INTERVIEW: Jesse Peach

Othello Peach Theatre Company
Who is Othello really about?

From the Moor of Venice, to the road of yellow brick… [by James Wenley]

Othello Peach Theatre Company
Robbie Magasiva plays Othello, directing by Jesse Peach.

If you’ve noticed journalist Jesse Peach’s absence from the TV news recently he has a very good reason. He’s taken five months leave to pursue his passion. Theater director Jesse Peach is now at work.

His first play, Othello, is one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies about the titular Moor who is fooled by the villainous Iago into believing that his wife Desdemona has been unfaithful. Peach sums up the play as “true love being destroyed by jealousy’.

Jesse says its feels very free and exciting to be able to dedicate the next months solely to theatre. “It feels fantastic because I’ve been working so hard towards it, just so I can survive through this time. It’s going to be really great just to have the single focus because you can only have one focus when you’re doing shows like this I think. “

He sees clear similarities in being a journalist and a director for theatre – “It’s all just about telling a story as clearly as possible, so it’s kind of doing the same thing. My thoughts on TV journalism are that you want to get the truest part of the story but also the truest part of emotion from people. So it’s kind of complimentary in a way I think.”

Though if made to choose, he’s very certain about what he’d like to do. “My long term aspiration has always been to work in theatre. I love working at TV3 and I love the people there, I enjoy that as a job. I see theatre as my passion and what I want to do. If I could do theatre full time I would.”

Othello is Jesse’s favourite Shakespeare, which he likes for its strong central storyline. Many of the characters are young, and Jesse has cast for its young edge in mind. Regular collaborator George Henare (playing Brabantio) is joined by hot young things Morgana O’Reilley (Desdemona), Matthew Walker (Cassio), Matt Minto (Iago) and of course Robbie Magasiva as Othello.

Robbie, currently starring on Shorty Street, has enjoyed a hugely successful career on New Zealand’s stage and screen, though playing Othello is perhaps when audiences will really be able to see what he is made of as an actor. “Robbie is an exceptional actor”, says Jesse, “I think he is one of the best actors of his generation. He has extraordinary strength within him as a performer.”

Jesse won’t be shying away from the racial themes of the play that, along with The Merchant of Venice, has made Othello one of the most controversial and debated of Shakespeare’s canon. “It’s definitely about a black man and his relationship with a white woman, and there is no shying away from that. I think it’s a relevant issue for today as well.”

I spoke to Jesse as he was entering rehearsals for Othello, and he was very coy about revealing he was going to tackle the work. He was reluctant to talk about any directorial interpretations, saving those discoveries for the rehearsal room.

 He immediately lit up when talking about dance legend Douglas Wright, who he is collaborating with on the show. “Oh my gosh, it’s the most exciting experience of my life. He’s so awesome.”

Jesse says he wants to develop theatre with more physicality, and he rung up Wright asking if he would be involved with the show. Jesse admits Wright was dubious at first, but after taking him out for a drink and explaining the concept, he was on board. “Him and I are right on the same page with the show. We are adding in some dance and made quite a few cuts to the show, and he will also be there when we workshop some of the group scenes, there’s going to be quite a lot of stylised exciting movement in it.”

While Othello has been in rehearsal, Jesse has been finding a Toto to star in Peach Theatre Company’s next production The Wizard of Oz. “It was a wild idea, I always wanted to do it, and I thought The Civic was the perfect venue. I talked to them early last year, and it sort of came about that there was a space available and they allowed me to use it, so here we are doing it. I absolutely love it, it’s got such good heart. “

After exploring sexual jealousy and racial identity in Othello, you could hardly get a more different theatre property than Oz. Since founding Peach Theatre Company in 2005, Jesse has directed a diverse range of plays from dark musicals (Sweeney Todd) to 20th Century Classics (A View from the Bridge). What attracts Jesse as a director to work, he says are plays “about real people and real lives and situations, sometimes I think the most ordinary of characters can have the most extraordinary of stories.”

What other plays are on Jesse’s director bucket list? “A lot of them. I don’t really want to say. You’ll find out next year and the year after. There are so many. So, so, so, so many.”

Othello plays at the Maidment Theatre 22 July until 13 August 2011.

More information at the Maidment Theatre Website.

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