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  • Writer's pictureTE RĀKAU

Made with a heart-melting level of care

Updated: May 20

Nitika Erueti-Satish for Theatreview | 17 November 2023

Nitika Erueti-Satish reviews The Swing for Theatreview.

Two women lean their heads against each other in a performance of The Swing by Helen Pearse-Otene
Photo by Te Rākau | Isaac Te Reina 2023

There is some heartfelt thought put into the pre-care of the audience before we watch the digital recording of The Swing because we are welcomed into the theatre with ushers and production crew on both sides of the aisles.

Before the film starts, Matua Jim Moriarty opens with a karakia and mihimihi. He explains the journey the production of this piece has been on and goes on to explain the content and themes within the piece that are sensitive, and may be triggering to some audience members. This ensures we are well informed of the background of the piece and how it evolved so that we can ingest what we are about to see with an open heart.

The Swing – written by Helen Pearse-Otene, directed by Jim Moriarty and produced by Te Rākau – is about sexual abuse and family violence within isolated communities. It reveals in human form the incestuous story of Tānemahuta and Hinetītama through a small family who are struggling with the effects of incest and suicide.

The story begins with te ao wairua penetrating te ao o te ora. This scene represents the character who is lost to suicide because of the abuse they endured as a child. Manea was a victim of sexual abuse from her father Rewa who also fell victim to the same abuse from his father along with Rewa’s sister Kath. The trauma caused Manea to commit suicide, Rewa was convicted and imprisoned, and Kath went crazy and ultimately took her own life.

The 80 minute digital show is extremely well captured and makes me wish I had seen the live version of this show.

The digitisation is in super high quality: you can see every crease of the skin and fine hairs on each character’s face.

The lighting complements and enhances each scene as the show unfolds. The music and sounds of taonga pūoro help evoke emotion and meaning. Through the music you sense what the characters feel. I also see the acknowledgement of iwi though the use of poi and how it keeps a sort of rhythmic texture to the show, supporting the very fitting mōteatea.

Combining these elements makes watching this show very intense. It is a very striking piece to absorb. I take my hat off to Kimberley Skipper who plays Kath. The versatility and skill this wāhine possess in her craft is just WOW. She carries the mauri with all its shifts, highs, and lows throughout the whole show.

While the subject matter could be too confronting for some, I do believe The Swing has a purpose and that this is an important medium to influence change and spread awareness about what is described in the show as a crisis in Aotearoa. This digital version can be used as a tool to educate communities about sexual harm and violence. At the end, we are informed that Te Rākau hopes that this mahi will tour and become a resource for families and communities.

After the show we are invited to join in a Q&A and some kai. This is a whakawātea: a tradition through which we reset by bringing people together, checking in with one another and breaking bread.

Tikanga Māori ensures we, as the audience, are cared for and reflects how the cast and the production crew have cared for each other while making this show.

The level of care felt amongst the people who attend melts my heart and exemplifies how shows with sensitive and aggressive subject matters should be made. Well done to all and a big congratulations.

Read more reviews on the Theatreview website.

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