WAIORA: Te Ū Kai Pō – The Homeland

The Court Theatre, Bernard Street, Addington, Christchurch

13/08/2016 - 03/09/2016

Production Details

Written and directed by Hone Kouka

Homecoming for Powerfully Personal Play 

Hone Kouka wrote Waiora: Te Ū Kai Pō – The Homeland as a tribute to his family. In the twenty years since its première, this family drama has become an iconic work of New Zealand and Māori theatre, and Kouka will direct a new production of his work at The Court Theatre from 13 August – 3 September. 

Set in 1965 (a period when New Zealand was changing rapidly with industrialisation and the majority of urban drift in the Māori community) Waiora tells the story of a family who have moved from the North Island to the South Island to build better lives. But leaving their homeland has had a cost: the family feel disconnected from their ancestors and, increasingly, from each other. As the family prepare for a beachside birthday for their youngest daughter, Rongo, with two pakeha guests, these tensions come to the surface and the family must find a way to stay true to themselves.

In addition to the family and their guests, the play features a “Greek chorus” of Tipuna watching the events of the play and offering haka and waiata (composed by Hone Hurihanganui). Kouka wanted to show how for Māori “the past is always present.” 

“I wanted to write a tribute to my parents, who did the hard work to get their family a better life,” says Kouka, whose family left the North Island and moved to the Caitlins, before eventually settling in Canterbury. “My mother said that moving from the East Coast to the Caitlins was like moving to another country.”

Kouka’s father passed away the year before the play was commissioned, inspiring the themes of the work. “I wrote the final scene first; I wanted to show how far my father would go to the underworld to save us.” Kouka’s mother passed away last year, just before he was approached to direct The Court’s production.

The production was commissioned for and premièred at the 1996 New Zealand festival in Wellington featuring Rawiri Paratene and Nancy Brunning. An instant critical and commercial success, Waiora toured New Zealand and internationally for four years and inspired Kouka to write a trilogy of plays (Waiora, Home Fires and The Prophet). Theatrical commentator Roma Pōtiki stated that Waiora “shows much of what is best in Māori theatre.”

The worldwide response to and enduring popularity of Waiora has humbled Kouka. “We had fifty standing ovations in a row during its third season in Auckland; when we took it to England it seemed that Māori and Kiwis came out of the woodwork; even in Hawaii there was wave after wave of people chanting, performing haka or coming on stage with gifts. I didn’t know it would have such an impact when I wrote it. I do know that if you cry when you write it, people will cry when they watch it.” 

Kouka credits the play’s longevity to its simplicity. “It’s a family story – that doesn’t change. About being true to yourself – and if you don’t, you’ll come unstuck.” Kouka goes on to add the resonance the play has had with men. “I wrote Hone (the patriarch) as someone who’s not Jake the Muss; to show a man who realises and accepts that love wins through.” 

Surprisingly, The Court Theatre production is the first time Kouka has directed Waiora. “I have rediscovered many of the layers of this korero… from the text I have been reminded to always stay true to yourself and to dream. Working with these characters I know so well has been a pleasant revelation.”

Kouka intentionally cast as many actors from or with a strong connection to Christchurch as possible, including Kim Garrett as Wai Te Atatu/Sue, Tola Newbery as Boyboy, Hannah Spedding as Louise Stone and Tania Gilchrist as one of the Tipuna. It is also the professional stage debut of Te Awhina Kaiwai-Wanikau as Rongo.

Kouka is thrilled that the messages of his play about remembering identity, culture and language seems to have made headway in New Zealand. “For three of the cast Māori is their first language.” 

Kouka is interested in what newer generations of young Māori think of Waiora. He is also adamant that is not just a Māori story. “It’s a family story. An immigrant’s story. As I have said previously, ‘We have all come from somewhere else.’ Hopefully in these times of uncertainty and change this play reminds us to remain open and respectful to those who have journeyed from that somewhere else.”

Tonkin & Taylor Main Stage at The Court Theatre 
13 Aug – 03 Sep 2016 

Opening Night: Saturday 13th August, 7.30pm
Post Show Forum: Monday 15th August, 6.30pm
Matinée: Saturday 27th August, 2.00pm
Monday & Thursday: 6.30pm
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday: 7.30pm 

BOOKINGS: phone 03 963 0870 or visit www.courttheatre.org.nz
TICKET PRICES (Early bird prices available until 18 August): 
$50 Whanau: 4 tickets to any performance in the first week for just $50. Additional tickets $12.50 each. Minimum 4 tickets, maximum 8.
Senior 65yrs+: $46- $54
Adult: $53-$61
Under 25: $34-$42
Child: $24-$32
Community Service Card: $34-$42
Group 20+: $46-$54
Supporter: $44-$52 

