Written by Oscar Kightley, Directed by Troy Tu’ua and Tanya Muagututi’a
Written by Oscar Kightley, Dawn Raids tells the story of a single Samoan aiga (family) residing in the central Auckland suburb of Ponsonby during the 1970s. During this period, special police squads conducted aggressive and targeted raids on the homes of Pacific Islander families, either during the late hours of the night or early hours of the morning. These events are referred to as the dawn raids. Introduced by the Labour government’s Norman Kirk, the dawn raids were reintroduced and intensified by Robert Muldoon’s third National government.
The show comes not long after a formal apology given by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. On 1 August 2021, Ardern delivered a formal apology in a public ifoga ceremony before 1,000 Pasifika guests at the Auckland Town Hall, four decades since the events that inspired the play.
It was not until I left high school that I fully learned about the dawn raids. Plays like this and shows like The Panthers (2021) are vital in educating the country on its traumatic and racist past.
The play begins with a charismatic performance by Sione (played by Michael Falesiu)—the eldest son of To’aga and Mose. Factory worker by day and singer by night, who opens the show using an Elvis-inspired alter ego, Fabian, thinking it is the only way for him to be successful. The events that follow Sione and his beloved Fuarosa (Gabrielle Solomona) allow Sione to regain his Pacific identity at the show’s end, becoming unapologetically Samoan.
Lauie Tofa (Mose) gives us a performance that is both infinitely comedic and realistically tragic. The character of Mose is relatable, and his humour captures that of stereotypical ‘fob’ Pacific Island parents, yet his insistence on abandoning his culture in favour of a white man’s world. Mose captures the belief of many Pacific Island parents of the time who only wanted the best for their family.
Talia-Rae Mavaega (Theresa) is ludicrously radical, political, and educated. One of the best lines in the show is when Theresa is asked by a police officer, “What island are you guys from?” where she replies, “The North Island”.
Italia Hunt plays Steve, a Samoan police officer in a predominantly Pākehā workforce. He is a conflicted character who questions his identity as a Samoan man who is also a police officer.
The show’s highlight is the ultimate arrival of police on the doorstep of the family’s house. The chaotic sequence shows the horrifying experiences that the Pacific Island community had to endure. Screams for help from those fleeing from police are directed to the crowd as we merely watch. It captures the horror and trauma which is still felt by many to this day. I heard tears from all directions during the showing.
Scene transitions are clean and calm, while the set design is inspired and detailed.
Dawn Raids captures the intergenerational trauma of the decade whilst creating an emotional, cultural connection with the audience. The show transports the audience back to that decade in a vivid and hilarious way. The jokes resonated with the Polynesian audience with gags that only our people could truly understand. The show is deeply moving, intensely angering, and resoundingly flawless.