The show is a mixture of storytelling, poetry and dance. While it is a comedy, Rukahu still delivers a powerful message that kept me thinking. This show is entirely scripted, however, there is a very convincing improvisational feel to the show, which is enhanced by Nokise’s detailed acting. His presence was electric, his elocution clear and lively, a smile as wide as the Pasifika for which he searches. The glances off and out to the side, indicative of recalling a memory, were prevalent throughout, and I loved these little touches that brought an authentication to the performance.
It is hard to commit yourself to notice anything beyond the throbbing energy of a character like Jon Bon Fasi, but I will deign to ignore him for a while in order to talk about the lighting and sound, performed magnificently by Michael Trigg. The open communication between Jon Bon Fasi and Trigg in the show was really enjoyable. For example, Jon Bon Fasi tells of when he goes to England and the lighting is warm and soft. He then looks up at the lighting box and corrects himself to a post-Brexit England, and Trigg changes the lighting to be cold and bleak.I later found out that lighting and story change depending on what the audience reacts to. The audience get a different show every night, something which intrigues me to the point that I would happily see Rukahu again to discover its potential for variety.
The direction by Erina Davies and advising by Jo Randerson both left indelible marks on how Rukahu played out, highlighting the brilliance and poignancy of Nokise’s performance. The way he conducted himself about the stage had been curated so that there is constant movement and the use of props helps this along while also providing comedy. The balance between poetry, dance and storytelling created a worldbuilding experience of Jon Bon Fasi in a way that is rarely experienced in a one hour show. It is an all intensive, immersive performance that drew me in and didn’t let me leave. It does this by following the repeated structure of the show: he told his story of searching for Pasifika, recalled a past work and finally showed an excerpt from the recollection. This gave a rich history to the character, making him fully fleshed out.
Rukahu subtly invited the audience to be a part of the show. For example, the Underground Sasa dance was a favourite of mine. A small indication of slightly gesturing to the audience for us to join in meant we picked it up with enthusiasm. This made a rhythm with claps dictated by vocal cues from Nokise, which allowed him to perform a dance. This connectivity with the audience was important because it meant Nokise could draw us at will into focal points of his act..
The majority of the show is light and fun as the Underground Sasa demonstrates, but there is a stronger message that Rukahu delivered. While only taking a few minutes, Jon Bon Fasi orates a beautiful, but heart-breaking dialogue late in the second half and this moment is so powerful that I felt it balanced itself against the rest of the performance. I have rarely seen this achieved successfully and yet Rukahu made it seem easy.
Rukahu cleverly challenged me on how I viewed the show. It raised questions like: does my laughter come from a place of stereotyped racism? Am I guilty of overlooking and ignoring this inherent part of New Zealand culture? How much do I really care about the Pacific and the peoples of its many ethnographically varied islands? Raising these issues during his defining soliloquy near the end is what defines Rukahu as art, doing so in a way that spindled the entire audience’s attention and caused such palpable silence while the gravity of these truths sunk in. Being able to flip the vibe so quickly and completely can be credited to Nokise’s performance. He became agitated, running a hand through his hair and throwing the audience defiant glares as he paced heavily around the stage. In this moment, the show embodies art in a confronting and unapologetic way. The reality of such a stunning speech was scorching, and brought up a type of self-reflection I had not encountered prior to seeing this show.
I left with a smile, and my quiet contemplation lasted the rest of the evening as I searched for my own truths about what the show brought up. Rukahu is a piece that will stay with you for a long time. I believe that this show will, at least for me, become synonymous with the issues raised in it. Every time they are renewed I will think back to how I felt when Jon Bon Fasi delivered me a reality that wasn’t fuzzy with idealism but cold and spiky. I will remember how struck I was and how much I found I did care. I hope in those futures I will be caring more actively or I know I will feel guilt at my apathy.
Rukahu is playing at BATS Theatre from 15-19th of November. Tickets are on sale at www.bats.co.nz