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  • Writer's pictureTE RĀKAU

Early settler story told in epic scale and writing

Updated: May 8

Dominion Post | 23 January 2015

The Undertow is a quartet of plays from Te Rakau Theatre documenting the settlement of Wellington, past, present and future. The Ragged is the first of the four plays.


Four young people stand atop of large boxes, posing with prop muskets and hatchets
The Ragged boasts a cast of 30 in a unique play about early Wellington that is not to be missed.

Epic in scale and writing, it has numerous threads running through it showing various aspects of life in Wellington in 1840.

Out in Owhiro Bay a newly arrived settler Samuel Kenning (Matthew Dussler) is washed ashore, while around in the village of Thorndon the New Zealand Company representative Ranulf Spooner (Regan Moyes) and Governor Hobson's man Crippen (Louis Tait) are dishing out land parcels to other newly arrived settlers.

Kenning rejects an offer from Spooner to be part of the new Wellington settlement, deciding they are no better than the aristocracy he has left behind in England, and instead decides to stay in the bay.

He is welcomed into the local Māori village Te Miti by the old chief Te Waipouri (Jim Moriarty) even though his feisty daughter-in-law Peata (Martine Gray) is against this Pakeha intruder.

Through the interaction of these two groups we are shown, often in grand operatic style, all that was bad, and sometimes good, in those early days of Wellington being settled. Part of this is religious teaching and educating the locals by the pastor Thaddeus Bly (Sean Ashton-Peach) who makes Te Waipouri's mokopuna Maaka (Tamati Moriarty) and Amiria (Hariata Moriarty) use their anglicised names and beats them when they speak in te reo.

There is also Te Waipouri's other son Tame (Nepia Takuira-Mita), hoping one day to be chief but who for now spends his time travelling the country on tribal business with his slave Borrigan (Noel Hayvice), an ex-convict.

There are, however, dire consequences when they eventually return and the production reaches its climax.

Adding to the tension that builds among both the settlers in Thorndon and Te Waipouri's family and in keeping with writer Helen Pearse-Otene's epic style is a chorus of spirit-like creatures who complement the action through dance, movement and singing.

On the large Soundings stage in Te Papa, covered in sand with just a wooden row boat as the stage setting, the large cast of 30 under the direction of Jim Moriarty use the space to great effect to tell their story.

Adding to the success of the production is Tanemahuta Gray's choreography, Lisa Mule's lighting design, Cara Louise Waretini's costumes and Busby Pearse-Otene's incredible soundscape.

To have read or heard about our local history is one thing, but to see it portrayed in the way Te Rakau Theatre does is special and unique and not to be missed.

This review was originally published on Visit the website below.

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