Witi's Wāhine

ASB Waterfront Theatre, 138 Halsey St, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland

02/05/2023 - 20/05/2023

St James Theatre, Courtenay Place, Wellington

29/02/2024 - 02/03/2024

Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2024

Production Details

Written by Nancy Brunning
Directed by Ngapaki & Teina Moetara

A collaboration between Hapai Productions and Auckland Theatre Company

An uplifting love song to the wāhine toa of the East Coast who inhabit Witi Ihimaera’s celebrated writing.

“…I remember, three generations of women bending and culling through the scrub, the steam curling off their work clothes as they ascended the hills.”

The phenomenal women of Witi Ihimaera’s writing, including The Parihaka Woman, The Matriarch and Pounamu Pounamu, take focus and lead us powerfully through the universe of Rongopai (the wharenui at Waituhi) to reveal that which lies deep behind the veil of a world we think we know and occupy.

You are invited into a story crafted by Nancy Brunning. Ultimately, it is her love story: a tribute with powerful commentary, unflinching reality, sensitivity and warm affection that places wāhine, whenua and Māori wisdom centre stage. It is a story yearning to be told and will now be shared with Tāmaki Makaurau.

Witi’s wāhine are distinct from one another, where time, situation and context overlap into a single thread: a cord that draws sustenance from the whenua, from onamata – the past. This wisdom anchors us in the inamata (present), toward an unknown anamata (future).

“And the spear leapt from his hands with gladness and soared through the sky. When it hit the earth, it did not change but waited for another 150 years to pass, until it was needed.”

“[Nancy Brunning] has brought forth from Witi’s work the inherently Māori style of oral tradition… punctuated with tears, laughter and song.” – The Gisborne Herald

“Nancy Brunning was a treasured theatrical talent and in this, her final work, she gifts us a beautiful ode to wāhine Māori.” – Jonathan Bielski

ASB Waterfront Theatre, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland
2 – 20 May 2023
Times and booking details:

Aotearoa NZ Festival of the Arts 2024

“The 18 scenes in Witi’s Wāhine weave an intricate pattern through Ihimaera’s works, and the result is astonishing.” The Spinoff

St James Theatre, Wellington
29 February 2024  7pm
1 March 2024  7pm
2 March 2024  7pm
$59.00 – $89.00

This production was a collaboration between Hapai Productions and Auckland Theatre Company.

There is a post-show talk on Friday 1 March.

Ko ngā pukapuka rongonui ēnā a Witi Ihimaera e whakamataoratia ana ki te atamira o toi whakaari. Ko The Parihaka Woman, ko The Matriarch me Pounamu Pounamu ēnā ka whakaaritia e tētehi hunga whakaari, ko te whakaari tonu he mea āta waihanga e Nancy Brunning, kia au te moe ki a ia.

He kohinga pūrākau hei mihi ki te wahine nei o Te Tairāwhiti. He mana nui ō roto, he tūturutanga ō roto, he wairua mahaki marire anō hoki. Ko te aronga matua o ngā kōrero, ko te wahine, ko te whenua, ko te mātauranga Māori.

Roimata Fox, Awhina-Rose Henare Ashby, Pehia King, Olivia Violet Robinson-Falconer

Nancy Brunning - Writer & Original Director
Tanea Heke - Producer
Marama Moetara (Ngapaki Moetara) - Ringatohu Whakaari (Director)
Teina Moetara - Ringatohu Whakaari (Director)
Ash Moor - Associate Producer

Kaiwhakaari (Performers)
Roimata Mereana Aroha Fox
Olivia Violet Robinson
Awhina Rose Henare Ashby
Kristyl Neho

Tita (Chorus)
Matawai Hanatia Winiata
Raiha Moetara
Maramaria Moetara
Pepiria Moetara-Pokai

