Auckland Arts Festival – Silo Theatre’s UPU gives full voice to Pacific poetry

Celebrating the spoken word, UPU offers more than 30 poems performed by a dynamic cast. The simple staging and lighting focuses the audience on the words, imagery and the physical interpretation. I’m sorry to say I came to the show not knowing much about these poets and their work but left with great impressions and a desire to know and read more.

Curated by Grace Taylor, the rhythm of the performance allows each poem its own space and beat, and the pacing is clever so that the audience is given moments of light relief amongst some strong moments of sexual tension and anger. 

UPU review Auckland Arts Festival

As you might expect with such an array of writers, the poem style and content varies. With some focused on individual tales such as How I Got My Name by Briar Grace Smith, while others are shared amongst the cast – the performance of Songs of the fat brown woman by Sia Figiel brought forth many ripples of applause. Other such as Vatu Invocation and Paradise Pasifika focus more on the impact of modern society and business on the region. 

As with all great storytelling, there is a range of emotions and often anger is softened by laughter, and pain was registered by the audience’s murmurs of acknowledgement.

Featuring an all-star line-up of leading Māori and Pasefika performers including Mia Blake, Ana Corbett, Nicola Kawana, Nathaniel Lees, James Maeva, Shadon Meredith, and Gaby Solomona, director Fasitua Amosa has brought out the best in an already very capable cast. Nicola Kawana was powerful, while both Ana Corbett and Nathaniel Lees moved effortlessly between light and shade. Solomona beautifully brought to life Songs of the fat brown woman and Blake and Jarod Rawiri were riveting and drew the audience to them further each time they performed.

As a pakeha, I came away chastened by my ignorance but eager to learn more. The audience loved it and rightly stood to applaud at the end. A wonderful engaging 70 minutes that gives full voice to these excellent works.

Silo Theatre’s UPU is a wonderful engaging 70 minutes that gives full voice to these excellent Pacific poetic works.

UPU is part of the Auckland Arts Festival and runs at the Silo Theatre until 15th March.

Reviewed by Mike Hales.

4 small stars