Patrick Davies from Theatreview came to the opening of Capital E National Theatre for Children’s Hinepau to write a stellar review. Read on below to find out his thoughts.

Based on the story by Gavin Bishop and like Capitals E’s Kiwi Moon, Hinepau is a tale of sacrifice. This current production follows the 2005,-06, and -08 versions, and also goes on tour.* Two of the original devisors who co-created the first version are at the helm: Erina Daniels (Director of the excellent Shot Bro) as Creative Consultant and Jamie McCaskill (Maori theatre’s current tane-about-town) as Director.

Carrie Green (Hinepau), Erroll Anderson (Rua), Jean Volkerling (Hera) and Tom Knowles (Pori/Koro) bring the story to life with great rapport and generosity between themselves and with the audience. They’re onstage as we enter, already in character as the kids who will tell us a story, greeting us, playing with each other, destroying the 4th wall and generally setting the mood of fun. After one of the most novel and clever cellphone/ emergency briefings/ title announcements I have ever experienced, which also goes a long way to setting up the characters and the pecking order of the kids, we get to see their rehearsal of a story they will be performing for their marae.

Already poor Hinepau, all abstract haka moves and giggly delight, comes under fire for being different; it’s not only her bright red hair that sets her apart. She knows she’s different and doesn’t see a problem with it. It’s only after a stunning event in the whare that she is branded a witch and exiled. Living on her own she comes closer and closer to the world around her. Years later she is discovered by the other children and when Rua breaks tapu, causing the world around them to almost be obliterated, it is Hinepau’s ultimate sacrifice that restores Nature, the land and the Marae’s existence.

All four characters are delightful to watch: Rua the narcissistic leader, Hera the ditzy follower, Pori the bumbler and Hinepau the outsider. The actors fill these archetypes with soul and great physicality. It is a very alive and present production. All four adeptly show us the kids and then their older selves without having to announce it narratively, their physicality and voice doing the work for them.  Green’s strength when confronting her former friends, who are about to do wrong, is so steely yet so heart-wrenching, so palpably felt, that I see two or three kids stand up in their seats as if on the verge of assisting.

It’s also very beautiful. Capital E, to my mind, is possibly the only theatre company that has the resources to consistently create high value work for children. Tony De Goldi’s visually impressive set is simple, tourable and textural: a floor-to-ceiling column of cheesecloth for a Totara; two odd multi-planed rocks that have multiple uses; a wall of rock that serves as a mountain, a wall in a whare, and which is used brilliantly by Jen Lal’s light design. De Goldi’s costumes follow the same suit: the puri, piupiu, etc – fresh and stunning, beautifully woven (Anne de Geus) – visually place us in the early days of Aotearoa.

Stephen Gallagher’s sound design lifts and swirls around us to great effect and the two songs (McCaskill/Daniels) are highlights in the hands of Green. It’s not the easiest thing to be as active as she is with the flax while singing a lyrical song.

Puppetry by Peter Wilson – a feature of every show of Capital E’s that I’ve seen – and Movement by Tanemahuta Gray add a magical dimension to the show. Late at night Hinepau brings out her weavings and ‘swims’ a spectacularly woven fish around in the air for her own pleasure. All the kids (and adults) in the audience are spellbound when an unseen (and uncredited) stage hand takes over and the fish floats above the sleepers on stage.

This is a marvellous story told well. If I do have a quibble, it’s the climax. While beautiful – Hinepau and the Ruru fly to save the forest and help it to regenerate – it does lack the punch I’d been expecting. The movement and the Ruru’s wings are great but it lacks the sense of regrowth that occurs below.

The audience are engaged with the onstage antics of the ‘kids’ as they muck about and silent when the drama gets serious. Certainly there are a few hugs from parents during some scary bits but that’s part of the deal and welcome. This is a story with messages that are clear and getting louder these days: if we treat the earth with disrespect we will rue the day, and just because our gifts don’t conform to someone else’s doesn’t mean we aren’t good enough. Well worth seeing.

*This production has a great whakapapa and it is exciting to know that, under Capital E’s Creative Producer Marianne Taylor and Director Stuart Grant leadership, as well as Hinepau – Behind the Scenes (a new initiative “which provides Wellington schools the opportunity for their students to interact with the cast and crew and create their own digital response to the play”), in 2017 it will tour in Te Reo, in partnership with Taki Rua Productions.

Reviewed by Patrick Davies, 17 Jul 2016
Originally sourced from Theatreview