Penelope Fitt - Kaihoahoa Pae Whakaari / Kaihoahoa Taputapu (Set & Props Designer)
Sandra Tupu - Kaihoahoa Kākahu (Costume Designer)
William Smith - Kaihoahoa Tūrama (Lighting Designer) and Hāpai Production Manager
Tyna Keelan - Kaihoahoa Pūoro (Sound Designer)
Delainy Kennedy - Kaihoahoa Ataata-Rongo (AV Designer)
Ashley Mardon - Kaiwhakahaere Atamira (Stage Manager)

Theatre , Te Reo Māori , Te Ao Māori ,

1 hour 20 minutes

Rich and full of mātauranga Māori, this production screams quality!

Review by Nitika Erueti-Satish 01st Mar 2024

A collaboration between Hāpai Productions and Auckland Theatre Company, Witi’s Wāhine – written by Nancy Brunning and co-directed by Ngapaki and Teina Moetara – is a collection of stories sourced from the books of Aotearoa’s own Rangatira kaituhi, Witi Ihimaera. The show pays homage to the role of wāhine in the story books The Parihaka Woman, The Matriarch and Pounamu Pounamu and highlights the balance of both the feminine and the masculine energies. This show however has a particular focus on the feminine, te wairua, te mana hoki o te wahine, as explained in the introduction of the show.

It is very beautiful inside the St James Theatre. It has a very peaceful atmosphere, the lights are dimmed just enough for me to still be able to see the pathway to get to my seat. With the cast already onstage cloaked by the big red dress curtains behind them, they welcome everyone, filling the whole hall with warmth.

Witi’s Wāhine begins by using the sounds of the ngāhere to settle the audience down. The kaiwhakaari – Roimata Mereana Aroha Fox, Olivia Violet Robinson, Awhina Rose Henare Ashby and Kristyl Neho – open the show by setting the scene and giving us tools to help us understand how the show has been constructed by sewing many stories together into one complete performance.

Understanding the whakapapa of this show makes me feel prepared and relaxed ready to absorb whatever comes at me. In te ao Māori this is a whakatau, the practice of being welcomed and settled into a space. Another tool is learning from the beginning that the show is made up of a compilation of stories from which key elements have been plucked specifically to weave one beautiful korowai of imagination.

As we move our way through the one-and-a-half-hour show, each cast member plays different characters which really shows off the skill of each individual actress. Their close knowledge of Witi’s work allows them to embody the characters of his stories effortlessly. And some of the characters are male characters. No sweat for the wāhine to give that a crack and nail it! Their mahi is augmented by a chorus – Matawai Hanatia Winiata, Raiha Moetara, Maramaria Moetara and Pepiria Moetara-Pokai – whose powerful singing and kapa haka moves enrich the whole experience.

Of all, my favourite story is about Nanny Aroha, the love she has for her younger brother Rangiora and her journey abroad to fulfil a task demanded of her by her very own grief. A lot of the stories the show tells are about Witi’s kuia, their lives, their pain and their triumphs, each very well thought out throughout the performance.  

This production screams quality! It is rich and full of mātauranga Māori that is made to be accessible and understood by all, just like the books of Witi Ihimaera. The stage design is very cool, it reminds me of a big monument. I also think that each transition works seamlessly and the performance feels elevated every time we reset and drift from one story into another.

He mihi ka tika ki ngā māreikura i whiua pūkenga whakaari, i whakatinanatia e ngā wāhine rongonui o āua pakiwaitara nei nā Witi. Te kīkī haere o te mana i tēnei wahine nā tēnei whakaaturanga. Ka tuku mihi hoki me ngā whakaaro maha ki a Nancy Brunning, nā ia e whaihuaai he hakune rerekē mo ngā kōrero, ngā pakiwaitara nā te rangatira ko Witi Ihimaera kia koke whakamua. He whakaaturanga tēnei kīkī ana i te aroha, i te kaha, i te maia hoki. Te pārekareka o te katoa o te wheako nei ki au. Kia ora!

