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Arts Fest Review: Mark Twain and Me in Maoriland

Arts Festival Review: Mark Twain and Me in Maoriland

Review by Kimberley Crayton-Brown

Mark Twain and Me in Maoriland
Taki Rua Productions
Written by David Geary
13 – 21 March, Sounding Theatre, Te Papa
(Was also performed 9 March at Expressions/Genesis Energy Theatre, Upper Hutt)


Set in 1895 Wanganui, Mark Twain and Me in Maoriland is a comedy, drama and musical all in one.

Inspired by Mark Twain’s lecture tour of New Zealand, the production tells the story of land wars, Maori turning on their own and Twain’s account of his time in Wanganui from entries in his diary.

Beginning with Twain taken hostage in a canoe being paddled up the river, the audience are suddenly in the Oddfellows Club where the “celebrity” speaker is musically introduced. The Mayor even renews his election promise to sterilise the poor people of the town.

Although based on historical events, the production is not in chronological order, with the battle of Moutua taking place at the end of the show. The battle actually happened before Twain’s visit to the area, and it was his comments about the battle memorial that inspired the production.

After observing the monument, Twain said it was encouraging Maori to become traitors to their own race, as the battle was won by Maori loyal to the English. Twain believed the rebel Maori were New Zealand’s true patriots, and the monument should be blown up.

Between some scenes a sombre actor addresses the audience, telling them that although Mark Twain was not really shot on his visit to NZ as he is in the play, many other issues addressed are all based on fact.

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Mark Twain and Me in Maoriland looks at the complex relationship between the Maori who worked with the settlers, and whether they were turning their back on their people and culture, and how eventually Maori were divided and fought their own people. Writer David Geary inserts some of Twain's more famous musings throughout the performance, and the musical segments break up the build-up to the battle (though this at times is confusing).

In a new approach to telling the stories of New Zealand history, different techniques have been utilised throughout the performance that make it stand out - scenes scripted in te reo with other cast members translating from the stage, actors playing instruments and singing comedy segments or Maori waiata. Mark Twain even plays the electric guitar at one point.

The show has a little something for everyone, although more traditional theatre lovers may not enjoy it quite so much, particularly the very un-PC jokes thrown in from time to time. Although the laughing priest and minister drew laughs from the crowd, their jokes were a shocking reminder of the forgotten aspects of our country's history.

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Press releases: World Premieres for New Zealand Music and Theatre, Students Get Unparalleled Access to NZIAF, SchoolFest offers access to international artists
Arts Festival website: Mark Twain & Me in Māoriland
Scoop Full Coverage: Arts Festival 2010

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