Wrestling with Wregret
14/11/2023 - 18/11/2023
Tyler Wilson-Kokiri - Producer, Writer and Performer
Tuakoi Ohia - Director, Co-producer
Te Pou Theatre
A new dramatic work in development by Tyler Wilson-Kokiri.
“Stability will save you from a tough life. Not wrestling.”
The words that have split Mātī into two since they were first spoken to him from his mother. He lives a double life. The life of a business-stock broker-estate guy who writes pay cheque thingys, and a Professional Wrestler, in his mind and in his eyes.
He encounters an event that merges the two lives with his past and his present. Will it dictate his future.
Tyler Wilson-Kokiri (Ngāti Porou) comes to us fresh from the international indigenous theatre collaboration Hide The Dog which has toured major Australian Festivals in 2022-2023. Tyler graduated from Toi Whakaari in 2016. Has worked with a variety of companies and shows including, Astroman with Auckland Theatre Company & Te Rēhia Theatre Company, Racists Anonymous, Ruia Te Kakano & Whytangi with Te Pou Theatre, a rap musical called ‘I Ain’t Mad at Cha’ by WAITĪ productions, ‘Timberrr…!’ At Circa Theatre & Centrepoint Theatre. His screen credits include ‘Not Even’, ‘Shortland Street’ and ‘Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses’. You may also recognize his face and voice from a myriad of commercials including the latest Speights ode to friendship. Tyler is KŌKIRI – a wrestler from the Hughes Academy of professional wrestling.
RANGATAHI SEASON 2023
Ter Pou Theatre 14 – 18 November
$15 – $20
CONTENT WARNING: Fake blood and references to violence and suicide. Adult themes
Producer, Writer and Performer
Theatre , Comedy ,
45 minutes +
Wilson-Kokiri disrupts the fourth wall and opens the door to the possible
Review by Lexie Matheson 18th Nov 2023
Actor/writer/co-producer Tyler Wilson-Kokiri (Ngati Porou) tells us, via the Te Pou Theatre website, that “this is an exciting first-time presentation of Wrestling with Wregret to be performed for a live audience.” He adds that it’s very early stages of development and that the kaupapa for.the season is to “develop in areas of writing, directing and producing.”
It’s Tyler’s first play, and it’s a first also for Tuakoi Ohia (Ngati Hine, Matuaatua Waka, Tainui Waka, Te Ara Waka, Te Ati Awa) who directs and co-produces.
Te Pou adds that they are “very proud of these two for taking on such a huge challenge.”
All the above led me to expect less of the production than I might have if they’d said, say, “it’s visceral, exciting, splendidly performed, and really rather extraordinary” – which is what I have no hesitation in saying, it is.
As Pete Townshend writes ‘I won’t get fooled again’ but, I must admit, it was a satisfying mistake to make.
Tyler graduated from Toi Whakaari in 2016. He’s an actor with a growing resume. He’s also a wrestler from the Hughes Academy of Professional Wrestling and, while I’m no judge of the art of wrestling, from the second row he seems very good indeed.
Though this is a solo show, Wilson-Kokori effectively embodies quite a range of unique personalities from throughout his life, in the narrative. All are instantly ‘fleshed out’ and I felt surrounded, and often threatened, by their collective power.
Threatened, because that’s what I was meant to feel.
Growing up in the wopwops, young Tyler dreams of being a professional wrestler. His Mama thinks a more stable job would be better. “Stability will save you from a tough life. Not wrestling” she tells him.
So, he lives a double life: ‘office guy’ by day, and professional wrestler for the rest of his much more, ‘real’, real life.
At age four, his grandmother passed away. Her husband at the time was a Pastor. During his eulogy, Wilson-Kokiri had a little book and he walked around pretending to be the Pastor until everyone started laughing. He realised that laughing is “really nice”, that laughing helps people.
When he moved to Tamaki Makaurau Auckland, he began wrestling training at Hughes Academy, Maniacs United, and Impact Pro Wrestling. He also discovered the connection between wrestling and the theatre. In interview with Sophie Watson he says that “when working in the round, you’re working with audiences on all sides. It’s the same in professional wrestling, you’re getting every side of the audience to not only see you but also trying to get them to invest in you.”
It’s a lesson he’s learned well, with Wrestling with Regret performed successfully with audience on three sides. It works really well in the Te Pou Tahu studio space.
He recommends actors find their own whānau and work with them. Te Pou is his whānau, he says. “It certainly seems to work.”
He also recommends being “your absolute purest self.” He reminds us that “all the things we were brought up thinking were weird about us are actually our superpowers in this industry. Hold hard”, he says, “and have some fun.”
In Wrestling with Wregret he does just that, and without question, we have fun too.
It’s an object lesson for all of us, in great theatre nous.
Three happy seniors follow me into the space boogieing away to some private inner music. The good-size audience includes quite a few physically imposing wrestler types alongside quite a few more conventional theatre goers. I like the sense of excitement that’s building. Wrestlers don’t hold back.
Tyler appears as the lights go down. It isn’t your conventional show opening because there are handshakes with each and every audience member with the occasional hongi as well. It’s smart stuff, theatrically, as Wilson-Kokiri has completely disrupted the fourth wall and opened the door to the possible. Now, cast, crew and audience are family, with everyone introduced to everyone else by this immensely likeable young man, and suddenly it seems a start is imminent. An audience member makes a smart quip from the dark and is informed, in no short order, that this is Wilson-Kokiri’s show and to zip it. There is much laughter, and we are all firmly in the palm of Wilson-Kokiri’s hand and remain there throughout the evening.
