Kia Ora Khalid
Created by: composer Gareth Farr and writer Dave Armstrong
Directed by: creative lead Ditas Yap
BATS Theatre, 31st Jan 2024
Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson
In a schoolyard on a lunch break, four kids – Tom (Jack Sullivan and understudy Aidan Soper), Serena (Justina-Rose Tua), Trang (Ameira Arroyo), and Khalid (Ofri Earon and understudy Jet Wilton) – are playing a game of touch rugby. Well, trying to play. It’s “three-one to the girls” (a catchy song still stuck in my head), and Tom is getting crushed. He needs another person on his team, but he won’t let Khalid play. Khalid, you see, is a refugee. He’s from Afghanistan, so he’s probably “a Taliban”, Tom sneers.
Tom’s prejudice begins to waver when Trang reveals that she is a first-generation Cambodian whose grandfather was a victim of the Khmer Rouge. And Serena’s uncle Sio had to leave Samoa in search of higher pay to support his family, only to become a victim of war himself. Just like Khalid. And, actually, just like Tom’s grandfather…
Kia Ora Khalid is a children’s opera that crosses continents and bridges borders to show that, at our core, we’re not that different. No matter the colour of our skin, the language we speak, or the god we pray to, our love – our humanity – is universal.
Presented under the umbrella of Six Degrees Festival, this production of Kia Ora Khalid is performed by a cast of 16 young people aged 10 to 19 from various schools across Wellington. What incredible heart this ensemble pours into every second of their time on stage. Tackling a sung-through opera is no mean feat – let alone one by composer Gareth Farr with writer Dave Armstong, one so dynamic and powerful. With live accompaniment by a tight band of pianist Laura Stone, cellist Nathan Parker, percussionist Ari Cradwick, and clarinettist Felix McDougall (whose voice blows me away), and music direction from Jo Hodgson, the cast is more than up to the mammoth challenge.
High production values – particularly stage manager Emory Otto’s costume design, and sound designer Senuka Sudusinghe’s lighting design, which sees breathtaking moments of shadowplay – combine to create a kaleidoscope of colour and spectacle.
Kia Ora Khalid premiered in 2009 but feels timelier than ever today. Led by stage director Ditas Yap, this cast and crew should be very proud.