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Maumahara Girlie; Te Waka Huia | Basement Theatre Matariki 2018

Maumahara Girlie is a spiralling performance that is part history lesson, part spoken word and, at its heart, embedded with resonating truths.

Emerging playwright and director Mya Morrison-Middleton, along with performance devisors Freddy Matariki Carr, Amanda Tito and Onehou Strickland weave a number of strands to create a mosaic of unique moments.

Myth and legend meld with personal vignettes, history leapfrogs from the past to the future and back to the present and the performers steer their bodies in space as wāhine Māori and also that of the living, breathing wharenui.

Facing the impacts of ongoing colonisation, the work highlights it’s not just about the ability to kōrero (speak) Māori but to be your authentic self — a special moment that shines through as they deliver their pepeha (words).

For a work created by emerging practitioners, Maumahara Girlie brims with promise. There is a lack of innate theatricality and the repetition becomes slightly tedious but during time this work, and the many others that are sure to follow, will have legs that will take it far. Although sight lines aren’t ideal Aydriannah Tuali’i’s set and AV design has potential and provides an interesting, if awkwardly connected, backdrop to the developing narrative.

As part of the Basement Theatre’s Matariki season, Te Waka Huia also opened this week and takes us back into history for a different kind of remembering.

The production centres on the devastating effects of the 1963 Brynderwyn bus crash, an incident that saw 15 people killed on their way back from the celebrations welcoming Queen Elizabeth to New Zealand at a two-day ceremony in Waitangi.

Set in the present, playwright Naomi Bartley focuses on the power of remembering the past, honouring those who continue to live on and agency of the youth to make a difference. Emily (Amanda Grace Leo) and Jack (Matiu Kereama) are two teenagers who need to finish their history assignment and while navigating the pressures of parents and school, stumble upon an unlikely friendship with Pahi (Junior Misimoa) — and his beloved bus.

Just when the three are settling into cheerful companionship, a council representative declares the bus is an eyesore and will be towed — with little thought for its most recent tenants.

Directed by Chris Molloy (also the show’s musician) the play hums along, occasionally feeling a little longer than it needs to, but drawing the audience into genuine moments of shared memory and hope. Both Leo and Kereama are excellent in their roles, giving nuanced characterisations and unravelling clichés. However, the standout is Misimoa who offers a deeply compelling performance, one that is rich, varied and deeply invested — both in the youth but also the spirits of his past.

Andrew Denton’s set design also adds to this world with a remarkable life-size re-creation of the ill-fated bus and is definitely one of the highlights of the production. Bartley’s play has had time to grow and stretch and while occasionally, the narrative stutters and there are some over baked elements, overall, it is a moving production.