Entertainment | Samoa

Indigenous theatre thriving in Aotearoa

‘O le pepelo, le gaoi, ma le pala’ai’ (the liar, the thief, and the coward) is a mainly reo Hāmoa play that tells a Samoan story in the heart of Auckland’s CBD.

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O le Pepelo, le Gaoi, ma le Pala’ai (The Liar, the Thief, and the Coward) premieres today at the ASB Waterfront Theatre in Auckland, far from the areas in Auckland where most Samoans live.

The play explores the way of Fa’a Samoa (Samoan way) in the modern world.

The play, mostly in reo Hāmoa, follows Pili Sā Tauilevā , a proud Ali’i (chief) in the village of Moa. He has devoted his life to the fa’a sāmoa tradition of service. When he suddenly falls gravely ill and refuses to name a successor, his daughter and son become rivals for the title.

Unexpectedly, others also join the race, leading to a complex situation.

This production explores the tensions between those who remain in Samoa and those who choose to leave, offering insights into the evolving dynamics of the community.

Semu Filipo, who plays Pili Sā Tauilevā, credits previous Pacific performing artists for the current opportunity to appear in one of Auckland’s biggest theatres.

“We couldn’t be rising without our pioneers of Polynesian theatre, the likes of Maiava (Lees), Oscar (Kightley), Anapela (Polataivao), and Dave (David) Fane. We wouldn’t have been able to be here if it wasn’t for them, I just want to give them mad respect and alofa.”

“When people ask me ‘How’s work going?’ I’m like, ‘It’s actually our time, we’ve been long overdue telling our indigenous stories’.”

The cast

In Auckland most Samoan people live in the poorer Māngere-Ōtahuhu area but both the playwrights and the Auckland Theatre Company (whose theatre is in one of the richer and more Pākehā areas) wanted to make sure Samoans got to see the play.

Writer and co-director Natano Keni says this was a main concern for them as they wanted to make it easy for people to see their work.

“That’s one of the biggest things as well with ATC. We talked about accessibility.”

“There’s no point in us making something that people can’t actually afford, and that’s some of the themes that are in the actual play as well. It’s that thing of sharing.”

Normal prices at the ASB Waterfront Theatre start at $60. But Auckland Theatre Company (ATC) has decided to offer $30 tickets for adults under 30, just over $20 for students, and from March 12 theatregoers can pay as much as they see fit.

The show is collaboration between Auckland Theatre Company, Auckland Arts Festival and I Ken So Productions.

To ensure all audiences can see the work there are $20 access tickets for NZSL-interpreted and audio-described performances.

Ana Corbett, who plays Vailoloto Sā Tauilevā, says the Sāmoan culture on display is exciting to see, especially in the opening scene of the two-hour play.

“Vaofefe opens the play, and we’re actually just marking how incredible it is to hear Samoan language at the oratory level in a mainstream theatre space.

“We should really celebrate that because that’s a relatively new thing. The number of times I’ve seen the opening of the show, I’m completely blown away.”

It's a darkly comic exploration of the fa’a sāmoa, where family, leadership and legacy converge in spectacular chaos.

A Pacific-studded cast sees actors Junior Lemanu (The Panthers), Haanz Fa’avae-Jackson (Red, White & Brass), and Jesme Fa’auuga (Shortland Street) also take part in the production.

The duo and founders of Ken So Productions ,Natano Keni and Sarita So, use both English and Gagana Samoa to tell a modern tale of a man who’s out of step with the times and whose time is running out.

First-time theatre performer Andy Tilofaiaoga, who plays Masina Fa’asaogalemū, is excited about the opening night of their show because it’s about tautua (service).

He says this is their way of serving their community, by keeping their language alive through a Samoan story using gagana (reo) Samoa.

“We’ve been using this word and it’s ‘grand’. For me coming into this thing (the play) it was a big grand step, and then also to play a grand character, in a grand story on a grand stage for grand people.”

“For me, it’s making sure as much as I can serve the story.”

The play will run until March 23.