought to you by Hayley Sproull (Miss Fletcher Sings the Blues), and directed by Jo Randerson, this one will have you dropping ‘reo bombs’ before you can say where’s the wharepaku?

Vanilla Miraka plays
Basement Theatre, Auckland
Dates: 20th – 24th Sept 2016
Time: 8.30pm
Tickets: $15 – $20
Bookings at www.basementtheatre.co.nz or phone iTicket (09) 361 1000

See both Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong & Vanilla Miraka from the 21st–24th September for $35.

BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
27 September – 1 October 2016
6:30pm
Full Price $20
Concession Price $15
Group 6+ $14
BOOK TICKETS

COVID 19 Lockdown Festival 2020 
Vanilla Miraka by Hayley Sproull
RNZ with BATS Theatre for Live On Stage. Now!
2016
 Listen duration40′ :51″ 


Workshop Directors: Rob Mokaraka and Sophie Roberts
Production manager:  Helena Coulton
Stage manager:  Olivia Kelsey
Sound designer:  Matt Eller
Lighting and set designer:  Nick Zwart


Theatre , Solo , Audio (podcast) , Comedy ,


1hr

Delightful, funny and poignant

Review by Alexandra Bellad-Ellis 03rd Apr 2020

Vanilla Miraka, is a one women show written and performed by Wellington actress and comedian Hayley Sproull (Milky Bits, Miss Fletcher Sings the Blues, more recently quizmaster for TV3’s Have You Been Paying Attention).

Hayley identifies as one quarter Māori but her pale skin and zero knowledge about what goes on on the marae have left her in a few scrapes. Using song, stand-up comedy, storytelling and sketches, Hayley takes us on a journey of self-discovery. This autobiographical piece asks the question ‘where do I fit within my own culture?’

The play beings with Hayley telling us all about her trip to India to find herself, describing the sights, sounds, the food, and the feeling of being out of place in a new culture. When she arrives back in New Zealand she hears the news that her Grandmother has suddenly passed away. Hayley now takes the audience to her families’ Marae in Tinopai. Here she discovers, to her surprise, the same feelings of cultural dissonance she felt in India. Using comedy she takes us through her journey to find out where she fits into her family and her Maori heritage.

The play is directed by well-known comedy director Jo Randerson (Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong and White Elephant). Together they do a great job of making a scripted piece feel like an off the cuff storytelling session over dinner. The few pieces of music used throughout the play are used to transport the audience from New Zealand to India and back again.

Although by listening to the show you do miss out on some of the physical comedy, Hayley Sproull’s storytelling is delightful, funny and poignant. If you weren’t able to catch this show live then this is an excellent way to experience it.

Vanilla Miraka is part of Radio New Zealand’s back catalogue. It was recorded at a live performance at BATS Theatre in Wellington in 2016. You can listen to this show on their website. (Due to copyright restrictions this show cannot be downloaded.)  

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A sincere quest or an ‘othering’ piss-take?

Review by Maraea Rakuraku 29th Sep 2016

‘He whakapapa Māori, he Māori’  

Do you have the right to tell your own story? Even when others say to you that you don’t have the right to tell it?  I think the answer to that is, yes, you do.  Even if it’s not my story.  Even if, as a Māori woman, secure in my identity, I am thinking, no way, this is definitely not my story.  You’re still allowed to try and make art out of yours?  Right?  

Hmmm. The fact that I am confronted with the politics of the right to tell stories gives you some clues about how triggering Hayley Sproull’s story is on many levels, for many of us. 

Hayley Sproull is Māori, no Ngāpuhi ia. I think that’s what she said. I can’t quite understand her pepeha.  She nails the awkwardness but I cannot understand what she’s saying.  And to be honest, I can’t tell if she’s taking the piss with her mispronunciation or whether we are supposed to feel solidarity with her vulnerability.  I get a little confused when her maunga belongs to another iwi and later on, her kuia tangihanga takes place in Dargaville. There is a mismatch of information that doesn’t come together to make sense as a pepeha.  But that could be because I can’t quite understand her pronunciation or I have misheard.

