Theatre review: Awatea

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Actors Geraldine Brody, George Henare and Te Kohe Tuhaka perform in the play Awatea. Photo / Natalie Slade
Actors Geraldine Brody, George Henare and Te Kohe Tuhaka perform in the play Awatea. Photo / Natalie Slade

ATC has stumbled on to a winner with its lovingly crafted revivals of Bruce Mason's seldom-staged studies of rural Maori communities of the 50s and 60s.

These plays are tinged with the warmth of nostalgia but have a timeless quality that makes them as relevant today as when they first appeared. The writing is humane and deeply perceptive, giving the work a significance that extends well beyond the commentary on Maori-Pakeha relations.

Awatea is an extended meditation on Plato's concept of the noble lie, by which dishonesty is justified as long as it promotes the wellbeing of the community. Mason uses this idea as a springboard for a series of images that dramatise the many paradoxes of deception - from the lies we tell to avoid hurting the ones we love, through to the illusions that sustain social status and the truths that are expressed through the imaginative fabrications of literature.

The production is a magnificent showcase for the extraordinary talent of George Henare, who appeared in the original 1968 production. His performance as the blind patriarch at the centre of the drama is a tour-de-force.

Complex, rapidly changing emotions are revealed through gestures and vocal inflections that are perfectly timed and compellingly real.

His presence seems to inspire the entire cast and his combining with Geraldine Brophy brings to life a surprising and genuinely moving love story.

The superb cast of 15 provide a reminder of a time when the economics of live theatre were able to support large companies and, although some of the actors have only a few lines, each member of the ensemble delivers with the commitment and quality of truly professional theatre.

Set designer Tony Rabbit vividly references the recognisable aesthetic of Colin McCahon's word paintings, while Colin McColl's direction brings a powerful emotional clarity to the piece that is skilfully enhanced by John Gibson's sound design featuring stunning choral work.

THEATRE

What: Awatea
Where: Maidment Theatre.
When: Until August 11.

- NZ Herald

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