02 Aug 2009

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The season of The Pohutukawa Tree

Rena Owen returns to New Zealand from Hollywood to play Aroha in Bruce Mason’s classic drama The Pohutukawa Tree from September 3 at the Maidment Theatre.

The Pohutukawa Tree is set in 1950s New Zealand, a country on the cusp of change, and explores a proud Maori matriarch’s inability to cope with that change. Shamed by her children’s indiscretions, her family’s betrayal and her Pakeha neighbour’s cloy­ing attentions, she puts her faith too fervently in her new Christian God with devastat­ing consequences. ATC’s production will be the first professional production in Auckland.

Life moves on. But not everyone moves with it.

Rediscover Bruce Mason’s The Pohutukawa Tree with Rena Owen who returns from Hollywood to star in New Zealand’s greatest play.

A proud and spiritual woman, Aroha attempts to instruct her children in Pakeha ways. But the post-war world of the 1950s has arrived and she is left increasingly isolated as everything she loves and stands for comes under siege.

Best known for her role as Beth Heke in the celebrated New Zealand film Once Were Warriors, Owen is returning home from Los Angeles where she is based.

“I am thrilled to be coming home to play Aroha in The Pohutukawa Tree. The Pohutukawa Tree by Bruce Mason was the only play I knew of throughout my youth that provided substantial roles for Māori actors,” says Owen.

“I have never seen a production of the play in my life time and it has been a 30 year desire to be involved in one. I’ve discussed the possibilities of it with Colin McColl over the years and was over the moon when he told me ATC were doing it. It is a youthful dream come true and a long term career ambition fulfilled to portray the formidable, flawed, iconic role of Aroha!” she says

“The opportunity to work with Colin again, whom I consider New Zealands top theatre director, is an honour. To work with fellow Kiwi actors is always welcomed and I am grateful to be working with ATC for the very first time!” she says.

Bruce Mason was a playwright, critic and fiction writer. His experiences in Takapuna formed the basis of his famous solo work for the theatre, The End of the Golden Weather. In 30 years Mason wrote more than two dozen plays, including such classics as The Pohutukawa Tree,Blood of the Lamband Awatea.

He was also a busy actor, critic, editor and general activist for New Zealand’s fledgling professional theatre scene. In 1977 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Literature by Victoria University, was made a CBE in 1980, and in 1982 was given the New Zealand Literary Fund Award for Achievement, the same year that he died.

“Bruce Mason’s epic and uplift­ing The Pohutukawa Tree is well overdue for a professional revival,” says Colin McColl, Auckland Theatre Company’s Artistic Director.

“It’s the best work of one of our great­est playwrights but it’s rarely performed, perhaps because of the treacherously difficult central role of Aroha. So I’m thrilled that Rena Owen has taken up the challenge and found a gap in her busy schedule to come back from Los Angeles to work with me in rediscovering the secrets of this masterpiece,” he says.

Maria Walker, Tiare Tawera, Catherine Wilkin, Peter McCauley, Fern Sutherland, Richard Knowles, Edwin Wright, Craig Geenty, Michael Keir-Morrisey, Hera Dunleavy and Stuart Devenie join Rena Owen to bring alive this powerful and humbling work.

New Zealand Post Chairman Rt Hon James B Bolger, ONZ said, “New Zealand Post is a passionate supporter of the arts and culture in New Zealand and are proud to be a Premier Partner of Auckland Theatre Company. A moving and dramatic immediate post-war tale of cultural land ties, cultural integration and inter-generation tension, The Pohutukawa Tree is as poignant today as it was when written 54 years ago.”

The Pohutukawa Tree offers a rare glimpse in New Zealand’s theatrical past. Tickets can be purchased from the Maidment Theatre on 308 2383 or www.atc.co.nz.