Mark Twain & Me in Maoriland

03:29, Mar 15 2010
Sutra
WHICH WAY'S UP?: A Shaolin monk from the acrobatic arts festival show Sutra toys with gravity at Frank Kitts Park.
Sutra choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
THIS WAY UP: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Fang Ya Xi perform at Frank Kitts Park.
Sutra
BALANCING ACT: A pair of Shaolin monks at Frank Kitts Park.
Philippe Priasso from Transports Exceptionnels
TAKE YOUR PARTNER BY THE BUCKET: Philippe Priasso from Transports Exceptionnels has a trial 'waltz' with his dance partner, an orange digger, at Waitangi Park.
Philippe Priasso from Transports Exceptionnels
TAKE YOUR PARTNER BY THE BUCKET: Philippe Priasso from Transports Exceptionnels has a trial 'waltz' with his dance partner, an orange digger, at Waitangi Park.
Andrew Jameson
WORTH THE WAIT: Andrew Jameson is first in line to get $20 tickets to a Mahler show.
Peter Kostandelos and Sophie Hakaraia
IN THE CLUB: Festival club managers Peter Kostandelos and Sophie Hakaraia play host in Shed 6.
Footnote Dance Company
GREAT LEAP FORWARD: Footnote Dance Company's Mtyland is the first Kiwi show to to open at the festival. They also performed at the Black Caps v Australia Twenty20 match at Westpac Stadium last night.
Mary Stuart
PAIR OF QUEENS: Tina Regtien, left, as Mary and Carmel McGlone as Elizabeth in Mary Stuart.
Object of Desire 2010
MADONNA IN METAL: Richard Lamb, from Woburn, looks over the work Object of Desire 2010, one of more than 60 works by Kiwi artists featured in the Shapeshifter exhibition at Civic Gardens in Lower Hutt.
Andreas Falk
RENAISSANCE MAN: Andreas Falk evokes Leonardo da Vinci's image of a man in a circle with great grace and superb balance.
Gareth Ruck and Desiree Cheer
BUS STOP ANTICS: Gareth Ruck and Desiree Cheer are handing out Arts Festival programmes and spot prizes to Wellington bus passengers.
Ian Hughes and Don McGlashan
HOOKED ON THINGS NAUTICAL: Ian Hughes, who holds the musical show Ship Songs together, and Don McGlashan, who has grown a beard for his role as a rollicking 18th century sailor.
Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips
FUN FOR ALL THE FAMILY: Musician Dean Wareham, with co-performer and wife Britta Phillips, says many relatives will be in the audience tonight.
Revolt of the Mannequins
DEADPAN DELIVERY: The Sniper, one of the characters in Revolt of the Mannequins.
Ship Songs
THEATRICAL DARLING: Storyteller Ian Hughes sings against a fiery backdrop with a backing band of, from left, Chris O'Connor, songwriter Don McGlashan and Dave Khan.
Ashley Brown
KINGDOM COME: NZTrio cellist Ashley Brown rehearses for the premiere of David Downes' Kingdom at Wellington Town Hall tonight.
Seraphine Pick
IN HER MIND'S EYE: Seraphine Pick with painting Wandering Rose (2008, oil on linen).
Mannequins
HOW TO TRAIN A MANNEQUIN: The bizarre fire brigade begins basic training in the window at Robyn Mathieson.
Sniper mannequin
CRACK SHOT: A sniper takes out those mannequins that refuse to revolt.
Eli Kent
ON LOCATION: Four hours in, Eli Kent churns out a story on a laptop for the Once Upon A Deadline competition.
Laura Kroetsch
TALL ORDER: Laura Kroetsch has co-ordinated the arrival of 56 writes in Wellington for Writers and Readers Week.
Irya's Playground
ROCK OUT: Irya's Playground is a Swedish indie-pop group, formed around the vocals and songwriting of Irya Gmeyner.
Anthony McCall
SHINING EXAMPLE: Anthony McCall projects light through a gas, making solid-appearing and changing shapes.
Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra
A WORLD OF SOUNDS: Lead singer Amayo and the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra had the audience on their feet.
Mark Twain and Me in Maoriland
SOUND THE HORN: Mark Twain, played by Stephen Papps, and Mayor, played by Aaron Cortesi. The writer got a rousing reception wherever he went.
360 directors
SHAPE OF PLAY: From left, 360 directors Carl Bland, Peta Rutter and Ben Crowder. 'It's funny at times, it's moving at times,' says Rutter.
Calexico singer Joey Burns
A LITTLE BIT COUNTRY: Calexico singer Joey Burns leads the way at the Pacific Blue Festival Club.
Calexico singer Joey Burns
SIMPLE, BUT SO EFFECTIVE: Calexico at their best are a seamless and effortless blend.
Jenny Morris
POWER-PACKED: Jenny Morris relaxes on the Wellington waterfront before donning her rock chick gear for her show.
Mark Twain & Me in Maoriland
SYMBOLIC STUFF: Mark Twain (Stephen Papps) is bagged, while Ra (Maaka Pohatu), conjures the sound of paddling, with a plastic water bottle, in Mark Twain & Me in Maoriland.
Hannah Gross
ARTY WORK: Hannah Gross, who used the magnetic letters of the Inspiring Words campaign to write a poem, would like the cubes to be a permanent fixture.
Mercy Ojelade
STILL FUN: Mercy Ojelade has 100 performances of The Walworth Farce under her belt.
Good Morning, Mr Gershwin
THEY GOT RHYTHM: A dancer interacts with giant projected images during the dress rehearsal of International Arts Festival showpiece Good Morning, Mr Gershwin.
The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
AT REHEARSAL: Freiburg Baroque Orchestra conductor Rene Jacobs, left, and horn player Teunis van der Zwart.
Good Morning, Mr Gershwin
SHALL WE DANCE: The Compagnie Montalvo-Hervieu's wonderfully sequenced homage to George Gershwin is sassy, funny and very sexy.
Rebecca Rose
WELL EMBEDDED: Artist Rebecca Rose reports that her aluminium sculpture Tidal Drift is still anchored.
Richard Lamb
ART OBJECT: Richard Lamb, from the Hutt Valley, admires Object of Desire, 2010, by Hannah Kidd, from Franz Josef.
Frond, 2010
LOOKS LEAFY: Pauline Patchett looks at Frond, 2010, by Hamilton artist Gaye Jurisich.
Hope with Wings
ON A WING AND A HOPE: Judy Tallon from Tauranga looks at the $90,000 Hope with Wings by Llew Summers, from Christchurch.
Rene Jacobs
HUGE REPUTATION: Rene Jacobs' highly individual conducting revealed all of Haydn's greatness, and no little affection.
Los Amigos Invisibles
THE BOYS FROM VENEZUELA: Los Amigos Invisibles, from left, Juan M Roura, Julio Briceno, Maurigo Arcas, Armando Figueredo, and Jose R Torres.

