Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington

10/06/2021 - 13/06/2021

Reynold’s Hall, Uawa, Gisborne

02/10/2020 - 02/10/2020

Lawson Field Theatre, Gisborne

05/10/2019 - 06/10/2019

Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival 2020

Kia Mau Festival 2021

Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival 2019

Production Details

World Premiere 

A theatrical celebration of the most inspirational female characters to have graced the pages of New Zealand fiction.  

Guided by their sharpness of wit, keen powers of observation, and the foresight to bend the elements to their will… Witi’s Wāhine pays tribute to the true stars of Ihimaera’s novels – those indomitable female characters so beloved by readers.

Lovingly crafted from excerpts from his semi-autobiographical collection of short stories and novels, our heroines will take you on an epic journey across their history, their mythology, their cultural consciousness – as we recognise the passion, truth and spirit of mana wāhine.

Performed by Te Tairāwhiti’s own Mere Boynton, Roimata Fox, Ani-Piki Tuari, Ngapaki Moetara (acclaimed actresses, musicians and kapahaka champions in their own right), Witi’s Wāhine brings to life remarkable female characters from novels such as The Matriarch, Whānau, Pounamu Pounamu and more in an evening that will ignite your deepest instincts of a people in metamorphosis.

Saturday 5th Oct 2019 – 8:00pm
Sunday 6th Oct 2019 – 2:00pm & 5:00pm
General Admission $25, Concession $20


In 2019 we bade farewell to one of the greats of Aotearoa stage and screen, Nancy Brunning. In 2020 we pay tribute to Brunning’s brilliance in a return, tribute season of her work, Witi’s Wāhine.

Witi’s Wāhine will tour the region visiting venues and marae across Te Tairāwhiti – from Tikitiki to Wairoa.

“Brunning brilliantly draws together the threads from the pages of the books to reveal a love story dedicated to all the women Witi has moulded his characters from… the many Māori matriarchs who fulfil their roles in a distinctively Māori way.” – Michelle Ngamoki, Theatreview

“There it all was, Ihimaera’s remarkable ability to shuffle history… serving up the richness of culture and the wonder of people, with all their warts, with all the laughter and the singing and the pain… I don’t mind saying I was utterly wrung out by the end, and felt blessed for it.” – Simon Wilson, New Zealand Herald

Want to purchase in person? Drop in and see the team at the Gisborne iSite (Grey St, Gisborne).

Friday 2nd Oct, Reynold’s Hall, Uawa, 7pm
Saturday 3rd Oct, Reynold’s Hall, Uawa, 7pm
Tuesday 6th Oct, St Paul’s Anglican Church, Wairoa, 7pm
Saturday 10th Oct, Lawson Field Theatre, Gisborne, 2pm and 7pm
A Reserve $25 + fees
A Reserve (Friends) $22.50 + fees
Concession $22.50 + fees


Te Whaea National Dance & Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Road, Wellington 
10 – 13 June 2021
Thur – Sun 7.30pm
Sat 1pm 
$15 – $35
Buy Tickets 

Learn More About the Collective

Based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara.

Hāpai Productions’ vision is to produce mana enhancing Māori Theatre productions whilst upholding Māori Values.

Hāpaingia te kaupapa Māori me te mana Māori, mā te auaha a ngā whakaari Māori me ngā mahi a te mātauranga Māori – Upholding Māori philosophical practices, prestige and the pursuit of Māori knowledge through the creation of Māori theatre.

Nancy Brunning (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāi Tūhoe) and Tanea Heke (Ngāpuhi nui tonu) worked together for years (way back in the last 90s). They decided to combine forces in 2013 and created Hāpai Productions.

Hāpai Productions provides a culturally supportive environment for Māori Theatre practitioners to feel understood and supported. We have over 25 years of industry experience an undeniable commitment and passion for theatre and have experienced the positive effect theatre can have on Māori artists and their audiences. Our philosophy on Māori Theatre develops further on from the guidance and vision of Māori Theatre pioneers such as Keri Kaa, Wi Kuki Kaa, Don Selwyn, Tungia Baker and Rowley Habib who challenged the New Zealand Theatre status quo in the 60’s and 70’s by championing for Māori led theatre productions to be included on mainstream stages.

The wāhine Māori voice is important to establishing a balanced perspective of the Māori world view. Hāpai key focus is in creating more opportunities for wāhine representation on stage and behind the scenes.

Hāpai offers opportunities for all Māori practitioners to learn new skills in all areas of theatre performance and production.

