Review: Niu Sila
The Court Theatre’s new play Niu Sila offers a couple of dynamic theatrical team-ups; firstly between New Zealand playwrights Dave Armstrong and Oscar Kightley, and then between actors Greg Cooper and Semu Filipo, who take the task of bringing their creation to life entirely upon their shoulders. The play focuses on the friendship of two ordinary New Zealand kids growing up in the 80s – Samoan Ioane and Pakhea/Palagi Peter, and the ways in which 1) the differences in their family cultures affect their ongoing relationship; and 2) the differences in their family cultures don’t actually matter a damn.
With the story tracing Peter and Ioane’s lives from a shared first day at school to middle age, the two actors must not only convincingly play their characters at different ages, but also take on all the other roles of the people in Peter and Ioane’s lives – parents, schoolmates, relations, enemies, and more – and the way in which both actors slip instantly into each distinct character throughout the show’s 90 minutes (and unrelieved by an interval!) represents an incredibly impressive feat of stagecraft, not to mention mental gymnastics.
With the show staged in traverse, the performers have literally nowhere to hide on the catwalk-like stage, but never shrink from the task, and even seamlessly improvise their way through the odd unexpected event that comes with such an intimate venue. The frequently hilarious characterisations keep the audience in stitches, but the (semi-autobiographical) play is always grounded in reality, which means it can turn on a time to deliver thought-provoking, on-target observations on everything from cultural differences to white liberal guilt, racism, and domestic violence.
Don’t be put off by mention of such heavy themes, though – the production is a tremendously warm-hearted and funny one which at its core always returns to its central theme of mateship, and will leave you with a smile on your face. It’s a tremendous piece of work from messrs Cooper and Filipo and director Dan Pengelly. Get along to this one, people!
Niu Sila, by Dave Armstrong and Oscar Kightley, Directed by Dan Pangelly
Until July 4th at The Court Theatre
Book at www.courttheatre.org.