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“The Haka Party Incident” is a powerful and emotional work

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Photo Andi Crown

The Haka Party Incident by Katie Wolfe

Auckland Theatre Company

ASB Waterfront theatre

Until  April 10.

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The much-awaited new play “The Haka Party Incident” by Katie Wolfe finally opened this week.

Some came to witness a great piece of theatre.

Some came to see a recreation of a piece of history.

A few came to see themselves depicted on stage revisiting a time of personal trauma and triumph.

“The Haka Party Incident” is a brilliantly told tale focussing on a few dramatic minutes in 1979 where some young Maori confronted some Auckland University  Engineering students preparing for their annual haka party, adorned with “tattoo”, and wearing grass skirts. We are shown the actions leading up to the incident, the planning of the intervention and the direct repercussions, through to the  trial of the Maori activists.

The play is more than just a record of what happened. It stands as a symbol for the underling personal, social, and institutional racism which has pervaded the country’s history.

Writer Katie Wolfe has intervied dozens of the people involved in the incident and she has used their verbatim accounts as the text for the work. The interviews have then been  articulated by the actors with all the hesitations, errors and  mispronunciations that come with recall. The seven actors provide a vivid retelling of what happened on that day with all the nuances of vaguely remembered event as well as the moments of recalled, precise detail. 

The participants explore much about the dynamics of the event but also reveal the underlying conservatism which inhabited much of new Zealand society as well as showing the anger and disillusionment of many Maori over racism and exclusion from aspects of society as well as the ongoing need to create a bi-cultural society,

The work is close to being a documentary but is also  part theatre, part history lesson, part musical and  part kapa haka performance. At times it has elements of Greek tragedy at others the interchanges are like retold tales and there are also passionately delivered polemics.

This was an incredibly powerful and emotional work, the minor event taking on a huge symbolic significance.

The audience responded to the strength of the work throughout with murmurs of accord, some quiet weeping and the occasional surge of applause.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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