New Zealand has become a police state with no freedom of speech or elections, as virtual war has been declared by the Government against Maori activists. This is excitingly - possibly dangerous - inflammatory material, refreshingly original and daring for homegrown theatre.

Wellington playwright Whiti Hereaka damps down any incendiary political controversy - grievances mentioned are mostly imaginary, future ones - and her provocative scenario becomes the backdrop to more personal drama. Tongariro hosts a terrorist prison, "status cards" get you important privileges - a few more such brutal details of the repressive regime would have been fun, but no matter.

Instead, Te Kaupoi is about the opposing loyalties of being a protester: how can one juggle the conflicting claims of one's lover, mother, son and movement?

The versatile Hereaka has a great ear for oratory and dialogue. We hear the urgent, raspy voice of pirate poet Te Kaupoi on the radio calling for Maori resistance with powerful words and ideas: land without freedom, he says, is nothing. In contrast, the flirtation between bull-riding hero Zeke (Jason Te Kare) and outsider Sarah (Kay Smith) is full of flippant, cheeky spark: "Don't you know I work in rodeo?" he asks her. "Oh," she says, quick as a flash. "Are you a clown?"

The three characters - Sarah, Zeke and Zeke's mum Mere (Tina Cook) - are all rather mysterious at first, but Hereaka's deliberate smoke-bomb confusion clears by itself in the end, without making the audience work.

Directed by Nancy Brunning, the play's pacing is slow - there are too many fade-outs between short scenes, and the actors could be louder. But while it's a little patchy in parts, the acting is often very assured.

Overall, Te Kaupoi is a promising, intriguing drama. It is also the final play of this year's inaugural Taonga Whakaari Maori playwrights' festival.

I hope this is the first festival of many, although I selfishly wish Hawkins Theatre wasn't so far down the Southern Motorway.

What: Te Kaupoi.

Where: Hawkins Theatre, Papakura.

When: Until tonight.