The Golden Lover
The Maori Theatre Trust is no longer a dream on the part of a few enthusiasts. Within the space of a month they have made an impressive debut with two completely different types of play which have caused Wellington's theatrical buffs to sit up and take notice. First came He Mana Toa—a high drama and a serious probing of the Maori's attitudes to his traditional beginnings and to the Pakeha influence on his ancient beliefs and culture. Now, presented by ‘Downstage’ with the full co-operation of the Trust, we have The Golden Lover—high comedy and great good fun. Like its predecessor it received not inconsiderable acclaim from local critics. The Evening Post called it ‘excellent fare’. The Dominion talked about ‘comedy delightfully played by a competent cast… ‘Of the players, the critic said ‘… their sense of timing is all a director could wish for’.
As with He Mana Toa, The Golden Lover provides a window on Maoridom, but this time it highlights the Maoris' penchant for making fun of themselves. It abounds in the type of humour in which Maoris indulge amongst themselves when there are no Pakeha present. In this the playwright, Douglas Stewart, has not only succeeded in painting a convincing picture of pre-European pa life, but he has made his characters completely believable as Maoris, which is no small feat for a Pakeha. There are plenty of the standard gimmicks of Maori humour, of course—the fat one of the ‘snoring stomach’, the shrewish wife who upstages her husband, the clucking old kuias—but this is also a play full of genuinely funny lines and situations.
Bob Hirini was superb as the fat idle Ruarangi and his performance was ably complimented by Auckland Pakeha Shirley Duke as his flirtatious wife, Tawhai. Don Selwyn gave a strong and dignified portrayal of Tawhai's father whilst Harata Solomon and Thelma Grabmaier entertained as Tawhai's mother and a gossipy kuia respectively. Kuki Kaa is almost type-cast in local plays now as a tohunga, and he brought an appropriately sinister air to the role of the Tohunga ta makutu, Te Kawau. Tim te Heuheu as the bashful young brave in fruitless search for casual copulation was also convincing. Regrettably the one weak spot in an otherwise consistently strong cast was Ray Henwood as Whana the golden lover. Mr Henwood is no mean actor, but unfortunately he was miscast, and just did not look or sound the part as the noble chief of the patupaiarehe.
Richard Campion's direction was sure and thorough and throughout the play Douglas Lilburn's electronic music and sound effects did much to heighten an atmosphere already effectively created by good lighting and a first-class set. In this respect Lover was streets ahead of He Mana Toa and showed that a small stage need be no bar to effective staging.
What now of the future? I may be a sentimentalist but it gave me a terrific thrill to see these (mostly) young Maoris standing straight and confidently and beautifully articulating the sounds of our common language (Don Selwyn was particularly good in this respect). By teaching young Maoris to move, speak and act confidently the Trust should prove a valuable training ground for members of conventional Maori cultural groups and for this reason it deserves the full support of such clubs. Both the plays have opened exciting vistas for Maori theatre. Unfortunately both these Wellington offerings were to restricted audiences. In making a start the Trust has perhaps wisely not set its sights too high, but there must surely be a wider audience for theatre of the calibre which the Trust appears able to offer and the Trust must seek it out. The Maori people must also give the Trust their support, for it can be a powerful propagandizing agency. The Maori has for too long been inarticulate. The Maori Theatre Trust offers Pakehas an opportunity to evaluate our young people and the contribution they are capable of making to the artistic and cultural life of our country. In this respect the image which the Trust can project, judging from its recent performances in Wellington, is a strong cause for legitimate pride by us all.