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USING ENERGY AND POWER TO BRINGS A STORY TO LIFE

Print Version

New Zealand International Arts Festival 2012
MICHAEL JAMES MANAIA
by John Broughton
directed by Nathaniel Lees
Taki Rua Productions
DOWNSTAGE SOLOS

at Downstage Theatre, Wellington
From 25 Feb 2012 to 4 Mar 2012
[2hrs]

Reviewed by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Med, 27 Feb 2012
originally published in The Dominion Post

Often a solo piece of theatre following a person's life story uses different time frames and flash backs as a way of heightening the production theatricality.  

Not so John Broughton's play Michael James Manaia.  His is a simple yet effective and very powerful piece of storytelling brought to life with energy, power and commitment by Te Kohe Tuhaka in Taki Rua's production under the direction of Nathaniel Lees.

From the early days of growing up in the country we learn of Michael James life with his European mother and heavy drinking, disciplinarian Maori father who is a also war veteran– described by Michael James as having “blood shot Johnny Walker eyes”. He and his younger brother are inseparable but are always in conflict with their father.  But then tragedy strikes and the younger brother is taken from them.

Once Michael James finishes school the army is his calling and after some rigorous training in the isolation of Waiouru he heads for a 12 month tour of duty inVietnam.

Innocent and naïve and not really understanding the implications of whose war it is, Michael James is soon made to come to terms with reality.  Fighting for his survival in the jungle he faces his own mortality where he is confronted with his ancestral heritage, he also comes to understand something of his father's behaviour.  Once home after the war he then has his own demons to deal with, both psychologically and physically with tragic consequences.

The demands on an actor to tell this tale, relentlessly going through an emotional rollercoaster are great, yet Te Kohe Tuhaka meets the challenge head on with a confident, dynamic and fully charged performance that is as physical and energetic as you'll ever see.  So much so in that in the first half the pace and racing of the dialogue is all on the one level with the words often inaudible.

In the second half, however, Te Kohe Tuhaka finds his rhythm, settles into a much more studied performance with wonderful moments of subtly and nuance bringing Broughton's touching, poignant yet often funny story to a dramatic close.  

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See also reviews by:
 Helen Sims
 Lynn Freeman (Capital Times);
 Richard Mays
 John Ross
 John Smythe
 Tamati Patuwai
 Janet McAllister (New Zealand Herald);
 Terry MacTavish
 Barbara Frame (Otago Daily Times);