Ewen Coleman - Dominion Post
Often a solo piece of theatre following a person's life story uses different time frames and flashbacks as a way of heightening the production theatricality. Not so John Broughton's play Michael James Manaia.
His is a simple yet effective and very powerful piece of storytelling brought to life with energy, power and commitment by Te Kohe Tuhaka in Taki Rua's production under the direction of Nathaniel Lees.
From the early days of growing up in the country we learn of Michael James' life with his European mother and heavy drinking, disciplinarian Maori father, who is a also a war veteran described by Michael James as having "bloodshot Johnny Walker eyes".
He and his younger brother are inseparable but are always in conflict with their father. But then tragedy strikes and the younger brother is taken from them. Once Michael James finishes school, the army is his calling and after some rigorous training in the isolation of Waiouru he heads for a 12-month tour of duty in Vietnam.
Innocent and naive and not really understanding the implications of whose war it is, Michael James is soon made to come to terms with reality.
Fighting for his survival in the jungle he faces his own mortality where he is confronted with his ancestral heritage, he also comes to understand something of his father's behaviour.
Once home after the war he then has his own demons to deal with, both psychologically and physically with tragic consequences.
The demands on an actor to tell this tale, relentlessly going through an emotional rollercoaster are great, yet Te Kohe Tuhaka meets the challenge head-on with a confident, dynamic and fully charged performance that is as physical and energetic as you'll ever see.