Cross-cultural story enthrals young audience

At the schools' matinee yesterday, about 70 secondary pupils were making about as much noise as that number of teenagers can comfortably make - until the play started.

From that moment on there was awed silence in the auditorium for an hour and a-quarter, then loud and enthusiastic clapping.

The play that made such a deep impression was Nga Puke (The Hills), by Dunedin playwright John Broughton, who was present in the audience and moved to the stage at the end to answer questions.

Like most of Broughton's plays, Nga Puke entwines themes of love and war. It begins and ends on a North Island farm, with an interlude in a military hospital in Crete.

Two days before World War 2 begins, a Pakeha artist from Dunedin leaves a farm gate open. The Maori farmer is furious. After a few skirmishes, however, the pair find they have more in common than just bossiness and a liking for date scones.

Farmer Waru and artist Angie are played by Kimo Houltham and Simone Walker: both performances are engaging, affecting and occasionally fiery.

There is a certain amount of didactic content (creation myths, and information about Maori relationships to land) which could weigh a play down, but here seems lively and interesting.

When, afterwards, the audience was asked who had seen live theatre before, only a few hands went up. Even fewer went up in response to a question about who had seen a play with Maori content.

So, a cross-cultural love story, and a stimulating introduction to theatre for a sizeable bunch of young people.

Nga Puke wasn't written specifically for a younger audience, though, and people of any age are likely to appreciate it just as much.

The production, directed by Cian Elyse White, is brought to Dunedin by Waiti Productions, and the final performance will be tonight.

-By Barbara Frame

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