Not about the rugby
Lynn Freeman Capital Times
28/09/2011 10:37:00 a.m.
The First Asian A* B*, Directed by Edward Peni, Bats Theatre. Reviewed by Lynn Freeman
FIRST I, George Nepia at Circa and now The First Asian A* B* at Bats – the RWC, whether it goes our way or not, deserves a big cheer for much of the art we’re seeing courtesy of the Real NZ Festival. Don’t be fooled by the title though, this is a play about friendship and understanding, not rugby.
Renee Liang has written a lot about the Asian New Zealand experience and her work always hits a nerve. She doesn’t lecture, nor does she flinch from reminding us that as a country we can still have a ‘them and us’ mentality that stops us being truly multi-cultural.
In this play, she brings a young Malaysian-Chinese lad to New Zealand and puts him in a Timaru homestay with well meaning parents. It’s hard for Willy to fit in initially. Not only is he dealing with the isolation of being a stranger in a strange land and being torn between two cultures, but his dearly loved Grandmother is seriously ill. The school bully Mook eventually comes to respect Willy and indeed they become best mates. They share a love of rugby and through hard work and determination get to within a whisker of being selected for the All Blacks.
Ben Teh (Willy) and Paul Fagamalo (Mook) work up a sweat playing a multitude of characters and they do it miraculously well. There are shades of Toa Fraser’s Bare here in the compelling storytelling and the gorgeous characters brought to life at breakneck speed under the direction of Edward Peni. Both actors have an unforced style of acting which makes them a pleasure to watch. The fact they are real life friends is reflected in their on stage chemistry.
The only criticism is that there is a bit too much packed in to this one act play. We spend so much time with the lads during their school years that the ending feels too rushed, we really need to get to know them better as adults to appreciate how their fractured friendship affected them both.