"It doesn't feel like we are being saved, it feels like we are being moved."
It's one of the many touching moments in writer, director and producer Tavita Nielsen-Mamea's play Au Ko Tuvalu, a deep cry for the loss of one's beloved country.
Laced with humour, the play is set in the not-too-distant future and follows the last 24 hours for a trio of climate refugee siblings preparing to leave Tuvalu for their boat voyage to Nadi and then on to Niu Sila, Aotearoa.
Lifa (Fay Tofilau) is a vivacious cheeky 14-year-old who is sad at leaving her island but more anxious about fitting into a new environment and making friends. Her older brother Maleko (Spencer Papali'i) is the practical one, hurrying up his sisters.
He's also ready to leave but he knows that with his flair and sass, he'll be winning awards and performing in Aukilani with the best of them in no time. It's the eldest sister, Fetau (Malia Ahovelo) who stuggles the most with the impending decision in the face of the rising waters.
Unwilling to pack up the altar adorned with photographs of their family members, she resists getting ready for the imminent departure.
The fish have gone, the salt water has contaminated the drinking supplies, there is little food and blackouts are common - but how can you tear out a part of who you are? How can you leave behind a piece of yourself knowing it might not just be swallowed up but others might wipe it off the map? There is no easy answer and all the performers reflect the nuances of making such difficult choices with compassion and delicate balance.
There is also Aunty Fala (Susilia Tealei Kauapa) who is not just everybody's benevolent Aunty but by turns the irascible principal, the know-it-all radio announcer and the righteous minister.
She, too, adds much comedy to the play but the veneer is transparent: the loss of the island - and saying goodbye to those who choose to stay - will affect everyone. The ensemble upstage is directed by Nupaia Talake, and includes Lipesa Tipela-Taupo and Mana Tatafu. Collectively, they hold space for the story with various hymns, traditional songs and drumming.
Au Ko Tuvalu is superbly crafted. From family memorabilia on the altar to the beautiful mats on the floor, we are plunged into a world where the domesticity of everyday life is pitted against the rising volume of the ocean, the wind and the wailing sirens calling for a final evacuation. Nielson-Mamea has done an extraordinary job and with only a few nights left, you don't want to miss out on this exquisite production.
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What: Au Ko Tuvalu
Where & when: TAPAC (The Auckland Performing Arts Centre) until Saturday
Reviewed by: Dione Joseph