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Where We Once Belonged: Coming of Age

Coming of Age
06 Mar 2008

Lively, spirited and fiercely written, Where We Once Belonged is a starkly honest, sometimes brutal, yet often wildly funny coming-of-age story is co-produced by the Festival and Auckland Theatre Company during March. Written by Sia Figiel and adapted for the stage by Dave Armstrong WHERE WE ONCE BELONGED will premiere in Wellington at Downstage Theatre and be performed from March 8 - March 16 2008.

"Honest...touching... a powerful tale of one girl's yearning and desire to be loved." The Press

As young Alofa Filiga navigates the mores and restrictions of her Samoan village, she begins to come to terms with her own changing sense of identity and the price she must pay for it.

"This is a coming of age story in Samoa that Margaret Mead could never have imagined. Brave, brutal, unflinchingly honest and very, very funny," says director Colin McColl, "it has the same innocent perspective on a chaotic rite of passage as MISTER PIP or THE KITE RUNNER."

The staging of WHERE WE ONCE BELONGED draws on traditional Samoan fale-style storytelling techniques where the audience sits right around the performance area.

In Samoan tradition two forms of performance illustrate the relationship between ritual and theatre. The first of these is the fofo (native doctor) who performs shaman-like rituals for the healing of illnesses. The fa'aluma (or clown) performs satirical village comedy for the entertainment of the community. WHERE WE ONCE BELONGED honours both these traditional forms of performance in a contemporary and innovative way.

"At previews of WHERE WE ONCE BELONGED audiences were swept away. Like Dave Armstrong's previous hit NIU SILA, WHERE WE ONCE BELONGED has the same simple, honest staging which highlights the storytelling and celebrates the actor's talent and invention," says McColl.

Joy Vaele takes the lead role of Alofa Filiga. Vaele burst on stage in Pacific Underground's production of DAWN RAIDS, and also appeared in the feature films SIONE'S WEDDING, ROMEO & TUSI and TATAU - RITES OF PASSAGE. She was in the original cast of FRANGIPANI PERFUME which toured to Canada in 2006.

Joining Vaele are the celebrated Samoan actors Robbie and Pua Magasiva. WHERE WE ONCE BELONGED marks the first time the brothers have appeared on stage together. In 2007 they appeared together on the silver screen in SIONE'S WEDDING. Anapela Polataivao and Goretti Chadwick, last seen on stage in Auckland Theatre Company's hugely successful MY NAME IS GARY COOPER, round off the ensemble cast.

Leading artist Michel Tuffery is the production's scenic designer. He has created a contemporary space with subtle use of Samoan motifs. A large transparent Perspex Palm frond hovers over the stage at once locating the work in Samoa and providing a curved roof to the performance space similar to a fale.

"The transparency of the palm and the stage floor are integral to the work" says Tuffrey, "I wanted to place Alofa is an environment where nothing Alofa does or thinks is private; Alofa's world is totally open to the scrutiny of her family and other villagers."

The conflict between private and public realms is an allegory for the emergence of a Western-influenced individual ("I") in Samoa and its struggle with the traditional village way of life which where the communal "We" rules.

"While most recent Pacific Island theatre, television and film has centred on the Samoan experience within New Zealand society, WHERE WE ONCE BELONED has a point of difference; it's a Samoan story based in 1970s Samoa - a society on the cusp of change," says McColl.

Major immigration to New Zealand has begun, and the introduction of television has flooded Samoan village life with all the detritus and ephemera of Western culture. While village elders and church leaders are demanding strict adherence to Fa'a Samoa - the girls of Malaefou village dream of becoming Charlie's Angels. It's a rite of passage too for Alofa and her friends Lili and Moa, and as they reach towards adulthood they have to confront their own personal histories, the entrenched mores of traditional village life and the reluctance to accept change.


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