Review of Whare Korero: Stories within Stories

Puti Lancaster is synonymous with storytelling. Her body of work has rolled and grown for a number of years. Steeped in turangawaewae, rooted in the Heretaunga Plains, her latest piece provides a structural framework for past works and future imaginings. The Whare Kōrero is a place to be immersed in story, and by hearing the stories of others, reflect on our own story — Stories Within Stories.


It’s a piece in two parts, each written and performed by longtime members of what Lancaster calls the constellation of families. She amplifies marginalised voices to stage intimate true tales that need to be heard. Wearing sun colours designed by Raewyn Paterson, sympathetically lit by Janis Cheng with a live musical backdrop, by Maitu Whiting, our characters burst onto the stage filled with vigour. The boundaries of traditional theatre are dismantled, not so much breaking the fourth wall as blowing apart the conventions of walls at all. The audience is addressed directly, invited to participate and feed the on stage energy.


A Thousand Thoughts a Minute sees Kristyl Neho embody not only her larger than life personality but those of her whanau, flitting between characters armed only with expressive gesture and one hell of a voice. She brings us on a candid journey addressing family, faith, body image and self-acceptance with her signature panache. She plays with the space and pacing, drifting in and out of spoken word, verse, rap, a whanau waiata we all are invited to join, ending with a full-throated heartfelt anthem, seamlessly flowing to the next piece.


The Hunger Strikes Me showcases Eru Heke, juxtaposing the effusive energy of an evangelical aerobics instructor — all high kicks, flips and tricks, balletic whirls and splits — with soft emotive gesture. From the liminal space of dreams, Heke maps out space and place on stage taking us on the journey of his mere fifteen years. He too breathes life into the colourful characters of his whanau, speaks with intense sincerity about the reality of being rangitahi right here right now, negotiating friendships, family dynamics, touching on the rawness of family violence and alcohol abuse. 


A number of Lancaster’s signature theatrical devices pepper the piece. Heke constructs cardboard houses to represent his many family homes. His voice is amplified through a simple paper cone, creating not only distortion, but audibly and visually representing his hunger to be heard. At one point the audience provides a finger clicking beat prompted by the thrum of Whiting’s rhythm guitar, a soft heart pounding that augments Heke’s exceptional words, drawing us into the piece. 


There is a sense of continuity in the Whare Kōrero. This is a house built painstakingly over time with bricks of substance and mortar of love, shaped and molded to magnify the voices it hosts and ultimately create space for each of us to give voice to what we hold inside — stories that can be small and soft but still contain a wellspring of depth. Together the piece is engaging, intimately relatable, sometimes uncomfortable but ultimately hopeful — tales of growth to inspire and uplift.

 Reviewed By Rosheen Fitzgerald. 

Photos Charlotte Anderson

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