Award-winning play explores life of a boy raised by his ghost ancestors at urupā

By Jessica Tyson
Ten-year-old Te Rongopai Curreen Tukiwaho leads a cast of nine actors in the new play, Hemo is Home.  

The award-winning play Hemo is Home is set to premiere at Auckland’s Te Pou Theatre in March. The comedic play, directed by actor Tainui Tukiwaho, follows the adventures of a young Māori boy who is raised by his ghost ancestors at the whanāu urupā (cemetery).

Tukiwaho wrote the play during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2021 with his five children in his blended whānau; Te Rongopai, 10, Mia Curreen-Poko, 17, Letoya Fernandez, 16, Paku Fernandez, 16 and Jade Fernandez, 12. He used the creative activity as a fun way to keep his tamariki occupied during the pandemic.

“This show is one of the most amazing things to come out of lockdown. I spent quality time with my kids and the outcome is this wonderful quirky tale that we created together.”

Tukiwaho’s 10-year-old son and co-writer Te Rongopai Curreen Tukiwaho plays the lead role.

Te Rongopai says, “I enjoyed writing this play with the family. My brothers and sisters had really good ideas and I'm really proud of all of us.”

Tainui Tukiwaho with his tamariki and writers of the new play, Hemo is Home. From left: Jade, Mia, Te Rongopai, Tainui, Letoya and Paku.  Source / File

An array of high profile Māori personalities will also bring the play to life, including TVNZ weather presenter Te Rauhiringa Brown and renowned Māori actors Maaka Pohatu (Wellington Paranormal), Bronwyn Turei (Go Girls), Awhina Ashby (Rūrangi), Stephen Butterworth (Spartacus) and Kayne Peters (Life is Easy).

The play’s premiere will be the first production staged at the newly built Te Pou Theatre at Corban Estate Arts Centre in West Auckland. The renovation of the new theatre took three years of fundraising and cost around $3 million.

Producer, Amber Curreen, who is also Te Rongopai’s mother, says Hemo is Home is the perfect production to welcome the theatre company’s new and improved premises.

“This is Te Pou Theatre's biggest show on record with ten superb actors and a stage design that shows off the full extent of the newly built whare. We want to show everyone what Māori storytelling of scale is like in its own whare and on its own terms," says Curreen.

Hemo at Home will run from March 3 to 12.