It's worth being reminded, by this semi-fictionalised oral history, how unbelievably insolent and sordid "Underwatergate" was. As Bronwyn Elsmore's straight-talking, wonderfully-illustrated show outlines clearly and simply, the killer-agents of a supposedly friendly nation carried out state terrorism in downtown Auckland. They didn't even bother to hide their tracks, and they mostly got away with it.

Cleverly, the play starts with the reason for the wider conflict. In a satisfying, poetic and deceptively peaceful prologue, we see blue waves in slow-motion, on screens that glide across the blacked-out stage to hopeful music. The waves turn orange, and what at first looks like a sunset turns out to be a nuclear test.

Movingly, the first character to tell her story is a woman evacuated by the Rainbow Warrior from Rongelap, an atoll contaminated by nuclear fallout.

But the focus moves quickly - for example, we find out very little about Fernando Pereira, the photographer who died - to settle on the post-bombing police investigation, and on the citizen-detectives who reported extrovert French behaviour all over the north.


The characters all speak directly to the audience and, given the inevitably fragmentary nature of their brief tales, Paul McLaney's pulsing soundscapes and Jeremy Fern's evocative screen montages are a large part of the work's success.

Director Jennifer Ward-Lealand uses them very effectively to maintain sensory interest and to anchor the show historically.

On opening night, some of the actors' characterisations felt a little under-rehearsed, and hearing the testimony of motel owner after motel owner gets a little repetitive.

But Fasitua Amosa and Toby Leach each have moments of intensity and drollery, and the multicultural casting is a relief - it doesn't happen nearly often enough, particularly for New Zealand stories.

Educational for some; a trip down one of memory's most unexpected lanes for others. A hell of a tale for only $25.

What: Fallout: The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior
Where: Basement Theatre, Greys Ave
When: To May 30