The observations around being a ‘quarter Maori’ is such a redundant conversation, so anchored in racist construct and coloniser mentality, I haven’t even realised it is still a thing. That’s so 30 years ago, isn’t it?

Vanilla Miraka may be cultural clumsiness dressed up in some really fine theatrical devices – the Peghole board whare tipuna (that I am lusting for), the revolving tukutuku panel doors and lovely singing with clever lyrics – but at its heart, it’s about loss and disconnection.

I feel for her and that loss because it is a shared one. Yes, she may be a Pākehā-looking woman yearning for connection to her taha Māori but that loss is felt, as keenly, if you look obviously Māori or if you are, say, me.

That’s because we are responding to colonisation and it’s on-going, insidious and damaging effects. Ask the woman who translated an election pamphlet for a colleague. If that isn’t an obvious response to colonisation, I’d be surprised.

Yeah, she does embarrassing things (who hasn’t?). Yes, she doesn’t know why certain things are done at the Pā (ask anyone who has moko’s born and living in Australia, or even third generation city-bred). And yes, she is scared shitless about doing the karanga (who isn’t?). So, that all provides hilarious fodder for the mining. 

She’s funny.  She has some cracker observations and her comedic timing is A1.  Her lyrics are very, very clever and it does feel a bit like stand-up.  She has a cheekiness to her that seems genuine. Sproull acting out her tupuna in a line-up of portraits as hung on the wall of a whare tipuna with BBC radio voiceover, makes me clap my hands in delight when I recognise what it is. 

She can sing. Her rendition of taking the bassline in ‘Whakaaria Mai’, cracks me up.  I even find myself singing along until I can’t anymore.  Until I remember I loathe what Christianity did to my people and how Howard Morrison’s rendition is always used and abused to foster a false sense of nationhood.

What she busts out observation-wise is nothing more or less than what I, or many of my whanau, have laughed at over the years.  Who hasn’t been at a tangi, or the most reverent of occasions, whether in a Māori or Pākehā setting where something absurd hasn’t happened? I guess the difference is I didn’t make a show about it.  Because in my world, it’s just not that funny.  Funny to me, is the Pākehā who spends all day telling us what to do on our marae, hui, wananga, whenua and then we do our own thing, anyway.

I find myself laughing in parts. And then feel momentarily guilty. Why? Because can someone who identifies so solidly as Māori laugh out loud to an observation that is verging on offensive. Well, yes you can. I do. It feels good. But then I have the politicised arsenal to understand why I laughed and what that means for me where I stand, in a bigger context living within Aotearoa as a wahine Māori secure in my identity.  You see that’s the greatest thing when you know who you are, where you come from and the way colonisation plays out in all its destructive, disempowering, self-loathing ways. It means no-one can touch you in terms of your story.

Which brings me to this: who am I to judge what Hayley Sproull’s connection to her taha Māori is?

Even so, it’s not my story to tell, or my tupuna – it’s Sproulls and she has every right to tell it. Because in its telling, I recognise the stories of many, many, many Māori including those amongst my whānau and friends. See, that’s the truth about colonisation, and those who benefit from its legacy don’t want you to come to this realisation: it is the most terrible of gifts (if you can call it that), as it keeps giving and giving, generation after generation after generation.

But then this is the problem. What Vanilla Miraka continually presents is the Pākehā gaze, the colonial gaze, the majority culture gaze, upon us.  And this is not just the uncritical cheesiness of a Howard Morrison ‘Whakaaria Mai’ gaze.  And I guess that is where I question the intention of this work. Because while Sproull has whakapapa Māori, her gaze ‘others’ herself, and because she is Māori, it others Māori. And that’s me.

Right from the beginning of the show, I don’t get what the audience tittering is.  Until I realise, it’s the physicality of Sproulls entrance and the pūkana. Never in my life have I ever found a pūkana funny. Like ever. I can see why someone would find it funny, I guess? At a push.