[For reviews of the original production in Te Tairāwhiti, see here.]


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Memorably vivid in its retelling; stokes the flame of cultural representation and resonance

Review by Nga-Atawhainga Hineāmore 09th May 2023

Attending any whare tapere with the ever-tantalising invitation to garner even a snippet of insight into te ao Māori is generally a decision made with far more weight than if I was attending something more removed from my cultural identity, like Mary Poppins or The Wizard of Oz. To experience Kaupapa Māori theatre is about so much more than just a night of entertainment. It is reclamation. It is elevation. It is visibility.  It is a sense of being viscerally seen and understood.

There is no denying the sense of hope one arrives and leaves with when attending a theatre show written, directed and produced by Māori for a Māori audience.  Witi’s Wāhine, written by the late Nancy Brunning (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāi Tūhoe), is one of those rare experiences where I could step out of the theatre gallery post show into the nippy night air and feel entirely ignited to my core, having stoked the flame of cultural representation and resonance.

Seating myself in the second row back from the front of the stage I am quite ready to be enveloped into the psyche and vision of Brunning, Directors Teina Moetara (Rongowhakaata, Ngāpuhi) and Ngapaki Moetara (Waikato, Ngāti Whanaunga, Ngāti Ruanui) and internationally acclaimed author Witi Ihimaera, the author from Waituhi, East Coast NZ. One can sense when the synergy of any collaboration has successfully hybridised by the way it transcends from behind the scenes to a reciprocation between the on-stage characters and the audience.

The cast of Witi’s Wāhine – Roimata Fox (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Kahungungu) Awhina-Rose Henare Ashby (Ngāpuhi, Ngati Hine), Pehia King (Shetland Islands, Ngāti Mahuta ki te Hauāuru, Ngāti Maniapoto) and Olivia Violet Robinson-falconer (Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Kahungungu ki te Wairoa) – give the impression that this is not simply a theatre we are being welcomed into but rather an insight to their way of life. Moving with certainty and intention, grace and fullness for the entirety of the show, the characters appear larger than life, perhaps because they are. 

Each performer gives credence to the art of storytelling and the potential it has to capture and reveal the voices of the frayed and the forgotten, the brave and the fallen, the fearless and the fearful.  They provide tangibility to otherwise grey matter. I can’t help but feel that for these professional actors this is less of an acting performance and more of an activated cellular level of remembering. It seems the woman before me are not only the women from the pages of Ihimaera but also the women from our own families and everyday lives.

Watching them move I see myself reflected back. You know that weird phenomenon that happens when you feel emotionally triggered by a fictional character and you logically know that the actor is just in character and not actually who they are in real life yet when you do see them out doing mundane life things and dressed in civvy clothes you still feel confused as to why in their real life setting, they are now out of character? Well, that is how I feel about each of the characters in Witi’s Wāhine. I imagine these women will carry themselves with the same regal and pride off set as they do on set. Every cast member takes me on a journey that leaves my body in its seat but takes my wairua with them every step of the way.

Costume Designer Sandra Tupu uses an elemental palette that subtly illuminates the elements of the taiao and deepens our visual gaze of the connection between wāhine and whenua.  Along with the grey of kōhatu and the earthy brown of Papatuanuku the wardrobe of Witi’s Wahine understands the assignment: we are Māori by nature and nature is Māori. There is no separation of the two. This visual representation of our environment and the interconnectedness of us as Māori within that is a reflection of Māori whakapono weaved throughout Witi’s Wāhine.

The set and kākahu have a simplicity to them that seems to allow for each character to shine in their own right while the words and anecdotes they share are a bonus korowai of beauty with which we as the audience were all too ready to snuggle up and cosy into. The lighting is flattering and supportive of each character’s transformations while harmonising seamlessly with sound, taking us through cycles of despair in Tunisia, to scenes of war in Ngātapa, to the soft undertones of laughter and connection as poi are confidently swung, kōhatu are rubbed in unison to create a strangely nostalgic and comforting percussion sound. Māori classics such as ‘Me he manu rere’ and ‘Tahi nei taru kino’ bring tears. Two seats over it seems the tears never stop. 

