25 Aug 2015

Māori playwright tackles police shootings

7:55 am on 25 August 2015

A Māori playwright is tackling the issue of police shootings in his new play, but he says it is also a universal story about a mother's grief.

The cast of Aroha's play.

The cast of Officer 27. Photo: Supplied

Aroha Awarau's latest drama, Officer 27, is loosely based on the accidental police shooting and killing of Halatau Naitoko in 2009.

The playwright also works as a journalist for the Women's Weekly, and interviewed the 18-year-old's mother, Ivoni. He said he was inspired by her strength.

"Mothers are always, especially in Māori and Pacific Islands culture, mothers are always the strength, the matriarchs, so that's what I wanted to honour," he said.

"What happens to the strength of the family, the matriarch of the family when something awful happens, and how do they deal with that, how do they keep it strong for the sake of their whole family and keeping their families together."

Mr Awarau, who is of Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Maru descent, said while he wanted to focus on the intimate story of a woman suffering in silence; the subject matter is generating a lot of interest.

Aroha Awarau.

Aroha Awarau. Photo: Supplied

"The fact that there has been media focusing on police shootings, and especially in America, race has been spoken about and debated about, so I think just naturally those discussions do come up when you're dealing with a play with such universal themes."

Officer 27 will begin its five performance season at Auckland's Basement Theatre from the 22 September.

The play has already gained recognition as a finalist at this year's Adams New Zealand Playwriting Awards and was chosen by Playmarket NZ as one of the top Pacific and Māori plays of the year.

Mr Awarau's debut play Luncheon won Best Play at the New Zealand Scriptwriting Awards.