The Factory opened the Auckland Arts Festival last Wednesday night, closed on Monday and was a total sell out. Excuse for me getting to it so late, but I hope you’ll forgive me.
Festival shows can be a bit of a pain some times. Short seasons, great shows, hardly any comps for grabs and expensive tickets. It was a culmination of these things that led me to being at Q Theatre on Sunday night. Ticketless but hoping that some great stroke of luck would lead to me getting a standby ticket for The Factory. But then I saw Tim from Silo who informed me that he was number 23 on the list which meant who knows what number I was. I was fairly resigned to not getting in but sometimes just showing up can work in your favour and I did!
Kila Kokonut Krew’s The Factory is New Zealand’s first Pacific musical. Usually I’m not a musical person, but Pacific works tend to be a bit special. Directed by Anapela Polatavaio and Vela Manusaute with the music composed by Poulima Salima, The Factory is set in a factory during the early 1970’s. In New Zealand the 1970’s saw a change in attitudes towards the Pacific. Aid and immigration policies were tightened and Dawn Raids were introduced to target overstayers in 1974. It was a time when the great dream of New Zealand as a ‘land of milk and honey’ began to be threatened.
It is into this setting that Losa (Milly Grant-Koria) and her father Kavana (Aleni Tufuga) find themselves. Having left Samoa to seek work in New Zealand they’re full of hope but of course working in a factory is not all sweetness and light. What follows is a bit Romeo and Juliet, a bit Act Party style dickishness (coughracismcough) and a slice of the Comrade all served up with some brilliant musical numbers and the sass of Lindah Lepou.
Being a musical, it’s the voices that tie it all together and hot damn does this show have some pipes. With Tama Waipara in the mix as Musical Director the cast was in good hands and Poulima Salima’s compositions showcase a huge breadth of sound from traditional Samoan music to glitzy show tunes to power ballads. Milly Grant-Koria’s voice totally blows you out of the water while Lindah Lepou, playing Misilei threatens to steal the show. The rest of the cast, including Ross Girven, Edward Laurenson, Taofia Pelesasa, Paul Fagamalo, Tavai Fa’asavalu, Troy Tu’ua, Joanna Mika-Toloa, Sela Faletolu, Mileta Sally Sakalia, Suivai Autagavaia and Taupunakohe Tocker provide some great layers to the sound and of course it wouldn’t be a musical without some slick moves to tie it all up. Chroreographer Amanaki Prescott Faletau has the cast spinning across the stage, twisting and turning on stools like its no big deal. It is a big deal though, it’s crazy.
One of the things I really liked in this show was the use of space. Sean Coyle’s factory floor set is totally utilized with a bit of an upstairs, downstairs feel – upstairs is of course for the white factory owners while downstairs is the domain of the Islanders. There’s moments when these boundaries are challenged signaling a change in the action of the play. Jane Hakaraia’s lighting design adds to the mix exploiting the set to create some of my favourite visual moments. One of these moments was when one of the main characters passed away. As the body was carried off stage, a line of cycs glowing from within the back room of the factory provided the only light on stage. the effect of this was to create an atmosphere of candles, lightly flickering, simple but effective. Another great scene was The Factory dance – it was high time that the ugliness of the ’70’s reared its head and this was it’s moment. Glass gobo casting a pretty weird pattern across the set, beautiful orange floor length 70’s style dresses, wicked dance moves and boom you’ve got yourself a party.
The thing with The Factory that makes it so special is that being a New Zealand grown musical it’s framing close to home stories in a way that you don’t usually see them. New Zealanders have a penchant for the dark but The Factory explores a time in New Zealand history that has every excuse to be portrayed as dark yet it doesn’t. Despite all the crap that immigrants get, there’s this glow characteristic of Pacific works that makes you want to hug someone and laugh and cry and eat lots of food all at once. The food thing may just be my love for Chop Suey pushing through but shhhh!
Sadly this season of The Factory is over but I’m sure that it will pop up again. In the mean time keep an eye on The Factory Story. The Factory Story is going to be a webseries based on the kids and grandkids of those who worked in the factories in the ’70s. They’re currently auditioning at PolyFest if you’re interested and I’m sure it’s going to be worth watching!