Theatre review: Goodbye My Feleni, Basement Theatre

By Paul Simei-Barton

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Goodbye My Feleni. Photo / Supplied
Goodbye My Feleni. Photo / Supplied

The Maori Battalion has earned a place of veneration within New Zealand's collective memory but it is not well known that Pacific Islanders also contributed to this legendary fighting force.

When playwright DF Mamea chanced upon a CD of Maori Battalion songs he was surprised to find the disc contained a couple of Samoan songs. His play attempts to bring this forgotten history life and he approaches the task with a lively sense of humour.

A series of impressionistic vignettes neatly captures the rough and tumble of barracks life as three young Pacific Island recruits await deployment and amuse themselves by telling stories, reading letters and most importantly singing songs.

The play gives a real sense of the way certain songs are freighted with cultural history and become repositories for our most deeply held emotions.

The Samoan classic Goodbye My Feleni poignantly evokes the pain of separation and is saturated with an aching sense of nostalgia.

Less well known O le Lanu a Samoa (The Colours of Samoa) was composed by soldiers during the war and DF Mamea's translation which is printed in the programme gives a powerful impression of the song's finely honed lyricism and its blunt acknowledgement of the realities of war.

Direction by Shadon Meredith and Amelia Reid-Meredith draws on the comic potential of physical theatre with barrack room stories drifting seamlessly into amusing re-enactments of battle scenes.

The three young recruits played by Samson Chan-Boon, Leki Jackson Bourke and Andy Sani show an infectious enthusiasm as they capture the boisterous knock-about humour of military life and the strongest characterisation comes with Taofia Pelesasa crisp portrayal of a battle hardened senior officer.

The play struggles to come to terms with inner life of a generation that was defined by war but it does succeed in honouring their sacrifices and breathes new life into some neglected memories as our nation prepares for the ANZAC Day commemoration.

What: Goodbye My Feleni
Where: Basement Theatre, to April 25

- NZ Herald

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