There’s a karakia, and we’re underway. We meet Bob. Bob is an important personality in Tyler’s life and doubles, at least for now, as ‘Kokiri’s’ wrestling partner. It does seem as though Bob may perform other functions for Tyler too, but it would be insensitive to go into that.
We learn how to clap, in particular how to clap a wrestling submission. 1 and 2 and 3 and it’s all over. I am, momentarily back in the ‘70’s watching Big John Da Silva, Steve Rickard and Robert Bruce in ‘On the Mat’. Supreme performers breaking boundaries as Wilson-Kokiri is doing today.
It’s obvious from the start, that the technicals (Isaac Hansen) are going to be right up there with the best of them, and the standard at Te Pou is always top notch.
Wilson-Kokiri works in the city in an office job. He gets a phone call from his Mum who is in hospital. She asks him to sing for her over the phone and she chooses an amusing colloquial variant of the 1960 Ricky Valance hit Tell Laura I Love Her. It all turns to custard when the boss, a passive aggressive bully boy played to perfection by Wilson-Kokiri, overhears the song and has a bit to say to Tyler about inappropriate office behaviour. Tyler gets an official warning, and we see the challenges in Tyler‘s relationship with his Mum begin to unfold and race to the heart of the narrative.
It’s suddenly – and unexpectedly – important that we learn how to wrestle, and in particularly how to do jumps and falls. Tyler is very good at these, but Bob less so. As Tyler relentlessly demonstrates his expertise using Bob as his literal fall-guy, we, the audience, resort to oohs and ahhs, boos, and the odd cat call. It takes a mere nanosecond to move from sophisticated theatre audience to ferocious, raging horde. I’d conveniently forgotten that this is a well-documented fact of human behaviour. I stayed silent, however, and resisted all desire to insert ‘ceasefire!’ into the conversation.
Bob Is finally brought to submission and told to calm down, which he does. In fact, he returns to sit in the audience and is required to behave himself.
You’ve probably guessed the Tyler’s Mum dies and we are privileged to attend her tangi. Courtesy of an outstanding piece of characterisation, the Pastor already mentioned appears again and we are all suitably gobsmacked by the excellence of this carefully crafted performance.
Back at work after the tangi, Tyler’s hideous, racist colleague has a bit to say about funerals that last three days. We learn that, in the Pakeha working world, bereavement leave is for one day only and Tyler has his pay docked for the additional two days that his Mum’s tangi took.
Tyler’s barely suppressed anger takes us back to wrestling world, a squeezy tomato sauce bottle appears, cut eyebrows are discussed, and Bob gets another hiding which he takes with a stoicism I would never have been able to manage.
Bob is something else.
Meanwhile, the world of Wilson-Kokiri has become one of chaos and post-scrap tidying up is required. Desks are upturned, pens and pencils scattered, and, for a moment or six, mayhem rules. It’s a great technique, and in this instance, it works especially well. It allows us necessary respite, time to absorb the magnitude of what has just happened, and the artificial calm that is generated acts as a bridge through to the end of the show, which is, in itself, both moving and effective.
Wilson-Kokiri is an extraordinary actor, one of a new breed that the camera will eat up. Many of our great screen actors create terror simply by being unpredictable – think Jack Nicholson – and Tyler is up there with the best of them. I am reminded of ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Sopranos’ and the great mafiosi who, with a terrifying half-smile, send you off to ‘sleep with the fishes.’ De Niro has that smile, and so does Tyler Wilson-Kokiri. You know when you see it, that it will not lead to a happy ending.
I am engaged throughout by a strong narrative alongside clever techniques that keep me involved. At no point was I ever able to simply sit back in the dark and enjoy this extraordinary show. Wilson-Kotiri insisted that my engagement be complete, and that any disagreement would be unwelcome. It’s a ‘sit up straight and be quiet’ sort of show that also insists that you do anything but.
Despite Wilson-Kokiri’s insistence that this is a new play, a new performance, and a work in progress, it doesn’t feel like that. I’m not questioning his integrity, his honesty, or his truthfulness – to do that would risk the 1, 2, 3 submission clap and I’m certainly not up for that – it’s just that this is a fine piece of work with profound messages about grief, the need to do the right thing at the right time, and as a tool for Wilson-Kokiri’s personal growth – and his growth as a maker of quality theatre – it’s incredibly impressive.
The script, if you could call it that, is excellent. The bridge between what is scripted and what is possibly improvised is a very short one, and it’s often hard just to see where one starts and the other ends. It’s certainly possible that it’s all scripted and how good would that be. Truth is, I don’t care. The entire production is so cohesive it seems as though it could be one long improvisation, but, having said that, it’s very well-choreographed, and splendidly well-rehearsed. At the end of the evening, I tried to ask Bob, but Bob wasn’t having any, and simply sat in bruised silence as his audience noisily departed.
There are lines that beat us into submission – ‘fifteen years of love and violence’ – and the denouement is deeply satisfying.
It’s on for a few more nights and I can recommend it. You won’t be disappointed on any level. The programme tells us that it’s coming back in its developed form in 2025. I have to say that the rough edges and engaging immediacy are two of its great strengths, so it would be a shame to tidy it up too much.
Super work, and well-done Te Pou Theatre for engaging so richly with our rangatahi – and for always making us all so welcome.
Fake blood and references to violence and suicide.
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