Where We Once Belonged

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

08/10/2012 - 11/10/2012

Glen Eden Playhouse, Auckland

23/08/2012 - 26/08/2012

Mangere Arts Centre, Auckland

04/11/2010 - 07/11/2010

Otago Festival of the Arts

Going West Festival 2012

Production Details

PIPA – Pacific Institute of Performing Arts, Diploma Year Two Students present their GRAD SHOW – Where We Once Belonged, by Sia Figiel, adapted for stage by Dave Armstrong.

Where We Once Belonged won a Chapman Tripp theatre award for best new New Zealand Play in 2008.

Samoa is independent; CHARLIE’S ANGELS has arrived in the fale; and Alofa’s life will never be the same again.

From the author of NIU SILA and THE TUTOR, Dave Armstrong, comes this emotionally charged adaptation of Sia Figiel’s spirited and fiercely written Commonwealth Prize winning novel.

WHERE WE ONCE BELONGED is a hilarious, moving and heartfelt tale of desire and self discovery. It is an unflinchingly honest, poetic and often wildly funny coming-of-age story set in 1970s Samoa.

Alofa, Lili and Moa are typical teenage girls. They tease the local boys, misbehave at school and worship Charlie’s Angels. But there is a darker side to Alofa’s life. She struggles to win the acceptance of her unforgiving family.

As young Alofa Filiga navigates the mores and restrictions of village life, she begins to come to terms with her own changing identity and the price she must pay for it.

4 Nights only!!!
4th – 7th November
Mangere Arts Centre
Tickets $10 Student, unwaged (community services card) and $15 Adult
Bookings at Mangere Arts Centre (09) 2625789 – or call PIPA (09) 8157486 for more information.

NOTE: Content not suitable for children 

2012 season 

Where We Once Belonged is a moving yet hilarious stage adaptation by Dave Armstrong from the 1994 Commonwealth Prize-winning novel by Sia Figiel, Samoa’s first female novelist. Part of Going West Festival 2012, it is directed by Goretti Chadwick and Anapela Polataivao.

This wildly funny and unflinchingly honest coming-of-age story is set in 1970s Samoa, where young Alofa navigates life in her village as she comes to terms with her own changing sense of identity and the price she must pay for it.

Sixteen beautiful and talented young Pasifika performers from the Pacific Institute of Performing Arts brilliantly recreate the Samoan village of Malaefou, where teenage girls gossip, dream about their weddings, tease boys, misbehave at school and worship American TV shows like Charlie’s Angels. But within this seemingly idyllic life, lie dark issues of family violence, religion and colonisation.

Told with a passion and vitality only a young cast can bring, Where We Once Belonged is an unforgettable singing, dancing, drumming, laughing, crying-out-loud, warts-and-all celebration of Pacific life.

This adaptation won Dave and Sia the 2008 Chapman Tripp Theatre Award for Best New New Zealand Play. 

“By turns moving, hysterical and thought-provoking, Where We Once Belonged deserves to have another life. If it comes to a town near you, make sure you go” – Victor Rodger, theatreview.org.nz Nov 2010.

Please note: This play contains some material, including sexual references and domestic violence, that may not be suitable for children under 12 years of age.

When:  23-26 August
Thursday 23 – Saturday 25 August, 8pm
(Friday 24 August includes a forum afterwards)
Sunday 26 August, 4pm 

Running time 80 minutes – no interval. 

Where Glen Eden Playhouse Theatre, 15 Glendale Road, Glen Eden

Cost:  $17.50-$28 

Booking details:  Book online at Eventfinder (service fees apply)
Tickets are also available by calling Auckland Council on 09 301 0101 ext 42 8617 or emailing Going West  


Fortune Theatre
8 – 11 October, 7.30pm 

Details here

Starring: Pacific Institute of Performing Arts – Diploma Year Two Students
Set Design: Sean Coyle
Costume Design: Sara Taylor
Musika: Pacific Institute of Performing Arts - Certificate Students 

2012 Credits: 


Alofa - Suivai Autagavaia
Moa – Litea Aholelei
Lily – Joanna Mika Toloa
Uncle Asu – Paul Fagamalo
Filiga – Sanele Savea (Aleni Tufuga for the Otago performances) 
Sisifo and Fa'afafine Clerk – Mario Faumui
Tausi – Loretta Aukuso
Pisa and Miss Cunningham – Melissa Banse
Siaosi – Beni Morrison 
Lealofi – Joshua Tamatea Ah-Hi
Siniva – Nastassia Wolfgramm 
Ministers Wife and Mrs Samasoni – Elaine Tipi 
Mr Brown – K C Throne Myers 
Minister – Aisea Latu 
Villagers – Troy Tuua and Militini Vaotogo
Musicians:  Sefa Taouma, Italia Hunt, Aisea Latu