Further information at The Court Theatre Website  

Taungaroa Emile: Hone (John)
Kim Garrett: Wai Te Atatu (Sue)
Maia Diamond: Amiriam
Te Awhina Kaiwai-Wanikau: Rongo
Tola Newbery: Boyboy
Phil Grieve: Steve Campbell
Hannah Spedding: Louise Stones
Sheree Waitoa: Tipuna
Wiremu Waretini: Tipuna
Jared Hiakita: Tipuna
Tania Gilchrist: Tipuna 

Production Team: 
Hone Kouka: Playwright / Director / Sound Designer 
Mark McEntyre: Set & Costume Designer 
Giles Tanner: Lighting Designer 
Sean Hawkins: Sound Facilitator / Operator 
Christy Lassen: Properties Co-ordinator 
Jo Bunce: Stage Manager 

Theatre , Te Ao Māori ,

The issues and elements at the core of Waiora remain relevant

Review by Erin Harrington 03rd Sep 2016

The emergence of Spring heralds a season of new beginnings and new experiences, so with the daffodils already in bloom I wondered what new experience would unfold on this balmy evening as I headed to the Hone Kouka play Waiora

Set in the 1960s, Waiora tells the story of a Māori whanau who have moved from the ‘heavenly’ Te Ū Kai Pō – their sacred homeland of the north, which from the opening scenes beats at the very heart of the performance.  

Urban drift, and the effects of urbanisation, weaves its way through the story from the onset, taking hold of each character and manifesting itself in myriad ways. 

From the first sound of waters lapping on the shore, I feel the thread and it pulls me in.  The world which unfolds on stage feels, at times, uncomfortably familiar. 

Having recently returned to reside in Ōtautahi after living in the north, the thread of being away from ones tūrangawaewae or ‘standing place’, touches at the heart and makes me think of my parents and grandparents and when they too, set out for the cities with the hopes and dreams of providing a better life for their kids. 

On this day, the whanau gather on the beach in celebration, where hopes are high but reality is harsh and everything is bought to the fore to be washed clean by the ‘unseen’ wairua or spiritual elements, so familiar in Te Ao Māori. 

Everyone does their best to put on the front of assimilation in order to impress the Pākehā Boss and it’s here that the cracks begin to emerge.

Throughout, the tūpunagather, watching, interceding, and goading the whanau with haka, waiata and their mere presence, seen by all but only acknowledged by some. 

The element of water re-emerges as the young daughter Rongo, played by Te Awhina Kaiwai-Wanikau, stands by the water’s edge to sing a beautiful lament to her Kuia who has passed.  She knows, she sees, she understands that the water is the connecting force which binds the whanau to not only the past, present and future but also to all that is above and all that is below.

A play like Waiora, which has been produced numerous times since its inception 20 years ago, can really speak for itself. It carries its own Mana, but I did wonder how relevant it would still be today. 

Take away the obvious signs of its era and at the core of Waiora are issues which do remain pertinent to today.  The high cost of cultural assimilation, urbanisation, the disconnection from culture and language, the overwhelming influence and undercurrent of alcohol, violence and unnecessary death are all still too familiar in our Māori landscape and it’s here in the threads of Waiora that we see the seeding of these issues which have impacted so much on Māori. 

At times I feel weighted down by the brevity of all that is unfolding; too many chords struck, too many undertones that make me feel as if someone is sticking needles in my dna and forcing me to remember.  But like the tūpuna embodied on stage, I can sense mine urging me to feel, to connect, to acknowledge this discomfort being played out so well by the actors on stage. 

Kim Garrett’s constrained depiction of the Wife and Mother, Wai Te Atatau/Sue, who is always trying to ‘give off the right image’, is brilliant but made even more so in those moments when her character slips back into her true self – that of the relaxed, doting Māori wahine with her whanau always at the centre of her world. She, like many Mothers, is the force that binds everyone together in stark contrast to Hone, the Father, played by Taungaroa Emile, who, by faulty character and conditioning, manages to explode at every opportunity much to the detriment of his whanau. 

Also notable is the cringe-worthy, by today’s standards, character Steve, the Pākehā boss who everyone’s trying to impress and keep on side in the hopes Hone will get his promotion.  Both the mannerisms and colloquialisms exhibited by actor Phil Grieve make for a more than convincing performance. 

By the interval I wondered how much of the play is being ‘lost in translation’ for non-Māori, but whether or not they understand the reo or the varying elements at play, this seems to be irrelevant by the emotional responses soon to be heard and felt around the theatre. 

As the final scene unfolds, we, like the performers, take a deep breath and dive in, to emerge once again by the water’s edge.  It’s here, amid the tragedy of the haka/karanga stand-off, that the play anchors itself in what is truly a Te Ao Māori experience. 

The unceasing battle between te ao kikokiko, the physical world embodied by the whanau, and te ao wairua, the spiritual world embodied by the tupuna, bring to life te ihi, te wehi, te wana* and it’s this that stays with me long after the play is finished. 

They say art imitates life and life imitates art and in Te Ao Māori the issues and elements at the core of Waiora remain as relevant now as they were 20 years ago.  As long as that remains the case Waiora will continue to grow in its Mana and importance as a reminder of all that has gone before and all that will come to be.