Directed by Waimihi Hōtere 
Presented by Hāpai Productions and Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival 
Performed by Mere Boynton, Roimata Fox, Olivia Violet Robinson and Ani-Piki Tuari 

Directed by Waimihi Hotere
Presented by Hāpai Productions 
Performed by Roimata Fox, Awhina Rose Ashby, Olivia Violet Robinson-Falconer & Pehia King 

Theatre ,

1 hr 10 min

Illuminating the grace, strength, elegance and eloquence of Mana Wāhine

Review by Grace Ahipene Hoet 11th Jun 2021

Ka tino purotu ngā Wāhine o Witi, te mana o te wāhine ka aho mai i te atamira inapo. 

The power of wāhine shone brilliantly on the stage last night at the home of Toi Whakaari. 

Amazing how revelations reveal themselves, and as I watch Nancy Brunning’s work come to life for the first time since her passing, a whakatauki presents itself before me, from a waiata that she sang onstage – ‘Tawhiti’:
Ēhara tāku toa I te toa takitahi ēngari he toa takitini;
My strength is not due to me alone, but due to the strength of many.

Nancy Brunning, I know that you are beaming from ear to ear as we watch this performance. Nancy would be over the moon proud of Tanea Heke and Hāpai Productions fulfilling their kaupapa to “Hāpaitia te kaupapa Māori, Hāpaitia te mana Māori …”

She would also be truly humbled by the depth and outstanding consummate performance of her actresses: Roimata Fox, Awhina Rose Henry-Ashby, Olivia Robinson–Falconer and Pehia King.

Witi’s Wāhine, as she stated, was indeed the “epiphany of illumination”, a rare occasion of significance, an impressive revelation in the ultimate of collective storytelling.

Witi Ihimaera has created such authentically rich and dynamic, Māori characters that every aspect of them is tūturu. We recognise them from the Marae, from the hockey field, from the wharekai and from our homes.

Nancy then weaved and sculpted together their whakapapa, history, pakiwaitara and pūrākau from the essence of being wāhine Māori.  

Introduce director Waimihi Hotere to the mix and, with a dose of familial nostalgia, we have the most beautifully sung waiata, giving a sense of timelessness, depth and familiarity to an already full story.

The embodiment and mauri of the characters are then delivered by our consummate actresses. The delightful storytelling of Olivia Robinson-Falconer is an absolute pleasure to watch. Captivating and charming is her rough and tumble salt of the earth ‘Coach.’ Many a wāhine would instantly relate to knowing that Aunty on the sideline, barking out orders, that you best be listening to if you know what’s good for you.

The subtle and simple storytelling of ‘The Matua’ – Pehia King – gives truth and vulnerability to her character and performance.

The mana o Riripeti is powerfully portrayed by Awhina Rose Henry-Ashby, who captures the dynamic essence of the East Coast wāhine toa orators. As is her Simeon from Builbasha. Charming and enchanting, Henry-Ashby is a captivating actress to watch.

Ka mau te wehi ngā mahi a Roimata Fox: such strength, grace and eloquence. Fox delivers with great aplomb ‘The Warrior’, from Ihimaera’s play Woman Far Walking. As an audience we gravitate towards her magnetic performances in ‘The Child’ and then, in her Huria from Bulibasha, we see and feel the tirelessness of her drive and focus to provide for her whanau. Three generations of wāhine scrub-cutting, hard at work preparing the land.

The mana, the ihi, the wehi, the kaha, and the aroha of Witi’s Wāhine are enhanced by Jane Hakaraia’s lighting design and Amy McCaskill’s costumes, complementing the storytelling

Nancy gave wings to Witi’s Wāhine and let them fly. It is a pleasure to see this production come to fruition in the Kia Mau Festival with Witi Ihimaera, his daughters and mokopuna sitting in the audience alongside Nancy Brunning’s daughter Marire Brunning-Kouka. Their smiles say it all and, as Witi says after watching the stunning performance, indeed this is an “epiphany of illumination.”

If you loved Nancy Brunning’s acting then you best be going to see Witi’s Wāhine as she shines through each and every character, due to the skill of the author, the playwright, the director and the actresses playing them.

Such is the grace, strength, elegance and eloquence of Mana Wāhine.


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A truly special night

Review by Rosie Cairns 03rd Oct 2020

Earlier this year, I found myself sobbing in front of a group of my students, strapping young men ofTairāwhiti, as I finished reading one of Witi Ihimaera’s short stories in Pounamu Pounamu. Such is the power of his writing, the emotional connection with familiar characters, their hilarious and harrowing experiences.

You do not need to be familiar with Ihimaera’s writing to enjoy this performance, but you’ll be immediately invested if you are. With her reimagining of the wāhine toa of Ihimaera’s novels and stories, Nancy Brunning has captured and enhanced beloved characters: Nanny Miro, Nanny Putiputi, Riripeti, Tiana, Kahu, if you know, you know.

