Richly textured, insightful, humurous, sobering and energising
Updated: Dec 3, 2022
John Smythe for Theatreview | 21 January 2015
John Smythe reviews The Ragged for Theatreview.
This is Wellington’s story. It’s 1840 in Te Upoko-o-te-Ika-a-Māui (the head of the fish of Maui), also known as Te Whanga-nui-a-Tara (the great harbour of Tara), aka Poneke (Port Nick /Nicholson), aka Britannia before Wellington is settled on as the name.
Actually, after a prologue that contrasts Māori myth and legend (Potoki, Maui, Kupe) with the departure of settlers from England and the arduous sea voyages they endured, the action starts on the rugged south coast, at Ōwhiro Bay, in the grip of a roaring storm.
Busby Pearse-Otene’s dynamic sound design and Lisa Maule’s brilliantlighting add great value to the production, as do Cara Louise Waretini’s evocative costume designs.
A ‘patupaiarehe’ chorus, whose smart attire hints at toffs and/or their servants with tufts of white plumage, use white sticks ingeniously throughout, initially to help manifest scavenging gulls.
Tanemahuta Gray’s choreography of their set pieces suits the play’s purpose beautifully and is nicely counterpointed by the Settlers’ period dances, coached by Jo and Rodney of ‘Feet with Heat’.
Under the overall direction of Jim Moriarty, Helen Pearse-Otene’s exquisite script finds a generously open performance style to honour its fictionalised evocation of how Māori and Pakeha both clashed and coalesced in the process of colonisation.
In distilling an essence of the Wellington experience, The Ragged captures a nationwide, even global, phenomenon in all its complexity.
While she clearly revisits history with a strong political consciousness, Pearse-Otene is not one to resort to simplistic ‘goodie vs baddie’ plotting, and her play is all the more absorbing for that.
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