Mauri Ora ki a koutou katoa

*Ihi is the intrinsic power that draws a response from an audience; wehi is a reaction from the audience to the power of the performers; and wana is the aura that occurs during the performance encompassing both performers and audience (Kruger cited in Matthews, 2004).


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Moving play tells universal story of family and belonging

Review by Charlie Gates 14th Aug 2016

I moved to New Zealand from England ten years ago. When I sometimes feel homesick I look at the Avon River in Christchurch and think that the water is connected across the globe to the river where my sister lives in England.

This same idea appears in The Court Theatre’s new production of Waiora. A young woman stands in the surf of a South Island beach and thinks about the water connecting back to her family’s spiritual home on the North Island.

Waiora may be a play about the very specific struggles of a Maori family moving to the South Island, but it is so finely observed that it speaks to universal human feelings of belonging, yearning, crushed dreams and the importance of being true to your own heritage. [More


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Retains its raw power and its depth of emotion

Review by Erin Harrington 14th Aug 2016

The Court Theatre’s production of Waiora, directed by author Hone Kouka,is an ambivalent, sometimes sombre, intermittently funny and ultimately defiant affair. While first performed 20 years ago and set in 1965, it is now, in its own way, a part of the establishment. Taught in schools and universities, it is one of a number of benchmark contemporary Māori works, and its themes, concerns and complexities are, perhaps, significantly more familiar to some audiences than they were in the 1990s: the urbanization of Māori; the suppression of Te Reo and tikanga Māori by both Māori and Pākehā; the damage caused by lop-sided expectations of ‘assimilation’, whatever that might mean; postcolonial malaise; the loss of language and identity; shifting gender and class roles; and the hope offered by new places and new generations. 

Mill worker John / Hone (Tangaroa Emile) has moved his family – wife Sue / Wai (a terrific Kim Garrett), daughters Rongo (Te Awhina Kaiwai-Wanikau) and Amiria (Maia Diamond), and ‘adopted’ son Boyboy (Tola Newbery, a highlight) – to the South Island from their northern homeland for work and perhaps a more hopeful future. They prepare a beach-side hangi to celebrate Rongo’s 18th birthday, and John / Hone has invited mill boss Steve (Phil Grieve), believing that he is to receive a much deserved promotion.

The family dynamic is fraught: the position of Boyboy’s school teacher Louise (Hannah Spedding) as both familiar family friend and distanced Pākehā guest, alongside the arrival of the cringe-worthy Steve, sits awkwardly alongside other percolating family tensions that they work hard to suppress so as to perform the role of gracious hosts and, more uncomfortably, ‘good’, well-behaved Māori.

Off to the side, a part of the ‘festivities’ but never really fully present, is Rongo herself, whose profound sense of displacement – physical, spiritual, and linguistic – hides in plain sight, driving us towards the play’s final, tragic events.

John / Hone’s persistent self-abnegation to his bumbling Pākehā employer, and the mixed responses of his family – let alone their ever-present tipuna (Sheree Waitoa, Wiremu Waretini, Jared Hiakita and Tania Gilchrist) – is one of the most pronounced nodes of discomfort around which the play circulates. While some of the family drama is writ large, such as the acknowledgement of family violence, small gestures also speak volumes; Sue / Wai finally putting on her shoes as Steve arrives means just as much as her firm but gentle reminder to young Pākehā school teacher Louise that she is their guest.

(For what it’s worth, one of the perversities of seeing a play like this in a space like the Court is getting an intermittent commentary from a nearby Pākehā woman who seems as startled as Steve by Hone Hurihanganui’s terrific waiata and haka.)

Mark McEntyre’s marvelously angular, expressionistic wooden set, lit sharply by Giles Tanner, contributes to this sense of dis-ease, rendering what should be a warm and welcoming celebration on the beach somehow fraught, uncertain and threatening; it might be the height of summer, but things feel very cold. McEntyre’s costumes likewise contribute to this sense of dislocation, with the women’s bright frocks and John / Hone’s poorly fitting shirt and tie feeling very much like costumes as they sit against the neutral tones of the tipuna’s clothing.

There is a dissonance throughout this production, however, and not because of the ambivalence and the complexity of the piece itself. Rather, there is a sense of inconsistency in the performances: I sometimes find it hard to resolve the occasionally broad-stroke characterisations across the family and the manuhiri because of the way that they undermine the realist nature of the Ibsen-esque domestic drama.

This is doubly pronounced when compared to the powerful, grounded and stylised performances of the tipuna, whose persistent presence through the play, watching over and physically echoing the living cast, and guiding and challenging their actions, imbues everything with a complicated, resonant sense of gravitas and dread. 

I might be in the minority, though, for Waiora certainly retains its raw power and its depth of emotion. After the play’s crashing finale many of the audience are on their feet, and while I don’t leave fully satisfied I’d rather see vibrant, important and complex local work like this on main stages than not. 


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