Tū wāhine! And these performers – Mere Boynton, Roimata Fox, Olivia Violet Robinson and Ani-Piki Tuari – embody characters who are, as they themselves are, wāhine toa. Women of myth and legend, history and tangata whenua, they become flesh and blood. They are familiar and easy as some characters, fierce and indomitable as others, a simple change of costume or posture allowing them to morph from one to the next.

The simple set, Amy Macaskill’s colorful costumes draped, two chairs, a guitar, and a kete do not detract from the performance. The sound design by Maarire Brunning-Kouka never overpowers the voices of the actors (I doubt anything could overpower Boynton’s phenomenal voice!) but provides a crescendo and intensity. Jane Hakaraia’s lighting flickers magically across the faces of the women, softening or harshly illuminating different features. There are beautiful moments when you see the actor herself, responding to the story, the audience.

Indeed, theatre is about the relationship between performers and audience, and never have I had the privilege of being part of such an intimate and responsive crowd. Yes, the front row absolutely talks to the actors, they’re their daughters, nieces, moko. The whanaungatanga is evident. From the chatter on entering, (“Yes nanny, I did go get my warm coat”), to the waiata everyone knows; from the gossip about who beat who in that hockey game, to the tears of joy and grief; from the dragon “True story! That was me!” to the women moving their hands in time with the dancers’ clicking stones, this is a truly special night. Themes of change and challenge recur in these stories, and these wāhine certainly rise to the wero of performing in Witi Ihimaera’s tūrangawaewae.

Witi’s Wāhine comes home to Uawa. And the nannies are proud.

The full moon rises over Reynold’s Hall, I can hear the waves in the distance and I am grateful for the cup of tea and supper provided by our gracious hosts in Uawa. My emotions settle enough so as to drive home to Gisborne safely!


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Shows the power of stories

Review by Mark Peters 08th Oct 2019

Only three productions have moved me to manly tears. Among them were a joyfully artful, all-women performance of The Taming Of The Shrew at London’s Globe Theatre and the Gisborne Choral Society’s performance of Karl Jenkins’ modern mass to peace, The Armed Man.

The third was the Nancy Brunning-directed production of Witi’s Wāhine, which had its world premiere at Gisborne’s Lawson Field Theatre as part of the 16-day, inaugural Tairāwhiti Arts Festival. Witi’s Wāhine is a collection of dramatised excerpts based on female characters from acclaimed New Zealand writer Witi Ihimaera’s short stories and novels. [More – behind the Herald paywall]


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A theatrical taonga that deserves long life

Review by John Smythe 06th Oct 2019

It is especially enriching to experience the world premiere of Witi’s Wahine at the inaugural Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival with Ihimaera/Smiler wāhine, upon whom many of the characters are based, in the audience; with other people from Tūranga-nui-a-Kiwa (Gisborne) who share the lived experience of Witi Ihimaera’s stories and join in the waiata that flow through this insightful, wickedly witty and sometimes moving production.

Writer/director Nancy Brunning has crafted a theatrical taonga that manifests and celebrates an inspiring selection of strong, brave and steadfast wahine from Ihimaera’s novels and short stories – brought to life by Mere Boynton, Roimata Fox, Ani-Piki Tuari and Ngapaki Moetara.

The prologue, subtitled ‘The Spear’, is from The Whale Rider’s prologue – ‘The Coming of Kahutia te Rangi’ – and tells of the arrival of the first of the Ancients and the first whale rider; of the small spears of mauri he threw to bring life to the land and seas, the last of which refused to leave his hand until his karakia endowed it as “the one to flower when the people are troubled and the mauri is most needed.”

A lively chat follows that compares the book and film of The Whale Rider, critiquing elements of the latter to the knowing enjoyment of many present. (Have we heard correctly that they say the child who rode the whale was a boy in the book? Kahu, the first great grandchild of the whanau, is definitely a girl; the narrator, her uncle Rawiri, is a boy. We must have misheard.)  

The classic princess seeking salvation from a handsome prince scenario is cleverly subverted in the first (very) short story written by Witi, aged nine.

Mere Boynton becomes ‘The Sister’, Aroha, in a story narrated by Roimata Fox as her daughter. The visitation of her soldier brother, Rangiora (Ngapaki Moetara) killed in 1942 at Tebaga Gap, and her journey with ‘Dad’ (Ani-Piki Tuari) to take river stones and water to his grave in Tunisia, is exquisitely evoked. A poignant vein of humour threads through the deftly-directed dramatisation.

