Dave Armstrong and Oscar Kightley’s play Niu Sila is the story of the relationship between two boys, Ioane and Peter, living in 1960’s Ponsonby. One is Pacific Islander and the other is a Palagi.
The play begins with the two main characters meeting as adults in a TAB betting shop, during the Melbourne cup. It is soon apparent the two haven’t seen each other for some years and Ioane doesn’t seem to happy to see his old friend Peter. After this meeting the story of their friendship is narrated by Peter for the rest of the play. David Van Horn, as Peter, and Fasitua Amosa, as Ioane, play multiple parts in acting out this very emotive and funny tale.
The story unfolds from the first day they walk to school together and continues up to their teenage years. Niu Sila is able to illustrate, with both comedy and poignancy, how the two boys are treated so differently purely because of the colour of their skin. Whether it was the Police or a school teacher, it becomes clear as they grow older that these experiences will shape the men they become.
This story illustrates that racism affects us all and it doesn’t matter what race, colour or gender you are, we can all be judgmental about others and their cultures.
The set is minimal with just two green sloped platforms, and there are no set or costume changes. The sound track and lighting mark the passage of time and underline situations and mood. The few props used meant the majority of the story is conveyed through the performances. The audience is drawn into using their imagination to fill the gaps of this blank canvas. There are many great characters portrayed by both Van Horn and Amosa. Some are used to great comical effect, in particular Amosa portrayal of a Pacific islander church minister, affectionally known as criminal by the young protagonists, is outstanding . Peter’s liberal parents are hilarious, especially his father who is the straight talking and most broad-minded of the family.
One thing that makes this play so enjoyable and compelling is the talent and abilities of the two actors. They have mastered switching from character to character without the audience in any doubt of who they are playing. Outstanding performances from both David Van Horn and Fasitua Amosa make this classic kiwi play one not to miss.
Hilarious, touching and intelligent; Nia Sila is a journey we should all take.
Reviewed by Ian Wright