As the audience tittering increases, I start to get that all too familiar, ahh “You’re Māori. You’re taking the piss. Therefore, that gives me permission to laugh at what otherwise in our polite NuZild society I would never laugh at”, feeling.  Ahh, such bravery in the darkness of a theatre or the comment section of a newspaper article. 

Which leads me to this: does the othering of yourself then give you permission to visit your cultural identity, but not stay? Does it allow you to judge aspects of that identity? Build a show on it, get some major publicity and then walk away? Or does it allow a discourse around authenticity which then carries with it obligations around loyalty, responsibility, integrity and cultural agency? Or is Vanilla Miraka just about that time your Nana died and you sang ‘Stairway to Heaven’ – oh and btw, nana is Māori.

There is a specific moment where I know that the piss is being taken. And how do I know that? Because a lifetime of micro-aggressions (some as recently as less a few hours ago in a public library as I write this) and racist undertones is as recognisable to me as breathing.

And because I find myself questioning the intention (in parts) of Vanilla Miraka, I wonder whether this a genuine presentation of what it’s like for Sproull or a piss-take?  This ambivalence stays with me throughout the show.

In one skit she touches upon the New Zealander finding themselves overseas scenario. And failing or realising there is a big cavernous hole of identity.  It can’t be filled with others, be that people, experiences or what have you.  And she stops that gap by the singing of a waiata to accompany a gift while she is in India.  Moralising aside (as to the event she plays out), hands up all you expats who’ve gone to an All Blacks game at Twickenham, and busted out the haka – only to make up words and actions because of the desperation to connect into something authentic from Aotearoa? And then in the same lifetime continued to pronounce a Māori work colleagues name atrociously because you can’t roll your r’s and they don’t mind; what’s with all this PC crap? 

I realise that I’m not just feeling her disconnection and loss with aroha. I am watching it play out in front of me on stage in awkward, ambivalent, uncomfortable and totally not-funny ways.  Not funny to me at least, though there are bursts of hilarity.  Funny for some of the tittering audience who get permission to laugh at what they normally aren’t allowed to. 

Loss always involves lack. It involves missed insights, it involves getting stuff wrong, it involves lack of understanding, it involves trying to hit certain targets and totally missing.  It involves trying to enchant the audience to sing along to things that I personally just couldn’t sing along to if I tried.  Loss is not just a subject of indigenous art, it can also be a painful modus operandi. And when it is deeply embedded in the process of art-making it can result in a performance too hard to watch.

What’s missing here is the opportunity for a soulful analysis of what it is to be Māori when you look Pākehā or, as a friend of mine shared on a panel of wahine Māori Directors and Writers at The Big Screen Symposium in the weekend: “When you’re Māori, look Pākehā and can pass as a Pākehā.” That’s the kernel of a story I’d be interested in seeing. 

What we get is a white-looking Māori girl on a tourist bus.  But that tourist-view of us, from the back of a bus, never sees what’s really worth seeing.  One of the most painful realisations can be that it’s possible to be a tourist in your own culture.  Unless of course you are knowingly being a tourist and you’re milking that all vanilla for cheap laughs.  What’s sad in that whole scenario is that it’s accompanied with a loud knocking on the windows of that tourist bus; that she wants out, that she wants in. 

But she is in.  Bottom line is that Hayley Sproull has whakapapa Māori: He whakapapa Māori, he Māori. Whether she claims, understands that or not is irrelevant. He whakapapa Māori, He Māori. The opening song with the lyrics, “Let me in, despite my skin. Let me in because I am one of you,” while affecting, doesn’t really hit me where it’s pointed because, you’re already in.

Inara aku whakaaro Hayley ko te whakaaro nui kia paihere atu koe ki too taha māori, ka whakaaani tonu o whakaaro patata tonu koe tetahi o nga tangata mo te karapu, papaku noa iho o maramatanga.Katahi ra Hayley kia pono pea too tu i runga i too taha Māori, hai tahi atu i te wairua poke wewete i o pae herenga ki too kahui e kopipi.

