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Wednesday 08 October 2008

Review: Whero's New Net at the Herald Theatre

Posted in: Performance
By Larry Jenkins - 14th September 2008

The guffaws and intermittent applause, and the overwhelming ovation at the end of the evening proved that Whero's New Net hit the mark.


Warning: This review contains some spoilers readers may wish to avoid before seeing the play.

It's a play about New Zealanders and their inevitable struggle to transcend their country when casting their lot abroad trying to make a go of, say, a musical career in London. This is, moreover, a tale (derived from many tales) about a woman obsessed with roots and struggling not to drown in the abyss of her mind.

It's a brave actor who shares the stage with the great, and I use that word without any qualms, Madeleine Sami. She has a subsidiary role, that of one of the protagonist's hallucinations, cajoling singer/songwriter Whero (Bree Peters) to forsake everything and become success-driven. Her feline charisma is so scene-stealing that it's difficult not to be mesmerised by her, but the other players are strong enough to avoid obliteration - just. Peters makes a good job of Whero, but the two gay characters, Dermot (Wesley Dowell) and Blair Strang (of Shortland Street fame), as his lover Tupo, have such great scenes (Tupo trying to teach Dermot to perform a haka is a set piece in it self and whipped up a frenzy of mirth) that it'd be hard to compete with the characters, let alone such good performances.

As a play, the piece works in the first act but not the second. In the beginning there was real sentiment and power, which gradually reduced itself to maudlin sentimentality by the end. Perhaps there were too many themes – the pull of the whanau, mental illness, the struggle to be a winner, fear of success, homesickness, parental strife, a gay relationship which probably ought not to be - all difficult motifs colliding with one another. To try to combine them turned out to be self-defeating, though there are moments of truth that will stick in the mind. The beautiful courtship of Whero's parents, touchingly played by Tainui Tukiwaho and Kura Forrester, prompted many a head nod, for instance, though the strange character of Petera, another hallucinatory personage, could've been eliminated for all the light he shed on the situation. Jarod Rawiri played him for comedy, making his eventual act of menace hard to comprehend. One "gets it" only at the end.

Sam Scott directs her company well, and lighting and set design are of high standard, thanks to Jeremy Fern and Tracey Collins respectively. This is an entertaining evening of theatre with a touch of profundity.

Whero's New Net

A play in two acts after short stories by Witi Ihimaera

By Albert Belz, directed by Sam Scott, with  Bree Peters, Madeleine Sami, Jarod Rawiri, Wesley Dowdell, Blair Strang, Tainui Tukiwaho, and Kura Forrester.

Massive Company at the Herald Theatre, Auckland, until 4 October.


Larry Jenkins - 14th September 2008