June 20, 2016
By MAGGY LIU
There is something special about the Basement Theatre when it is jam packed with people with bated breath, all waiting to see the same show. The buzz in the air on June 20 was almost palpable, from those chatting at the bar to those sitting out in the night. Finally co-creator Whetu Silver appeared at the doorway and proceeded to welcome everyone in.
We entered an oblong-shaped room that was far more cosy than I had imagined. There was no separation of stage and audience so nobody could really be far from the action. We slowly dispersed into the rows of cushions that lined the floor and the two rows of seats behind, as a young woman gently strummed her guitar in the middle of the stage. Latecomers were being jammed into corners that previously didn’t even exist, just to fit everyone in. Once everyone got comfortable, the guitar music stopped, the lights dimmed, and it was time.
Unfortunately, after what felt like a few minutes in confused silence, we were informed that there were some technical difficulties with the lighting. Silver came forward and managed to fill the time with some humour and a few moments later the show was back on the road.
What I particularly loved about Hine was the use of the set. The small space and simplistic production meant it wasn’t really viable or even necessary to change backdrops and props for different scenes. Instead, the decision to stick to a white backdrop with light blue colour marbled on was a smart one. It was noticeable enough to be a point of interest, but also faint enough to be forgotten when lights and pictures were projected on top of it. The moment it blew me away completely, however, was when light was shone behind it and the contrast between the colours were vivid and mesmerising, fitting for the paradoxically ethereal and powerful singing of the women on stage.
The most poignant scene for me was the opening, when the cosmos was projected onto the backdrop and two women lay on the ground, curled together. Symbolic of a mother and her child, the ‘mother’ had a fishnet-like material wrapped around her stomach, linked to the ‘child’, who was completely covered in the material. The ‘child’ began to roll away from the mother, who followed, until eventually it was time to let go; the moment of birth. The child slowly emerged from the fishnet as the mother who had her legs spread open and her arms held over her stomach, slowly pulled.
The importance of this scene perhaps lies in its existence. The moment of birth, often treated as something gross – not to be depicted, not to be really discussed – was cleverly presented here as something divine and worthy of being worshipped.
This, however, was far from the only memorable moment. There were moments of humour, such as when ‘Granny’ made the audience whistle, scream and clap, to create the sound of a storm to retell a mythological tale. There were also moments of celebration of women and questions about society’s disrespectful treatment of what was ‘part of me, part of her, part of us.’
The biggest difficulty of the show, for me, was that I do not have a strong grasp of Maori culture and even less on the language. This is possibly not a show that you will fully understand if you are a blank slate on this subject matter, as I am. There were moments in the show where I was lost and confused, but that was due to my lack of understanding. Although I understood the general gist of the play, personally I am at a stage where I knew enough to know that I’m missing out on even more.
Ultimately, if you’re looking for a unique and significant play that will make you think about what being a Maori woman means – and to a larger extent about being a woman in general – give this show a chance. Also, don’t forget to check out all the other cool stuff going on for Matariki Season. Happy New Year!
For more info on Hine check out the Basement Theatre website.
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