Written by: Tusiata Avia
Directed by: Anapela Polata’ivao
Circa Theatre, 3rd Mar 2024
Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus
Following their critically acclaimed production Wild Dogs Under My Skirt at the 2018 Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts, the FCC creative team is back this festival, bringing to ferocious life Tusiata Avia’s Ockham Poetry Award-winning The Savage Coloniser Book.
Far from being a simple poetry reading, this is a blisteringly provocative theatrical presentation by six Pasifika actors who speak, sing, and move their way through Avia’s confronting texts. She is totally unafraid to cast an unforgiving and provocative eye over race and racism, coloniser and colonised. The poems cross-examine the cringe-making things white people say, Gauguin’s sexualised utopian vision of Tahiti, white criticism of intergenerational trauma as an ‘excuse’ for bad behaviour, the stereotyping of South Aucklanders, a health sector that uses BMI as a weapon against Brown people, and much more. Woe betide you if you’re a National or ACT voter; Christopher Luxon and Judith Collins don’t come off well at all. That’s not to say the show isn’t funny. It’s achingly so and at many times causes a ripple of laughter and applause through the audience, as well as the odd whoop of righteous agreement.
The exceptional cast of Stacey Leilua, Joanna Mika-Toloa, Mario Faumui, Petmal Petelo, Ilaisaane Green, and Katalaina Polata’ivao-Saute totally own the stage. They are a strong, slick, and superbly coordinated team (choreography by Tupua Tigafua and Mario Faumui) with just six chairs, six machetes, and a mirror as props. They are aided by a superb set and a lighting design (production designers Bradley Gledhill and Rachel Marlow) that cleverly employs projections onto a sheer screen in front of the actors and smoke and lights behind them to emphasise the poetry, along with haunting music composed by David Long.
The Savage Coloniser Show is savage both in its content and its execution, while also being a creation of theatrical artistry. Leaving much to think about and examine in your own behaviour, it is a bold and necessary understanding of the history of Aotearoa.