Every now and then you see a really powerful show. It might not be big, it might not have all the gimmicks and fancy effects of big musical productions but its production values are solid and it touches you deeply.
Jason Te Mete’s award-winning play Little Black Bitch is that show. Firstly, the title does little for the production itself . Yes, the references to the ‘Black Dog’ metaphor representing depression can be guessed — but the loaded use of the word in the current context can skew one’s initial impressions.
Putting that aside — this is an intelligent, moving and essential theatrical work.
The story follows young Rangi (charmingly evoked by Poroaki McDonald) who is coming to terms with his friend Matiu’s recent death. Matiu’s dog Toto is on the loose and supposedly took off with his owner’s last words. However, things are not always what they seem. The little creature (played magnificently by Akina Edmonds whose phenomenal performance combines great depth in both voice and physicality) soon seems to usher in the worst of Rangi’s demons – transforming the kind, charming and creative teenager into an angry, disturbed and frustrated young man whose “blood has begun to boil”.
They’re joined by Rangi’s loving aunty Marie (Bronwyn Turei), Matiu’s dad Tommy (Matu Ngaropo) who is working hard to save the Tuatara; his school mates George (Vincent Farane) and T.K (Ihaka Kelly); and his teacher Whaea Paula (Te Ao O Hinepehinga). All the performers are excellent. Turei’s character as aunty to her beloved nephew is multifaceted and enduring; Ngaropo is still reeling from his son’s death but is committed to making every effort to whakamana others especially other tāne; and Rangi’s school mates and teachers add hilarity to what becomes evident is a very close-knit little community.
The set is a circular affair with a huge tree at the epicenter whose branches hangs protectively over the cast and the lighting (clunky at the start) effectively creates ambience and atmosphere. The highlight, however, are the use of waiata and varying styles of choreography embedded throughout the show. Hemi Kelly’s Te Reo Māori lyrics and Finn Scholes’ soundbed come together beautifully to lend themselves to the mix of humour, narrative, physicality and dance that make contemporary Māori theatre so much more than just a play.
It does run for two hours (with a 20 minute interval) but releasing yourself and any expectations will allow for an uplifting experience created by a incredibly talented writer/director and an unfaltering team of performers. The production has two seasons so put aside the title and make sure you catch this show – if not for you, then for the rangatahi whom you love.