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  • Writer's pictureTE RĀKAU

Confronting the truth to inspire positive action

Updated: May 20

Mitchell Manuel for Theatreview | 16 November 2023

Mitchell Manuel reviews The Swing for Theatreview.

A girl sits on the floor beneath a rope swing
Photo by Te Rākau | Isaac Te Reina 2023

The Swing is the most potent and reflective film I’ve ever watched.

Te Rākau Hua o Te Wao Tapu Trust was formed in 1989 by Jim Moriarty and Jerry Banse. Currently, Te Rākau is led by director Jim and writer Helen Pearse-Otene. They use the unique Te Rākau Theatre Marae model to create theatre productions, run workshops and build health within our communities – including at schools, rural communities, Marae, prisons and youth justice facilities – covering a huge and diverse diaspora of Aotearoa.

Written by Helen Pearse-Otene and directed by Jim Moriarty, The Swing adds to a rich legacy of splendid theatre that is both immersing, captivating and diverse. Originally a stage play (reviewed in 2020 and 2022), it was recently transposed into a digital film by Isaac Te Reina with Lisa Maule and Jim Moriarty as producers.

It juxtaposes Māori mythology with the present, the myth being the ancient incestuous pakiwaitara (folk lore) of Hinetītama (dawn maid) who is the mother of all people, the daughter of Hineahuone (earth-formed woman), the first creation of Tānemahuta, the god of the forest and eldest child of Papatūānuku (earth mother) and Ranginui (sky father).

When Hinetītama grew of age, Tānemahuta enticed her as his wife and had several daughters, but when Hinetītama wanted to know her father, Tānemahuta deferred to asking the ‘posts of house’. Hinetītama knew then that Tanemahuta and her father were one and the same. Feeling guilty and ashamed, she told Tānemahuta that he would take care of the living while she would live in Rarohenga (the underworld) to look after the dead, and she’d forever be known as Hinenuitepō (the woman of the darkness).

The present is set in a rural, largely Māori community where whakamomori (suicide) and ngau whiore (incest, sexual abuse) are present.

For me, The Swing shows us we have the ability to encounter, acknowledge and confront societal problems and issues—to have whaikaha, the strength and ability to not only be well but to function in a meaningful, caring and responsible way within our communities and society.

The Swing is literally based around a garden swing. It is as much a metaphor as it is the central piece of the story. Think about a swing: it is dormant, sitting idly and dualistic. We cannot live without the lows and highs; it is a pendulum swinging back and forth.

The Swing is about the tragic and worst parts of human frailty, the gravity of which must be confronted, questioned, realised and positively acted upon.

When the swing’s equilibrium is in a state of leathery inaction, neglect, indolence and apathy, we not only allow the tragedy to happen, we condone it. It takes a little push, faith, belief and conviction of truth to change, to question it and say, “Who am I, who are we, and what can we do to change?”

The cast is stellar: Louis Tait (Brendan), Angie Meiklejohn (Jen and Hineahuone), Kimberley Skipper (Kath), Kauri Leach (Luke), Hariata Moriarty (Manea and Hinetītama), Saul Kolio (Mike), Jeremy Davis (Rewa and Tānemahuta) supported by Huia Max, Erena Page, Brooke Wharehinga, Jewel Te Wiki and Rylee Herewini. Their performances are breath-taking, convincing, emotional and astral. I find the exploratory themes provoking and challenging and would encourage anyone from all walks of life to see The Swing and experience it.

And about myths:

Myths have become a synonym for craven, heathen, un-godly and untrue stories, but the mythology expert Joseph Campbell has said that myths are truths; they convey values, emblems and symbols. He says, “Myth is much more important and true than history. History is just journalism, and you know how reliable that is.”

We know of the Māori creation myth that begat Hinetītama thanks to our own Tohunga (ancient Māori priests), our truth tellers. That’s the truth.

Read other reviews on the Theatreview website.

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