Dave Armstrong enthuses about his work in the Octagon sun
yesterday. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Wellington playwright Dave Armstrong has fuzzy memories
of his last trip to Dunedin.
"It was meant to be a nice, quiet visit down to see my Motor
Camp play at the Fortune. But, afterwards, the cast dragged
me out to every bar in Dunedin and I ended up sending an
incomprehensible text home to my wife at 3am."
He has escaped the dog box and stoically returned to the
scene of the crime to see his plays Rita and Douglas and
Where We Once Belonged in this year's Otago Festival of the
The former, based on a series of letters between artist Rita
Angus and composer Douglas Lilburn, finished its season at
King's and Queen's last night.
Armstrong will attend the opening night of Where We Once
Belonged at the Fortune tonight before heading back to
"It's great to see your play come alive on stage. It's the
cool part of the job."
He started writing Where We Once Belonged on a beach in Apia,
but its genesis was a lifetime ago.
"I grew up next door to a Pacific Island family and they were
my second family. I've always loved the Samoan sense of
humour and disposition," he said.
"Our culture has been so influenced by Maori and Pacific
culture. People ask me how I can write about those characters
when I'm not Pacific Islander, and I say 'How can you not?
'"Even though I'm a pagali, which is a Samoan word which
means 'skybreaker', because the ships that brought the white
men to Samoa were so big they broke the sky.
"Quite a bit of the play is about how Western society has
inveigled its way into traditional cultures and stuffed them
up. One of the lines in the play is: 'Every time we cook
corned beef instead of coconut, or drink Coke instead of
coconut milk, we're committing suicide'."
The former school teacher and television writer, who has
written for programmes including Shortland Street and
Bro'town, has been a full-time playwright for the past 12
His plays King and Country, Le Sud, The Tutor and Motor Camp
have all been performed in Dunedin.
However, he is particularly animated about his latest
"It's very theatrical. Basically, we recreate an actual
Samoan village, including a market in Apia and a public
toilet and even a bus scene.
"It has been such an amazing cast to work with. Pacific
Islanders don't see theatre as an intellectual exercise, but
as a way to feel emotions and tell stories."
Where We Once Belonged opens at the Fortune Theatre at 7.30pm
today and runs till Thursday.