Poster image for Over my dead body: LITTLE BLACK BITCHThis is the world premiere of the play by Jason Te Mete. The script shared the Adam New Zealand Play Award for Best Play by a Māori Playwright in 2018. It is a theatrical representation of one way depression can manifest.

It starts with a mihi from Te Mete (also director and musical director) welcoming us and repeating the content warning information from the posters. The production contains depictions of mental health problems and suicide. The audience are encouraged to get in touch if they find anything unsettling. There is counselling support from  Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) and a counsellor (Natalie) is available onsite throughout the season. There are also links for places to get help at the back of the programme. I really acknowledge Tuatara Collective for their care for the audience (and presumably the cast and crew.)

The play itself starts with a funeral. Rangi’s (Rangihawe Kahu) friend Matiu has died by suicide. Their other friend George (Georgie Tuipulotu) tells Rangi that Matiu’s little black dog Toto (Camille-Jayne Atkins) has run away and that Matiu’s Dad Tommy (Fidelium Simanu) wants to find her. Rangi’s Aunty (Rosalind Tui) isn’t a fan of the dog and would rather Rangi had nothing to do with it.

The script plays with the idea of Toto and toto (‘blood’ in te reo Māori) as it does with the idea of the ‘black dog’. It explores the health model Te Wheke with the interweaving of dimensions of health. This model is shadowed in the show which starts as a fairly straight forward drama then slips into something more surreal. There is some beautiful work from the large ensemble cast. Much like the harmonies in their choral singing their movements as a group are enhanced by each other. The choreography (Vivian Hosking-Aue) has them alternately strong, soft, fluid, crisp and in one memorable scene, perfectly still. Different aspects of performance from Pacific nations are incorporated into this sequence. Restrained performances from Kahu and Simanu are complimented by physically looser ones from Tuipulotu and Tui. Atkins gives us light-hearted playfulness then menacing focus as the real and metaphorical dog.

I’m left with a lot to think about post-show. The cinematic influences on the script. The black dog.  The mythological implications in having a woman play the ‘little black bitch’. The ability for two realities to occupy the same space. Relationship to/with family and community. The way we talk to each other. This is strong work from students from MIT and this new company. It’s harrowing and hopeful and well worth braving the weather to see.

If you’re struggling with bad mental health you’re not alone. There is a list of some of the services available in New Zealand that offer support, information and help on the Mental Health Foundation website.