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PLAY’S POWER UNCHANGED

Print Version

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

at Fortune Theatre, Dunedin
From 25 Feb 2012 to 4 Mar 2012
[2hrs]

Reviewed by Barbara Frame, 4 Feb 2013
originally published in Otago Daily Times

In 1991 Michael James Manaia, by Dunedin playwright John Broughton, erupted on to New Zealand stages. Twenty-two years later, in Taki Rua's production, directed by Nathaniel Lees, its force is as potent as ever.

The action, and there is much of it, takes place on a set that looks like a place of incarceration – whether actual or metaphorical is for the audience to decide. Consumed by anger, grief and much else, the play's sole character tells the story of his life. In the first act we learn of a repressive, violent upbringing and the death of a brother – paralleled in the second by the repressive, violent culture of the army, the death of a mate in the brutally nonsensical Vietnam War, and that war's later, noxious consequences for Manaia.

One of the first things he learns in the Army is that "you didn't have to think" – a cruel lesson for a soldier who will spend the rest of his life thinking both too much and not enough.

All of this depends on actor Te Kohe Tuwhaka. His performance is of an intensity that left Saturday night's audience stunned and emotionally drained. It is never static, reflecting his character's inner turbulence, and occupies the entire stage, vertically as well as horizontally. He is supported by sensitive lighting and by music that effortlessly evokes the Vietnam era.

This not a play for everyone (the warning "contains sexual references and offensive language" is there for a reason), but it is a play for most of us. If you go you may, like the students who accompanied me to see Jim Moriarty in the 1991 production, be overcome its raw, shocking power.

The short season will end on February 16.
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See also reviews by:
 Terry MacTavish
 Ewen Coleman (The Dominion Post);
 Helen Sims
 Lynn Freeman (Capital Times);
 Richard Mays
 John Ross
 John Smythe
 Tamati Patuwai
 Janet McAllister (New Zealand Herald);