Alice Bleby is a traveller, environmentalist and part-time writer.
A modern soliloquy in the Melbourne Festival
Disclaimer: Alice is a theatre-goer and a theatre-lover, and helps out with the box office at fortyfivedownstairs. She is not a theatre reviewer; she is, however, a proponent of thought-provoking adventures of all kinds.
It is hard to imagine what one bloke could do to hold my undivided attention for a hundred minutes except tell a good story, and tell it well. And fortunately for him and me that is what Te Kohe Tuhaka did as Michael (or "Mick Mick the stick sometimes Mick the prick or Mick the dick, depending on who me so-called mates were") in Taki Rua Productions' rendering of Michael James Manaia at fortyfivedownstairs.
Michael James Manaia - at fortyfivedownstairs in the Melbourne Festival
I'm always keen to see the latest offering at fortyfivedownstairs, and this year's production in the Melbourne Festival is a new venture for the not-for-profit artspace an international import from across the ditch (or the Tasman, if you prefer).
The script is witty, provoking audible chuckles from the audience; it is beautifully staged, a simple set and the occasional projected image complementing the tableaux brought to life by the dynamic direction of the actor, ranging over the space.
But the story of Michael James Manaia, son, brother, teenager, hot-blooded army recruit, lover, husband and father, is driven into the consciousness of the audience by the physical energy and dramatic power of Te Kohe Tuhaka. His intimate verbal story-telling, tinged with madness, is brought to life in his caricatured and comical yet oddly believable impressions of the characters that people his tender and brutalised mental landscape.
I expected to be engaged; to be challenged by the subject matter; and moved by the magic of the theatre and I was. But some evenings are most memorable because of what they offer of the unexpected, and Michael James Manaia left me contemplating things I had never thought about before.
The play approaches its central theme from an unusual and thought-provoking angle, illustrating the trauma of war by exploring its impacts across generations of men and their families. It demands attention as a representation of universal experience, but also introduces the audience to a uniquely New Zealand perspective and Maori spirituality.
And, finding myself drawn into the patchwork of stories that together form Michael James Manaia, it left me considering the profound impact that may emerge unexpectedly from a modern soliloquy.
Michael James Manaia is at fortyfivedownstairs (45 Flinders Lane) until October 28. Book online or call 9662 9966 or if you're a last-minute type, take your chances at the door half an hour before the show.