October 12, 2016

This enchanting stage adaptation of Gavin Bishop’s picture book has to be one of my festival favourites – such a feast for the eyes, ears and heart. Produced by NZ theatre company, Capital E, this contemporary Māori story is sprinkled with local language puns and gentle cultural jokes, while addressing universal issues of difference and acceptance, respect for the earth, humility and love. It’s a compelling narrative with wonderful, animated characters, gorgeous staging and lighting effects, resonant music, delicious humour, and some fabulous costumes.

I took my eight-year-old daughter, who said, “I didn’t expect that it would be so funny. The acting was really good. I liked the play they made in the play, and I liked the big wings they used for the owls, the ruru.”

I enjoyed from the first that the actors stood on stage already, welcoming the audience in with waiata and small talk. Their playful run through the introductions and housekeeping (mobiles, emergency exists) was refreshing.

Highlights for me included a scene where Hinepau, in the night as the others are sleeping, speaks to a flax-woven fish she has created and brings him to life – the animation here is simple but stunning. I delighted in Hinepau’s interaction with the harakeke – yet again, simply done but so effective – and the inclusion of a mise-en-abîme (the play within the play that mirrors the larger play) to portray Hinepau’s inability to conform to expectation – clever and hilarious.

I only wished all the seats were filled to honour the largesse of this onstage performance. The space felt somewhat too cavernous and sombre; those festive high spirits and the jostle of numbers is harder to build in a municipal theatre on a barefeet-summer-feel Tuesday evening.

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