Review: Te Po, Auckland Arts Festival

By Janet McAllister

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Close attention is rewarded with wonderful moments of delight.
Te Po features some suprising characters. Photo / John McDermott
Te Po features some suprising characters. Photo / John McDermott

In this fantastical Kiwi detective story, Carl Bland's musings on truth and loss are framed as "three men in search of a playwright". On the Case of the Missing Bruce Mason, we have policeman Andrew Grainger, priest Bland and blind man George Henare.

It's old-school yet surreal - both the set and script pay homage to fourth-wall drama while casually transcending it.


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In its fictional treatment of a major New Zealand literary figure, the play evokes Ken Duncum's Horseplay (about James K Baxter and Ronald Hugh Morrieson); in its self-referential magic realism, it brings to mind the Hollywood films Stranger than Fiction and Big Fish.

At some level, it's an insiders' play, nostalgic for Mason, a lost-world lamenter.

Andrew Foster's set is magnificent: a cluttered yet stylish mid-century study framed by a large swathe of te po - darkness - itself. The set's later effects are well-executed surprises.

There are some great lines and wonderful moments - a fun conversation about mixed metaphors ("hallelujah! You've turned bricks into fish") and an interesting interpretation of the Orpheus myth.

Henare's thin-voiced songs are endearing; his hip wiggles draw audience whoops. We get to hear the plummy tones of Mason himself.

But there are also several (Masoneque) flaws: the Maori character seems dangerously close to a wise sage stereotype and, given he's the first character we meet and form a rapport with, it's disappointing to discover his main role is limited to blind witness.

He uses a lot of te reo but the other two don't even notice. Then again, the characters ignore each other in general, preferring to deliver monologues.

They say things like "to be human is to carry pain" - but I wasn't entirely convinced of their pain (perhaps poignantly ironic, as Bland wrote the play out of grief for his partner Peta Rutter). But the Rutter-written coda is utterly spellbinding - unexpected and lively.


What: Te Po
Where & when: Rangatira, Q Theatre, to Monday, March 14
Buy tickets now!

- NZ Herald

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