Thursday – “Naming No. 2”

Toa Fraser

Toa Fraser

The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo hosts a screening of Toa Fraser’s award-winning film, “Naming No. 2,” on Thursday, October 22 at 2:30 p.m. in UCB127. The event is free and open to the public.

“Naming No. 2” is the story about family matriarch Nana Maria (played by Ruby Dee). Inspired by a dream from her childhood in Fiji, she struggles to bring her grandchildren together in Auckland, New Zealand, for a traditional Fijian feast where she plans to name her successor as matriarch. One reviewer wrote that the 95-minute film is “a big-hearted, exuberant story about what it takes to bring family together.”

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[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pooJXSKDq-M&hl=en&fs=1&]

The play No 2 took Madeleine Sami, then a bright-eyed and precociously talented teenager, around the world and made her a favourite with theatre-goers from Auckland to Aberdeen. However, it didn’t take her all the way to the silver screen – and that’s okay, she says.

Ten years after its debut at the Silo and six years after she last performed it, Sami is bringing the nine raucous characters from No 2 to the stage to mark the play’s anniversary. She’s excited about saying the lines again and the moves are returning even though she last performed No 2 in 2003.

It’s hardly surprising it’s all coming back, given that she had performed it 250 times.

But at times Sami and No 2 have had an uneasy relationship. Written by Toa Fraser, No 2 tells the story of a feisty Fijian-Kiwi matriarch, Nanna Maria, who feels the spark has gone out of her family life. Deciding it is time to name her successor, she gathers her divided extended family around her for one last family feast.

Fraser chose Sami to star in the one-person play after casting and working with her in his debut play Bare in 1998.

After critical and commercial acclaim in New Zealand, Sami, then aged 18, performed No 2 in Britain, Holland, Jamaica, Mexico and the United States. It won a Fringe First at Edinburgh in 2000; Sami’s image appeared in all the major newspapers alongside rave reviews.

So when Fraser developed it into an equally successful film in 2005, everyone Sami included expected she would play a leading role. It was not to be. Instead the film, starring Ruby Dee, Mia Blake, Taungaroa Emile and Rene Naufahu, went on to win the World Dramatic Audience Award at the 2006 Sundance Festival without her. Fraser has since directed the stellar cast of Sam Neill, Jeremy Northam and eight-time Academy Award nominee Peter O’Toole in his second feature, Dean Spanley.

It was obviously a really hard time for me and I would have loved to be in the film but it was just not meant to be, says Sami, now 28. In the end, though, it’s actually turned into a really positive thing because it made me seek out other opportunities.

She says she’d been putting all my eggs in one basket with No 2.

She was forced to look for new work, including a wider range of roles with Silo Theatre, Massive Company and Auckland Theatre Company, as well as a part in the hit film Sione’s Wedding.

More recently, she’s popped up on TV productions as diverse as Outrageous Fortune and The Jaquie Brown Diaries. She has also been singing with her sisters, Anji and Priya, and the trio head into the recording studio shortly.

Now I can come back to No 2 with all that other experience behind me and that’s a good thing. I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t devastated by the decision at time but it really was for the best, I think.

Sami has not seen the film version of No 2, saying she always thought she would revisit the play and didn’t want the movie and theatre images to blur.

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