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...a work in progress as we sort through 30 years of archives


St Oran's College and St Patrick's College Silverstream

1 - 5 May 2018

Photography by Piper Kilmister

In 2018 Te Rākau Theatre Trust turned its Theatre Marae style to the story of New Zealand’s 28th Māori Battalion with Helen Pearse-Otene’s ‘The Battalion’, with students from St Oran’s College and St Patrick’s College Silverstream.


The Battalion is a moving story about friendship, loyalty, madness and redemption – seen through the eyes of Paora Matene, a war veteran, and relayed to his wayward charges Rimini and George. 

Sent back to their Whanau in the “one cow town” of Tamariri, Rimini and George aren’t interested in any of the locals or their family history – they just want to get back to the city. It was the same for five young men in 1939. Drawn in by the excitement of war, they run away to the army and join the 28th Māori Battalion. Thus begins their adventure of a lifetime…

The Theatre Marae environment challenges students to develop skills in a variety of areas, including: lateral thinking, spatial awareness and coordination, text analysis, self awareness and presentation, resilience, time management, and inter-personal communication. The outcome is a high quality school production and enriching experience for audience members, performers, and their families. Students may also achieve NCEA credits.


Four plays by Helen Pearse-Otene

17 - 29 January 2017

Te Papa Tongarewa's Soundings Theatre

Whatungarongaro te tangata, toitū te whenua
Man disappears but the land remains.
4 plays. 177 years of history. 28 performances. 35 performers.
100% the Treaty in action.

"There are many things I love about The Undertow. It features a cast and

crew that are multigenerational. It uses te reo Māori and English. It’s

ambitious in both script and theatrical style. There’s singing and dancing and it feels integrated. It tells a story that is of this place." 

Photography by Aneta Pond

Design by Tim Walter Hansen

Never before attempted by a New Zealand Theatre Company, Te Rākau presented a quartet of plays in repertory about the ordinary people who lived through extraordinary times in our country’s history - The Undertow


The project had been 6 years in the making, as the ideas and scripts were developed and presented individually and critically described as deeply moving, compelling, generous, lyrical, and multi-layered. In January 2017 audiences got to see the works as they were always meant to be performed - together as a quartet. (The Ragged, Dog & Bone; Public Works and The Landeaters)


The four Undertow plays were presented at Te Papa Tongarewa’s Soundings Theatre in January 2017 in support of local iwi Ngati Toa’s residency at the museum and to coincide with Wellington Anniversary Day and Waitangi Day celebrations. Audiences experienced The Undertow over 2 evenings or together in one amazing day of theatre.


The Undertow in repertory aroused audiences’ curiosity about our capital city, our collective history, and our own family stories through a deep personal connection to our country’s history and the ordinary people who lived, loved, fought, won and lost to make Aotearoa what it is today.

“The Undertow series tells an important story unique to Aotearoa about the settlement of the Wellington region and ensuing relationships amongst Māori and between Tangata whenua and Tangata Tiriti. The themes apparent in the plays are also relatable to an international audience and the messages shared are thought provoking and significant to showcase at the National Museum.“
Te Papa Tongarewa Kaihautū Dr Arapata Hakiwai


With a core company of 50 performers, designers, technicians and production crew Te Rākau embarked on a 6 month rehearsal journey to get the 4 plays ready for the stage at Te Papa. The cast were drilled for fitness; speed; collaboration; discipline; team work and at the end of the project they had a lot of aroha for each other, for the project, and for themselves.  The cast and creative paepae come from across the greater Wellington region and include secondary and tertiary students, recent graduates of our performing arts training institutions, community performers, professional actors, designers and production crew.

For the programme with full cast and crew credits see here.

"This story could have been told in a very prosaic, documentary fashion, but Pearse-Otene, Moriarty and the whole Te Rākau company go about it in a far more interesting way, whetting our appetite for the truths and allowing us to discover them; slipping in the political points in ways that will trigger our consciousness and consciences when we are ready to hear them." 


For reviews and media see here.

Funding for the project came from Massey University College of Humanities and Social Science,The Todd Foundation, The Ministry of Youth Development, Wellington City Council, Pelorus Trust, Wellington Community Trust, Creative New Zealand, The Society of Mary, Nikau Foundation, Stout Trust and Lottery Environment and Heritage.


Te Rākau thanks all our funders for helping make this project possible.


Development Season

15 - 17 July 2016

Massey University Theatre Lab

PW dev3 2016.JPG

Photography by Shannon Culhane


  • Prepared the work for a premiere presentation in January 2017

  • Introduced the company (creative team and performers) to the work

  • Gave the playwright the chance to see the work stood up and edit

  • Was an opportunity to try out casting

  • Was an opportunity for the creative team to develop their ideas


The development season of ‘Public Works’ at Massey University not only allowed the playwright Helen Pearse-Otene and director Jim Moriarty to dramaturge the work, but presented an invaluable opportunity for the core creatives of The Undertow project to regularly hui and discuss the overarching aesthetics of the entire series and consider how –from their respective departments – ‘Public Works’ would connect in the sequence of plays The Undertow. 


Funding for the project came from Creative New Zealand; The Ministry of Youth Development, The Todd Foundation, Massey University (in kind) and ticket sales.

See here for the programme with cast and crew credits

PW dev1 2016.JPG


St Mary's College (Wellington) St Catherine's College (Wellington)

and St Patrick's College (Wellington)

In 2017 Te Rākau worked with rangatahi from St Patrick’s College; St Catherine’s College and St Mary’s College in Wellington in a kapa haka project towards competing in the Wellington Region Kapa Haka Regionals held in July 2017. The project was led by Kereama Te Ua - Performing Arts Lecturer at Whitireia polytechnic, Kaihaka for Te Waka Huia, Kapa haka choreographer, actor and dancer. 




The project was open to all (not just Māori students) and included Pakeha and Pacific Island rangatahi, of all levels of experience with Kapa Haka.


The benefits to the rangatahi involved included a growing sense of self-confidence, self-discipline, working seamlessly as an individual within a team, goal setting and the knowledge of how much Te Ao Māori has to offer the modern world.


Te Rākau also witnessed a strengthening of the respective schools’ communities and a strong parent/whanau voice coming forward with their aspirations for their rangatahi within the school community. Te Rākau hopes to move forward with this roopu, with the rangatahi and their whanau taking more responsibility and ownership of the process and longer term planning.

The roopu came 3rd in the Wellington Region and we are really proud of their hard work and commitment to the project, each other, and themselves.

Funding for the project came from The Todd Foundation and The Ministry of Youth Development.

2017-07-02 14.47.46.jpg

Photography by Aneta Pond

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