Hayley Sproull is a familiar face at The Basement – part of the Snort team, part of last year’s Christmas show, Jesus Christ Superstar, Part Two, and she performed in Milky Bits earlier this year with the ubiquitous Chris Parker. In this engaging one-woman show, Sproull faces up to her heritage. She is one quarter Maori, but with blonde hair, middle-class pakeha accent and her knowledge of te reo sketchy at best, you wouldn’t think it. Initially proud of her dual heritage, the death of her Maori grandmother leads her to question, through sketch, song and stand up, what it is to be Maori, and, essentially, whether you can be Maori and Pakeha at the same time?
For all those Pakeha in the audience who have at some point grappled with treading the right path between embracing and appropriating Maori culture, Sproull is honest, charming and very funny. I end up snorting with laughter as she laughs at herself mucking up the poi, her waiata choice, and the black comedy that is her Nana’s funeral. There is nothing vindictive or nasty about Sproull’s comedy, but nevertheless I felt as an audience member complicit in an indiscretion, that I was laughing so hard partly because we were tackling something taboo. As in a blended family there are expectations in New Zealand of unity and shared interest which are met to a degree, but not completely. And the tensions are perhaps most evident within those offspring with a mixed heritage.
A hundred years ago, ‘half-castes’ were pitied by the British, among others, who felt they would never belong anywhere. Now they are noted publicly, if at all, for their beauty, and yet the old problems of belonging, of identity, have not entirely gone away. There are echoes in the content, if not the form, to Alice Canton’s Other. The minority heritage is there, potentially enriching, but also complicating things. There is a sense of being stuck between two stools – neither sharing the camaraderie of the minority group with a strong cultural identity, nor feeling completely comfortable in the dominant one which, albeit often well-intentioned, wants everyone to fit in and get along. While Canton wishes the world were colour blind, Sproull wants to be multicolour, brown one day, white the next. The outside world however will judge looks as much as actions and make their conclusions accordingly. By drawing attention to everything Sproull finds difficult, the show is able to hint at greater multicultural difficulties that are generally left unsaid. Sproull with director Jo Randerson balance the theatricality and the underlying politics beautifully. It is Maori pakeha race relations as managed by David Brent.
Sproull as a performer is less Brent though and more Miranda Hart, bumbling along, getting panic attacks in awkward situations and trying her best. She is enormously likeable, has a terrific turn of phrase and great comic timing, and she has put together a show that is as entertaining as it is interesting. She is one to watch.