Te be, or not te be? [by Sharu Delilkan]
It has been a journey of a lifetime for Rachel House to direct the first Te Reo Maori version of William Shakespeare‘s historical masterpiece, Troilus and Cressida.
Despite being one of the country’s foremost theatre practitioners and visionaries, House admits she was terrified, when she was first approached.
“I knew this was a massive undertaking and would be history in the making. However that fear disappeared very quickly and we just got on with it.”
Translated by Te Haumihiata Mason, audiences have a last chance on Sunday April 15 to witness this historic production at the Auckland Town Hall before the production plays at The Globe Theatre London, part of the Globe to Globe Festival that is bringing together artists from all over the globe, to present Shakespeare’s plays in their own language.
Besides being an historic occasion for a Shakespearean play in Te Reo Maori to debut at The Globe, it has been given the honour of performing at the historic location on Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23. The cast of 18 Maori performers is led by Rawiri Paratene (Whale Rider), alongside renowned actor Waihoroi Shortland (Taika Waititi’s Boy) and Te Reo Professor Scotty Morrison (Te Karere). The production incorporates many aspects of Maori culture; the haka and waita.
And yes there is a danger that people may come to The Globe performance to see it because of its novelty value. But House feels that is not an issue.
“Firstly we have a really big community of Maori in London so we hope they will be there in full force. And although a majority of the audience will not be familiar with the language and culture we are convinced that our performers will win them over and that they will get caught up in the story.”
The use of Maori tattoos and the vibrant feather-laden costumes will definitely be a visual draw card at The Globe.
House says she has deliberately not gone with the intense and intimidating tone that many productions of Troilus and Cressida have taken on in the past.
“Audience interaction is key at The Globe so we are keen to show the sexiness of our culture, through our unique costumes and Maori movement. You only need to look as far at the Kapa Haka competitions to see the strength displayed. I also suspect people will freak out about the tattooed bums at first but I’m sure they will get used to it.”
Having been adopted by Scottish parents, House didn’t get the chance to learn her mother tongue when she was growing up. However she says directing a Te Reo Maori play written in kupu tawhito (the ancient language) has revived her own hunger to master the language.
“It has been great seeing the language take flight with the younger generations who attended the free performance at the Auckland Town Hall, who are the first generation that went through kohanga reo. And of course, I have picked up the basics along the way, having previously worked on the Te Reo educational television show Koreo Mai. But I am by no means fluent.”
But lacking the command of Te Reo has actually been a bonus during the creative process. In fact she says that not knowing what the individual words meant but having to understand the actors’ movement and gestures has been a plus point.
“In many ways not being fluent was good for preparing for The Globe. Basically if I didn’t understand what was going on, I would get the actors to do it over and over again until the subject and emotional art became clear. I also made sure that I had a great team of fluent speakers around me. So I knew when the language wasn’t being pronounced in the right way. And it was great having Tweedie Waititi helping the less fluent cast members with their understanding and pronunciation.”
Another first for House was working on this particular Shakespearean play.
“I knew about it existence and what it was all about but I had never read Troilus and Cressida. So I spent many nights reading online and coming to grips with Shakespeare’s skillful twisting of these great legends, where he has found flaws in great people.”
Although based on Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, House says both she and the cast have managed to relate to its universal themes, which are translatable to all cultures – such as the story of great warriors and love gone wrong.
“After all we still have inter-tribal warring going on. It basically is a very snug fit – the whole story fits with Maori culture like a glove. It basically feels like one of our own stories, having explored the themes and given it our own interpretation.”
Ngakau Toa Productions in collaboration with The Edge presents Troilus and Cressida plays at Great Hall, Auckland Town Hall on 15 April. More info at The Edge. Followed by the After Party Fundraiser at Q. More info at The Maori Troilus and Cressida.
Ngakau Toa Productions presents Troilus and Cressida plays at The Globe to Globe Festival on 23-24 April. More info at Globe to Globe Festival.