I challenge Sproull and her crew to take this home, to her people. Gauge how Vanilla Miraka, is for them. See and feel the response when it is taken out of spaces where the audience is predominantly Pākehā. And then maybe the disconnected threads of your identity will start to be woven back together.

Until that happens, as Sproull admits eloquently at the end of Vanilla Miraka, she’s just an angry white woman being poked by the feathers of a korowai covering a $400 dress, rather than a white-looking Māori celebrating, encompassing and embracing her taha Māori.

But then again, who the hell am I to say that? I don’t live with that pain – of looking Pākehā and being Māori – and of feeling uncomfortable about the kind of cultural korowai I have to wear because of it. This isn’t my story. It’s Hayley’s et al and it deserves telling. Even if I believe it could be ‘nek level’ if it looked more closely and in depth at the source of what created it: colonialism.

Comments

nik smythe October 2nd, 2016

I don't fully relate to every detail in this review, but for what it's worth as an interested onlooker of half-post-colonial, half-immigrant parentage, and reviewer of the Auckland season, I tautoko this review and the ensuing discussion.  Hayley has courageously started a conversation, and Maraea has contributed a powerful argument for the essential next step in the ongoing process of discovering and/or defining Hayley's cultural identity, and others in her position.

Ana Piripi October 1st, 2016

Maraea, a powerful and invigorating review of Vanilla Milk. Your challenge to Sproull to take her work back to her own iwi and play in front of an audience who is not embedded in the urban white majority culture is purposeful and very helpful for her to hear. Sproull may not be aware of the many heart breaking stories told by some young Ngapuhi living in places such as Dargaville, Rawene, Kaikohe and Whangarei. Their stories do not seem to have not changed much over the generations. When I was at school there, we worried secretly about not fitting in: whether on account of appearance, being "too black", or because of being pohara, too poor, or because of social clumsiness. Tryong to be white was a common escape hatch, but most of us found that the price was far too high. As Maraea has pointed out, "Loss always involves lack. It involves missed insights ....

willemKRS October 1st, 2016

(Long time reader, first time commenter.) What a eloquent and generous review, Maraea! You've really captured the bittersweet complexity of Hayley's work.

Rhapsody B: Satire does not a hypocrite make.

For my 10c, this piece is more than just about melanine and DNA, or who's allowed to tell what story. (Theatre has always been about an unfiltered conversation between a voice and whoever's listening.) To me, one of Vanilla Miraka's many functions is to help Pakeha, like myself, pull back the Wizard's curtain. As 2nd gen Brit/3rd gen Irish, I see my own cultural detachment all too clearly in this work. I could never understand the hurt Hayley must live with, or the 170 year hurt of our indigenous New Zealanders. But thank goodness makers like Hayley (and Maraea) are generous enough, and brave enough, to hold such conversation, so we can finally end New Zealand's racism, and thrive as one community.

Rhapsody B September 29th, 2016


"Right from the beginning of the show, I don't get what the audience tittering is.  Until I realise, it's the physicality of Sproulls entrance and the pūkana. Never in my life have I ever found a pūkana funny. Like ever." ...... Oh really? So this reviewer Maraea Rakuraku "didn't take the piss" when she played Marama Fox, in Public Service Announcement wearing an over-sized tiki, swinging poi and pulling pukanas left right and center (though apparently she doesn't find that funny, so don't know what that was doing in a show like PSA?). Then again she is allowed to; she has brown skin, unfortunately for Hayley Sproull she doesn't and is bearing the brunt for it!

Editor September 29th, 2016

Here is the link to Maraea’s RNZ review of VANILLA MIRAKA on ‘Jesse Mulligan, 1-4’ 

Vanilla Miraka, recorded live at BATS, played the Drama Hour last night on RNZ's Nights with Bryan Crump but there is no podcast link. 

