Feel-good film ‘Red, White & Brass’ adapted for stage in ATC’s new play

By Megan Bedford

Photography: Raymond Sagapolutele.
Photography: Raymond Sagapolutele.
A feel-good story of Tongan pride, family loyalty and rugby, Auckland Theatre Company brings popular film Red, White & Brass to the stage.

The 2011 Rugby World Cup, held in Auckland, brought out the rugby fan in all of us, but it’s fair to say the Tongan community were some of the most enthusiastic devotees. Bodies, cars and even houses were decked out in red and white, and support was evident in music and song.

It is this backdrop that informs the 2023 film Red, White & Brass, directed by Damon Fepulea’i. The comedy follows Maka, a Tongan superfan who misses out on tickets to Tonga vs France. With no prior experience, he decides to form a traditional Tongan marching band, just so he and his friends can go, as pre-match entertainment. What starts out as just a cynical scam to see a rugby game, becomes a moving journey of self-discovery in which Maka and cousin Veni learn the importance of their Tongan culture, their community, and what really matters in life.

Based on a true story of the film’s producer Halaifonua Finau’s real-life experience, it makes for a fantastic tale and watching the flick leaves a permanent smile on your face. So theatre fans are in for a real treat when the story comes to the Auckland’s ASB Waterfront Theatre this month.

Reprising his film role, John-Paul ‘JP’ Foliaki stars as Maka, with an all-Pasifika cast and crew, including direction from Anapela Polataivao and Vela Manusaute.

Tongan New Zealander Diamond Langi, an actress and former Miss Universe New Zealand, takes on the role of Irene in the new adaptation. Langi says she loved the film for its authentic representation of Tongan community and māfana (warm energy).

Diamond Langi portrays Irene in the on-stage version of Red, White & Brass. Photography: Raymond Sagapolutele.

“The humour, dedication to church and religion, the language used, and also the relationship between Maka and his parents. His father saying, ‘I’m going to stick up for my son, his dream and his faith.’”

She says the storytelling is compelling.

“I got so emotional [watching the film]. I feel like [the story invited] our incredible elders to listen to the younger generations that are coming through, and also the importance of our generation, in listening to our elders. It was a beautiful dynamic of the two coming together to unite.”

While much of the story remains, capturing the same magic and charm, the stage presentation has evolved, including her role as Irene. “We get to see more of her personality and gain more understanding of who she is as a person,” Langi explains. “Theatre is Anapela and [playwright] Leki Jackson-Bourke’s passion, so I know they’re going to elevate the story,” she says of the production. “Still keeping the sense of what people loved about the film, but also making it powerful on stage, where people are like, ‘I want to come back and watch this again!’”

Multi-talented Foliaki leads a cast that includes other familiar faces from the film such as Haanz Fa’avae-Jackson, Mikey Falesiu and Onetoto Ikavuka. In her on-stage debut, Langi says she’s looking forward to working alongside more experienced members. Foliaki will again shine in the lead role.

“I feel his storytelling of the character Maka is so similar to how he is as a person,” she reveals. “He’s very lively, the life of the party. But most importantly, what I love about JP is that he is a dream chaser. If we look back on his career, everything that has been set for him that he’s accomplished is so relatable to his character, Maka, and his determination – ‘I’m going to get it done. I’m going to be in this space. I’m going to give this a go.’”

Having attended the 2011 Tonga/France rugby match in real life, Langi remembers the passion and atmosphere and is looking forward to recreating the vibe on stage. Helping set the scene will be a well-respected live Pasifika brass band, but the actress says audiences should expect even more captivating musical performances.

“Every one of the cast can sing and they’re going to be singing in a way that’s authentic to us Tongans, how we sing in harmonies. So I’m super excited for that, I know that’s going to really translate well.”

She’s not sure yet whether she will be playing her instrument live. “If we do, I’m 100 per cent ready,” she laughs. “I come from a musical background. My father was a musician. So that’s a second home for me.”

Red, White and Brass: The Play
18 June – 6 July, 2024

ASB Waterfront Theatre


Print Recipe


Let us keep you up to date with our weekly MiNDFOOD e-newsletters which include the weekly menu plan, health and news updates or tempt your taste buds with the MiNDFOOD Daily Recipe. 

Member Login