Design – Sean Coyle
Producer – Caroline Armstrong, Armstrong Creative
Technical Operator - Sean Coyle 

Pure delight

Review by Terry MacTavish 09th Oct 2012

Fagogo. The art of story-telling. The oral tradition of Samoa, the ground-breaking 1994 novel Where We Once Belonged by Sia Figiel, and now its brilliant stage-adaptation by Dave Armstrong.  The Otago Festival of the Arts has shown excellent judgement in securing this for us: as the Pasifika population of the South grows, the need to share the stories, the privileged insight into other cultures, is increasingly urgent.

Not that experiencing this production feels like a duty: it is pure delight. Exuberantly performed on the simplest of sets by sixteen fabulous young actors and musicians, artfully blending tragedy and comedy, it holds the audience spellbound for ninety exciting minutes.

Figiel wrote her challenging novel because there seemed to be no voice for Samoan women, and Armstrong has been shrewd in giving the play narrative coherence by basing it even more firmly on the experience of one girl, Alofa, whose name means love.  Alofa acts as narrator too, so that descriptive passages can be incorporated, along with the lively dialogue and beautifully choreographed choral work that reveals a whole community at work, church, school and play.

Each scene is a delightful vignette on its own, from the comically suggested bus ride to the vivid, bustling Apia market; the blue-lit supernatural stories of the ancestors; the charming flirting between the boys and girls; and the thrilling discovery of actual cornflakes at a palagi’s house, almost overshadowing the shock of the dirty magazine hidden behind. The church scenes are a revelation, climaxing in a funny and unforgettable interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Other highlights include the school episodes, with the mean jandal-wielding Mrs Samasoni (“Don’t you look at my toenails!”) forming a hilarious contrast to earnest Peace-Corp teacher Miss Cunningham. She urges them to write about “I, not we,” while the naughty boys scheme to peek at her breasts. There is no I in Samoa, the children explain, only We. Individuality is not permitted.

Alofa is growing to womanhood in the 1970s, when the Samoan way of life is threatened by Western capitalism and Western religion. Coca-cola replaces coconut, the church’s rules are crippling, especially for girls, television represents an enchanted world, and New Zealand streets must be paved with gold. Still the hierarchy of the family is all-important. Alofa’s mother is bullied by her mother-in-law, and Alofa is cruelly beaten by her father.  The saddest story involves Siniva, who returned from New Zealand radicalised, only to be crushed by her community.

This violence is deeply disturbing, the more so for being acted with such compelling conviction, underscored by the drums.  Chilling lines appal, like, “To beat a child is to show her respect, to love her.”  Shame too is a terrible weapon. Yet the dark undercurrents of the story are swept away by the humour and zest for life, and the most lasting memories are of the children’s mischief and joy, the readiness to break into music and dance, and the smiles that are tiny explosions.

When Figiel was asked whether she was exposing her culture by bringing to the surface repressed or taboo subjects, she replied, “There will always be people who don’t want to hear unpleasant truths…the only solution, if there is one, is to write and to write well.” I like to think it is partly because of her writing that the young women of Samoa are less vulnerable than they were.

Originally commissioned by Auckland Theatre Company (note to teachers: ATC Associate Director and ex-Dunedinite Lynne Cardy has provided a terrific teaching resource for it), Where We Once Belonged is now performed by alumni of the Pacific Institute of Performing Arts, and is a great advertisement for their course.

The mime in particular is impeccable, even to the wriggling under a fence. The cast is in truth an ensemble, which is why I name no actors. They are all fantastic. Dressed alike in black t-shirts and colourful lavalava which by a twist can suggest different characters, the actors manage to be both individuals and incredibly disciplined in their group work, especially the gorgeous action singing.

This is a play which well deserves the accolades. It should not only be seen but also performed by our young people as they learn to understand each other, for it is as illuminating as it is entertaining. 

Armstrong need not have been concerned about whether, as a palagi, he is the right choice to adapt Figiel’s work.  He says: “Sia Figiel describes the su’ifefiloi form as like a lei made up of different flowers (stories). I’ve taken that lei and thrown out a couple of flowers, and rearranged the remaining flowers into a straight line, but hopefully people will still think the flowers look and smell wonderful.”

