Theatre review: The Mau and The Visitor, Mangere Arts Centre

By Janet McAllister

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Love and loyalty to country tear at a couple as Samoa's independence plays out in the background. Photo / Supplied
Love and loyalty to country tear at a couple as Samoa's independence plays out in the background. Photo / Supplied

Samoan Language Week runs until Samoan Independence Day on June 1, so the season of this bilingual play set about Mau - the non-violent Samoan independence movement - is timed very nicely.

Writer, director, producer and actor Pulotu Canada Alofa McCarthy sketches out the story of a young woman, Sinalei, in the 1920s, torn between her attraction to an occupying New Zealand policeman and her loyalty to family and country. (Amusingly, gossips say the couple have been seen "holding hands and doing unnecessary stuff".)

As context, the prologue voice-over tells of the horrific Spanish flu epidemic which killed a staggering 20 per cent to 25 per cent of the Western Samoan population after the New Zealand administration allowed an infected ship to land (this is what Helen Clark apologised to Samoa for in 2002; American Samoa suffered no deaths, thanks to a blockade).

The play's time sequence is confused but some new angles (to a non-Samoan at least) are presented on the history: there's a suggestion that Samoans' suspicion of their New Zealand "protectors" was intensified by knowing the Maori experience ("you people basically stole the whole country from under their feet", Sinalei tells her palagi boyfriend).

And New Zealand is framed by the Mau as just the latest in a long line of opponents to Samoa, Johnny-come-latelys after Tonga, Germany and the US.

Much meaning is lost to a non-speaker of gagana Samoa, and parts of the English script are flawed, declamatory, expository and in need of an edit, but several scenes are full of lively banter. The mostly amateur cast does a respectable staging job.

And while John Kneubuhl's Think of a Garden remains the seminal work regarding Black Saturday, it doesn't boast a misty dream sequence lit red and green, in which a constable and an independence leader circle each other to a hot house version of the Flower Duet (aka the 1980s British Airways ad). An inspired moment.

The auditorium is very cold; wrap up warm.

What: The Mau and The Visitor

When: Until June 8

Where: Mangere Arts Centre, Orly Avenue

- NZ Herald

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