2 and 3 December, East Pier By Jess Soutar Barron
Standing at the beach at East Pier, the shore mist lightly hanging above the water, out there Pania’s Reef, the importance of which has just been unfolded. Over one hundred children singing, their backs to the sea. A clutch of their adults standing witness, facing them and facing the ocean. Here come the tears.
This is the final breathtaking moment of Pania a children’s drama production spearheaded by Juliet Cottrell, a tour de force on a shoestring.
The show, written by local writer Amanda Jackson, interweaves two parallel stories of Pania’s Reef, the Ngati Parau legend and the modern-day environmental picture.
Every one of the 102 children has a key part to play and a moment in the sunshine. Older teens in the cast hold the periods of high drama and emotional tension while younger children carry the comedy. The rule of ‘Safety in Numbers’ means even the shyest of performers keeps their composure with not one dropped line or missed cue.
Simple but effective costuming and make-up give the show clear scene delineation and help convey the story clearly. Tremendous fish headgear and sealife hand puppets, as well as two Mummenschanz rubbish monsters, bring some of the more challenging characters to life.
With these many children moving on and off the stage the true success is their obvious ability to listen to each other and watch others work without upstaging, corpsing or miss-stepping. It’s seamless. Seamless too is the introduction of a good percentage of te reo Maori, in individual words peppered throughout but also in concepts and phrasing.
A real highlight is the delicate and thoughtful choreography that gives space to every performer and brings each setting to life. That attention to detail lifts the production away from stock standard school show.
The comedic element is delivered by The Board, an hilarious telling of the pulls and pushes of government, which has current HBRC Chair Rex Graham, perched in the front row, guffawing, along with the rest of the audience. The onstage Chair belts out his signature phrase “A Thriving Economy is Everything”, made funnier by his th’s coming out as f’s. Portraying officials as precocious school kids is a stroke of genius.
Among so many it’s hard to pick out favourites but it’s fair to say that from little Grace Feltham as Hinemoa to Holly Renwick as Nannyma everyone is fabulous. Particular mention should be made though of outstanding voice technique from Taygen Elliot, and a gentle charisma from Lola Kidd, two of the more senior members of the cast showing the little pipis what’s possible with a bit of stretch, a few years and a whole lot of hard mahi.
This is just what we need in Hawke’s Bay, a co-created and contemporary interpretation of local folklore. A tough act to follow for The Drama Workshop, this audience will certainly be looking forward to seeing what they come up with next year.