Wahine Mātātoa: the (mostly) true story of Erihāpeti Pātahi

Allen Hall Theatre, University of Otago, Dunedin

21/06/2024 - 23/06/2024

Production Details

Writer: Cindy Diver
Project Kaitiaki: Moana Wesley
Producer: H-J Kilkelly

Theatreworks & WOW! Productions

A comedy of consequences, Wahine Mātātoa is a story of our wahine Kāi Tahu across time and space. Our hero, Elizabeth, navigates how to balance decisions that could potentially end her dreams of adventure, while visiting the (mostly) true stories of her ancestor, Erihāpeti Pātahi, a high born, high-spirited wahine, a force as untameable as the sea.

How do we navigate the future while holding on to our dreams? Turns out even the naughtiest of tupuna can guide us on our paths…

Proudly presented by Theatreworks and WOW! Productions.

Friday 21st June at 7pm
Saturday 22nd June at 2pm and 7pm
Sunday 23rd June at 2pm
Allen Hall Theatre, Ōtepoti | Dunedin

FREE to attend, but tickets essential
Book via Eventbrite

Writer: Cindy Diver
Project Kaitiaki: Moana Wesley
Development Director: Juanita Hepi
Rehearsal Director: Hilary Halba
Intern Director: Rīpeka Potiki
Producer: H-J Kilkelly

Actors: Millie Manning, Grace Turipa, Simon Anderson, Rosella Hart
Taoka Pūoro: Ruby Solly, with additional Sound Design by Matt Morgan

Lighting Design: Marty Roberts
Costuming: Alice Karetai
Dramaturgs: Albert Belz, Emily Duncan
3D Animation: Ken Gorrie
Production Photography: Connor Diver

Stage Manager: Keri Hunter
Assistant Stage Manager: Penny Kokaua-Balfour
Set Realisation: Nick Tipa

Theatre ,

2 hours including interval

Comedy protects audience from our painful history of (ongoing) colonisation and sexism

Review by Angela Trolove 23rd Jun 2024

Big breaths will be needed during and after this production. So start easy, be welcomed in under an arch and along a channel of fairy light, through into Allen Hall’s tiered seats. Catch up with friends. Lights dim. That arch you walked under, oh look! It’s become the prow of a waka. An audience member behind me sighs with admiration. “Clever theatre people.” (Nick Tipa, thank you for co-set design – with Cindy Diver – and construction.)

Actor Millie Manning becomes bright and confident Elizabeth Brown, Kāi Tahu, telling us the story of her formidable, hard-working, adventurous ancestor, Erihāpeti Pātahi (Grace Turipa).

Actors Rosella Hart and Simon Anderson jump into many of their roles to make the audience laugh. A reeling, loony bishop; a horrendous husband disembarking a ship in effeminate, filigree whirls; a high school student trigger-happy pulling the finger. Beyond clowning, they’re versatile actors as Elizabeth’s loving friends and relatives, switching accents and ages with agility, and Pātahi’s better or worse partners, instantly repulsive (nasal, calling for his whip) or charming (fanning a hat).

Comedy is present continually, like a kind of hot compress, to protect the audience from our painful history of (ongoing) colonisation and sexism. Pātahi’s father disowns her; the father of her children drops her; tried for adultery, on being called a man’s ‘property’ she interrupts the judge. At this, the whole cast breaks into a chorus of Tina Turner’s ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?’. They’re also having fun.

Other moments are left stark. Difficult. Pātahi opens her arms to the daughters she was banished from, and they run to their new māmā. Even when Elizabeth triangulates and discovers the facts may have been different, alternative retellings are equally heartbreaking.

At times, the protagonists narrate in unison, Pātahi telling and Elizabeth retelling. They transcend their generations with touches like the unison (thank you for staging, directors Hilary Halba and Juanita Hepi).

Pātahi’s story, as I’ve mentioned, is recounted by her descendant, Elizabeth Brown, whose sudden interest in researching this tupuna owes perhaps—as a relative giving her a back rub points out—to the dilemma both wahine face/d: hapu, to opt for untethered adventure or for motherhood? Several unexpected twists in the plot regarding this dilemma engage the audience by prolonging the tension, feeling through beliefs around career aspirations, early parenthood, termination, adoption – the works! And allowing for the complexities inherent even when families try to be supportive. 

