Theatre Review: Dawn Raids

Showing at the ASB Waterfront Theatre until 3rd September. Purchase tickets from Auckland Theatre Company’s website. Tickets are discounted for all AUT students.


Review by Vivien Whyte (she/her)



Twenty-five years since it was first produced, Pacific Underground and Auckland Theatre Company bring Oscar Kightley's Dawn Raids to the next generation in a blaze of spectacular performances and powerful storytelling. The story transports the audience to central Auckland in the 1970s, as we follow the lives of seven Samoan immigrants living in Aotearoa. The power behind Kightley's storytelling lies within its humanity. A budding musician, a passionate university activist, young love, migrant parents trying to give a better life to their children and immigrant children providing for family back home. These are tales as old as time and all intimately linked with the lives we live today. As an audience, we have to watch as all these things are brutally disrupted and shattered, and come face to face with the reality of some of the darkest moments in New Zealand’s history. The play may not be simple, but it certainly isn’t flashy nor overdone. It goes along at a steady pace, and herein lies its strength. As the scenes fade into one another the audience is left to absorb everything and get to know the central family and their friends. Live music, humour and the warm singing talents of Sione (read: Samoan Elvis Presley) bring the performance alive and will leave you in states of laughter to tears, from being serenaded to shock. Kightley masterfully weaves in a variety of positionalities.

Each character is lively and complex, and although each is underpinned by wanting to do what’s best for their community and family, their responses to the Dawn Raids are varied and distinct, showing that even though there is collective pain to this story, it is not black and white. Following each character and understanding who they are as they traverse the reality of the Dawn Raids breathes humanity into “the Dawn Raids”. Their tears, fights and love remind us that this was not just a moment in history, but people and families torn apart. In this way, Kightley shines a light on the atrocities committed in a way that no history book ever could. These are the stories of the generations before us. Yet, we are detached from the realities of what lies in our collective history. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And repeat it we do.


The hand of colonisation continues to justify innumerable acts of violence and discrimination. It continues to decide who comes to New Zealand (read: white New Zealand) as a welcome guest/worker, and when they almost inevitably transition into unwanted other. Only last week we watched as Minister Michael Wood defended a new policy which lowers the median wage for migrant workers. This month new data has come out about the exploitation of RSE workers. Not to mention a pandemic filled with inequitable outcomes. Dawn Raids reminds us of the importance of solidarity, kotahitanga, tufa’atasi and unity. This is truly a once-in-25-year chance to see the show, so if you can I recommend you do! Finally, fa’afetai tele lava to the cast, musicians and creatives for your storytelling and trust.