Maidment Theatre, Auckland

23/07/2011 - 13/08/2011

Production Details


An explosive collaboration between New Zealand’s top theatre artists come together at the Maidment Theatre from July 23rd, as Peach Theatre Company brings a raw, stripped back and sexually charged encounter of one of Shakespeare’s most thrilling works, Othello.

Director Jesse Peach has assembled an all star cast and an all star production team including two national icons. Acclaimed choreographer Douglas Wright and award winning composer Gareth Farr have signed on to work with the young director. 

“Many people may think Douglas Wright is an odd choice – but he’s going to stir up the actors in a way that will frighten people… this is one of the great love stories of all time, and he’s just as excited about it as I am” says Peach. 

Wright has recently received high praise for his work RAPT at the Auckland Arts Festival, and Farr has been confirmed as the official composer for the Rugby World Cup.

Othello is one of Shakespeare’s most performed and loved works. It is the story of the purest love between a black man and a white woman, fractured by jealousy and greed.

Robbie Magasiva will play Othello, considered one of the great roles in the theatre – made famous by the likes of Laurence Olivier and Orson Welles. Currently starring as Shortland Street’s Dr. Maxwell Avia, Magasiva is a fast becoming one of the country’s most recognised and popular actors – appearing in shows Where We Once Belonged, A View From The Bridge and films as Sione’s Wedding and The Tattooist. 

Magasiva is joined by Home and Away star Matt Walker in the role of Cassio. Hamilton born Walker is best known on our shores for his role as Justin Jeffries in the popular soap. Walker is a graduate of Sydney’s prestigious drama school NIDA and has starred The Children of Huang Shi, The Cut and Legend of Seeker. 

Another recognisable face is 31 year old Matt Minto. Best known as Isaac Worthington on Shortland Street, Minto will play Shakespeare’s most notorious villain, Iago. Minto has an extensive background in theatre including roles in Twelfth Night, Macbeth and Hamlet.

Theatre starlett Morgana O’Reilly will join the star studded cast in the role of Desdemona. Her father will be played by seasoned theatre veteran George Henare OBE. For over forty years Henare has graced the stage and screen and received the order of merit for his services to acting in 2009.

OTHELLO plays:
July 23nd – August 13th 2011
Show times: 8pm EXCEPT Tuesdays/Wednesdays at 6:30pm, and Sunday 31st at 4pm
School matinee: August 4th and 11th at 11.30am
Maidment Theatre, 6 Alfred Street, Auckland CBD
Tickets: $25 – $54 (School Group – $15/July 26th special price $20)
Bookings through the Maidment Theatre: www.maidment.auckland.ac.nz or 09 308 2383  

Robbie Magasiva (Othello)
Matt Minto (Iago)
Morgana O’Reilly (Desdemona)
Matt Walker (Cassio)
George Henare (Brabantio)
Olivia Tennet (Emilia)
Gypsy Kauta (Bianca)
Ciarin Smith (Roderigo)
Ken Blackburn (Duke/Gratiano)
Kevin Keys (Montano/Lodovico) 

Design: Emily O'Hara  

Dream team’s Othello a treat

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 28th Jul 2011

Director Jesse Peach has pulled off a remarkable coup in enticing New Zealand’s most acclaimed choreographer to join an Othello dream team that includes composer Gareth Farr, screen star Robbie Magasiva and a superb company of actors.

The gamble pays off handsomely as Douglas Wright’s choreography and Farr’s music add an exciting new dimension to the work. Their contributions rigorously interpret Shakespeare’s text rather than provide embellishment. [More]
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.  


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World class challenging art; mediocrity is not an option

Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 24th Jul 2011

Shakespeare’s Othello presents a conundrum in that it is a logical postulation that evades resolution. Jesse Peach’s elegant production does little to resolve the debate as to who should shoulder the greater responsibility for the tragedy, Othello or Iago, and that’s probably a good thing. On balance, maybe it should be left for a never-ending debate over coffee and chardonnay subsequent to the event, as there is plenty else in this production that warrants discussion as well. 

Academic consensus has pretty much accepted that Shakespeare’s source for his Moor of Venis, as it was titled when first recorded in the Revels Office documents of 1604, was the Italian writer Cinthio’s yarn Un Capitano Moro,which was in turn borrowed, in style at least, from Boccaccio’s Decameron.But this is also open to debate as there was no known English translation of Cinthio’s work in Shakespeare’s lifetime, nor is it recorded anywhere that I can find that Shakepeare read Italian. Another school of thought has Cinthio’s plot based on an actual 1508 event but Shakespeare’s narrative also bears remarkable similarities to The Three Apples from One Thousand and One Nights.   

None of this matters, however, when in 2011 a decision is made to stage this great tragedy in Auckland, New Zealand. Nor is it of any real importance to the audience that the play might have been written in 1603 or 1604, perhaps 1601 or 1602, and that it was first published by Thomas Walkely in quarto in 1621. It’s interesting stylistically, all the same, primarily because it bumps up against a serious change of direction for the bard, a change that leads to the oddly named Romances and Shakespeare’s premature death … and so the debate rages on.