Elizabeth loves maths! Got to love an ambitious STEM female lead. Plain and easy. Playwright Cindy Diver is doing it right.

Musician Ruby Solly creates authentic dimensions throughout. She plays flutes, conch and other taoka puoro, as well as violin and guitar. She sounds tremendous atmosphere into the story: brittle noises, chirps and peeps, oceans and heartbeats and tinkles. She transports. 

Beautiful serendipity of an actual newborn in the audience gurgling when Pātahi cradles her baby onstage.

The first act culminates in Mighty Pātahi standing at the helm of her waka, declaring her name won’t be forgotten. This reverberates. It’s literally meta: her name is being spoken here today, pūrerehua roaring behind her in the storm. My eyes well with tears.

The second act culminates in Auntie gifting Elizabeth the pounamu Pātahi carved. Again, tears brim.

After the performance, an emotional tautoko from kaitiaki Moana Wesley. At her invitation, an audience member responds, to show how telling the had moved him. Karakia, kai and waiata.

I remain in my seat, blown away.


Terry MacTavish June 26th, 2024

What a lovely evocative review by Angela, of an exceptional theatre tour de force that does indeed 'resonate', and deserves to be seen nationwide. Wahine Matatoa would surely be an asset to any Festival, and an admirable international representative of Aotearoa. The moving script by Cindy Diver (Kai Tahu), first presented by Otepoti Theatre Lab in 2023, has been nurtured and brought to vivid life by an extraordinary group of accomplished and generous creatives, as well as the four charismatic actors. Ka Pai, Wahine Matatoa and Otepoti/Dunedin theatre!

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Beautifully encapsulates the binding power of whakapapa to connect us through time

Review by Piupiu Maya Turei  22nd Jun 2024

Wāhine Mātātoa feels like theatre that performs the function of a pou. Cindy Diver has created a story which both celebrates the life and adventures of her tūpuna Erihāpeti Pātahi and also calls Kāi Tahu whānui (and kā iwi Māori) to connect back to our tūpuna, our whānau and ourselves. Featuring mostly Kāi Tahu creatives and researchers, Wāhine Mātātoa is a story wholly rooted in Te Wai Pounamu –  a Māori story yes, but undeniably a Kāi Tahu one.

Set across two timelines (the early to mid 1800s and the present), Diver situates the audience in a space which is bound by whenua but transcends time. The two protagonists, Erihāpeti Pātahi (Grace Turipa) is a young woman betrothed to a man she doesn’t want to marry, who sets off on an adventure which lasts her lifetime. She is the tūpuna that the story revolves around and the person that Elizabeth Brown (Millie Manning) is thinking about and drawing inspiration from in the present as she navigates being 16 and pregnant. 

One example of how the play navigates time, history, fact and fiction: both Pātahi and Elizabeth are cooling their feet at Pukekura, a tātahi near Ōtākou. Their dialogue overlaps, expressing similar whakaaro while diverging as they each use the vernacular of their respective times. The similarities between Pātahi and Elizabeth are undeniable (much like the enduring taura of whakapapa). It is one moment, in a show of moments like this, which beautifully encapsulate the binding power of whakapapa to connect us through time. A poignant reminder that it is not only trauma which is passed down, but also tenacity, a will to live free, and other personality traits. 

Turipa did an amazing job of acting as Pātahi, who is also Turipa’s tūpuna. This is hard to pull off, but she held the mana of her tūpuna well. Manning was also great, performing something as wholly consuming (and terrifying) as teen pregnancy. The supporting actors (Rosella Hart and Simon Anderson) were awesome in their myriad of roles  – switching characters and supporting Turipa and Manning. Their skill at performing a multitude of characters (sometimes more than one at the same time) was fantastic to watch. The jokes hit well – Diver says this play is a comedy with a little bit of sadness, and the combination of the writing and performance matched perfectly to create a fun adventure rooted in hard themes. This is not a small feat to pull off, and is a tribute to the collaborative efforts of everyone who has worked on this production!

