Review: Manawa Ora: Stories from the street

POWERFUL: Manawa Ora - Stories from the street
POWERFUL: Manawa Ora - Stories from the street

It would be easy to write about Manawa Ora: Stories from the street in terms of the great work Sarah Longbottom and the team at Nga Rangatahi Toa do, about "disadvantaged" youths overcoming odds and an entertaining show making for a nice evening out. 

It would be easy. But the stories from this show are not easy. 

They are powerful, confronting and emotionally charged.

You walk into this show not knowing what to expect. The rangatahi play warm up games with their mentors - the likes of Ladi 6, Oscar Kightley and Josh Paki - they smile and laugh and the audience is welcomed in warmly, happily. 

And then the introductions start. 

The truth comes at you from the off and it hits a whole lot harder when it's staring you in the face, asking you "why?".

These are kids who have grown up marginalised. They know about  broken families, absentee parents, crime and family abuse. But what resonates most is the judgmental attitudes they have had to deal with throughout their lives. 

One piece of art showing on screen features the words, "unwanted" and "unwelcome".

Many of the rangatahi speak of people looking down on them, pre-judging them, seeing them as criminals and drop outs.

Chaquita, a budding photographer, shakes as she grips her notebook and tells us how everyone always told her she would never succeed but the thing she struggles with most is admitting what she wants, and that she is succeeding. 

Fifteen year old Crystal sings about self acceptance and a hopeful future, the boys rap about being better, succeeding to spite those who doubt them. Others tell stories about building a waka to travel to far off islands, to meet their parents for the first time. 

These aren't uplifting stories. There are tears, there is anger. These are the kind of stories that make you feel like you shouldn't be witnessing them.

But to see how they've overcome their struggles and the sheer surprise and pride on their faces when then the audience gave a standing ovation -  like maybe it wasn't all for nothing and their art means something - that's what it's about. 

We have always underestimated our youth. We think we know better, what's best, how things work, how they think. 

Manawa Ora: Stories from the street proves that we don't. These kids have talent - whether it's for art and photography, music, drama, poetry or public speaking. 

They have a lot to say, and we owe it to them to listen. 

Manawa Ora: Stories from the street is on at Auckland's Herald Theatre from now until Saturday, October 18.
Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.