AK03: Funny sons return home

By MIKE HOULAHAN

Many things have changed for theatre group Naked Samoans as they launch their new show Naked Samoans Go Home.

A sixth actor - Jerome Leota - has joined the cast of the long-running comic theatre group of Dave Fane, Oscar Kightley, Mario Gaoa, Shimpal Lelisi and Robbie Magasiva.

Also, after creating four shows which successfully toured New Zealand and, in the case of Naked Samoans, The Trilogy was also staged at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, they have created a new show with an almost entirely new cast of characters. It promises a trip "from a Samoan tourist resort to that other Pacific Island hotspot - their Auntie's house in Mangere".

Though this time round, the characters are different. "We decided we have to retire the family," Fane says.

"When we finished with Edinburgh we thought 'How do you top it?' which was why we decided to go in a different vein, try new stuff in a different style. If anything it's a reinvention of ourselves, and that's been good. You can only live with a character for so long after you've made them."

However, there's one thing about Naked Samoans that won't change, Fane promises.

There will be no replacing their breathtaking, jaw-dropping, "They can't say that" brand of outrageous humour.

"We'd like to change a lot, but there are some things that can't change," Fane says about the group's wickedly observed assaults on decency and good taste.

Previous Naked shows have seen the group hilariously but controversially lampoon racial stereotypes of Maori, Pakeha, Tongans, Samoans and Indians, tackle the subject of child abuse with astonishing indelicacy, and make an assault on marae protocol.

Labelling themselves equal opportunity abusers, the Naked Samoans have gleefully leapt on to New Zealand's preconceptions and prejudices and turned them into comedy.

"I think you have to look behind the laughter and that's where you'll find the pain," Fane says.

"That's the thing we really enjoy doing - making people laugh and laugh and laugh until they can't laugh any more, and then they suddenly realise what it is they're laughing at."

Fane, Kightley, Gaoa and Lelisi formed Naked Samoans in 1998 with Naked Samoans Talk About Their Knives. After sell-out seasons in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, the quartet wrote a new show, Naked Samoans Go To Hollywood.

Their third show, 2000's Naked Samoans: Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, was likewise another sell-out success.

"We started the show when we were a group of mates who just wanted to do something on stage together to make ourselves laugh, but the show just seems to keep going," Kightley says.

"It's grown into something that's bigger than the both of us Marsha."

In 2001 Naked Samoans added Magasiva to the cast of their fourth show Naked Samoans: The Trilogy - a compilation of highlights from their previous three shows - and took the play to 2002's Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Trilogy told the whole story of the Naked Samoans - from their humble beginnings struggling to pay their account at the dairy, through high school break dancing competitions and first love, to discovering their mother was really a Tongan man.

The Scottish season drew good houses - always a challenge during the hectic Fringe season - and positive reviews from the British press. The response greatly heartened the Naked Samoans, who had taken the bold step of not changing a word of the show or making local references more internationally understandable.

"Everything we do is to see if it works," Kightley says.

"We took it to Scotland for the sole reason of seeing if our stuff would work overseas. How universal was it? Can four Samoans and a Niuean take their work to the other side of the world and entertain an audience?

"I think there was a Samoan woman who drove from Glasgow to see the show and also [Samoan international] Tanner Vili drove up to see us because he was playing club rugby over there at the time. There was also a Tongan school teacher, and they were pretty much the only Polynesians we saw over there."

"I wouldn't say Edinburgh opened doors for us," Fane adds, "but it did open people's eyes to what's happening down the bottom here in the Pacific and where is Samoa, what is Samoa?

"For me, I loved it. The audiences were right into it. There were staunch Scottish men, hard as nails, pissing themselves and getting right into it."

After convincing an international audience of their worth, Naked Samoans are now looking forward to showing their increasingly diverse New Zealand audience they have more than one trick up their sleeves.

Creating a new set of characters in a new style is a challenge Kightley and co are looking forward to immensely. Something else he is looking forward to is watching people laugh.

"When we started our loyal audience were predominantly Polynesian, but that's changed and the audience has become more mixed, which is really nice," Kightley says.

"Often in Naked Samoans as a performer it's really frustrating because you really want to just watch the audience, seeing what Samoan New Zealanders laugh at compared to Pakeha New Zealanders, Maori New
Zealanders."

A Naked who's who

Dave Fane - The stage actor, director and writer appeared as Jack the Barman in the television series The Strip. In 1998 he won Actor of the Year at the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards for his role in Victor Rodger's Sons. "Dave is currently spending a great deal of time on home handyman projects," says the group's website, "and thinks the best thing about the Naked Samoans is the beer and chicken wings after rehearsals."

Shimpal Lelisi - His appearance in the movie Topless Women Talk About Their Lives inspired the title for the first show Naked Samoans Talk About Their Knives. As well as an actor and director, he's a presenter on TVNZ's Tagata Pasifika. Born in Niue, Lelisi is apparently referred to as "The Rock".

Oscar Kightley - The sometime TV3 sports host is also an actor, director and writer - he won the 1998 Bruce Mason Playwright's award, and his credits include A Frigate Bird Sings (co-written) with Dave Fane, Dawn Raids, Island Girls and Niu Sila co-written with Dave Armstrong.

Mario Gaoa - As well as being an actor who has starred in numerous theatre productions and writer, Gaoa is the breakfast host on Pacific Island radio station radio Niu FM.

Robbie Magasiva - Joined the Nakeds in January 2002. He starred in the feature film Stickmen, and television shows SKITZ, Jackson's Wharf, The Semisis, Cover Story and mostly recently The Strip in which he plays male stripper Adam. Serves a vital role in the troupe - "he gets to wash all the costumes and do the ironing before each performance", says the Samoans' website. "After 12 months, Robbie is now eager to hand this role to new Naked, Jerome."

Jerome Leota - Graduate of Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama school and a brand new member of the Nakeds. "Jerome brings youth, muscles and intelligence to the Nakeds and is confident his costume-washing and ironing skills will be equal to, if not better, than Robbie's."

Performance

* What: Naked Samoans Go Home

* Where: Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre

* When: Tue Sept 30 to Sat October 18; Mon and Tue 7pm, Wed to Sat 8pm; Saturday matinees 4pm

- NZPA

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