Today’s post is purely my own thoughts on attending The Factory: A Pacific Musical on Sat 14th June 7pm, Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide. This is not the traditional type of review with the good/bad – it’s just the good stuff ’cause I says so.
“Top of the chain, top dog of our game because life is good, here life is free, my life started at the factory” (the cast of The Factory)
There is something to be said about going to the theatre to watch a Pacific-themed musical. More so, one that is written, directed, produced, delivered, performed and musically composed by Pacific talent. As a child of the people this musical is based on (Pacific Island migrants in NZ) – I struggle to find the words to describe the way I felt sitting in seat number 21 of row J: moved, honoured and touched comes close to it though.
Last year, when I wrote my thesis on music in the Samoan migrant communities of New Zealand during settlement period (1960-2000), I heard first-hand, the stories of how the Samoan people struggled to adapt to the western way of life. These struggles included the raising of NZ-born children who were caught in between the two cultures; and dealing with money and maintaining finances – something many of the migrants were not used to during their village-upbringing. Also, the immigration status of many Samoans were as ‘workers on a 3-month visa’ – a rule that was largely ignored by the government and then all of a sudden, enforced by the NZ Police once the New Zealanders started complaining about the place being too crowded and the migrants taking all the jobs (Google: Dawn Raids New Zealand 1970s). My parents left their homeland, Sāmoa, in the 1970s – both young and single and willing to work hard for their families back in the village. They managed to escape the harsh deportation of Pacific peoples who were caught during these raids.
All of these struggles were highlighted and honoured in The Factory. The main character – Losa – was the young woman who moved to New Zealand with her father with the sole purpose of working in the factory to send money home to the family in Sāmoa. She reminded me of my mother – who did the same thing as a young 21-year old, only she was alone. Losa’s father – Kavana – portrayed the brave, no-nonsense father. He reminded me of the Samoan leaders who, upon arrival into New Zealand, hit the ground running and forming church communities for their people to congregate and socialise, comforting each other in the new world they were in. Mose – the team leader at the factory and strong advocate for The Polynesian Panthers, a Pacific Island movement – reminded me of the children of the Pacific Island migrants who were able to reap the rewards of western education, using this to voice the Pacific Islanders’ fight against discrimination. With each character portrayal, I saw someone I knew in New Zealand and I was so touched that the directors of The Factory – Kila Kokonut Krew – made sure we did not forget these people who were courageous enough to withstand these struggles, allowing my generation to have a better future.
In terms of delivery and performance – I was so proud to be one of the 7 Samoans sitting in that 590-seat theatre in Adelaide – a city that has one of the lowest Pacific Island populations in Australia . I flew from Melbourne 3 hours prior, just to catch The Factory – it was worth the airfare, tickets, and the isolated feeling in that small city lol. I have never seen a Pacific Musical before, I’ve been part of Lotu Tamaiti (White Sunday) every year of my life but watching a fully-staged production such as The Factory is something else. The quality of vocal talent in the cast took me by surprise. Milly Grant – who plays Losa – is a woman of small stature yet she has such an incredible range so I was super impressed. Her style of singing reminded me of Samoan singer Lole Usoali’i – with the low vibrato tones. Furthermore, Miss Grant’s vocal humility scored major points in my book – I am a firm believer that just because you can reach THOSE notes, it doesn’t mean you need to overpower a song and the message behind it with constant ear-cracking….noise. The song ‘Samoana’ showcased her ability to move the audience – bringing those power vocals in at the right moment that even I could feel my parents’ struggles from where I was sitting.
There was a gospel-like number in the repertoire of songs: “Workin’ for the man”. It was here that we got to see the fabulous Rosita Vai-Gibbons show some of that sassy voice of hers -even with the few lines she had all to herself, she was able to make an impact on the audience. I felt the audience’ appreciation of her talent the second she sang solo. I should also mention the song that was sung by Losa’s father – Kavana, played by Aleni Tufuga. I can’t remember what the song is called, but it took place right at the beginning, when Losa and Kavana settled into New Zealand and he sang the song to encourage his daughter to be strong for their families back in Sāmoa, who needed their financial support. One of the best things I loved about this musical was that it showcases different types of singers. I could hear in Aleni’s voice that typical church-singing male voice, one that probably has not been trained in a conservatorium – BUT is powerful and moving enough that he is proof that natural talent isn’t always found at a theatrical or performing arts school. Special mention needs to go out the Chorus singers – the tone and colour of Pacific vocals ceases to amaze me everytime I hear it – this is one of the reasons why I loooove working with Pacific choirs. No other region of the world can produce singers who sound like us and I was so proud to see and hear the chorus singers on stage, I know that the Australian audiences wouldve picked up on this quality of singing straight away (if not, they are deaf lol).
I won’t go into too much detail with this review – my only goal here is to show my appreciation for people out there who are workig hard to put Pacific peoples on the map – the Performing Arts map, so to speak. And anyway, I already gave my feedback on vocal performance to the production’s composer, Mr Poulima Salima after the show – I don’t think I need to mention it here lol.
Personally, the major highlight for me, was to be able to show my children that being on stage as a Pacific actress/actor is POSSIBLE! I would love to see more people put together productions and shows that showcase Pacific talent! So if you happen to hear of anything like The Factory – buy a ticket! Go and see them, take your children along and stalk the cast after the show for pictures like how I did (see pic below) 🙂
So there it is, my Lost Coconut Review of The Factory: A Pacific Musical.
Ia manuia xx