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‘Dangerous Dialogues’: Questioning Constructions of Race in South Pacific Theatre

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Abstract

This chapter considers ways in which two Pacific playwrights—Larry Thomas (indigenous Fijian and European) and Victor Rodger (indigenous Samoan and European), both of mixed descent—have modified Western theatre conventions, articulated racial thinking in the region and challenged dominant racist narratives and histories in the South Pacific. By focusing on Rodger’s Ranterstantrum and Thomas’ The Visitors, both of which were first performed in the context of high-profile arts festivals, the chapter examines ways in which these plays open up complex questions of race and identity in the Pacific while inviting audiences to question and re-consider their habitual racial thinking, and to become socially active in dispelling the damaging consequences of race-based conflict. Both plays demonstrate that theatre has been, and continues to be, an effective public forum for exposing and contesting racially based behaviours and assumptions in the South Pacific region.

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-43957-6_4
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Notes

  1. 1.

    There have been various terms employed to represent the descendants of Indian labourers in Fiji, the most common being Fiji Indians and Indo-Fijians. The former places emphasis on the Indian part of identity which we feel is inaccurate. The latter hyphenates the term to show movement from Indian to Fijian aspects of identity. In this chapter we use an unhyphenated IndoFijian to symbolise the merging of the two cultures in producing the IndoFijians of today.

  2. 2.

    The titles provided to the Kailoma have constantly changed. Lucy de Bruce (2007) argues that these labels have applied more to their geographical location or social status rather than racial genealogy and that the half-caste label may also be employed to celebrate, reclaim or to resist their status.

  3. 3.

    Larry Thomas, personal communication, March 22, 2015

  4. 4.

    Larry Thomas, personal communication, April 5, 2015.

  5. 5.

    To Let You Know is a highly political play that premiered on the tenth anniversary of the May 14 1987 coup. See Diana Looser’s Remaking Pacific Pasts (226–236) for a detailed analysis of this play.

  6. 6.

    Thomas has also produced a series of documentaries that address social issues in Fiji: Compassionate Exile (1999), A Race for Rights (2001), Bittersweet Hope (2005), and Struggling for a Better Living: Squatters in Fiji (2007).

  7. 7.

    In the premiere production Vishwa was played by co-author Shailesh Lal, whose experiences as an actor have informed the discussion of the play in this chapter.

  8. 8.

    Larry Thomas, personal communication, March 29, 2015.

  9. 9.

    Controversial businessman Ballu Khan was a known supporter of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. He was arrested on November 3, 2007 on suspicion of plotting an assassination of coup leader Bainimarama. He was assaulted by police after they claimed he had resisted arrest and had to be carried to the court.

  10. 10.

    Michelle Reddy, personal communication, April 2, 2015.

  11. 11.

    Larry Thomas, personal communication, March 29, 2015.

  12. 12.

    New Zealand-based Pacific playwrights include Oscar Kightley, Erolia Ifopo, Makerita Urale, Dianna Fuemana, Toa Fraser, Albert Wendt, Fiona Collins, Tanya Muagututi’a, Vela Manusaute, Tusiata Avia, Miria George, Suli Moa, Louise Tu’u, Moana Ete, Michelle Johansson, David Mamea and Leki Jackson-Bourke.

  13. 13.

    McColl has been Artistic Director of the Auckland Theatre Company since 2003. This analysis is based on David O’Donnell’s viewing of McColl’s production and on the revised script supplied by the playwright.

  14. 14.

    Rodger took the title from a 1980s dance work by New Zealand choreographer Douglas Wright (with Wright’s permission).

  15. 15.

    Tom Stoppard uses the same convention in the opening scene of The Real Thing (1982).

  16. 16.

    This is an in-joke. Robbie Magasiva played the role of Joe in the 2002 Ranterstantrum production.

  17. 17.

    A lavalava is a wrap-around rectangular piece of fabric, worn like a skirt in Samoa and other Pacific islands.

  18. 18.

    Jonah Lomu (1975–2015) was the youngest person to become an All Black test player and became a legend in world rugby circles, but his later life was marred by financial difficulties and a kidney disease which caused his premature death at the age of 40.

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O’Donnell, D., Lal, S. (2021). ‘Dangerous Dialogues’: Questioning Constructions of Race in South Pacific Theatre. In: Morosetti, T., Okagbue, O. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Theatre and Race. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-43957-6_4

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