BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

07/06/2016 - 11/06/2016

Kia Mau Festival 2016

Production Details

As seen at Measina Festival and Matariki Development Festival 2015, Versions of Allah is a delightful and clever two-hander created by the director of Contemporary Indigenous Theatre Company Ohokomo, Moana Ete.

Versions of Allah whizzes its audience around the world and back again as cousins Chisholm, Melanie, Dr. E. Bunton and Vicky reconnect to their staunchly Catholic Samoan Grandmother living in Wellington NZ.

As they stray far from the Pacific (reporting for Al Jazeera in Gaza; writing award winning books about galactic astronomy in New York City; finding remote villages in the Amazon; effortlessly playing Tchaikovsky and Bach…) these girls still manage to reveal what makes them intrinsically Samoan and intrinsically human.

For a soul who has dedicated her life to the church in pursuit of what is divine and pure, what do her worldly granddaughters have to teach her about the true face of God?

BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome
7 – 11 June at 6:30pm
Full Price $18
Concession Price $14
Group 6+ $13

Click here to see three shows in the Kia Mau Festival for $45! Please note the Season Pass does not include Shot Bro – Confessions of a Depressed Bullet 

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Theatre ,

Original and innovatively staged

Review by Ewen Coleman 11th Jun 2016

The Kia Mau Festival, opening this week, is a celebration of eight different Maori and Pacific Island performance companies, who will be presenting eight productions in Wellington over the next three weeks, during Matariki. The first production of the festival is Versions of Allah by Moana Ete, which is playing early evenings at Bats Theatre.

In many families, the grandmother is often the one with the most influence on those growing up – often more so than the parents. This is particularly so in Pacific Island and Maori communities, which is the premise for Moana Ete’s play.

Originally from Samoa, but now living in Wellington, the grandmother of the piece has five granddaughters who have left the confines of the family to make their way in the world. [More


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Deceptively simple, profoundly engaging

Review by John Smythe 08th Jun 2016

The common denominator in this tale of four cousins is their Samoan Catholic Grandmother who now lives in Wellington. That is playwright Moana Ete’s clever unifying device for capturing aspects of contemporary life in ways that question who and what ‘God’ may be, and where such a concept lives these days. Hence the title: Versions of Allah.

Director and set designer Rose Kirkup has the multi-roled two-hander played out in the traverse, on a giant blue and white lavalava pattern worn to a smudge at the centre. Two grey chairs are used to help indicate – along with Jason Wright’s visceral sound design and Haami Hawkins’ dynamic lighting design – the many changes of location and mood, instantaneously wrought. There are no costume changes: it’s all very minimalist, as are the transitions from one character to another.

Yet the nine characters portrayed are each very distinctive, differentiated by voice and physicality. Moana Ete and Saufoi Fa’avale are chameleons, slipping effortlessly yet profoundly into each role.

Chisolm, Ete’s the very English-accented war correspondent, sacked from reporting on Gaza for Al Jazeera, is trying to make an independent documentary in the war zone. Having met her fabled grandmother twice only – once in Samoa, I think, and then at a wedding in New Zealand – her perception of Samoan culture is amusingly objective.

It takes me a while to realise her partner/ support person, Yusef, is Arabic, given Fa’avale seems to play him with a Samoan accent, although maybe I missed a key detail here.

More than once it does occur to me that the play’s process through the Measina Festival and Matariki Development Festival 2015 may have stripped it of backstory elements that would remain useful to audiences coming to it for the first time. But that’s just a guess. The point is that if the whys and wherefores of each scenario were a little less confusing, we’d engage even more with the substantive content.

I won’t detail what happens in each partnership. Suffice to say Chisolm has every reason, ultimately, to contemplate ‘the true face of God’ or ‘Allah’ and define where ‘Godness’ lies for her. And the power of this moment is somewhat subverted by my wondering whether the radicalised agent of her fate in the play’s final moment is still Yusef or someone else.

We meet New York-accented astrophysicist Dr Emma Bunton as she winds up a lecture with a Q&A session. It is a second year student, Clive, who asks her if she believes in God – which prompts an intriguing story about the place of prayer in her devout grandmother’s life, and the proposition (I don’t think this is a spoiler) that God is a verb, not a noun.

The whole tone and nature of the Emma/ Clive relationship in US academe is superbly realised both in the writing and in the performances. Where it goes and how it resolves (if that’s the word) is as unpredictable as it is all-too-disturbingly credible and dramatic.

Melanie is a gifted young pianist who (I’m guessing) is somewhere on the Asperger’s spectrum. I do wonder how those contorted fingers will play Tchaikovsky, Bach et al … Dennis – gay or possibly fa’afafine – is her patient teacher but it is her Grandma’s approval she craves.

Deep in the Amazon jungle, natural scientist Vicky and her partner/ guide Nando are paddling a vaka down a river in search of the rare and endangered blue-eyed lemur. Here the beautifully evoked relationship is not so much between Vicky and Nando as between them and the natural world. Is this where ‘God’ is most present? And can we hope this environment, at least, is immune from human corruption? No prizes for guessing the answer.

Moana Ete’s fifth character is an itinerant jazz singer called Miss Halliwell – unrelated to the Samoan fanau. We might have expected her to be a Gospel singer, given the play’s overarching quest, but the songs she sings as interludes have titles ‘It Don’t get Much Better Than This’, ‘Why Don’t We?’ and ‘Your Bit On The Side’. And life on the road does not bring her happiness, it seems – although her singing is sublime. Ete is certainly multi-talented.

The play’s primary focus is on the female characters with the men either supporting or negatively affecting their progress. It is a sad commentary – presumably intended – that the trajectory for all five women is downward.

Pondering the causal chains, where they lead and who is responsible for what, may prove fruitful for some. But I find myself more drawn to the metaphysical, spiritual, existential realms, where we seek meaning and guidance amid such highly recognisable and relatable circumstances. And I am impressed at how this hour-long play – this deceptively simple yet profoundly engaging production of Versions of Allah – brings these realms to the surface.

Moana Ete has ‘paid her dues’ with plays for young people (The Boy Who Cried Wolf and Racecars Vs Cupcakes) and with her first adult play, Ships, she gave notice that her very creative, original and intriguing playwright’s voice was one to listen out for. Versions of Allah confirms her view of the world, her perceptions of humanity and inhumanity, and the way she articulates them as a playwright, brings a fresh and exciting new voice to our theatres. 


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