Steve Thomas September 29th, 2016

Well, well, well a deep well.  Thank you for this fascinating review.  It informs Arts On Tour NZ's possible interest in taking this work to pakeha audiences in rural and provincial areas see www.aotnz.co.nz

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Awkward Appropriation

Review by Nathan Joe 23rd Sep 2016

Cultural appropriation is always uncomfortable to witness, whether you’re at an exotically-themed dress-up party or your friend gets an unfortunate tribal tattoo. A much trickier grey area explored in Hayley Sproull’s Vanilla Miraka is when the lines between cultures are blurred, when you share the blood of the coloniser and the colonised. Is it still cultural appropriation if you belong to that culture? 

It’s not all super serious identity politics though. The first half of Hayley’s investigation into her bi-cultural—specifically, quarter Maori—identity is a fun, if somewhat lightweight, series of sketches, original songs and a bit of stand-up. Whether she’s giving her mihi or swinging her poi, she grapples awkwardly with the traditions of her heritage, inviting us to laugh with and at her. At its most straightforward, this is a comedy about a white-passing woman trying to be more Maori and struggling. [More

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From comedy of ignorance, egocentricity and insensitivity to a deeper quality

Review by Nik Smythe 21st Sep 2016

The wide Basement stage is beset with two sets of whitewashed flats, one house-shaped with a pair of poi on the wall, a grey wool blanket on a bench and a suitcase under it.  On one side is a mic, on the other an electric piano. 

Being acquainted with her absurdist tendencies, I’m uncertain whether solo artiste Hayley Sproull’s anxious flitting between the flats as the crowd seats themselves is a contrived action or genuine last-minute fretting.

Vanilla Miraka is an open-hearted, intimate and irreverently hilarious examination of Sproull’s upbringing and identity as ‘one-quarter Māori’.  Opening the show in Māori, she recites her pepeha (personal introduction) at first with assured confidence, then increasing self-deprecating frustration when she makes mistakes, concluding with a painted-smile poi dance. 

Hayley’s tale is told mainly in casual, stand-up style, with the occasional song and a smattering of banter with the audience.* Her ‘half-Māori’ mother didn’t generally engage with their Māori culture so this plays out as Hayley’s inquisitive journey, from her first traumatic marae experience at aged ten, through to her Nana’s tangi; from learning mihi and waiata without understanding what the words mean, to a more profound connection beginning with the realisation of just how much there is to learn.

Much mileage is found in her facial reactions, shrugging and/or cringing self-consciously at her own clumsy attempts to express herself within her Nana’s cultural context.  Further mirth is gleaned from cheeky allusions to the classic stereotypical comparisons between her Māori and Pākehā sides, proposing which is responsible for her ability to cook without a recipe, parallel park, drink heavily and so on.

Along the way she reveals a few secret tricks for impressing, using various well-known words and phrases like ‘kapai’ and ‘hapu’ to ostensibly show off her command of te reo.  A particularly tangential move to connect to her indigenous roots results in a personal pilgrimage to India, which proves less inapt than it might sound, as she seems to learn a fair amount about interfacing with unfamiliar social customs. 

It seems odd, using a stand-up mic in the intimate space of the Basement, like an unnecessary crutch, although hardly one she’s reliant on – plenty of her monologue is delivered away from it – so there’s probably some kind of significance to when she does use it, but I can’t tell what. 

Meanwhile her entertaining musical recitals serve to both skewer various contentious cultural mores and highlight her own bare-faced ignorance and/or egocentricity.  Indeed, Sproull typically plays up her amusingly insensitive side to great comic effect throughout – that is, until her Nana’s tangi scene … 

Still infused with trademark humour, the irreverence subsides as more serious aspects of Hayley’s cultural identity crisis are exposed.  The result, following an effective demonstration of her self-confessed tendency to mask her inadequacy and confusion with absurd levity, is that she ultimately reveals a deeper quality to her complex personality, seemingly in spite of herself. 

