Pacman, Poi E and Prince are back as Astroman creators discuss theatre show's 'love letter to the 80s'

Pacman, Poi E and Prince are back in fashion as a new show dives into the experience of growing up Māori in 1980s Whakatāne.

Astroman director Tainui Tukiwaho and sound curator Laughton Kora joined TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning to discuss how the idea came about and what to expect from the show.

Mr Tukiwaho said the show is about a "young Māori boy who saves the life of this Scottish man who's going through a hard time", but also delves into "the mind of this genius 14-year-old kid who really loves video games".

Kora said he could identify with Astroman's story because he also grew up in Whakatāne in the 80s, adding, "When I saw the show, it was like, 'Right, that's my story'.

"You know, just a really small town community. You knew everybody. Obviously, the pace was a lot slower but Whakatāne's beautiful as well – Ohope, all the beaches around there, all the way up to Papamoa, Maunganui, all the way down to Te Kaha, you know – so that was ours."

Mr Tukiwaho said the show was full of "quite a bit of pathos trying to get to know what one man's about," but also laughter, noting that "you immediately flip into a big song-and-dance number to the song from Ready to Roll, if anybody remembers that from the 80s, where Pacman [is] dancing, Frogger, Donkey Kong – there's about eight different video game characters that are on stage dancing with the character Jimmy, who's our lead character".

Kora said he went about collating the music by "bring[ing] back memories" which he hopes will ignite "the different memories at the time, like, 'Oh, I used to ride this bike' and 'fish and chips are here,' stuff like that."

"I've kind of stepped away from the whole 'neon and shoulder pads' sort of 80s … I guess the best way to put it was like the music we heard on the marae, you know, and a lot of that was what my mum and dad were listening to, and my uncles and aunties, so I've gone and put a lot of that into the show as well.

"Everyone that's come past rehearsal, they're always like, 'Oh my God, I haven't heard that song for a while,' and you forget how expansive the 80s was, you know? Grace Jones, Talking Heads – it wasn't just Madonna, MJ and Prince, so I wanted to play around with that sound, but then also all the samples to every 80s game."

Mr Tukiwaho added that it wasn’t just about playing out one of the experiences of being Māori and seeing their faces on stage, but also having Te Ao Māori behind the scenes.

"Astroman is an opportunity for Te Rēhia Theatre Company and Auckland Theatre Company to come together and try to find a new way for te reo Māori to have a presence in theatre."

Astroman kicks off at the Auckland Arts Festival tomorrow from 8pm.

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Director Tainui Tukiwaho and sound curator Laughton Kora joined Breakfast to talk about Astroman, described as a mix between Karate Kid and Boy. Source: Breakfast