Pakeha Talk About Their Lives (Review)

Kate McGill explores cultural faultlines in her one-woman show ‘Weave’, playing at Basement Theatre until 15 April.  

In the midst of a self-congratulatory talk about her own cultural awareness, a Pakeha character begins enthusiastically handing out pink and chocolate lamingtons into the audience. In the darkness of the tiny studio theatre, I bit into a chocolate lamington and felt a familiar discomfort; the proximity of sugary sweetness and racism.

Certainly McGill’s meditation on New Zealand identity from a range of cultural and socio-economic viewpoints makes for uncomfortable viewing, deliberately so. McGill is no stranger to difficult conversation. Her previous highly-acclaimed show Munted was based on experiences of the Christchurch earthquakes. Weave is ‘verbatim theatre’constructed entirely from the edited transcripts of interviews.

Discomfort, then.

McGill is careful not to exaggerate her characters into caricatures. The tension arises quietly. At one point, a young mum reflects on what an excellent mother she had, how ‘she set the bar high’. Her eyes fall and we are left to imagine her own feelings of inadequacy.

McGill keeps her portrayals efficient and hardworking – a short story rather than a novel – so that we feel empathetic towards some vulnerable characters but are still gently cued via tone and gesture to perspectives that are problematic.

She does well-intentioned-but-still-racist Pakeha incredibly well. There have been times when Pakeha have expressed racist ideas to me in authoritative, sing-songy voices, and where – despite my best intentions – I have been embarassed for the person and avoided the topic. Not because they might think I’m unkind or unjust. More because I find it difficult to disrupt their personal sense of authority.

It was refreshing to see a Pakeha actor begin a conversation about racism with a predominantly Pakeha audience. Sometimes we need to sit with discomfort in order to grow.


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