*Tip for audience beginners:
Watching live theatre in an audience is not the same thing as watching TV at home, where one may feel entitled to shout or backchat the entertainment.  This is the second play in a row I’ve been to in the main Basement where an insufferably obnoxious heckler has loudly enjoyed themselves – albeit essentially supportive in tone, yet utterly clueless to the degree which her input upsets the nuance and rhythm of the performer’s crafted work.  Hayley is a good, nay great!, sport, responding ‘in character’ to keep things moving along, until our unsolicited drunken commentator sees fit to leap onto the mic to join in on a round of Hotel California, whereupon Sproull takes the opportunity to ‘show her the way’ out, perfectly timed with the famous lyric, to grateful applause. 

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Thoughtful, amusing solo show

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 06th Nov 2014

Having successfully made a name for herself with her solo comedy/cabaret show Miss Fletcher Sings The Blues, Hayley Sproull has now moved on with another similar type of show Vanilla Miraka

Although original and witty songs are interspersed amongst clever and funny dialogue, it doesn’t hold together as well as her original show with many disconnected strands yet to be woven into the piece successfully. 

Nevertheless Sproull is an incredibly versatile and confident performer and shows all these attributes throughout Vanilla Miraka, which in essence is the story of her Maori heritage from her mother’s side and how this has fitted into her very Pakeha upbringing from her father’s side.  

The title is a clever juxtaposition of words. Miraka is “milk” in Maori and so Vanilla Miraka cleverly combines Pakeha with Maori, this interplay of the two then innovatively used by Sproull to tell her story. 

There is no linear thread through the show, just incidences and moments of her life showing how a very white Pakeha girl comes to terms with her Maori whanau.  

The set is a kitchen complete with fridge, stove and sink and although it is not clear how this fits into the overall construct of the show it is creatively used throughout the production. Pictures of her maternal family are screened around the kitchen as she talks about them and a sari is wittingly extracted from the sink in preparation for her trip to India. 

But it is the tangi for her Nana that is probably the high point of the show, insightful yet funny of how a Pakeha deals with the passing of a loved on the marae. 

Never lacking in confidence or afraid of interacting with the audience, Sproull’s style of storytelling is imaginative and unique and while Vanilla Miraka doesn’t completely work as a show there is enough to make it both entertaining and thought provoking to provide an interesting evening of theatre.

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Having the nerve to touch this nerve

Review by John Smythe 05th Nov 2014

The retro Kiwi kitchen we find ourselves in – lovingly recreated by Nick Zwart on the floor of the James Cabaret – is never explained or located (a bach? a flat? a converted garage?) although it does seem Hayley Sproull lives there alone with her stuffed toys, books, ‘to do’ list on the fridge door (but bugger all food inside it), boxes labelled ‘To Hayley from Nana’, and her all-important electric keyboard. And it – the kitchen set – does turn out to be quite functional in unexpected ways.

Vanilla Miraka is personal, dramatised, comedic storytelling that eschews the unities of ‘time, place and action’ despite the setting. Hayley Sproull is right here, right now, telling her story to us in this contrived performance space. It’s about her attempts to deal with being a quarter Māori but not looking it. (Miraka is milk transliterated into Māori, and vanilla adds only the slightest tinge to milk’s whiteness: is that how to interpret the title?) 

Sproull excels in ‘comedy of awkwardness-cum-embarrassment’ – witness her deliciously inappropriate Miss Fletcher Sings the Blues – and this show swings splendidly from laugh-out-loud, through empathetic absorption, to ‘OMG did she really just say/do that?!?’ Whichever way you look at it, it offers an engaging and highly entertaining hour.

From a Pakeha perspective her gauche attempts to align with, and express, her Māori quadrant avoid offence because it’s her own fallibility she is exposing most. I want to say there is vulnerability, too, but that is not as well mined as it could be. (A Māori colleague, I should add, said he’d have liked her to be more offensive about tikanga Māori … See what I just did there to convey credibility? Hayley taught me that). But I share the view one needs to have been much more immersed and have paid substantial cultural dues to earn the right to go much further than she does, as three-quarters Pakeha.

Besides, I don’t think provocation is the point of this piece. There is a zeitgeist she is tapping into here, shared by Pakeha whose interest in /respect for /attraction to Māoritanga whets our appetite for greater immersion – as captured in her first song, ‘Let Me In’; a cry that follows her impressive but flawed attempt to open her show with the full-on primordial music-and-mihi catastrophe (a visceral sound design by Matt Eller). 

