I was lucky enough to be invited to the Auckland premiere of a new and exciting Pasifika play on Saturday night.
The Auckland Theatre Company’s production of Where we once belonged was poignant, beautiful, tear-inducing, hilarious, thought-provoking, gritty, witty, fun and fantastic.
Based on a novel by Samoan writer, Sia Figiel, WWOB is a fast-paced drama that is not over-powered by staging, lighting, costumes or dramatic baggage.
Sia’s original story, first published in 1996, is the tale of three young Samoan women who’s coming of age saga presents a fresh and exciting twist on the myths and preconceptions we might have about sexuality and gender relations in Samoa during the turbulent 1970s.
The novel starts with a powerful first-person narrative that’s both funny and shocking. Though perhaps only shocking to outsiders, particularly ignorant pakeha blokes like me.
“When I saw the insides of a woman’s vagina for the first time I was not alone”
In the play this episode does not open the action, but it’s a very quirky and humorous scene that also gives a wonderful insight into the “growing up” story. Joy Vaele plays “Alofa”, the narrator, but all of the cast play a wide variety of characters often having to switch roles in mid-action. This doesn’t jar at all, it is perfectly natural and is a tribute to directors Colin McColl and David Fane.
Brothers Pua and Robbie Magasiva are impressive in their multiple personalities as are Goretti Chadwick and Anapela Polataivao.
Robbie is well known to New Zealand and international audiences, he appeared in The Tatooist recently and was in the Naked Samoans comedy group which produces the successful and cult comedy Bro’ town animated series. In WWOB Robbie delivers a very strong performance.
Brother, Pua is also becoming more noticed, having appeared in TVNZ’s cheesy soap Shortland Street and other TV shows.
Goretti Chadwick is a graduate of the Unitec (Auckland) theatre course and is also an established actor.
Anapela Polataivao is active in theatre and television and directed Once were Samoans.
I really enjoyed this play. It opened my eyes to a world I am only slowly getting to know. But one thing that I did connect with was some universal themes. In a weirdly satisfying way it reminded me of one of my own “growing up” myths, a life I only lived vicariously because I grew up in Sydneys’ dusty western suburbs a light year away from the beach. WWOB is remarkably similar to the Australian story and film, Puberty Blues. Different culture and context, but the coming of age story is global.
I’m not a theatre critic, so I’m not going to blurt on about this production. All I can say is that it moved me to tears – seriously.
I strongly recommend you see it as soon as you can. It’s playing at the Auckland Town Hall (why isn’t it “city hall”) until April 19th.
If you want to read a real review, check out the big idea.
You can book tickets from the Auckland Theatre Company and the usual outlets.