Theatre review: Plantation, Mangere Arts Centre

By Paul Simei-Barton

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Aleni Tufuga. Photo / NZ Herald
Aleni Tufuga. Photo / NZ Herald

Plantation, which is showcased as part of the Pacific Arts Summit, offers a lively example of the exuberant South Auckland arts culture that is flourishing in the hot-house environment of the Mangere Arts Centre.

The play presents a fresh take on some of the well-established themes of contemporary Pacific art as it alternates between nostalgic memories of nurturing life in a Samoan taro plantation and the more difficult task of sustaining families in a harsh urban environment.

The play is written and directed by screen star Iaheto Ah Hi (Sione's II - Unfinished Business, Matariki) who brings a distinctly filmic quality to the story-telling. The drama juxtaposes impressionistic scenes from Samoa and South Auckland which slowly reveal the interwoven backstories of the main characters.

The contemporary drama focusing on domestic turmoil shows a sharp ear for naturalistic dialogue but the play also delivers some rich poetic language in the descriptions of the taro plantation and physical theatre devices are used effectively to convey meaning in Samoan language scenes.

The strongly drawn, idiosyncratic characters are brought to life by a three-person cast playing multiple roles while live music, dance and song give an appealing pace and rhythm to the show.

Aleni Tufuga establishes a strong connection with audience and brings a wonderfully physical humour to a performance that requires fluency in both Samoan and English. His portrayal of a beleaguered son-in-law provides a comic highlight and a wildly energetic slap dance evokes the vitality of Pacific Island performance traditions.

Stacey Leilua and Leilani Clarke also convey a wicked sense of humour with a delightful cameo as a pair of spaced out teenagers reporting their philosophical account of a traffic incident to a bemused police officer.

The drama centres on a seriously dysfunctional family with a pair of young lovers struggling to overcome the influence of a mother-in-law from hell. Their abrasive relationships provide plenty of comic moments but the play struggles to resolve the domestic violence issues that are hinted at in dialogue but never really addressed on stage.

However, the one-hour running time races past and the play serves up an entertaining and engaging slice of Pacific flavoured life.

What: Plantation
Where: Mangere Arts Centre - Ng? Tohu o Uenuku to May 19

- NZ Herald

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