Love between the rows
A story of cross-cultural love in 1920s New Zealand will be performed at the Tauranga Arts Festival on Sunday, October 25 using four languages – Cantonese, English, te reo Maori and New Zealand Sign.
The Mooncake and the Kumara by Mei-Lin Hansen is based on the meeting of her Chinese grandfather and Maori grandmother in a Horowhenua market garden and the repercussions of their relationship.
“I worried that the layers of language in the play can potentially make for some confusion for the members of the audience whose only language is English,” Mei-Lin says of the decision to have the play signed as well.
“The two signers have worked through the script with a director and filmed a rehearsal to watch. They really embody the six characters, altering their expression and physicality for each character. I’ve found it beautiful to watch. And they have an elegant solution for the small amount of Cantonese spoken – they make a symbol that indicates it’s in Cantonese and leave it at that. They don’t attempt to translate it.”
However, she found using her grandparents’ story nerve-wracking. “I was so frightened I would get criticism from my family but I haven’t. They understood that the play was respectful and telling a wonderful story. Yes, it’s their parents and grandparents but it’s also bigger than that.”
During her research for the play, which was originally written as a 10-minute piece for an Asian festival in Auckland, Mei-Lin discovered there was a parliamentary inquiry led by Apirana Ngata in 1929 into how relationships with Chinese were “diluting” the Maori race. However, her Maori great-grandmother encouraged her daughter’s liaison.
“It was about survival – here was a man who worked hard, who had some leased land and who had prospects. It was a way out of poverty. Interestingly, the Chinese also looked down on men who had relationships with non-Chinese.”
- The Mooncake and the Kumara performs at 7pm on Sunday, October 25 at Baycourt Theatre in Tauranga. Playwright Mei-Lin Hansen appears with historical novelist Debra Daley in a speaker session at 11.30am the same day.
- Tickets from Baycourt or ticketek.co.nz with TECT cardholder discounts until October 7 (conditions apply).
- For the full programme go to www.taurangafestival.co.nz