Theatre Review: Hikoi – a challenging play

Writer and director Nancy Brunning's play Hikoi is about race, family and doing the right thing.

Q Theatre, March 4-8

Hikoi is a challenging play about race, family and doing the right thing.

Writer and director Nancy Brunning has created a moving drama with well-developed characters: there are no cartoon bad guys in this piece.  

The story centres on Nellie, initially a shy person, who becomes a crusader for Maori rights through the 1970s and 1980s and leaves her family to support the movement.

Her husband Charlie is also Maori but was raised by a pakeha stepdad. He believes the movement has nothing to do with him and his focus is on keeping his a roof over his children’s heads, literally building houses with his ‘honky’ business partner.

While real life husband and wife duo Kali Kopae and Jamie McCaskill give convincing performances, the stars of the show are their five children.

Neglected by their parents, each child has their own tale and perspective on what it means to be Maori. Tough-as-nails May exclaims if she had one superpower it would be to speak Maori, while the youngest, Bubba, is not sure what a pakeha is. Moana Jane refuses the Maori component of her name, preferring to be called “Janey-girl”.
The teens are well cast and each actor brings their own individuality to the role. The sibling scenes of jeering, squabbling and mocking of each other gives the performance life and light in the unfolding emotional tale. In particular the well-timed the comic relief of naïve Bubba makes the heavy realities the show depicts easier to digest.

While the script is over the top in some places, the interplay between the key characters is the focus of the barren set framed only by tall timber panels.

The closing is open-ended and only somewhat unsatisfying, but overall I found the themes surrounding family, race and identity entirely relatable and played out in a convincing fashion.

Duration: two hours, with interval.