Before I had even arrived to take my seat at the ASB Waterfront Theatre Tamaki Makaurau I had taken a moment to reflect on just how relevant and timeless the vision and message of Brunning’s play truly is. At a time when being Māori wasn’t the cool thing to do, Ihimaera was committing pen to paper and unapologetically immortalising the woman in his own life who he loved and admired with a pride and quiet devotion that Brunning, years later, simply could not turn away from.

Feminists and chauvinists would perhaps glance at the surface of this dynamic and wonder why any woman would take the writings of a man to elevate other women’s voices. Yet, for me, it is this that sits at the very crux of what makes Brunning’s visionary play so authentically Māori and poignant. Brunning simply illuminated the taonga Ihimaera had created with his words, inviting us into a familiar and now distant world that offered us aunties who would cheat at cards and cackle uproariously when caught, karani who’s dignity was shunned in the name of healthcare, a nan whose moko understood and idolised her need to spend most of her time conversing with wairua from the other side of the veil. Ihimaera gave us the characters, Brunning brought them to life again, and the powerhouse Moetara duo weave the two together to deliver a play so memorably vivid in its retelling.

I have often thought that the whare tapere is the most underutilised platform within society for being an effective vehicle of change; socially, economically, politically and culturally. Hence the timing of Witi’s Wāhine couldn’t have been more apt, given the current social climate. Only the week prior there was an annual tribute to our fallen soldiers on ANZAC Day. The significance of this is especially felt in Witi’s Wāhine as we witness three generations of women toiling the soil in the absence of husbands and sons, and a sister whose first true love, her brother, would never return home to her again. 

A Goldie painting of a Ngāpuhi kuia was also sold for 1.6m into a private collection reminding everyone of how valued our culture and especially our Māori wāhine are on a global scale.  A new podcast was launched with an aim to educate Māori on Te Tiriti o Waitangi and he Whakaputanga. Its name ‘Never Ceded’ sends a clear statement from the next generation of land protectors.  On the same day as the opening of Witi’s Wāhine, West Auckland based Hōani Waititi Marae hosted the Te Kura Kaupapa Māori Treaty claim towards rangatiratanga in the education sector illuminating just how relevant Te Tiriti o Waitangi is in 2023, as it was in 1840. 

Simultaneously, in Owairaka (Mt. Albert) Tāmaki Makarau for the first time in NZ history, Mana Whenua and bioheritage scientists were sitting at the same table to discuss land surveillance against plant pathogens such as mertyl rust and kauri dieback. The week finished strong with Labour Party representative of 20 years Meka Whaitiri leaving the highest polling political party to join the lowest. The Māori Party and her iwi celebrated her joining their ranks as she clearly didn’t cross the floor for popularity, she did it for her people.

Done well or done terribly, the whare tapere can be a time capsule and record holder for lesser-known histories and lived experiences, especially for our indigenous communities, which is why theatre can and does hold such a weight of responsibility to their audiences. How much due diligence and respect a show gives to headliner topics such as authenticity and integrity, both topics justly in the centre spotlight of all things cultural, does matter when you are acutely aware of the lack of presence and diverse narrative coming out of those spaces. 

Tanea Heke, Hāpai Productions producer, said it best: “This story celebrates the rise of the matriarchy – our wāhine who lead their whānau and their communities … wāhine who make sacrifices, and who hold mātauranga and whakapapa. All the women you’re about to meet … will immerse you into the world written by Witi and Nan [Nancy], yet created by our tūpuna.”

Moe mai rā e te puhi Whaea Nancy Brunning. Nei rā te mihi nui ki a koutou katoa hoki.


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