Direction: Nina Nawalowalo and Jim Moraity
Hannah Playhouse (September 1-5)
This is the story of the Luafutu family – acted out for the stage by the Luafutu family, that’s father John and sons Matthias and Malo. Matthias has an acting background. Malo has a performing background – you know him as the rapper Scribe. John is stoic in spite of himself. He spends most of the show side of stage playing the white guitar. Most of the stories are about him, stem from him, involve him, evolve from him. His sons tell the story of John’s parents – leaving Samoa so their family could have a chance in New Zealand.
It’s a story, therefore, of racism. Of family. Of violence – eventually family violence. It’s a story of endurance. Of love. A story told with heart.
John is mischief – Malo and Matthias take turns channelling their father (and his parents). We are talked through the New Zealand of the 50s and 60s, through the 70s and 80s. We start to get bits and pieces of Malo and Matthias’ story too. Their father is absent for large portions of their childhood. Even though the three of them devised this script together it almost comes across like they are telling their father of the (full) impact for the first time. John winces as he pinches out bent notes from the guitar. His children don’t spare him the rod. It seems he never spared it from them.
Jail, gangs, drugs, robberies, it’s that One Night Out Stealing Alan Duff wrote about, but stretched out over the lives of two children. They worship their father – he’s their hero. He hates himself and doesn’t know how to (correctly) show that he loves them.
Then things change – we know about Scribe’s success. And brother Matthias makes it into the prestigious Toi Whakaari Drama School. But they each walk a twisted path towards any form of success. And the road doesn’t get any easier. Particularly after any sense of achievement.
What makes this heart-breaking and awe-inspiring is the performances. Sad, shaken, proud, stoic John. Mesmerising to watch as he lives out the truest form of therapy he’ll ever get – live on stage. Matthias might, at first, have the edge. His training allows him the full grasp of gesture, mime and facial twisting. He is five years old when he wants to be – despite standing well over six feet tall.
And Scribe – Malo – is, after a nearly-nervous first few minutes, quite the revelation. He’s naked there on stage as he confesses to all, as he relives his rise to fame and admits to the fall after. He has a huge presence as performer, a natural comic – stunning timing in fact. And his voice – the raps, the poetry, sure, that’s all there, but he should be singing soul music. He’s blessed.
The bond of this family is the beautiful Kiwi/immigrant story here.
As the performers leave a substantial part of themselves on the stage – their gift to the audience, their exorcism, a final shaking off of demons – it’s palpable to see them linked, arms across shoulders, so strong.
The White Guitar has an advance season at Hannah Playhouse this week before it plays the Court Theatre in Christchurch, September 10-13 (part of the The Christchurch Arts Festival). After that it must tour the country, be performed in schools and universities, jails and bars, be performed for years to come in venues and spaces again. And then again.