Mark Twain & Me in Maoriland, by David Geary, directed by John Bolton for Taki Rua Productions
Soundings Theatre, until March 21

Much of New Zealand's colonial history has been recorded from a British perspective, yet few probably realise that a prominent American travelling through the country in the mid-1890s made some rather astute observations on our race relations, which didn't go down well with his fellow Europeans.

The American was Mark Twain, on a worldwide speaking tour to raise money to pay off debts. Arriving in New Zealand, he visited many towns, including Whanganui, which is where David Geary obtained ideas for his play Mark Twain & Me in Maoriland.

Mark Twain & Me in Maoriland
SYMBOLIC STUFF: Mark Twain (Stephen Papps) is bagged, while Ra (Maaka Pohatu), conjures the sound of paddling, with a plastic water bottle.

Yet while the play shows up Twain's attitudes toward colonialism, organised religion and racism, he almost becomes superfluous, his writings acting as a mirror to reflect what was happening in Whanganui at the time.

And it is the Maori aspect at the heart of the play that works most successfully. In a series of vignettes using various types of theatre styles, including vaudeville, Western-style movies, narrative and mixing dramatic realism with elements of the surreal, numerous incidences occurring in Whanganui at that time are portrayed.

Symbols of the present are also incorporated into the production, such as the bright orange plastic bag over Twain's head and the half-filled plastic water bottle as a paddle, the sound of the water sloshing most effective.

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Considered a superstar of the period, Twain (Stephen Papps) is introduced at various times to the populace of Whanganui during entertainment evenings at the Oddfellows Hall. He is taken up the river, then spends much of his time observing and writing about what he sees and hears.

The simple set of a large white canvas across the stage running right up to the back wall and beyond - no doubt symbolising the river - with black curtains is effectively used by the confident and spirited cast.

Under John Bolton's direction, they bring much physicality and dexterity to their performances. The hilarious vaudeville double act of the Anglican priest (Aaron Cortesi) and Catholic priest (Allan Henry) is in complete contrast to the creative and dramatic battle on Moutoa Island between the Hauhau and local Whanganui Maori with Ra (Maaka Pohatu), assisted by Piki (Ngapaki Emery), leading the charge in spectacular fashion.

And although the many threads don't always weave this production into a satisfying whole, it is nevertheless another commendable New Zealand production giving a fascinating insight into a little- known piece of history that resonates as much with today as it does with the past, aptly summed up in the words of Mark Twain - history may not repeat, but it sure does rhyme a lot.

The Dominion Post