Hayley’s maternal lineage is cleverly projected on various surfaces; the question of which parts of her are Pakeha or Māori are comically explored, as are the cultural motifs of hongi and pūkana … But when she decides she needs a “life-changing, spiritually enlightening experience”, it’s India she turns to. Initially this seems like a detour – but it’s not.

What connects it back to the point of the play is her attempt to reciprocate the gift of a sari with something from her own culture, resulting in a priceless comedy-of-embarrassment (whakakata whakamā?) sequence. Then it’s kumara that really brings it home (you have to be there).

I detect the touch of director Jo Randerson in the way most segments are judiciously distilled; in how Sproull drops into the middle of a whole new aspect, sequence and/or style then lets its meaning and place in the story reveal itself; in the subtly crafted transitions.

For example (but not wanting to give too much away), the significance of a shelf stuffed with soft toys is revealed without any verbal explanation, so that when the latest Teddy gift is ransacked (to put it obliquely) in order to repair a busted poi, our response blends shock with laughter. And then a whole new significance is revealed which allows Hayley to share a deeper dimension of her experience.

That said, part of that transition doesn’t really work on opening night; it looks like a split-emotion clowning exercise that is not fully grounded in truth and the truth that’s missing is how she feels – or rather felt – about her mother’s mother: the last ‘full’ Māori in her family line. It seems to me this is an essential component of her quest to be ‘let in’ to the culture and it therefore needs more focus in the story.

Apart from the wittily insightful songs, the story of Nana’s tangi is the most verbalised sequence and – blended with the actions and images that support it – this leaves me with the richest impression of her experience. The strongest critique of Māori culture comes from the way women are disenfranchised within iwi protocols; the rejoinder regarding the dominance of market-driven Pakeha culture arises from the need to find a make-up that matches Nana’s skin.

There is no doubt Vanilla Miraka has a purpose greater than being another vehicle for Hayley Sproull’s exceptional talents. The identity issue she explores is one we can all relate to at some level and the more we invest in sharing her quest, the more we want it to work out well.

For me, the way it ends – with the story of her graduation involving her Nan’s korowai (ceremonial cloak) – is problematic, not least because she reveals in a deconstructing coda that it didn’t really happen that way. The way she reacts to it within the play is therefore emblematic and it comes across as a disparaging repudiation of everything she has drawn us into wanting on her behalf.

Placed earlier, it would be a perfectly valid point of self-confrontation; an obstacle to overcome that would enhance the drama. But as an ending it makes an inevitable statement and I can’t help but wonder if its negativity fits her overall objective, as the writer /performer as well as in her actual life.

It may well be that Sproull remains very unresolved in attempting to embrace – or be embraced by – her Māori quadrant. At first this makes me question whether the work is ready to take the stage, especially as a Taki Rua production. Then I wonder if this is in fact makes it the most ideal positioning, as a challenge to Māoridom to understand her dilemma and ‘let her in’. Except the way it plays out, it is surely up to her; the poi is in her hand; it is her choice entirely to decide whether or not to identify as Māori …

If her objective is to simply articulate the way it is for her – and many like her, presumably – at this juncture, where her feelings remain ambivalent, then Vanilla Miraka succeeds and we have to cancel our expectations of a more decisive resolution.

Either the play is a work-in-progress and the questions raised may or may not contribute to its further development, or its only aim is to dramatise one part of a life-in-progress and leave us all to share her struggle with ‘where to next?’. As such, alongside the arguably unresolvable identity questions, it raises interesting questions concerning the role of theatre itself.

This much is certain: it touches a nerve and we have to value Sproull’s courage in having the nerve to embark on this journey and share it with us. That she bring so much entertaining talent to it – abetted by Randerson, her earlier workshop directors Sophie Roberts and Rob Mokoraka, and designers Zwart and Eller – ensures it’s an hour very well spent.

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