Review: Whero's New Net at Herald Theatre

By Paul Simei-Barton

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The Massive Company's new production draws inspiration from Witi Ihimaera's stories from the 1970s about Maori leaving the security of their rural communities and adjusting to life in the city.

Writer Albert Belz has updated Ihimaera's familiar theme by placing a group of young Maori characters in London where they face the challenge and excitement of the metropolis while dealing with the alienation that comes from leaving home.

The central character Whero, played with appealing sincerity by Bree Peters, is hoping to break into London's alternative music scene but feels compelled to return home when a relative arrives in town and delivers the diary of her recently deceased father.

The diary introduces Whero to her estranged father - a guitar-playing, kai moana-loving freezing worker who suffered a mental breakdown when separated from his papakainga.

In a parallel story, the Irishman who is managing Whero's musical career is also drawn back to his home village where a dying uncle requires his assistance in reconstructing a family Bible.

The characters are all likeable and an extensive workshop process has allowed the writer to create plenty of naturalistic, humorous dialogue.

The gay partnership between the Irish band manager and a Maori advertising executive is particularly well drawn with their bitchy exchanges providing a refreshingly irreverent take on cross-cultural politics. The spectacle of a gay Irishman learning to perform the haka was a comic highlight that almost brought the house down.

The narrative is driven by an ongoing series of arguments, with the seven sharply drawn characters constantly debating the choices in their lives. The structure creates dramatic tension, though at times the arguments become repetitive and with the running time approaching two hours the work might have benefited from more rigorous editing.

The large cast all gave polished performances, with the pairing of Blair Strang and Wesley Dowdell delivering a highly convincing portrayal of a gay couple, while Tainui Tukiwaho brings an amiable charm to his characterisation of Whero's father and Madeline Sami establishes an engagingly roguish presence.

The production also benefits from Tama Waipara's sound design in which original compositions are combined with effective use of songs by the Beatles, Otis Redding and Hello Sailor.

- NZ Herald

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