I saw Manawa at Circa last Wednesday. It was an unusual experience as I enjoyed the acting and the script but basically rejected the fundamental premise of the play!

The play is about two inmates. One is Jimmy King,  the country’s youngest murderer, and the other is Mau Vaiaga who is awaiting trial for eating a Kakapo!

The Jimmy King character is based on Bailey Junior Kurariki. Kurariki was convicted for manslaughter of Michael Chow, when he was 12 years old.

Jamie McCaskill wrote the play, and played the Jimmy King character. He was entertaining, intriguing, a non stop likeable talker. You felt significant empathy with him.

And this is whey I struggled with the play. I had a very hard time linking the Jimmy King character to Bailey Kurariki. I can’t imagine in real life Kurariki is anything like Jimmy King. I recall the story about Kurariki giving a “long and often incoherent response”, and nothing like the smooth talking Jimmy King.

Kurariki also seems with little remorse, having recently said he is “just an innocent black man“.

So a play which is about showing the “softer side of Jimmy” was always going to struggle to work for me.

That isn’t to say there wasn’t some very good aspects to the play, which I’ll get to. If the play had been more generic, and not so obviously modeled on Kurariki, I think I would have enjoyed it far more. There is a risk in typing it to an individual. I sent much of the time thinking “When are you going to mention the poor pizza delivery guy”. Now of course the character was only modeled on him – not meant to be exactly him, but I just couldn’t get past that.

So what did work for me? Well the three actors were superb. Jamie McCaskill as Jimmy King was almost too successful at bringing him to life and showing his softer side. His ability to talk non stop to his fellow cellmate without even a grunt in response was very well done.

Natano Keni played Mau Vaiaga, the Kakapo eater. He was basically set up, but got reviled up and down NZ for eating the Kakapo. Even convicted killer Jimmy was calling him the most hated man in NZ – which was a insightful piece on how Kiwis react with more horror sometimes to crimes against animals, than each other.

Kali Kopae played lawyer Waimanea Huia. I’ve enjoyed her singing ability as a BeatGirl, and she equally impresses as an actor. Her character was more interested in the publicity from the clients, than the clients themselves.

I won’t give away the plot too much, but there is an interesting twist at the end. As I said the acting and script were good, and I certainly had many a wry chuckle during the play.

But at the end of the day, I’m just not someone open to seeing the softer side of Bailey Kurariki. That may be more about me than the play of course!

John Smythe at Thatreview also reviews it. He comments:

Did I mention it is hugely funny? The laughs come primarily from shock, at the truth of the characterisations and what they do and say. Each character, no matter how incidental, speaks with a clear and distinctive voice. And (apart from the concerns mentioned above) no matter what they do and how outrageous it is, we understand why.

It was hugely funny. I did enjoy the play. I just didn’t agree with its premise.

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