Our three performers (Emma Katene, Kaisa Fa’atui, and Robert Lloyd) enter as the lights dim, standing in a line to take in 3 deep breaths. I find myself breathing with them, and really enjoying this moment of connection with the performers before they launch into the monologues.
To describe each one would make this review a lot longer than it needs to be, and worse still it’d spoil these monologues that you just need to see. Each piece is crafted around the theme of love, but they’re all so different that there isn’t all that much overlap or repetition, which goes to show how much we really have to say about the topic. Funnily enough, I nearly bought bell hooks’ 'All About Love' before the show, aroha really was on the brain (I've since bought it).
The set design is simple and for good reason, it’s hard to come up with one cohesive set for 6 different monologues. Instead, projection is utilised sparingly but effectively, particularly with the shadow puppetry at the beginning. The props and costumes are all well chosen to reflect who each character is and often props are used transformatively which allows for some really interesting stage pictures.
I want to give a huge shout out to Emma Katene who stepped in for Erina Daniels (also sending a huge get well soon to Daniels). I have no clue how long she had to prepare, but her performances are so moving that if you told me she was the original actor I’d have believed you. I find myself particularly moved by her first performance in 'Tuakana/Teina', (written by Michaella Steel), and her ability to switch from a boisterous older sister to a grieving mother and wife in 'Hine’s Monologue' (written by Poata Alvie McKree) is phenomenal. Seeing an actor think about the words they’re going to say really is a joy to watch.
Lloyd’s ability to connect with the audience makes me feel like I’m listening to stories from the koro I never had, I almost want to sit cross legged in front of him and tug on his pants when I want more details. The final monologue, 'From Ear to Ear' (written by Tainui Tukiwaho), is a beautiful way to close the show, and I really enjoy the detail of having Lloyd start and finish the performance.
Fa’atui has an incredibly infectious energy, even when he’s making me hold back sobs I’m still able to laugh and smile whenever he breaks the tension with a witty quip or side eye at the audience. 'BMI: Bad. Mōmona, Īhaks' (written by Isaac Martyn) is one of the two he performed, and despite it’s heavy subject matter, he still manages to keep us giggling.
My only critique of this piece is to do with the structure. The subject matter of each one touches on something heavy so I would have liked some moments between each, or some slightly lighter pieces interspersed with the heavy ones. I was sobbing from the second monologue right up until the end of the last one, which is great feedback for the actors, but an emotionally exhausting experience as an audience member. Granted, some of the themes hit very close to home so I’m already predisposed to tears, but I think an intermission or slightly longer pauses between each monologue would give us time to fully reflect on each one. The breath at the beginning is something I think could be utilised between pieces, it’s a beautiful feeling to connect with the performers as human beings using something as simple as a breath.
As someone who is in the process of reconnection, having only found out I was māori at 20, shows like this are so cathartic and healing. Seeing stories for, by, and about māori and pacifika authors is something we need more of. But even if you aren’t māori or pacifika, you’ll still find that all of these pieces say something fundamental about aroha which can be boiled down to: we all feel it, and we all need it.
ONO is on in Circa Two until Saturday 16th of September.
Quick disclaimer: the insular nature of this industry means it's hard not to review a show in which you don't know anyone involved, so I should highlight the fact that Michaella Steel is a close personal friend/colleague of mine, and the directors (Sally and Nicola) are friends/colleagues as well. We do our best to provide unbiased and fair reviews, but please get in touch with the team if you have any feedback.