This beautiful, thought-provoking new show from Chinese-Pakeha writer/actor Chye-Ling Huang and Proudly Asian Theatre is exquisitely staged and marvellously theatrical; it's enjoyable even though it feels like two plays, perhaps two-thirds of a trilogy on power relations.

Call of the Sparrow's first half is about a lowly outsider grappling with village hierarchy, headed by her hostile new mother-in-law. But after interval, we're introduced to several new characters within a more overt political fable of the risks and potential excesses of revolution.

It's a very tidy Orwellian presentation charting "progress" from freedom to obligation (nodding towards 20th century Chinese history), and - happily - it's too sophisticated to revert to goodies and baddies (although it sort-of champions isolationism in the face of a refugee crisis).

We're shown dilemmas for the new order: for example, should they repurpose or destroy existing symbols? A totemic circle no longer means eternal repetition, says the revolutionary leader (Sarah Nessia, embodying the deadly certainty of a zealot), but a "wheel moving forward".


This parable is perceptive, unusual work before it turns to melodrama - but it's tacked-on to the magic-realist setting of the first half, making the show over-long.

Christine Urquhart's attractive set of white and metallic-blue silk cleverly evokes mountains and director James Roque uses it to excellent effect, keeping the "low lives" off the high platform. The theatrical tricks - unusual cheek-only masks, old-school overhead projections - feel integrated rather than gimmicky, while the continuous soundscape from onstage musician Nikita Tu-Bryant is also skilfully interwoven with the action to become a real and delightful highlight.

The five actors are extremely hard-working and navigate through the intricacies of several characters apiece with aplomb, helped by Michael McCabe's wonderful, suggestive costume elements - a half robe here, a ragged jumper there. Huang provides welcome light relief as a mischievous sprite who moves with dancer-like control.

Masks mean that comparisons with theatre company Indian Ink will be drawn - but Call of the Sparrows has its own depth and own aesthetic and deserves to be lauded on its own terms.

What: Call of the Sparrows
Where and when: Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre; to Saturday, October 16