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Auckland Festival opens with a bang and a laugh

The Auckland Festival launched this week with a couple of great shows – one an international pyrotechnics group, the other an innovative Pacific theatre troupe.

John Daly-Peoples
Fri, 08 Mar 2013

The Factory
Kila Kokonut Krew
Directed by Anapela Polataivo and Vela Manusaute
Music  Poulima Salima and TamaWaipara
Q Theatre
Until March 11

There was lot riding on The Factory, both for the Auckland Festival and the future of Pacific music. Most of the musicals and operas which are commissioned for festivals disappear, never to be preformed again.

This won't be the fate of The Factory, though, as it will be sure to have a number of further outings.

It is musically engaging and has a great script, telling an entertaining story with a mixture of the comic and the serious.

It is set in a south Auckland factory in the 1970s where the workers are all Samoan on short-term visas. They are part of the major wave of the Fresh off the Boat generation who established a new culture in New Zealand, along with encountered petty racism and the overstayer raids.

It owes much to American musicals such as West Side Story but also has elements of traditional Samoan dance, disco and some hints of Carmina Burana.

There is a strong group of central characters, with Losa and her father Kavana, factory owner Richard and his son Edward, along with camp mother Misilei and Che Guevara brown power radical Mose.

Factory owner Richard, played hardheartedly Ross Girven, is a bit too much of a racist caricature but it means he gets away with some offensive lines when talking about his "slaves", saying to his son that you shouldn’t get involved with them as “you don’t keep rats for pets" and that he needs to see himself as a zookeeper.

This allows his son (Edwards Laurenson) to be a more sympathetic character who sees value in his honest and put-upon workers and becomes a part of the symbolic intertwining of Samoan and European culture with his romantic connection to Losa.

Milly Grant-Koria as Losa provides a brilliantly evolving character, from shy arrival to a confident new-age Pacific woman. She has a glorious voice which captures nuance and emotion vividly.

Lindah Lepou’s Misilei is a well-judged mixture of Auntie and fafina, providing one of the anchors for the play along with Taofia Pelesasa’s Mose.

Several of the songs, including Niu Sila and Kissy, Kissy, Kissy, are truly original, with inspired and witty lyrics and distinctive music.

There is a moving sequence which presents a tableau of traditional Samoan culture, including a kava ceremony, ornate costumes and a tattooing session.

One of the most noticeable and professional aspects of the musical is that the singers are clear in their enunciation and projection. Unlike a couple of recent performances by the major two Auckland theatre companies, there was no attempt to over-mike the actors or dominate the voices with the music.

It was a pleasure to listen to and watch.

The Breath of the Volcano
Groupe F
Auckland Domain
Until Saturday March 9

The Breath of the Volcano promised to be a spectacle but was a remarkable multi-dimensional experience. Audiences didn’t just get to experience a magnificent fireworks display. Groupe F produced a stunning series of tableau with vast images projected along one side of the Auckland Museum.

It took the viewer into spectacular realms of water, fire and space, with kaleidoscopes of colour which gave a sense of beauty and danger of these volcanic and earthquake vulnerable islands.

There were beautifully orchestrated waves of fire which raced up and down the ridge of the museum as though produced by some demented pyrotechnic organ.

The soundscape, which included hints of music of the Pacific, drumming bird calls and pounding rhythms, was complemented not only by the fireworks but also gas flares which danced in patterns across the ground and extraordinary figures wearing LED light suits who wandered through the landscape.

Some of these figures even became human as catherine wheels during one of the frenetic displays.

There was even a projected sequence which may have been some sort of French tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment of the Rainbow Warrior bombing, with a group of Kermit-like frogs swimming across the side of the museum to demolish a large rainbow.

This was show of extraordinary beauty, as well as breathtaking spectacle, and a great coup for the festival.

John Daly-Peoples
Fri, 08 Mar 2013
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Auckland Festival opens with a bang and a laugh