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Review: Rangitoto is a play of a bygone era in New Zealand

Set on Auckland’s beautiful island of the same name, the play Rangitoto by Geoffrey Clendon is a comedy drama about the depression era Morris family, who holidays every year in a small bach on the island. As the story begins, the father Rex (Joseph Wycoff) has lost his job and the family’s future is in doubt. They may have to give up the life they’ve known on the island and the community they love. It is almost Christmas, and mum Daphne (Elizabeth Tierney) is determined everyone will have a great holiday despite their difficulties. They’ve brought their teenage daughter Lucy (Isla Sangl), and family friend Frank (Johnson Manukau) a young Maori man whose grandparents used to live in Rangitoto. 

Their peaceful and somewhat idyllic time is rudely interrupted by the wealthy and somewhat snobbish Richmond family – patriarch Wiliam (Geoff Snell), his second wife Margaret (Denise Snoad), and William’s son from his first marriage, Edward (Harry Casey).

William is hell bent on improving facilities on the island and creating a residents association that will change the simple life of the exisiting island residents. He and his family’s presence is disruptive and not welcome. 

The play is very well written, and has some brilliant comedic moments. But its a slow burn in many respects and takes almost the entire first act to really get going. There are some very touching moments in it as well, particularly when Rex finally admits what he is feeling about losing his job and facing the prospect of losing everything he has worked for.

The tension between the two families, and within each family are cleverly explored, and when at the end of act one a massive argument breaks out between everyone, the play reaches its comedic zenith. 

What impressed me about this play was the very deliberate barbs thrown at Pakeha attitudes to Maori both in the past and those that persist to this very day. In the very first scene, a local itinerant Clive (Joseph Rye), delivers a pointed monologue about the imposition of bland Pakeha names on the beautiful islands of the gulf. 

Rangitoto is a charming clever play that brings to life a slice of kiwi life that has now all but disappeared. 


23rd February – 5th March 2023

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