The Wairau Affray play to ‘confront’ colonial past: Theatre Royal Nelson
A “loaded and confronting” play that’s years in the making is set to hit the stage at the end of this month.
The Wairau Affray will tell the story of an attempt by Nelson colonists to confront Te Rauparaha and a party of his men at Tuamarina in 1843, in a dispute over ownership of the Wairau.
New Zealand Company agent Arthur Wakefield, upon realising he had over-sold land and needed an extra 70,000 hectares, set out to survey land in Wairau Valley, Marlborough which he believed had been sold by Ngāti Toa after buying a fraudulent deed of sale.
It was the first major armed clash between Māori and Pākehā in New Zealand, the only one ever in the South Island.
“I’ve always been really interested in history and quite interested in Māori history too. Specifically, I’ve been interested in Te Rauparaha’s story,” Eade said.
“With it being a local, in Wairau, I was aware of Tuamarina’s site and the things that happened there.
“I’m aware that the story is loaded, and it still inflames passion to this day, on both sides.”
Eade had consulted with Ngāti Toa through the entire process – with the first stage readings taking place a couple of years ago.
“It’s all just been a cautious go ahead, because you’re talking about people’s ancestors and Māori look very differently on things as Pākehā do, to Māori, it’s their ancestors, and it’s very dear to them,” he said.
“I’m trying to do it respectfully and coming at it truthfully, but also making it a dramatic work that keeps people interested and keeps people hooked in.
“In the past it’s been told in an unbalanced way, and I’ve tried to show that the Nelson colonists were more at fault and Māori were trying to do everything correctly.” ‘
Actress Kiri Naik, who would play Pirihira, said she had been finding the emotion in some scenes to be challenging.
“As an actress, I find emotional scenes to be quite confronting and vulnerable, so I get really uncomfortable doing things like that,” Naik said.
“So I’m learning about how I’m trying to process her journey, and go through that authentically. It’s not easy, but I think I feel like I’m opening up to her each time I go to rehearsals.”
Before landing the role, Naik, who was from Auckland, was unaware of the Wairau Affray history.
“I think it’s just made me realise how much healing I think in some ways our country needs in terms of the past. It’s not just a Ngāti Toa, and Nelson story, it’s a global story. There’s so much damage that has been done from people taking land off indigenous people,” she said.
“I’m aware that some people have grown up learning a different side of the story with the Wairau Affray, and so I think when they come and see the show they’ll see what really happened and hopefully that’s where the education starts in some way, and the healing for people.”
Actor Jaemes Churchward, playing Abbott, said being involved in the play had been a “somewhat rude awakening”
“To find out the story has been manipulated a little bit over the years, to be a part of bringing the story in what I feel is a very honest version of that story, to bring that to light is a very special thing to be a part of,” Churchward said.
“I already feel it’s got so much interest because it is so close to home for so many people.”
He said the play was dramatically different to the work he had done before.
“I have quite a bit of te reo [Māori to speak], so having that second language in there, in terms of the acting and the actual performance, it’s different, it really changes the performance.
“Also the story itself, being a true story and having such a weight behind it, is also different to what I’ve done before, it’s usually been a comedy or a fictional story.”
Ngāti Toa Rangatira ki Wairau Trust chairperson Patricia Joseph said the effects of the Affray were still felt today.
“We know it, we live it and the play is another platform to educate others through a different lens,” she said.
The Wairau Affray by Justin Eade would show at the ASB Theatre in Blenheim from June 24 to 26 and at the Theatre Royal in Nelson from July 1 to 3.
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