POETIC, VIBRANT, PHYSICAL, VISCERAL
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 John Smythe, 10 Mar 2012
A standing ovation in the packed 'standing-room-only' Te Papa marae confirmed the success of this brave and challenging enterprise: a Māori translation – by Te Haumihiata Mason – of Troilus and Cressida, one of Shakespeare's lesser-known and more problematic plays.
As performed by this cast of 17, directed by Rachel House, the consensus amid the animated crowd in the aftermath of its premiere is that the Māori language and performance conventions has given The Māori Troilus and Cressida – Toroihi Rāua Ko Kāhira a natural home.
Nine years ago, when the standard English version, with some Māori content, was mounted as the Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School graduation production (directed by Annie Ruth), it was billed as The Tragic History of Troilus and Cressida – a Comedy, and fair enough too.
Written at the turn of the 16th into the 17th century, soon after Twelfth Night and Hamlet (and just before his other 'problem plays'), it exposes and satirises the corrosively corruptive nature of war and love by revisiting Homer's Illiad and Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. Seven years into the very long Trojan war, this phase is precipitated by the abduction of Helen (wife of Menelaus, King of Greece) by Paris (son of Priam, King of Troy). Revenge, as ever, is the driver.
In this context Troilus, the youngest son of Priam, refuses to fight because he is in love with Cressida, the daughter of the prophet Calchas (who has defected toGreece, having foreseen the fall ofTroy). But the machinations, manipulations and prisoner-trading of a war controlled by those in greater power sees their love destroyed.
Scholars claim it was never performed in Shakespeare's time; it's first known performance was in 1898 (for Ludwig II ofBavaria) and it didn't gain traction inBritainuntil after 'The Great War', when the people were ready to rethink the idea of war as a glorious and honourable pursuit.
The Toi Whakaari production was set at time of the New Zealand Land Wars. The Trojans were played as Māori and the Greeks as British-backed government forces, with captives and collaborators on both sides.
This Ngākau Toa production – with all names transliterated into Māori – is firmly set in pre-Pakeha days, so it characterises tribal conflict, with all the vengeful and revengeful scenarios that attend it, as fundamentally self-defeating despite the heroic status some characters have gained. And as a reflection of current conflicts around the globe, it remains all too tragically relevant.
As one who does not speak te reo Māori, I represent the majority of those in attendance in Wellington and those destined to see it at Shakespeare's Globe in London when – on Shakespeare's 448th birthday (23 April)* – it opens a multilingual season of 37 international productions covering all of his plays. While many will use surtitles (as per opera), The Māori Troilus and Cressida will not, I am told. Nor does it need to.
Of course those fluent in Māori will get more from it – the witty and perceptive asides raise many a laugh from those in the know – but the excellent scene-by-scene synopsis, in English, allows the rest of us to follow the action and know what is happening thanks to the dynamic way it is presented.
By its very nature, the Māori language is poetic, vibrant and oratorical as well as conversational. Physically, the traditional means of expression we know from kapa haka (wiri, pukana, whetero, etc) support the text and reveal the inner feelings of characters. And Shona Tawhiao's costume designs readily signify the roles and status of each character within the hierarchies.
The mana of William Davis's Pirīama (Priam), Scotty Morrison's Akamēmana (Agamemnon), Waihoroi Shortland's Netāhio (Nestor) and Calvin Tuteao's Ūrihi (Ulysses) is instantly clear in their demeanour. The posturing of all the warriors is visceral and the preening of Whatanui Flavell's Parihi (Paris ) is amusingly vain.
At the core of the story it is easy to empathise with the full spectrum of emotions as Kimo Houltham's Toroihi (Troilus) and Awhina Rose Henare-Ashby's Kāhira (Cressida) navigate their relationship through its shallows, depths, peaks and troughs. Henare-Ashby's roller-coaster ride through distrust, fear, attraction, love, lust, post-coital vertigo and pragmatic realignment (for the greater good or self-preservation?) is especially impressive.
As her uncle Panātara (Pandarus), Rāwiri Paratene conveys a rich array of recognisable states – conniving, salacious, self-serving, proud and finally disillusionment – as he lives vicariously through the bourgeoning love of his niece and her lover, and deals with the ultimate failure of their love to conquer all.
Xavier Horan's posturing warrior, Hiakita (Hector), Matu Ngaropo's reluctant warrior Aikiri (Achilles) – the only one not to have his buttocks tattooed – and Maaka Pohatu's manipulated Āhaka (Ajax) exemplify all the warriors in the clarity of their thoughts and feelings about the roles they are asked to play by their superiors.
Waimihi Hotere gives a vivid account of the anguish of Kerenga (Cassandra) at not having her prophecies heeded. Roimtata Fox brings a vital presence to Hērena (Helen), as does William Davis as Kātihi (Calchus).
Perhaps the most interesting casting is Juanita Hepi as Tēhiti (Thersities), described in Shakespeare's dramatic personae as "a deformed and scurrilous Greek". This is the 'fool' character, who satirises the actions and antics of those who are supposedly superior, and Hepi stands tall as an incisive, if foul-mouthed, commentator.
Richard Nunns and James Webster accompany the play with traditional instruments, providing atmosphere unobtrusively with subtle, evocative sound.
Whereas some productions apparently like to have the sounds of battles 'off' throughout the play, this one builds to the 'decider' between Hiakita and Āhaka, which is fought according to Mau Rakau conventions. This works for me as a focussed representation of all battles in all forms.
One of my Shakespeare advisers also tells me that there has been a trend for Pandarus (Panātara) to be played as syphilitic at the end, to enhance his bitterness at the failure of romantic love (because Shakespeare is reputed to have contracted syphilis around the time he wrote this play). But for my money (koha, in this case), it works very well for his response to be to all we have witnessed, with no extraneous add-ons.
I understand there will be further work done before the Auckland season (Aotea Square, 23-24 March) and the Globe season a month later. Even as it stands, however, it is destined to set a very high bar indeed for the multilingual Globe to Globe festival.
- - - - - - - - - -
*Known to have been baptised on 26 April 1564, is it guessed that William Shakespeare was born on 23 April, which – 52 years later – was also the date of his death, in 1616.
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);
|Richard Grevers||posted 20 Mar 2012, 06:14 AM|
Just a technical suggestion, John: If you (or your developers) change both the site and the notifications emails to UTF-8 encoding, then authors will be able to type macronised characters directly, and the emails will not be wrecked by html entity codes.
|John Smythe||posted 20 Mar 2012, 01:15 PM|
Thank you Richard - we are investigating
|Raewyn Whyte||posted 21 Mar 2012, 10:56 AM / edited 21 Mar 2012, 12:00 AM|
Macrons are a moving feast Richard. By a small miracle, the macrons in this review -- both in the heading and in the body, are rendering correctly as far as my browser shows (Chrome for PC).
Well and good. Bravo to the technical team.
But email is sent from the site and generally read by other software than your web browser -- so if you are seeing gobblydegook in your email and NOT in the actual review, it's your email package which is not rendering the macrons being sent to it.
|John Smythe||posted 24 Apr 2012, 09:27 AM / edited 24 Apr 2012, 09:54 AM|
This video from London's Globe is stunning: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XGld-J5rEU&feature=youtu.be
And here is the link to the Globe season: http://globetoglobe.shakespearesglobe.com/
|cameron rhodes||posted 24 Apr 2012, 02:45 PM / edited 24 Apr 2012, 12:00 AM|
|Editor||posted 25 Apr 2012, 01:12 PM|
Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare's Globe, Telegraph review