The Chairs
Te Pou Theatre, Auckland
August 12th, 2018-07-13
5/5 stars


Te Pou theatre has taken a crucial step towards our progress as a multicultural society. They have presented Ionesco’s famed European play, The Chairs, through four differing cultural lenses: Samoan, Te Reo Maori, Cantonese and English. The performance will run in four consecutive seasons, each season showcasing the performance in one of the above languages. The Chairs will create a completely immersive language experience, emphasizing the unique beauty of each language.

No person should be disadvantaged because of their language or culture- everyone should be able to experience and enjoy the arts. My father, who is of Hong Kong descent, has never been able to accompany me to theatre performances in New Zealand. But The Chairs has provided an opening for different cultures in NZ to feel included and accepted. Our society is diverse: The cultures and languages that exist here should not be avoided, but celebrated. I am excited to sit with my father and watch the upcoming Cantonese performance of The Chairs. It is one thing to speak of providing representation for the people in New Zealand, but it is another to actively pave the way for progress. Te Pou has conducted this performance to really embrace and acknowledge the cultures that make up New Zealand. As someone who is half-Chinese, I am proud to be able to re-discover part of my culture through this performance. And I am sure many others feel this way too.

The Chairs was a perfect choice for the intentions of the show. The story is an absurdist farce that considers an Old Man and Old Woman preparing for the arrival of their guests, and ultimately, the arrival of the orator. The play had enough humour and farce to keep audiences immersed, but enough introspection to connect us to wider human concerns. Nostalgia, old age, loneliness- these are all aspects of humanity that transcend boundaries of race, gender, age. We all experience these things. The Chairs brings us together not only through humour, but also through our human existentialism. The Chairs also implicitly explores ideas of languages and communication. The Old Man frequently complains of his inability to communicate properly and the play itself is centred around the arrival of the orator.

The set was fantastic. The detail of this old couple’s house was very well-considered, right down to the presentation of their framed photos on the wall and the ornaments on the shelf. It was a true kiwi home, and I am excited to see how the set changes with the upcoming Cantonese show. Furthermore, the energy of the two “Team Pakeha” actors was phenomenal. I was blown away by their performance! There was not a moment where the actors slipped from character, and every comedic gag was performed with such gusto, I was breathless watching them!

The Chairs is a performance that shifts from laughter to contemplation within seconds. It plays with farcical physical humour whilst also posing deeper existential questions. But, Te Pou Theatre has transformed this famous piece of literature. Te Pou’s The Chairs will provide an opening for everyone to feel included and recognized, regardless of culture or language. We can hear this story told in our own mother tongue, rediscover our roots, or become acquainted with some of the languages that make up New Zealand.

The Chairs is running at Te Pou Theatre in New Lynn. Click here to get your tickets!

English: 11-14 July

Te Reo: 18-21 July

Samoan: 25-28 July

Cantonese: 1-4 August

Jennifer Cheuk is an English/Communications and Linguistics major with a passion for graphic novels and sophisticated picture books.  She likes eating grated cheese and watching niche films. Can be found cartooning and writing on instagram: @selcouthbird.