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Theatre Review: Pring It On

Pring It On is a new theatrical production in South Auckland Grammar, a fictional New Zealand high school where all anyone can talk about is the upcoming Polyfest –  the largest Māori and Pacific festival in the world.  

At the school a coterie of ‘mean girls’ ride roughshod over their fellow performers in the Samoan Cultural Group, which is a down under version of a Glee Club. The head of the group and dominant mean girl is Becky (Natalie Toevai) who bullies and demeans anyone who fails to follow her rigid views and controlling nature. Her henchwomen are the, at times, obesquious Sosofina (Joyce Salu) and the quick witted and sassy Pauly (Petmal Petelo). Together they browbeat the others into submission.

That all changes when the talented and independent Penina (Adyhana Urika Filifilia) tries to join the group and challenges Becky’s authority. 

As this is a parody there are plenty of over the top hi jinx, jealousies,  flirtations, misunderstandings and lots of melodrama. In essence it’s a Pacific spoof of American teen TV dramas and films such as High School Musical.

This was a very funny production that used a clever range of comedic styles from slapstick through to impersonation, sarcasm, and devastating one liners. Sometimes it was just hilariously silly and at other times sharply acidic. 

The humour helped deliver one of the principle messages of the story which is the notion that tradition and culture are not static. As Penina says “Tradition should serve us, not enslave us.” 

This idea butts up against the conservative ideals of Penina’s mother Tiesi (Joanna Mika), and Penina’s nemesis Becky. 

The same is true about personal cultural identity and the concept of who is allowed to be considered a ‘genuine’ Samoan. Penina, having grown up in New Zealand cannot speak her native language fluently. This is used as a weapon against her and the issue seems to be – in New Zealand, can someone who is not fluent in Samoan and who has been influenced by the broader Palangi culture legitimately identify as Samoan? 

For Penina, there is absolutely no doubt about her cultural heritage and in one scene she defiantly says to Becky “just because you speak perfect Samoan doesn’t mean you are better than me.”

Pring It On is a comedy but it is also a musical and it is the music and singing that really give this show its power.

The performances of the band and actors are truly incredible, energetic and in perfect harmony. The numbers are beautifully choreographed with touches of traditional Samoan dance and plenty of modern additions. The blending of stunning singing with flawless movements is magical. 

There wasn’t much I could fault the production on, some minor moments where enunciation was problematic, particularly in scenes that involved arguments. There were one or two places where the pace needed to be a little quicker, but other than that the show hummed along nicely. 

Ultimately, this is a story of confrontation between tradition and modernity and how a culture within a culture can find its own relevance while embracing change. Pring It On is more than just a spoof, yes, it is very funny, but it also a carefully constructed critique on society and identity, and it is filled with gorgeous musical numbers. 

PRING IT ON

1 – 3 February 2024 Mangere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku

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