Auckland Theatre Company’s revival of Victor Rodger’s play SONS opened at Mangere Arts Centre at the weekend, 19 years after it’s first theatrical production.
Beulah Koale leads the cast in this incredibly moving and emotionally charged production about a young Samoan- palagi man Noah McFarlane, who is struggling to find his identify while reconnecting with his estranged Samoan father Manu’a, powerfully played by Max Palamo.
Noah is torn from his white upbringing and his new found cultural belonging. This opens somewhat of a can of worms, not only for Noah trying to connect with he new found heritage, but for the families that will have the past thrust right back under their noses.
The themes will resonate with most, as every family has it’s secrets. Noah’s battle for identity has a strong message for community and belonging within our society, and within ‘The land of the long white crowd’ as he calls it.
The script is as witty as it is heart wrenching, a sequence discussing James Brown’s classic ‘Washing Machine’ comes to mind.
The set was simple and props minimal, with the use of spotlights and a video screen to complement the modern look. Director David Fane gives his actors lots of room to play but always keeps our eyes on the central messages.
The cast are wonderfully real and display excellent chemistry. Alison Bruce, as Noah’s mother Grace, was honest and sensitive in her portrayal especially when recounting her love for Manu’a. Their inevitable reunion churns up mixed feelings of what might of been. The other matriarch Sandra, played by Bromwyn Bradley, has her own demons to deal with, an although initially appearing cold hearted, her intentions are good and her aim is only to protect her family. Her performance allowed for this character to grow and slowly unravel for the audience to see both sides of the coin. Who couldn’t love Noah’s Nan played by Rima Te Wiata whose soothing Scottish tone and excellent delivery meant I laughed and cried along with her.
Noah’s girlfriend Alex, Lauren Gibson, has a tough ride trying to keen his attention, but they share some wonderfully loved-up moments. The other love interest in the play is Sas, Joanna Mika-Toloa, who catches Noah’s eye and is also his half brothers girlfriend. Some tense and awkward scenes result in this will they won’t they relationship. Troy Tu’ua plays the slightly bad boy car salesman Lua, Manu’s and Sandras son. Tu’ua’s performance begins playfully but he soon get’s to stretch out those theatrical muscles as they play builds to it’s conclusion. The ‘sons’ final moment in the play is tender and reassuring.
The most powerful scenes are ultimately in the second half of the play, but the banter between Noah and Manu’a brings warmth and humour. Their chemistry builds and the battles for respect and identity are doomed to explode. Both Koale and Palamo hold a magnetic energy on the audience. However, it is Koale’s raw emotion, anger and energy portrayed in Noah that steals the show in what must be an emotionally exhausting performance. Beulah Koale is an excellent actor who isn’t afraid to go ‘all in’.
What I loved so much about the writing in this piece was how it managed to equally balance the stories of all those affected by Noah’s decision to make contact with his father. This could have just been a story about the two men but it cleverly allows the other characters to tell their story without taking anything away form Noah’s.
A timeless modern Kiwi classic about family, love and identity.
Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar