Pop CultureJune 26, 2024

Review: The Tīwhas Matariki Spectacular is energetic indigenous joy for a Māori new year


The four-piece drag queen Māori beat girl collective’s latest show is a beautiful emotional rollercoaster and is already sold out in Wellington.

As I entered Circa Theatre’s foyer space for The Tīwhas: A Matariki Spectacular, I couldn’t help but think back to the first time I saw the explosive, jaw-dropping takatāpui drag group. It was two years ago, also at Circa, but on the smaller, second stage. I fell in love that night watching them perform te reo pop hits from across multiple decades alongside kapa haka and short comedy sketches. The Matariki Spectacular is an even bigger show, a fresh and glamorous dinner-theatre set-up centred around Aotearoa’s newest national holiday. Fair warning: I fell in love all over again.

The Tīwhas is a four-piece drag queen Māori beat girl collective who sing and dance lineups of bangers, often translated into te reo Māori, whose shows also include lip-syncs, storytelling, comedy sketches, karakia, kapa haka, and direct address to the audience. Their whānau is in-part comprised of the four stunning Tīwhas: Dame Jthan (Jthan Morgan: Ngāi Tāmanuhiri, Rongowhakaata, Magiagi, Sapapāli’i, Lotofaga), Pania (Raureti Ormond: Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Tahu, Ngāti Whaoa), Slay West (Levi Waitere: Tainui), Huh? Mama! (Te Hamama Hohua: Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hikairo) accompanied by the Ngāti Tīwha band: Kree Matthews (Te Atihaunui a Paparangi), Hayden Taylor (Ngāi Tahu) and Tom Knowles (Rongowhakaata). 

After having our ticket scanned at the Circa doors, we were ushered to one of the three long tables. The seating arrangement invites conversation with the strangers around you, part of the Matariki kaupapa. 

The musical arrangement bounced from Dua Lipa to TLC, while following the creation narrative of Ranginui and Papatūānuku, which leads into the Matariki narrative of Papatūānuku and all her children. It is a fun history lesson that combines a narrative once believed lost with a contemporary sense of humour and music. The energising musical score has scattered moments between songs that are populated either by sketches like Story Time with Slay West where you might not actually learn anything, or CyberPop realness from Raureti Ormond who shines as the aloof princess made the comedic target of the other Tīwhas. 

Throughout the show, voiceovers explained elements of the Matariki kaupapa. Educational messages at a drag show will always struggle to rise above the noise of the crowd, and this show was no different. The voiceovers were often drowned out by attendees chatting and forming connections. But that is all part of celebrating Matariki. 

Jthan from The Tīwhas, in a previous show. (Photo: Supplied)

The ticket includes a main course, and you can order entrees and desserts separately. The kitchen team were given a list of ingredients that have relevance to the holiday and they created a delicious set. Entrees were ceviche or fry bread with butter and honey (HOW COULD ANYONE RESIST), mains were duck, fish or a veggie salad and the dessert a sweet kūmara pie. I completely demolished the fry bread.

The addition of food fits well into the kaupapa of the show. There are emotionally elevated moments of the celebration, and eating kai returns us to a more grounded state of being. Part of the proceedings was to write the name of someone who has passed away within the last year onto a piece of supplied paper. Once written, the Tīwhas came through the audience with baskets collecting these little totems to our lost loved ones so that they can be offered to Pōhutukawa and safely delivered to the afterlife. You may not expect such a thoughtful and, for many, sombre beat based on the show’s posters, but it all worked within the set. You’ll likely not realise its effect until you’ve shed a tear with others and then sung along to the reo Māori version of ‘We Are Family’ in the space of 30 minutes. 

The show ended with the Tīwhas lined up on their stage, adorned with the star cluster and a curtain of pink tassels, as they each shared a goal heading into the new year. If I were you, I would make a goal to see a Tīwhas show while you still can.

The Tīwhas: A Matariki Spectacular is on at Circa Theatre in Wellington until the June 29 (sold out) before heading to Auckland’s Basement Theatre from July 2-6.

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