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No. 20 (November 1957)
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Success of Maori Actors

Watching Maori concert parties and variety shows, with their incomparable comperes, one often thinks that there should be great opportunities for many Maori people in the more serious stage drama. Last August for the first time, the country's foremost theatre group, the New Zealand Players, staged a play where the three principal characters were Maori actors. It was “The Pohutukawa Tree” by Bruce Mason, and the chief actors were Miss Hira Tauwhare, Miss Mary Nimmo, and Mr Maia Sullivan. Critical Wellington audiences, viewing the play in four performances, were most favourably impressed with the liveliness and appropriateness of their acting and the play will be shown again in various towns later.

Subject of “The Pohutukawa Tree” was the conflict in ideas between the older and younger generations of Maoris in the modern world. It tells the story of the Mataira family … Aroha and her two children, Queenie and Johnnie. These three are the only remaining Maoris of the Ngati Raukura living on their ancestral lands at Te Parenga; the rest of the tribe slowly drifted away many years ago as their land was bought and settled by the pakeha.

Aroha, the mother, a deeply religious woman, played by Miss Hira Tauwhare, still clings to the great traditions of the past. When the play opens, Queenie and Johnnie (acted by Miss Mary Nimmo and Mr Maia Sullivan) are adolescents, and are beginning to rebel against the restrictions of their home life. Being unprepared for the harshness of the world, both come to grief. But being young and resilient they learn to compromise.

Not so Aroha, for her it is different. She suddenly finds her life collapsed and in ruins, and is too old and proud to re-mould it.

This then is the story of “The Pohutukawa Tree” which was produced recently in the Theatre Work shop of the New Zealand Players.

The cast included eighteen speaking parts, but it was the three Maori characters who were dominant figures and around whom the play revolved and to whom its success is due. These three, with their freshness and vitality, have shown that the Maor has a natural and uninhibited acting talent which was the envy of the rest of the cast. And they have proved that the door to yet one more profession is open to the Maori.

Miss Hira Tauwhare, formerly of Masterton and now of Feilding, took the part of Aroha Mataira

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Mrs Mary Nimmo (Queenie)

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Mr Maia Sullivan (Johnnie)

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Miss Hira Tauwhare (Aroha)

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This part called for a lot of versatility for Hira had to represent an aged Maori of the old school while she herself is anything but old school. But she has had wide dramatic experience and therefore was able to adapt herself to this new part very quickly. Although she is very fond of sport and at one time was the Champion Marching leader for the Wairarapa, North Island and for New Zealand, Hira's main interests have always been drama and speech. Ever since schooldays, which were spent at Wairarapa College, she has belonged to theatrical societies and actually produced her first play at the age of seventeen. For years she was an active member of the Masterton and Martinborough Little Theatre Societies, the Marlborough Repertory Society and the Blenheim Operatic Society. Hira, who has passed the L.T.C.L. examination for speech, leads a very busy life. During the day she works as a hairdresser, while each evening is spent teaching speech at the Leader Studio in Wellington. Recently she produced the play “Sunday Costs Five Pesos” acted by te Leader Studio at the Wellington Drama Festival. She told Te Ao Hou that she would like to interest the Maori people in speech and drama, for she believes that artistic work, apart from the old traditions, will give them confidence to face the future, for it is the future that is important, and although one can learn from one's own traditional past, other peoples' customs and cultures should be adopted and used to advantage.

An active member of concert parties, Hira sang, danced and did sketches during the war. Later she was chosen to represent the Wairarapa in the first Miss New Zealand contest.

In the near future, Hira hopes to go to England to further her studies in speech and drama.

Taking the part of Aroha's young daughter, Queenie was Mary Nimmo, who comes from Levin. Mary, who belongs to the Tukarehe subtribe of Ngati Raukawa is twenty years of age.

While attending Horowhenua College, she learnt shorthand and typing which led to a position in a solicitor's office when she left school. Just over a year ago she decided to come to Wellington and now works with Adult Education. At first she boarded at Pendennis Hostel, but she now finds flatting with four other girls, one of whom is an Australian, much more exciting. Mary feels she has gained much since she has been in Wellington. She now has the opportunity in participating in a wider range of cultural activities. There are visits to the theatre, the National Orchestra, and exhibitions such as that of Henry Moore.

While at College. Mary took part in several light opera performances. She was a member of the Levin Operatic Society doing musical shows, as well as being an active member of entertainment groups.

Although her chief interest is in musical shows Mary was thrilled when she was given a part in “The Pohutukawa Tree”.

Mary's brother in the play, Johnnie, was played by Maia Sullivan, who comes from Fernhill, near Hastings. A member of Ngati Maahu of Ngati Kahungunu, Maia, who is twenty-four attended Hastings High School. He came to Wellington in 1952 and at first he worked in the Department of Agriculture. At present he is working in the Chief Electoral Office of the Department of Justice, as well as attending Victoria University College, where he is a medical intermediate student. Next year he intends going to Otago University to further his medical studies.

When Maia saw the advertisement for Maori actors, he was dared by a friend to apply for an audition. Maia is extremely interested in drama and although he has had little dramatic experience, he immediately took the dare up and was successful in his application.

He says the rehearsals took up a lot of time especially when he could have been ‘swotting’, but he feels they were well worth it and he will be sorry when the play is over.

Like Mary, Maia feels that the city provides many more opportunities to attend the live theatre.

A keen sportsman, Maia plays hockey for University.