Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin
The show is a jukebox starring The Tiwhas themselves, featuring Kree Matthews (Te āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi), Joe Mara (Tahiti) and accompanied by Hayden Taylor (Tangata Tiriti) on the keyboards and Joshua Tucker (Tangata Tiriti) on Lighting Design, Sound Design and Light Op. This show feels like a really fucking good party. It has lip-syncs, costume changes, kapa haka, performers singing live, dancing, everything you want from a cabaret if it was brought to you by a nightclub. The audience can’t stop cheering. Whenever you thought you could have a rest after a song, the ensemble would make jokes with each other, say a few words about where inspiration came from, and then Britney’s 'Toxic' would come on and perk you right back up onto the edge of your seat again. The show was a lot of high-energy moments, supplemented with well-timed breaks into slow-songs and banter so the audience could recoup some of our strength. I would normally share some standout moments of each of the performers but I don’t want to spoil the surprise of some genuinely incredible moments!
Let this piece be a testament to the power of kaupapa. The guiding spirit that the contributors put into the production, and the direction they focused that energy on, is fundamental to why this show is such a good time. It was decided that the group would be a celebration and exploration into all things drag, takatāpui, and Māori, which it has done so seductively, but they “most of all wanted to create a sisterhood” as Jthan writes in the programme. Having a rock-solid kaupapa changes the way a body of work takes shape, it influences the rehearsal and devising process, but what does it look like for an audience member?
Firstly, from a Te Ao Māori perspective, the performance's expectation of audience behaviour differs from what more Western shows expect of their audiences. For tonight, the audience is encouraged to make as much noise as they can- “The louder you are, the better we’ll be!” encourages the programme. This feeling of performer/audience reciprocity over the general audience-sit-and-watch-shush-be-quiet leads to audience celebrations becoming more than a display of gratitude, but something we are rewarded for sharing. What else does an awesome kaupapa look like? It looks like fun. It looks like the keyboardist vibing out SO HARD during EVERY SONG. It looks like performers laughing together. It looks like the Stage Manager (Natasha Thyne, Tangata Tiriti) joining the stage for the bows. It looks like everyone in the crew gets mentioned by name at the end of the show. It looks like performers joking about their mistakes with the audience and not stressing about them. It looks like back-and-forth. It looks like the back up singers being way less back up and taking centre stage every now and then. It looks like The Tiwhas, and this is going to mean a lot to a lot of people. Everything that happens on that stage is a love-letter to something. To Mum-bops, to club bangers, to lip-sync classics, to each other, to the audience, to their worlds.
Presenting… The Tiwhas! is on from tonight until the 11th June as part of Re-Fringe at Circa Theatre. Do not miss your chance to see this before it’s gone because mark my words, it’s got big things ahead. More info here.