World War I needs more men to fight and Maori from Mataira Mountain are being asked to go. Grandma Mataira is vehemently against their going. Her son Waru believes fighting alongside Pakeha will bring Maori equal rights in New Zealand. With his son Tai and Tai’s best Pakeha friend Alec Campbell, he volunteers. Their experience and her experience are explored in this exceptional new play by Witi Ihimaera.

Grandma Mataira’s (Grace Ahipene-Hoete ) story is interwoven with the soldiers experience overseas. Ahipene-Hoete speaks in te reo for most of the play and conveys both the strength and desperate worry of the character.  Alec Campbell (Errol Anderson) speaks to (some) of the soldiers experience. Anderson makes a wonderful character shift from being excited about the war to showing vulnerability. Waru is played by Rob Mokaraka who grounds the play with his solid performance. His sons Tai (Joe Dekkers-Reihana) and Rangi (Puriri Kōria) are lighter in character. Dekkers-Reihana and Kōria bring a sense of levity when the script calls for it, while also being firm in their ability to support the other actors. Taungaroa Emile plays a variety of characters and is often cheeky yet always genuine in his performance. Kereama Te Ua is all physicality and sounds as the elemental Wairua who appears on the edges, then in the middle of conflicts. His presence, along with Grandma Mataira’s permeates the whole play. Kali Kopae is Arihia Mataira, Waru’s wife, Moana Ete is Erin Campbell, Alec’s mother, and Amanda Noblett is Mere Mataira. They also play incidental characters (which is an interesting reflection on the erasure of the role women played in the actual fighting of the war. Heoi anō…) They are by turns fierce, tender, wistful, flirtatious, and stoic. It is first rate example/s of support.

This truly ensemble piece is expertly choreographed by director Nathaniel Lees. (The dazzling mau rākau choreography is by Kereama Te Ua.) Skilful integration of projection, kapahaka, and theatre means that this is a viscerally intense performance. Taiaha and mere zip past faces, actors run up and down the stairs. Wai Mihinui’s set design enhances the feeling of inevitability in the story, while showcasing the projections by Jordan Beresford. Costume designer Moana Davey manages to capture the feeling of the performance while allowing for quick changes and blurred characters.

Ngā mihi ki a koutou. Outstanding.

  • All our sons by Witi Ihimaera; directed by Nathaniel Lees on at Circa to 14 November 2015