It is a surprise that ‘Slave’ subtitles the scenes from The Matriarch, until we realise that despite being a Rangatira and Priestess of the Ringatu faith, Riripeti (Boynton) feels enslaved to Pākehā until she becomes the formidable warrior princess abetted by the rebel Te Kooti (and Wi Pere, member of parliament for Eastern Maori). Boynton’s operatic rendition of Artemis and her bird cries enhance her powerful oratory in the titular role.  

Roimata Fox comes into her own as Riripeti’s daughter Tiana, from The Dream Swimmer (the sequel to The Matriarch, completing the Mahana whanau trilogy which includes Bulibasha). She will reappear later in ‘The Matua’ from Bulibasha.

Ngapaki Moetara is 160 year-old Tiri in ‘The Warrior’, from Ihimaera’s millennium play Woman Far Walking, with Ani-Piki Tuari getting into the action as her alter-ego Tilly. This visceral sequence covers the attack of Matawhero and the siege of Ngātapa, including a heart-rending account of the fate of a seven year-old son.  

The exemplary ensemble work of all four women takes on a lighter note in a different form of battle – on the hockey fields of Waituhi, with Tuari as the ruthless Coach dedicated to generating the passion required to ensure her team plays well.

Tama Mahana (who is the questing narrator of the trilogy), married Miro (Mere Boynton), a woman 20 years his senior and she gets to share strength she nescessarily draws on to deal with that. And it’s Nanny Miro Mananui who plays fast and loose at cards with Tuari’s ‘Maka tiko-bum’, aka Mrs Heta – as told by Nanny Miro’s mokopuna (Ngapaki Moetara).

In ‘The Child’, Roimata Fox is the child who looks after childlike Nanny Putiputi (Moetara), who likes to play little tricks on her mokopuna. It is a beautifully compassionate relationship that tracks the child’s growing wisdom as the Nanny slips into dementia.   

‘Mana Wahine’, from Bulibasha, sees Fox become the unstoppable Mother (Tiana, I take it) who leads three generations of women into two tough weeks of scrub-cutting when the father is incapacitated – and the narrating Simeon (Ani-Piki Tuari) gets to be an honorary wahine.

The final waiata, ‘Ma’kaokao’ by Tommy Taurima, accompanied by clicking stones, is sublime and provokes a standing ovation.

Johnson Witihera’s simple set & AV design, Jana Hakaraia’s lighting design and Amy McCaskill’s costume designs add just the right touches to support the work of the four wāhine toa on stage, stage manager Scotty Cotter, producer Tanea Heke, and production managers Grace Hoet and Karena Letham – all inspired by writer/director Nancy Brunning, in turn inspired by Witi Ihimaera’s writing.

Witi’s Wahine must surely have a long life ahead of it at festivals at home and abroad.


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Our nannies, aunties, mamas and sisters acknowledged with tears, laughter and song

Review by Michelle Ngamoki 06th Oct 2019

Nancy Brunning’s world premiere of her latest work, Witi’s Wāhine, is a homecoming; bringing it home to the Tairāwhiti, where the stories originate from. The characters have morphed from the pages of the books and are sitting amongst us in the audience: I can almost smell the distinctive waft of the home fires burning.

The set of Witi’s Wahine is simple and is the ideal backdrop to highlight the art of storytelling and the formidable presence of its players: Mere Boynton, Roimata Fox, Ani Piki Tuari and Ngapaki Moetara.

Each of the four women chosen to amplify the female characters within Witi’s books has her own connections to the Tairāwhiti. Whether by blood or by history, there is a connection that authentically binds these women to this play. It is fiercely evident in the pride that undulates out from them on the stage and into the hearts of the audience.

Without giving away any ‘spoilers’, my impression of the players is that each is distinctive in her own right, each stands in her own light and more importantly, in her own Mana. These characteristics not only highlight the Mana Wahine message within this work but also the director’s detailed craftwomanship. Brunning brilliantly draws together the threads from the pages of the books to reveal a love story dedicated to all the women Witi has moulded his characters from. It is a love letter to the many Māori matriarchs who fulfil their roles in a distinctively Māori way.

Another of the themes which is testament to Brunning’s skill, is drawing to light the art of storytelling in its purest form. Oral tradition relies more on the storyteller rather than the sometimes-overpowering noise of digital props and sound. She has brought forth from Witi’s work the inherently Māori style of oral tradition. This tradition is often told over endless cups of teas in the kitchens of many marae and the stories shift from the past, to the present, in an instant. This is a characteristic in many of Witi’s stories. This style is seamlessly presented within the play and is punctuated with tears, laughter and song. It is a reverent acknowledgement of our nannies, aunties, mamas and sisters.

Ka mua, Ka muri – Look to the past to inform the future. 


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