Review: Purapurawhetū, Te Pou Theatre

By Dione Joseph

Actor Rawiri Paratene in the play Purapurawhetū.
Actor Rawiri Paratene in the play Purapurawhetū.

Almost ten years since its premiere Briar Grace-Smith's timeless classic of love, loss and legacies once again takes to the stage - except this time the prized taonga is performed in te reo Māori.

Under the stewardship of director Tainui Tukiwaho and producer Amber Curreen Purapurawhetū opened last night to a full house at Te Pou marking a key moment in New Zealand theatre history.

Koro Hohepa (Rawiri Paratene) appears to be pōrangi. The old man spends all his time scrambling around the rocks looking for pāua while his son, Matawera (Antonia Te Maioha) is consumed with recovering the title to the whenua which seems to have disappeared along with Koro's last wife Aggie-Rose.

Meanwhile in the whare young Tyler (Kimo Houltham) is a weaver working on Purapurawhetū, the last tukutuku panel in preparation for the marae's opening but he's just not feeling motivated.

The arrival of pretty Ramari (Krystal Lee-Brown) does little to encourage feelings of congeniality and the microcosm of this tiny world caught in-between the whare and the moana ripples with tension.

But then an old kuia arrives (Ani-Piki Tuari) and the world begins to tilt on its axis.

Grace-Smith is a superbly skilled weaver of stories. Her craftsmanship in arranging these multiple narratives and sustaining the drama through a two-act production is a testament to her artistry as a raranga rangatira.

This is only aided by the excellent performances given by all the actors, their physicality propelling the action forward and bringing humour as well as insight. Tuari as the mysterious old lady and Te Maioha as the greedy but desperate son are particular stand outs on the night.

Tukiwaho's direction upholds the mana of Briar Grace-Smith's original text and its translated version by Wiremu and Te Ohorere Kaa (2014). Not all the modern updates work but it is powerful story that is cradled by a wairua of selflessness and respect, one that emanates from the core principles of Te Pou.

No matter what your degree of fluency in te reo Māori immerse yourself in an opportunity to hear the Māori language in one of the most absorbing New Zealand plays that have ever been written.

** While I have a familiarity with this play as a basic speaker of te reo I would like to acknowledge my tane Jimmy Kouratoras and his hine Sofia Kouratoras for our shared korero that has been woven into this review.

What: Purapurawhetū
Where & when: Te Pou Theatre, Portage Rd, New Lynn, until July 9; Herald Theatre, July 13-6; with an English language performance on July 13.

- NZ Herald

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