Red, White and Brass: The Play — A Response

Before it had even begun, Red, White and Brass: The Play felt like a victory. When I arrived at the ASB Waterfront Theatre, I was immediately greeted by a sea of red. Innumerable tiny Tongan flags adorned the high ceilings. Tonga had landed in this glistening foyer of pomp and prestige, and she made it hers from the jump. Despite being Samoan (and noting our intergenerational rivalry), I was glad that Tonga won that night.

Entering a world of māfana, I felt like a child on Christmas morning. I was endlessly grateful and prepared for happy tears to run with a wad of tissues shoved into my handbag. The show opened with a captivating tribute to the small but mighty Kingdom of Tonga. My tissues were sodden less than five minutes in.

What followed was a two-hour celebration of people, language and culture. A lively audience mirrored the joy onstage. Humour came to the fore often, and roaring laughter shook the walls of the theatre—sometimes, with only an animated side-eye stare to blame.

The electricity among the cast made them easy to root for as main characters. I felt like I knew the dreamer, the beauty queen and the perfect cousin personally. Their bickering and scheming were as authentic as any argument or grand plan I had ever co-written with my own family. These remixed memories depicted a shared history that was frequently hilarious, and sporadically heartbreaking to watch.

Complementing enthralling onstage interactions, exquisite set and wardrobe designs were assembled like an expertly curated exhibition. Slick transitions between traditional Tongan attire and digs of the diaspora further emphasised the real tensions playing out in Aotearoa and beyond. From trap houses to church pews, much of this story was told through visual cues.

Among the storytelling stimuli were the mesmerising languages of music and dance. Diasporisms and ancient traditions converged to form a dazzling choir of cultural pride. Harmonious hymns clashed with crip-walking wannabe gangstas, while young and old wore smiles as wide as the oceans they navigated together.

Red, White and Brass: The Play was a triumph. Based on true events and an effervescent community, this show centred sacred relationships, diverse identities and cultural strengths. Unrelentingly high energy and a consistently swift pace culminated in an evening of dynamic, seriously entertaining theatre.

It felt right to stand as the curtain rolled down. For Tonga. For the ancestors.

Featured photos supplied.


In a dream, you saw a way to survive, and you were filled with joy.


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