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Read: Te Whare Kapua is full of heart

A few days ago, I sat in a darkened auditorium with a friend to watch the opening performance of a new production called Te Whare Kapua by Massive Company. It was a much needed distraction from the ongoing chaos around the world caused by the coronavirus. That devilish little microorganism was responsible for opening night being shifted two days. 

On Friday evening, I attended the opening night of Massive Company’s new production Te Whare Kapua  at the Māngere Arts Centre. As I entered the auditorium, I suddenly felt very calm. The lighting was subdued, several white wooden boxes had been placed in the performance area, and pieces of cloth representing leaves were scattered around them. To the back were clusters of long vine like trunks reaching to the ceiling. The play is set in a forest, and that is exactly what it felt like upon entering the space. Sure I ended up in a seat a few rows back but that feeling of really being among trees never left. It was as though ‘the cloud house,’ (the name of the play in English), had magically appeared in this unassuming building. 

Shortly after they appeared on stage, the five young actors who made up the ensemble, sang in beautiful harmony together. The effect was sublime and uplifting. I am not an overly sentimental man, but at that moment I felt the wairua of this production was enveloping all of us. 

Each performer had their own story to tell, but they also joined together throughout to tell the larger story that held the entire piece together. The cast seemed to have a passionate energy but knew when to temper it for moments that required reflection or a more sombre mood.

The stories wove a narrative ranging from unrequited love, loss, and grief, but also about courage and dreams and wonder. 

A particularly poignant moment for me concerned the birth narrative of twin sisters. An imagined conversation in the womb, and their anxiety at the moment of birth and separation. It was inspired, emotional and funny. 

What stood out for me in this production was the universality of the issues covered. Sure they were young people, but the questions they asked, the answers they may have found, all of it, were fundamental human issues. Things that we all deal with all of our lives. 

What I love about theatre is its ability to help us suspend belief. In the birth narrative I’ve described above, one of the actors was Māori, the other was from the Solomon Islands. It made not a jot of difference, partly because their acting was superb, and partly because their respective backgrounds are inconsequential to the story. 

The cast of Pacific, Maori and Pakeha actors reflects the diversity in our communities, and also underscores our basic humanity. We may have some cultural differences, but we all share the same basic emotions, and experiences because we are all ultimately from the same whanau.

The play was infused with references to breathing and the human heart, which provided a perfect metaphor for this wonderful piece of theatre – Te Whare Kapua is literally and figuratively all about heart. 

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