They do. Truly wonderful!


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Irreverent, exuberant, revealing

Review by Barbara Frame 09th Oct 2012

Where We Once Belonged has been adapted for the stage by well-known playwright Dave Armstrong from Sia Figiel’s 1996 novel of the same name, and is brought to the Festival of the Arts by Armstrong Creative.

It has little in common with all-smiles tourist posters or fiafia nights in Samoan hotels. The focus is on village life, specifically that of the Apia village of Malaefou.

The action is episodic rather than plot-driven, and covers many aspects of Samoan life: the power and cohesiveness of the family, the benign and destructive aspects of palagi culture, the contradictory nature of education and the oppressive role of the church. A versatile cast of 17, including three musicians, bring vitality to an infinite number of roles, including that of the main character, schoolgirl Alofa (Suivai Autagavaia), as she tries to navigate conflicting paths and restrictions and have fun at the same time.

For me, the most interesting scenes were in a school classroom where the soft, individualistic approach of Miss Cunningham, the Peace Corps teacher (Melissa Banse), contrasts irreconcilably with the routine brutality of Mrs Samasoni (Elaine Tipi); and a White Sunday scene where children eagerly, slyly and hilariously act out the story of the Prodigal Son.

Almost all of the dialogue is in English, but there is a little Samoan. The play makes few concessions to a palagi audience. If, for example, you don’t comprehend why a pillowcase might have “Jesus is the reason” embroidered on it, and why it might be a privilege to sleep on it, no explanation is provided.

Irreverent and exuberant, Where We Once Belonged celebrates Samoan life and culture while revealing darker, violent undercurrents. Recommended.  


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The contrasts, contradictions and complexities in coming of age

Review by Poppy Haynes 24th Aug 2012

In Theatreview’s 2010 review of the Pacific Institute of Performing Arts’s graduation production of this play, reviewer Victor Rodger proclaimed: “Where We Once Belonged deserves to have another life. If it comes to a town near you, make sure you go.” Well, here’s your chance. The production has a new life – out West, nonetheless – running from 23-26 August at Glen Eden’s lovely Playhouse Theatre as part of this year’s Going West festival.

Exuberant, hilarious and humane, this production of Dave Armstrong’s adaptation of Sia Figiel’s Commonwealth prize-winning novel held the audience from beginning to end, at times eliciting the explosions of laughter (delighted, slightly hysterical laughter of recognition) that promise the audience will go home glowing.

Set in the village of Maleafou in Samoa, the play introduces us to Alofa, a girl on the cusp of adolescence, and to Alofa’s community, which like her is grappling with tensions between globalisation and tradition, and with issues of authority, conformity and loyalty.

The fourteen actors create the entire community of Maleafou – from the chaotic market to the pious church, from the hopelessly new-age schoolteacher to the highly educated but disillusioned social recluse – with remarkable and unwavering energy.

With a minimal set and subtle lighting the actors create Alofa’s world using physical theatre almost exclusively. The trio of musicians (Safa Taouma, Aisea Latu and Italia Hunt) use percussion and guitar to build tension, transition us between scenes, and buoy along the play’s momentum. And when the cast sings, the harmonies make the hairs on your arms stand up and can instantly shift the tone from hilarity and caricature to sincerity and redemptiveness.

The protagonist, Alofa, (Suivai Autagavaia) has excellent foils in her friends Moa and Lily (Litea Aholelei and Joanna Toloa); the boldness with which they play their characters highlights the thoughtful understatedness of Alofa’s character.

With so much of the early action – particularly the group scenes – ebullient and irreverent, I wondered how the darker elements of the play would be woven in. Ultimately, the tone is shifted quite subtly: the threat and execution of violence, the power adults have over children, the oppressiveness of an introduced religion and the bleakness of being isolated from your culture or community are seeded early in lighter, more humorous scenarios. As the play progresses these themes are played out with greater menace. Whereas the violence of Elaine Tipi’s fantastic jandal-slapping Mrs Samasoni is paradoxically both shocking and funny, inducing gales of (nervous?) laughter, the violence upon which the play ends is more sobering.

One of the underlying threads in this play is the tension between the individual and the group. When your identity is rooted so deeply in groups – the family, the church, the community – what role does individuality play? I loved how the dominance of communal, collective identity was evoked in the play’s full-cast scenes where the actors shed individual character identities and, like schooling fish, form something like one organism: a classroom, a congregation, a bustling market.

