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Rediscover Allen Curnow's play The Axe

Rediscover our theatrical past with LANDMARK - New Zealand Play Reading Series

#1: The Axe by Allen Curnow

“You shall all be changed. You cannot imagine how you will be changed.” 

 New Zealand literary legend Allen Curnow’s first play The Axe debuted in 1948 at the Little Theatre, Christchurch. War comes to the Pacific Island of Mangaia, when Davida, a Taihitian missionary, arrives proclaiming a new Christian God, and bearing the gift of an axe. Winning over the powerful High Chief Numangatini, his tribe denounce their old religion and burn their temples.  But deep tribal rivalries are sparked when the outcasted Ngativira tribe fight back for their traditional ways.  

Curnow’s lyric play could be described as the first significant full length play of the 20th Century from a New Zealand playwright. Curnow saw the story as a metaphor for the colonisation of New Zealand: “The Axe… traces in another part of the Pacific, at another time, the stain of blood that writes an Island story.”

University of Auckland’s Elam theatre hosted a production in 1953, and a radio drama followed in 1961, but the play has been largely confined to the bookshelf ever since. Ngaio Marsh called it “much the best play that has been written in New Zealand”. The LANDMARK New Zealand Play Reading Series, part of Director James Wenley’s Masters in Drama thesis project, hopes to rediscover this classic New Zealand play and see how it stands up for today’s audiences.

All are welcome to attend the free play reading on Monday 26 March, 7pm at the University of Auckland Drama Studio (Level 3 Arts 1 Building)