The Naked Samoans Reunite with a bit of Magic

At their Auckland Arts Festival show The Naked Samoans Do Magic, Oscar Kightley, Dave Fane, Robbie Magasiva, Mario Gaoa, Shimpal Lelisi and Heto Ah Hi bring a little bit of magic to their reunion with Wellington-based Pacific theatre company The Conch. LAUMATA LAUANO speaks with its director and co-founder NINA NAWALOWALO about bringing the popular comedy troupe back on stage, the art of magic and the telling of tall tales



More than a decade since last gracing the stage with their own brand of self-deprecating anarchic social satire, the Naked Samoans are back.


No, the Nakeds didn’t pull a disappearing act, never to be heard of again until now.


They’ve been around on our screens and airwaves individually, even as a group, trying to find dates in Sione’s Wedding and in animated form in the popular animated Bro’Town series


But the nationally-treasured pioneering Pacific comedy troupe we know and love hasn’t been seen on stage for ages.


So, after accepting their Senior Pasifika Arts Awards in late 2016, founding members Dave Fane and Oscar Kightly approached internationally acclaimed director,


The Conch’s Nina Nawalowalo (who would accept her own Senior Pasifika Arts Award a year later), about working together on a possible regroup.


“They sort of said they were thinking to regroup and asked if I would work with them,” recalls the proud Fijian director, whose own career spans more than three decades over multiple mediums and countries.


Nina worked with Oscar on her critically acclaimed production White Guitar (2015), which told the story of the Luafutu family, starring renowned hip hop artist Scribe, his father John and brother Matthias. They wanted to work together again. This was the perfect opportunity.


“It came through us both respecting each other’s style of work … and we make very different work,” says Nina.


“The exciting thing is the combination of our styles of theatre … the visual theatre The Conch and I make and the familiar comedy of the Naked Samoans, of course” Nina explains.


The product of their combination came in the form of a repackaging of the Nakeds and putting them back onstage for the New Zealand public. Doing it required something a bit different, something magical.


Nina had just completed directing The Magicians Tour, working with top world magicians, returning to her early career years in the London magic scene. She knew exactly what she wanted to bring to the table for the Naked Samoans.


“I love magic,” says Nina, who was fortunate enough to train with magicians in London, while studying theatre and mime.


“I use it in the way I make stories. I love it within storytelling. It doesn’t matter how old you are, everyone loves to see magic … it brings out the child in everyone.”


The Naked Samoans were also interested Nina’s magic touch in White Guitar.


The Conch is renowned for taking Pacific stories and bringing them into the light for the stage.


As the first female theatre director of Melanesian descent, it’s important for Nina to bring more Pacific stories to the world. 


“There’s a real need, and a real, growing interest globally,” she says.


“I just want to contribute to all the stories out there to put Pacific in the forefront.


"Working with the Nakeds is very special because I’m a Pacific woman, they’re Pacific actors, and we’re looking to find the humour and magic in the world of their story.


"Even though it’s a comedy, underneath you always need elements of truth. The play is about hope.”


Her importance of truth-telling works well alongside the Nakeds’ social satire.


“A lot of Pacific people are survivors, hard-working and providing for families. Sometimes hope can go out of your life because you’re so busy working and just trying to survive,” she says.


“Each of the Naked Samoans, when they’re in story, performs one piece of magic that will be something that happens to them as they’re playing these everyday characters of Pacific heritage.”


The show sees the group play exaggerated forms of themselves. Following the death of a mysterious fan, they discover they are the inheritors of the keys to a dilapidated villa in Ponsonby.


With Auckland house prices skyrocketing and money to be made, the boys - now men - gather to sell it off and get on with their lives. But the house, and who has left it to them, are not what they seem.


Imbued with the spirit of magic, the house and what it contains leads them to face their biggest challenge yet.


Will they pull a rabbit out of the hat, or just think "Nah, it’s too much trouble."?


Last year Nina used her connections with professional magicians and specialists to train the Nakeds, she explains that magic is an art form that requires discipline.


The boys were more than willing to learn. As they worked on finding the right kind of magic for each of them, the real question of how to bring them back with a bang answered itself.


“It’s been a really great challenge for the guys and something New Zealand won’t have seen of them,” says Nina.


“That makes it interesting in the way of, ‘How do you bring them back on stage and give the New Zealand public and their long-time fans something different’?”


They’ve answered it simply.


With a little bit of magic.




The Naked Samoans Do Magic


Dates: 22 – 25 March at The Civic