The play was accompanied by Ruby Solly performing taonga pūoro live. A living example of the power of mātauraka, Solly’s music elevated the drama of the work. It reinforced its inherent Māori-ness, and complemented the sound design by Matthew Morgan beautifully. The lighting and set design, by Martyn Roberts, Cindy Diver and Nick Tipa respectively, was wonderfully stripped back, allowing for the performance of the actors to shine through. Special mention for the multi-purpose boat prow, co-designed by Diver and Tipa and constructed by the latter, which was held upright in the image of waharoa which the audience walked through when taking our seats. 

I almost cried multiple times during the performance, but it was afterwards I shed tears. Instead of a panel discussion with the director and actors, once the play was complete, there was a chance for the audience to stand and mihi to the work. A koro who spoke entirely in te Reo Māori, referencing Puaka and reminding us that we only need to look up to see our loved ones passed on. There was a mihi from a man for whom the play had reignited the desire to connect out with his wider whānau Māori – and he did after the kōrero. Helen Brown stood and spoke about how researching Pātahi’s life inspired her own, as well as obstacles faced when writing about Pātahi in the second volume of Tāngata Ngāi Tāhu. There are some mokopuna of Pātahi who are flying into Ōtepoti to see the show. It truly acts as a beacon for her whānau to reconnect – much like a family reunion!

The play is well researched and supported. Brown and Angela Wanhalla, both accomplished scholars and researchers, were involved. The title of the work comes from Brown’s writing on Pātahi. Cultural support was provided by Moana Wesley, Dougie Ditford and Wendi Raumati, as well as a mōteatea recorded by  Ōtākou Waiata Rōpū. The Māori way of creating is intrinsically collaborative and this shines through in the way that Mātātoa Wāhine leapt off the page to be uncompromisingly by Māori for Māori, and still accessible to all. The work also brings forward another aspect of pre-colonial life in Te Waipounamu. Speaking to the Otago Daily Times (20th June 2024), Diver said “So I went down this rabbit hole of enjoying just how fierce this woman [Pātahi] was, how she broke convention, how she’s an example of pre-colonial feminism that people aren’t aware of.”  

I write this review while my kids run around the house – still full of energy after going to Kōhanga Reo all week, in my pro-Palestine hoodie, alternating between writing, doing the washing, unpacking the dishwasher and crying occasionally. I do not whakapapa to Kāi Tahu, but still, Cindy Diver created a work which speaks so deeply to me, as a Māmā Māori. I find that the words I have written are only a small portion of the roiling emotions Wāhine Mātātoa has stirred in me. I do not tangi for grief, but for gratefulness. Grateful for our tūpuna, their resilience, their stories passed down to us, and grateful that we are performing these stories in safe and loving ways. It is not often that we get to see work (any kind of work!) which speaks so perfectly to all the ways that we connect into our whakapapa as tākata Māori. I could write a book on the effect Wāhine Mātātoa has had on me.

In the post-performance kōrero, Diver spoke of the numerous coincidences that have being present in the development of the play. Moewai Marsh (my date to the play) summed it up beautifully when on the drive home she said “you could feel the wairua present!” For sure the real Pātahi was with us during the performance!

Wholly Māori in āhua, Wāhine Mātātoa performs the same function as a pou, serving as a living memory of Pātahi and the work that has gone into remembering her as well as a call to connect deeply with our tūpuna, whānau and hāpori to strengthen us as people. Considering that I attended the first performance of the developmental season, I am so excited to see the effects this play will have!


Where possible I have used the Kāi Tahu dialect of te Reo Māori

A list of kupu Māori used in this review:

Āhua: the feeling of, the vibe

Kā iwi Māori: the people of Māori descent

Kāi Tahu: The people descending from Tahu Pōtiki

Kupu: words

Māmā: Mother

Mihi:  to speak to, acknowledge

Pou: a carving to signify important kaupapa

Taonga Pūoro: Māori instruments

Tātahi: beach

Taura: rope, binding

Whenua: land, placenta

Whakaaro: thoughts, ideas

Whakapapa: genealogy


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