Common ground at Cassino

Monte Cassino, Italy, 1944: A hungry Maori soldier out stealing food bumps into a frightened Italian deserter in a stable.

Initially wary of each other, the pair soon find common ground as they take cover from the marauding German soldiers outside.

"As they talk, they learn they have a lot in common," Strange Resting Places creative producer James Ashcroft said.

"Both Maori and Italian men love family, food, wine, women and song."

The play is set in the barren landscape of Monte Cassino as it is being pounded by artillery and the story unfolds in Maori, Italian and English.

"It's not traditional theatre. It's performed to engage the imagination through comedy, song and music."

Strange Resting Places was written by long-time friends Paolo Rotondo and Rob Mokaraka, of Auckland.

"Paolo is Italian and Rob's Maori and they decided to trace their family histories and write something about their friendship. They pitched the idea to Taki Rua Productions and we funded them to go to Italy to research it.

"While they were there, they talked to people from Monte Cassino and came back with a plethora of different stories," Ashcroft said.

However, the actors soon discovered that not everyone had fond memories of the New Zealanders in Italy.

"Rob met one elderly man who was very garrulous. But he became cold when he discovered Rob was Maori. This man had had strong feelings about Maori behaving in ways that were not according to the Geneva Convention.

"He had terrible images of the Maori Battalion. It showed the high level of propaganda in Germany at the time," Ashcroft said.

"We've had war veterans come to see the play and stay for hours afterwards talking. A 92-year-old man came up after it premiered at Bats [theatre, Wellington] and talked for an hour with myself and the boys about Monte Cassino.

"He was really moved by it."

The play won the 2007 Chapman Tripp theatre award for best writers, and features actors Rob Mokaraka, Maaka Pohatu and Barnie Duncan.

Strange Resting Places plays for the final time at 8 tonight at the Otago Settlers Museum.

 

 

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