This is certainly not a tightly plotted ‘well-made’ play. Like its cast of characters, the play is multi-voiced, unfolding in vignettes that pose more questions than they resolve rather than in a linear storyline focused on a single event. This means that character development is necessarily limited. But were the arc of a single character to dominate, we would probably be less awake to the role of the community itself as character.

The play ends with a climax, but not really a resolution; there is death, but not necessarily redemption; there are more interesting relationships and backstories established than could ever be fully explored.

Perhaps, though, this is ultimately what makes Where We Once Belonged a real coming-of-age play: growing up means beginning to see the world in increasing layers of complexity. During this play the audience – along with Alofa – are shown her world in its contrasts, contradictions and complexities.  


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By turns moving, hysterical and thought provoking

Review by Victor Rodger 15th Nov 2010

Toi Whakaari and Unitec: you are on notice. I have seen the future of drama schools. It is fresh. It is brown. It is glorious.

I’m talking about the Pacific Institute of Performing Arts (P.I.P.A) diploma graduation production of Where We Once Belonged at the Mangere Arts Centre. 

From their original base in Mangere to their current headquarters at Unitec, P.I.P.A have quietly become a force to be reckoned with in the space of THREE short years. Though they have been a well kept secret for many within the industry, that secret is now well and truly out with their landmark production of Where We Once Belonged, which boldly and defiantly announces them as a serious player on the drama school scene.

The play – originally adapted by Dave Armstrong from Sia Figiel’s seminal novel for Auckland Theatre Company – is essentially a free-wheeling portrait of life in Samoa as told through the eyes of our adolescent narrator, Alofa, moving from the market to the church, from Alofa’s first (period) blood to her first love and featuring a host of characters from her best friends Lily and Moa to the doomed village mad woman, Siniva. 

It’s a colourful piece, bursting with life; wonderfully familiar to those who know this world and a charming revelation to those who don’t. 

The original debuted to critical acclaim at the Wellington International Festival of the Arts in 2008 and had a subsequent season in Auckland. But under the wonderfully assured direction of original cast member Goretti Chadwick, this Where We Once Belonged is a completely different experience: richer and somehow more alive.  Not just because of the sheer cast size (fourteen as opposed to the original’s five) but because of the remarkable way Chadwick (with co-director Anapela Polataivao) has managed to inspire her talented cast to perform as an ensemble in the truest sense of the word.

To paraphrase Alofa: there is no I, only we and the same applies to the actors here. Though there are scene stealers to be sure, they’re only ever stealing scenes they should be stealing and never at the expense of a fellow actor’s time to shine. (Full disclosure: Chadwick is a close friend and appeared in my last play, My Name is Gary CooperHome page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. . But as she knows – along with everyone else who knows me – high praise does not tumble forth lightly from my mouth).

With great fluidity and seeming ease the large cast essay a number of roles to tell us the story of Alofa and of Samoa itself and how both experience growing pains. 

Production values are top notch across the board, from the simple yet effective set and lighting by Sean Coyle to the music (provided by certificate students Aisea Latu, Neville Niulesa and Pene Jnr Ueta). The choreography – largely devised by the students themselves – is a delight.

The quibbles are minor: a couple of students play to the floor instead of to us; one lets her hysteria get the better of her and the rhythm of the Siniva sequences – decidedly serious moments compared to the bulk of the play – is sometimes tricky.  Yet these are all easily forgiven because Where We Once Belonged is that rarest of beasts: a genuine delight from start to finish, performed with sustained and infectious energy by a cast who are clearly having a good time. The audience on opening night was nothing less than rapturous. 

In a strong field of actors Suivai Autagavaia is a terrifically assured Alofa, Litea Aholele’s raw energy as Alofa’s BFF Moa is a joy to behold and Mario Faumui shows great comic timing in his various roles.

Ironically the show is almost stolen by the cast’s lone paleface, Casey Treen, who is part Cook Island. His Irish priest, market stoner and taunting child characters are all wonderful in themselves but the delivery of his Samoan lines as a disdainful villager threatens to bring the house down.

Special mention must also be made of Nastassia Wolfgramm as Siniva. It’s arguably the most difficult role in the play and she pulls it off. 

By turns moving, hysterical and thought provoking, Where We Once Belonged deserves to have another life. If it comes to a town near you, make sure you go. It’s hands down the best drama school graduation show I’ve ever witnessed and, in a stellar year for Auckland theatre which has included highlights such as August: Osage County, A View From the Bridge, Mojo and Cabaret, it’s also the single most enjoyable piece of theatre I’ve seen.

Malo P.I.P.A! 
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