AN AWE-INSPIRING MARVEL
New Zealand International Arts Festival 2012|
THE MĀORI TROILUS AND CRESSIDA - TOROIHI RĀUA KO KĀHIRA
Written by William Shakespeare
Translated by Te Haumihiata Mason
Director: Rachel House
at Te Papa Amphitheatre, Wellington
From 9 Mar 2012 to 10 Mar 2012
[2hrs 30mins, incl. interval]
Reviewed by Paul Diamond, 20 Mar 2012
In 2002, the release of The Mäori Merchant of Venice was a boost for Te Reo Mäori. Ten years on, Ngäkau Toa's production of The Mäori Trolius and Cressida marks a further milestone in the history of this country's first language.
The Mäori Merchant of Venice was inspired by a translation of Shakespeare's play by the Ngäti Maniapoto scholar Pei Te Hurinui Jones in the 1940s. Jones translated other plays, including Huria Hiha (Julius Caesar) and Owhiro (Othello).
Translating works like these is a daunting prospect, and I've wondered whether any further translations into Mäori would follow. It's extremely gratifying then, that Te Haumihiata Mason has tackled Troilus and Cressida, and that her sparkling translation has been brought to life in this vivid, energetic and engaging production.
Shakespeare's ‘problem play' explores the costs of love and war, and works well in a Mäori setting. A well-known whakataukï (proverb) came to mind while I was watching the performance: He wahine, he whenua, e ngaro ai te tangata. (By women and land, men are lost.) The themes in Shakespeare's plays have universal appeal. The matakite (prophetic) tradition in Mäori culture also fits well with a character like Cassandra, brought to life by Waimihi Hotere.
The night I went, I was in the back row and couldn't hear all the dialogue, but this wasn't a barrier to working out what was going on, thanks to the skill of the actors and the direction. When I could hear, I enjoyed the poetry of the language, and hearing kïwaha (idiom/colloquialisms). It also says something about the current capacity of the language that a cast and crew of this calibre could be assembled. It's a coming together of talent that couldn't have been envisaged in Pei Jones' time.
Rawiri Paratene, one of the best-known faces and most experienced actors, is a commanding presence (and Executive Producer) in this production. Waihoroi Shortland (Netähio/Nestor) and Scotty Morrison (Akamëmana/Agamemnon) both appeared in the Mäori Merchant of Venice (as Shylock/Hairoka and Antonio/Anatonio) and were Reo Māori Advisors for this production. Both are key figures in the push to revitalise the Mäori language, through their work as teachers, broadcasters and writers.
It's also heartening to see younger, less-familiar faces. Drama student Awhina Rose Henare-Ashby is wonderful as Kähira (Cressida), ably capturing the emotional highs and lows and the strange, ambiguous positions this character finds herself in.
As well as showcasing the richness of the Mäori language, the Mäori Troilus and Cressida highlights areas of Mäori art and culture that have developed in recent years. We heard (and saw) taonga puoro (Mäori musical instruments) played by Richard Nunns and James Webster.
Haka, waiata, mau rakau (Mäori weapons), were all seamlessly integrated into the narrative, heightening the drama. The costumes also displayed the skills in weaving nurtured by groups such as Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa (Mäori Weavers New Zealand). Perhaps the only things we didn't see were karetao (puppets) and waka ama paddling!
My only gripe is the portrayal of Patroclus (Patokihi), played by Rangi Rangitukunoa. In classical Greek mythology, Patroclus is regarded as a comrade of Achilles. In Shakespeare's retelling of the story, the two men are lovers. In this production, Patokihi – described in programme notes as an ihorei (person of rank, leader) of the Greeks – is played as a camp, simpering caricature, in contrast to the masculine Achilles/Aikiri. The use of tired, and frankly offensive stereotypes with no basis in history or literature perhaps says more about our own time and sexual hang-ups.
With that one reservation, this is production is a marvel, and a credit to the whole cast and production team. It's also a sorely-needed fillip for the language, and cause for optimism, following the grim outlook reported in the Waitangi Tribunal's report on the Wai 262 claim over indigenous flora and fauna. A generation on from the advent of the modern Mäori-language revival, the tribunal argued that the language ‘is approaching a crisis point.'
Ngäkau Toa's production of The Mäori Troilus and Cressida is a timely reminder that while the future of the language isn't secure, it retains the capacity to inspire awe. I'm already proud of what this production will look like in London, at Shakespeare's Globe. See it if you can. It deserves our support.
Note: Due to the weather the Auckland season has been moved inside to the Town Hall – Concert Chamber, which means there is limited seating.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.
See also reviews by:
Laurie Atkinson (The Dominion Post);
Paul Simei-Barton (New Zealand Herald);
Dominic Cavendish (The Telegraph);
Andrew Dickson (The Guardian);