By Oscar Keightley and Dave Armstrong
Directed by Ben Crowder
AUCKLAND THEATRE COMPANY at the Suter Theatre, Nelson
From 11 Oct 2013 to 12 Oct 2013
This is brilliant. An exceptional New Zealand story we can all relate to, acted and directed to the highest standards of excellence, and reminding us why live theatre, its immediacy and intimacy, must be cherished and protected.
The set, a diagrammatic map of Niu Sila, our green grassy land set in a brilliant blue Pacific ocean, is most effective – credit to John Parker – and throughout the play the sound is amazingly slick, particularly in the cricket-playing scene. One is left wondering how that precision is achieved – Thomas Press, Sound Designer and Touring Technical Operator, take a bow.
The story-line takes us back to Auckland of the 70's and the arrival of new immigrants from Samoa, the Tafioka family. They have a six-year-old son, Ione.Next door live the palangi Burtons with their six year old son Peter. The play explores the boys' close friendship as they grow up, the two families differing ways of being, and eventually, as young adults, the serious split between Ione and Peter, as their lives take completely different directions, one ultimately tragic.
Throughout, I watch and listen with a smile on my face. The characters are brought to vibrant life by the talents of Fasitua Amosa and David van Horn: Mrs Burton, the politically correct mother; warm, physically affectionate Ione's mother, Mrs Tafioka; racially prejudiced teacher Miss Heathcoat; the respective fathers; curtain-peeping neighbour; policeman; the coach at the Indian Sports Cricket Club, et al.
There are wonderful laugh-inducing yet touching scenes throughout, especially those showing conflicts in living expectations. Ione's introduction to a symphony concert with the instructions not to applaud between movements – and his loud reproof to an old lady who has the temerity to clap at the end of the third movement – brings the house down.It is delicious.
It is also touching.As men, meeting up after years of estrangement, and remembering the past, both actors have real tears in their eyes. Altogether this two-hander is a tour de force and unforgettable.
Since its premiere in 2004, Niu Sila has been regularly performed around the country and arrives in Nelson trailing awards. However, this is the first time I have seen it and it makes such an impression, arouses so many emotions, that afterwards I can't sleep, hearing Radio New Zealand's All Night programme all night!
At a subsequent Arts Festival Event, those who were lucky enough to secure tickets were heard telling others about Niu Sila and what it had meant to be present at this superb night of theatre. The memory of this scintillating play shall last a long time.