Te reo Maori and old English tragedy combined when a te reo version of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida opened at the Auckland Town Hall last night.
The production, staring Rawiri Paratene (Whale Rider) will next play at London’s Globe Theatre, in the Globe to Globe festival.
The festival, part of the 2012 Olympic celebrations in the city, will host 37 international companies presenting every one of Shakespeare’s plays in a different language, says its website.
For Paratene, a veteran of the Globe boards, the April 23 debut will be the vision he had when he first rehearsed at the home of Shakespeare.
“I remember thinking, ‘I want to come back here with a cast of Maori and Pasifika and blow it apart’ and that’s what we’ll do,” he says.
“The Globe is so immediate and direct, just like a marae. There’s nowhere to hide on that stage.”
The actor realises that, for some, Shakespearean English is confusing enough without translating it to te reo Maori, but that the languages and themes mould perfectly.
“When the characters subtext and intentions are so clear and dynamic, it doesn’t matter what bloody language you speak,” said Paratene.
The show debuted first at the New Zealand International Arts Festival earlier this month to rave reviews and large audiences.
Paratene says the play’s emotion and action leaves “audiences feeling revitalised and full of energy after they see it”.
Director Rachel House believes that the Shakespearean tragedy fits to Maori culture “like a glove”.
“The themes of pride, women, land and war are similar to tales from Maori culture,” says House.
The Shakespearean original, set in the Trojan War, was translated by Te Haumihiata Mason of the Maori Language Commission.
The translation process was gruelling, done line-by-line over four months, though Mason “would have preferred 12”.
“Every line was a challenge…you had to understand Shakespearean English – that isn’t easy – then translate it to classical Maori,” Mason said.
Mason said that Troilus and Cressida, like the All Blacks haka, places te reo Maori on the international stage.
“It [Troilus and Cressida] shows that our language can certainly do whatever English can do. The actors just bring it to life.”
Paratene agrees that such performances in te reo promote the language to a wide audience in an exciting way.
The play closes tomorrow night.