Leilani's "Aotearoa Dell'Arte" masks (made by Kate Lang) are clever, and the stylised acting that brings them to life is excellent but, after a promising prologue, this comic "melodrama" about serious matters doesn't quite hit the mark. Still, this is a development season - part of Q Theatre's Matchbox Series -- and Unitec lecturer Pedro Ilgenfritz's new Mahuika Theatre Company has a lot of potential.

On its debut, Mahuika aims to present timeless "archetypes" but they seem like old-fashioned flat clichés: the "clingy, stifling" girlfriend, the harridan, the homeless man with a heart of gold. The sexy narcissist is more successful, but it's hard for a hen-pecked husband to be topsy-turvy funny when women are no longer expected to be subservient and men are no longer expected to rule the roost.

Instead of targeting those who misuse and abuse power (a grand tradition of clowning), Leilani offers fat jokes, crafty beggars and excruciating sexual harassment slapstick. Still, there are one or two nice moments of social critique: if you're kicked out of home because a relationship breaks up, where are you supposed to go if you have no friends or family?

Natasha Daniel and Aymee Karaitiana-Jones are superb, playing several characters apiece and nailing the associated quick-fire changes of costume and mask. Irasa Siave has the slightly easier task of solely playing puppy-dog dungareed naïve Leilani, and she too is assured.


The audience is often backlit, which is a little distracting, and it's about 15 minutes too long. But who knows? Hopefully many of these problems will have been ironed out by next week.

What: Leilani

Where & when: Loft at Q Theatre, until August 13