Te Pō Auckland Arts Festival review

Three men are sitting in a room, a detective, a priest and a blind man…

Sounds like the opening of a bad joke, right? Well, there is nothing bad about Carl Bland’s beautifully written play, Te Pō. In fact it is an outstanding piece of New Zealand theatre which not only challenges but also respects the theatrical traditions.

At first, it appears to be an ordinary detective story but as the story unveils it becomes evident that the play is anything but ordinary. Exploring themes of love, loss and life, Bland opens up a whole new world, a world where we question our very existence.

Three men, a policeman, a reverend and a blind man are brought together through the loss of iconic New Zealand playwright Bruce Mason. In their search for mason they begin to question everything they have ever known, taking them on a journey to pursue the truth. The three protagonists are amusingly opposite. Reverend Sedgwick is a man of belief yet he doesn’t know what to believe, Detective Brett is always searching for the truth but cannot see it and Werihe who is blind, can see more than anyone else.

A cleverly constructed piece that is essentially about grief yet presents itself as a comedy. It delves into the different emotions that come with grief and explores the differences in dealing with it. Writer and actor Carl Bland, played the character at the heart of the story, reverend Athol Sedgewick. He gave a stunning yet hilarious performance. Based on his own experience of grief after losing his wife, Bland states ‘this play is dedicated to the missing person in my life- Peta Rutter’. Through using slapstick comedy, we are able to connect yet still feel the raw emotion within the piece.

A witty and comical performance from Andrew Grainger, bringing that slapstick feel to the piece with his Loral and Hardy style costume, slicked back hair and flawless comic timing. As a New Zealand play, there are many cultural references throughout- one being the character of Werihe, played by George Henare. A blind man who appears to be the life force within the play. His mother tongue, Maori, was present throughout, enabling us to experience and feel the history of the piece.

Andrew Foster’s creative set brings the performance to life. Although it appears to be simple it is full of hidden surprises. All of the other elements of the performance- music by John Gibson, costumes by Elizabeth whiting and lighting by Nik Janiurek really compliment the entire production, each playing its part in creating a re-imagined world. Director Ben Crowder created this masterpiece, bringing consistent hilarity and charm to the stage, never allowing a dull moment.

Te Pō takes the audience on a personal journey to find the truth about your own life. It certainly pushes the boundaries of theatre and prevails in its mission to give us a unique view of the world in which we live in.

See Te Pō until 14 March at Q Theatre as part of the Auckland Arts Festival.

Reviewed by Lauren Sanderson.