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October 24, 2010 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Toi Whakaari Graduation Season 2010 – ‘The Pohutukawa Tree’ and ‘Wild Cabbage’

The graduation season at Toi Whakaari is always something to look forward to. The graduating third year acting students perform in one or two shows in Te Whaea’s main spaces half as a fair well to the school that has ruled their lives for the previous three years and half as a demonstration of their skills. This year’s plays – The Pohutukawa Tree by Bruce Mason and Wild Cabbage by James Beaumont – share little in common between a) New Zealand theatre works and b) being in this season. They both have their strengths and they both have their weaknesses but they are both more than worth your time.

The Pohutukawa Tree will never be far from the top of any list of the top New Zealand plays. Even though it has aged rather noticeably and not all that well, it is still a very good text. Telling the story of the last Maori family in Te Paranga and the matriarch Aroha’s fight to keep her land and her family stable. Rachel House’s direction shows a clear reverence for the text and her production is at its best when it is simply playing the words out on the stage. The performances are, on the whole, strong but there at some points seems to be a reticence to directly engage with some of the deeper emotions in the script making a lot of the performances seem rather superficial. Also there is real problem with how the playing space is defined. Scenes set supposedly in the same room show different lay outs and the non-naturalistic entrances and exits work well in theory but only distract in practice. The images that House builds are interesting and aesthetically brilliant but don’t quite sit within the work that is being expressed. Also, the interval is in the wrong place and with Te Whaea’s butthating seats this kind of thing really should be considered. But all these are just niggles and House and her cast do justice (if on slightly qualified terms) to a Kiwi classic.

Wild Cabbage is a very hard play to describe. It’s kinda a vaudeville about family in the fifties but its just as much a drama about the rejected and disenfranchised. It is a riotous comedy in the same breath as being dank and dense voyage through the city at night. Director Leo Gene Peters has taken a rather troubled script, which by turns doesn’t seem to know what it wants to say and hysterically moralising the next, and polished and carved it into a delightful gem. The cast are universally excellent and had I a time machine I would go back and give Wild Cabbage the award for best surprise in the Salient theatre awards. not for a plot twist or for a shock but for the delightful transformation that the play, space and performances undergo in the second half. A massive and unqualified success.

In short – they’re both good but if you’re only gonna see one see Wild Cabbage.


The Pohutukawa Tree
at Toi Whakaari, 20 – 30 Oct, 6.30pm

Wild Cabbage
at Toi Whakaari, 21 – 30 Oct, 7pm

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About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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