Factory that turns out comedy and tragedy

Actor Aleni Tufuga… "You’ll get to fall in love, you’ll get to have a laugh, and you'll want to get up and dance." Photo by Andrew Malmo

Actor Aleni Tufuga… “You’ll get to fall in love, you’ll get to have a laugh, and you’ll want to get up and dance.” Photo by Andrew Malmo

IF you’re to believe Aleni Tufuga, Australia is the new New Zealand, “the new land of milk and honey”, with a large influx of Pacific Islanders enriching our cultural shore with their multifarious talents.

I’ve noticed it, too. The most obvious ones might be huge hunky footballers, but I’ve interviewed a couple of huge hunky Samoan opera singers, too, and some of the canniest lawyers I know are Samoans, just like Tufuga.

He’ll be seen here soon in the hugely successful Pacific Islander musical called “The Factory”, by Vela Manusaute, a mixture of “Romeo and Juliet” and “Sione’s Wedding”, the silly comedy film set in Auckland from a few years ago.

Tufuga, a founding member of Kila Kokonut Krew and a never-out-of-work actor, was in that movie and has very successfully combined straight theatre, comedy, TV and film in his career.

In “The Factory” he plays the Samoan father, Kavana, who like so many Pacific Islander families in the 1970s, brings his daughter Losa to NZ for new opportunities. There, sadly but inevitably, she falls in love with the factory boss’ “palagi” (white European) son, and the plot thickens.

This kind of thing happened regularly in the ‘70s, Tufuga tells me, and it still happens. After his own carpenter dad brought him and his siblings from their idyllic remote village of Asau in Samoa, he dated a NZ girl and encountered an angry father just like Richard in “The Factory”, who regarded islanders as invaders.

But while a story of migrant workers travelling to NZ may have some grim and tragic overtones, on the whole this “migrant story” is a positive one, and Auckland is now rated the largest Polynesian city in the world.

Entertainment is the object of the show, and as Tufuga predicts: “You’ll get to fall in love, you’ll get to have a laugh, and you’ll want to get up and dance.”

That’s because it’s a musical, full of fantastic 1970s dance numbers (“real music,” he says, “not like the music now”) with a proper live band. And there’s plenty of comedy in it, as you’d expect from a member of Kila Kokonut Krew, which is staging the show.

What’s not to like about this show? It’s got comedy, it’s got tragedy, it’s got revenge, it’s got violence, it’s got songs, it’s got a mixed cast including Tongans, Samoans and Niueans – no wonder it’s packing them in.
“The Factory”, Canberra Theatre, June 24-25, bookings to canberratheatre centre.com.au or 675 2700.

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