SUPERB AND GUTSY
New Zealand International Arts Festival 2012|
MICHAEL JAMES MANAIA
by John Broughton
directed by Nathaniel Lees
Taki Rua Productions
at Downstage Theatre, Wellington
From 25 Feb 2012 to 4 Mar 2012
Reviewed by Lynn Freeman, 29 Feb 2012
originally published in Capital Times
This is the story of a young man damaged emotionally and physically by war – and not only his own experiences in Vietnam. Michael James Manaia is a victim, just as those he killed in the line of duty were victims. He reminds us that wars don't actually end, their repercussions span generations.
This play is more than 20 years old - John Broughton wrote it before the current near obsession with New Zealand's military history. Now we hunger to hear war stories. Back then no one wanted to know and soldiers kept their horrors to themselves.
Manaia is half Maori half Pakeha, close to his extended family, inseparable from his younger brother. They're high spirited, high energy young men who get into trouble. But while his brother dies young, Michael lives on, bitter and resentful towards his father whom he blames for Matty's death. Michael's loneliness sees him sign up for the army. An adventure at last.
It's a brave man who'll take on this role. It's not just the words – they're on stage for more than two hours. It's not just the physicality – Manaia seldom stands still. It's the intensity of the emotions and the way they spin from euphoria to anger, love to violence. It's exhausting to watch, but in a hugely satisfying way.
Te Kohe Tuhaka takes on the mantle of Manaia from Jim Moriarity, the only other actor to play this role professionally. He makes it utterly his own, eyeballing us, daring us, charming and entreating us too sometimes as his story unfolds. Tuhaka is up for every challenge this offers and he offers us a superb, gutsy, unforgettable experience.
Nathaniel Lees has unleashed Manaia on us after all this time, making sure we don't forget this ‘everyman' soldier and this period in our recent history. Lees has Tuhaka use every centimetre of the stage, every muscle in his body, and every emotion in his heart – as well as taking him and us into new territory.
I've waited 20 years to see this play. It was worth it. My only disappointment was that the theatre wasn't packed full on Sunday night. It deserves to be every night of its run.
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See also reviews by:
Ewen Coleman (The Dominion Post);
Janet McAllister (New Zealand Herald);
Barbara Frame (Otago Daily Times);