When Victor Rodger wondered, “What if my Samoan father, my Scottish grandmother and I were all in the same room; and what would be a hypothetical scenario that would bring us all together?” he laid the foundations for what is inevitably a modern day domestic clash of clans.
At the Wake chronicles the sequence of events that unfurl at Olivia’s funeral. Daughter of a mouthy Scottish diva, she was knocked up by her Samoan lover at the tender age of sixteen and left to rear her baby boy on her own. Fast forward 25 years and cancer has brought the three most important people in her life into the same space as they gather together to mourn her passing.
Olivia’s son, young afakasi Robert (Taofia Pelesasa), has just flown in from the Big Apple and despite his insistence on wearing a ie faitaga, his arrival brings much delight to his Scottish Nan Joan (Lisa Harrow), whose greatest concern on this occasion seems to be whether or not to don headgear. She is, however, less than thrilled to discover that Robert’s father Tofilau (Robbie Magasiva), after all these years of silence, has dared to show his face at her beloved daughter’s funeral.
Initially it’s tempting to think that At the Wake is entirely about a mother coming to terms with the loss of her daughter and the swine who broke her child’s heart. Farrow is in impeccable form as the loud and increasingly acerbic matriarch who enjoys lewd banter and bawdy jokes with her grandson. She is the perfect nicotine-puffing, quality booze-swilling nan walking a tight line between bravado and layered tenderness, and her caustic behaviour towards the man who abandoned her daughter and grandson is laced with barbed jibes that nevertheless seem to do little to pierce his newly found placidity as a member of Destiny’s church.
But there is in fact more. Much more.
The funeral is over (and so is interval) and the second act commences as the three (and undoubtedly other family member and guests) gather around for the wake. With a 300 dollar bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label and some less than impressive sausage rolls for sustenance, the three generations indulge in a chinwag that uncovers secret after secret after secret.
Both Magasiva and Pelesasa come into their own in the second act, with nuanced performances that oscillate from moments of cradled tenderness between father and son to admonishments for a lack of respect and an unequivocal critique of absenteeism. Assumptions are torn down, repeatedly, and from having been in the limelight Joan finds herself trying to juggle the escalating emotions of the father and son who might be linked by blood but are in fact complete strangers to the man each has become.
Rodger’s dialogue is unrelentingly acidic and the humour is both contagious and recognisable. Immediately we are drawn into the lives, virtues and vices of this trio as they salute a woman whose presence may indeed be most keenly felt through those left behind to keep vigil. While the play is a tad too long (particularly towards the end when story is steeped in plateauing melodrama), it is an exquisitely sculpted work.
Under the excellent direction of Roy Ward, three powerful actors give highly sophisticated performances that are heartfelt and potent.
Produced by Karin Williams from Multinesia productions, At the Wake showcases a brilliant creative team whose success is reflected in the collaborative effort of all involved. From perfectly-adjusted lighting states to simple monochrome sets and costumes, and above all a story that resonates, each facet is in genuine conversation with the production and its performers.
A rare treat to see such a finely wrought work performed with such rambunctious audacity and finesse.
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