In Modern Maori Quartet: Two Worlds, an original play with songs, the show starts with the voice of God (a Kiwi woman) stating the rules of this Afterworld the quartet exist in. Four handsome Maori men stand in black suits with red embellishments and polished shoes at her command, ready with the only weapons they have left – their voices, their stories, and musical instruments(guitars). Destined to remain in this afterlife, each tells a story of living in song and, from the opening Kia Ora, it’s one told mostly in Te Reo Maori, the language of the first people of Aotearoa[New Zealand], our neighbourly nation to the east.
An hour later, we were awash in a warm glow as we felt the healing power of music and storytelling to enrich and mend the soul. A work first presented at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018, sections are spoken in English about Maori soul journeys, which are mournful, memorialising, edgy and compelling. Tales which speak of cultural wounding – family violence, removal, colonisation, cultural alienation, family pressure, youth suicide, and war – bloom into transcendance had us humming in our seats as emotional pain was transformed through theatrical air. What emerged was a reframing and new identity.
This group is hard to beat for sass, allure and sonic beauty, and are well travelled and received internationally. Comprising Blake “Rutene” Spooner, Matariki Whatarau, Francis Kora and Matutaera Ngaropo, this is their first visit to Melbourne, theatre city.
Their harmonising voices so enriching and moving in their native language, with its nuances of cultural and familial ties, humour, and artistry, cast a spell on you and you submit to this ‘spiritual haka’.
Highlights include a creative, sonic haka executed as the lights dimmed, and into darkness at a story’s conclusion; the incredible bodily presence and expression of each cast member; islander gesture and signing( shaking hands, finger pointing); and signature stance and orientation in performance, with its register of power, respect and authority. The event ended with a cleansing as we exit, leaving bad spirits or the ghosts of the past in the space as we stepped out, returning to our present day lives, a cultural safety practice.
Showing in 2 or 3 ticket packages as part of the third First Nations, African, Cambodian, Malaysian diasporas festival, Big World, Up Close, this show is unmissable. It’s a sonic bath in powerful voice and sound to heal and declare culture.
Stories from this Festival are about survival and thriving and offer great insight into collective resilience as we face together a world of flux and chaos. See it to be uplifted.
– Sarah Wallace
is the Theatre Specialist for The Plus Ones, Melbourne. A performing arts and English literature graduate of VCA, UOM and Deakin, she has a flair for bold, non-traditional performance platforms. An active contributor to The Melbourne Shakespeare Society, on the street, or in the box seat, she is always looking for quality works that push the envelope.
Maori Male Quartet: Two Worlds shows 10-14 July, 7:30pm Wednesday – Saturday, 5pm Sunday (60 mins) at Fairfax Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne. Buy 2 pr 3 Package tickets here.
Venues are accessible. Auslan show, Thursday 11 July.
Catch future tour dates of the Maori Modern Quartet here.
Disclosure: The Plus Ones were guests of Arts Centre Melbourne.
Images: Josh Grigg, Modern Maori Quartet.