Fiona McNamara for Theatreview | 17 November 2023
Fiona McNamara reviews The Swing for Theatreview.
Te Rakau Theatre’s The Swing – in Motion is a new film of the award-winning theatre production, first staged in 2020. It is a powerful tale of how the intergenerational trauma of ngau whiore (sexual abuse, incest) and whakamomori (suicide) can tear apart lives, whānau and whole communities.
Mirroring the pūrakau of Tāne Mahuta and Hine Nui Te Po, it tells the story of a whānau over three generations. Siblings, Kath (Kimberly Skipper) and Rewa (Jeremy Davis) grew up in a home in which Kath was subjected to sexual abuse by their father. Rewa goes on to rape his own daughter, Manea (Hariata Moriarty), who tragically takes her own life.
Sexual violence, family violence and suicide will touch all of us in our lifetimes. Knowing this, the creative team, led by writer, Helen Pearse-Otene and director, Jim Moriarty, have taken great care to tell this story with sensitivity, knowing what it might unlock in the audience. The production is informed by voices of survivors and whānau that support them.
In opening the wananga space after the show, Moriarty tells us “we made it for our people – the people who’ve been hurt.”
The team’s manaakitanga is felt – they have taken great care to hold us after the show, in a wananga space, followed by shared kai, providing the chance to connect.
The company has a big vision for The Swing – In Motion, aiming to take it to communities to be part of conversations and actions those communities are taking to collectively heal from trauma. Pearse-Otene and Director Moriarty are, as well as artists, health professionals.
Pearse-Otene is a registered practising psychologist and Moriarty is a registered psychiatric nurse. For the past 20 years they have worked with survivors, perpetrators and family members affected by trauma. They worked with people who were sexually harmed by family members to explore new ways of moving forward, and this experience and the voices of these survivors informs this work.
The team expertly combines their storytelling skills with their mental health and trauma-informed training and cultural knowledge to create an experience that is confronting, challenging and healing.
Kāhui – Huia Max, Erena Page, Brooke Wharehinga, Jewel Te Wiki, Rylee Herewini – with choreography by Kimberely Skipper and Jeremy Davis, paired with a haunting soundtrack, evoke a spiritual presence throughout. The design elements – lighting by Liza Maule, costumes by Cara Louise Waretini and set by Toni De Goldi – come together to create a simple yet effective image.
The live performance has been expertly filmed and edited by Isaac Te Reina. With close ups and wide shots, the film still feels immersive, as if we are sharing the same space as the actors. As with every element of the production, the decision to translate the live performance onto screen has been carefully considered, with the team acknowledging that for some the live version is too much. The screen creates a distancing effect, so we can remind ourselves we are watching fiction.
Every element of this production and the tikanga and community development process that surrounds it has been carefully considered and expertly crafted to create an experience that is much more than a night out at the theatre or cinema.
The Swing – in Motion has real potential to be an instigator of change by opening conversations that can build movements to stand up against abuse and stop cycles of violence, and move communities towards collective healing.
Read more on the Theatreview website.