Othello has some pretty relevant themes and we all know what they are: racism, jealousy, betrayal, blind lust and equally sightless love. Knowing what they are, and a general familiarity with the plot and the characters – not to mention the actors – added an interesting frisson to the opening night performance that hopefully won’t blemish the rest of the season as this production and, I suspect, all others of this grand work, require a suspension of disbelief for the whole to succeed.

Everyone knows that opening nights are often something to be endured before the actors can get on and fully come to grips with the play. There are always the ‘it’s all about me’ attendees who speak too loudly, who need everyone within earshot to know that they advised the director on the choice of preshow music and that they were extremely glad that Edith Piaf wasn’t chosen to welcome the audience into the theatre, a thoughtful acknowledgement that the director had listened to and heeded this friend’s advice. Personally, I thought the decision to play well-known Edith Piaf tracks early in the preshow was a good one and regretted that the director’s friend arrived too late to enjoy them, but such is life. 

My point is: most audiences, on any night, go to the theatre to experience the play and that this requires a shared decision by those attending to support and sustain the experience of everyone present. Regardless of who and what we might know, and even wish to share, we should repress this desire for the common good. It we don’t we risk spoiling the experience for others and making tits of ourselves. Enough said! 

Jesse Peach is a relative new pup on the dog-eat-dog theatre scene but he’s clearly a thoroughbred. His independent Peach Theatre Company – first production, a modest Billy Liar in West Auckland a mere six years ago – has flourished to the point that he can mount what is without doubt a significant new work in collaboration with prestigious artists and actually bring it off. Not fully, but to such a degree that to call Peach a prodigy is not without some considerable justification.

Collaboration with choreographer Douglas Wright and composer Gareth Farr, to name but two, immediately placed this production in the ‘must see’ basket but that is way too easy to say. Reflect for a moment on the courage it must have taken, first, to talk to these two iconic figures from different but parallel disciples, second, to sell the idea that your creative concept – Shakespeare, contemporary dance and original music – might just work and, third, that these guys could actually trust you to create and share the journey with them in ways that would, at worst, not damage reputations, is quite extraordinary. As Cassio bemoaned his reputation, reputation, reputation I was more than a smidgeon reminded of what was at stake for all involved in this production and felt moved by the risks they had all taken. Such risks deserve applause and I, for one, certainly applaud these men for theirs. Not that they were alone.

Iago, of course, also has a bit to say about reputation. “Reputation,” he says, “is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving: you have lost no reputation at all, unless you repute yourself such a loser” – but who, in hindsight, would believe anything this arch villain said.

Entering the theatre is always an determining moment and to be greeted by Emily O’Hara’s numinous staging was breathtaking and continued to be so as the show’s secrets unfolded, thanks in no small part to Rachel Marlow’s potent lighting design.

The gaping Maidment stage is lit in deep midnight blue with a circular centrepiece that might have been anything from a rostrum to a bed to a covered spa pool. Barely visible lines on the floor disappearing into a dark distance are replicated in the air above the stage with what appears to be five strips of blue light receding to a pinpoint in the blackness. The space has a magical and mysterious neutrality.

The stylised opening of the show has Douglas Wright written all over it which is no bad thing. There are faces variously covered with cloth and this is a constant throughout the work. It reflects the text because no-one sees through Iago’s duplicity, simply no-one, and this is the core difficulty for actors and director – and choreographer – because we, the audience, are the only ones party to Iago’s villainy and the danger is that we will find it ridiculous that the other characters don’t see through him as we have. It’s all about credibility, after all.

It’s a joy to experience George Henare as Brabantio. He speaks the language with power and authority and we feel the agony of the father betrayed while, at the same time, feeling safe in the hands of this consummate artist. There is a sense in the early passages – the textual torment of Brabantio by Iago whose bestial imagery actually includes lines like “an old black ram is tupping your white ewe”; “you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse” and “your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs” that the racial and generational issues will be underplayed, and so it transpires for this is a production that focuses on jealousy and betrayal and plays down the power of the other themes.

Henare finds a delicious balance between an elevated style of delivery and the intelligence of the text that is both traditional and very, very real. Here is a character whose nobility cannot be questioned yet whose antiquated values are used by Iago to detonate the plots he has laid, and to turn his inductions dangerous into action. Brabantio is left to utter that most prophetic line, spoken to Othello: “She has deceived her father, and may thee.” Thus the seed is sown. 

Iago is played by Matt Minto with all the requisite charm and rascally good humour necessary to carry his credibility as far as it needs to go. He’s the everybloke we all trust but who we never really get to know, the guy the media tells us, after the event, lived next door but showed no signs of being the monster he was about to become. Minto is an apt villain but less so the credible workaday soldier which is a shame because he works with the text – and he has plenty of it – with a naturalist ease that makes it accessible to everyone and his relationships with his fellow characters are finely tuned. There is a danger in overstating Iago and Minto avoids this trap effortlessly. He starts the play a trifle unsure but hits his straps early and his is excellent work indeed. From his somewhat unfussy –
“… I hate the Moor
And it is thought abroad, that ’twixt my sheets
He has done my office: I know not if ’t be true;
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety.”
– we are aware that here is a mirrored image, and that Iago’s plan that can only end in death before bedtime. Here is a character with little conscience, one who seems to have a fiend at both elbows driving him to a villainy beyond reckoning. 

Robbie Magasiva cuts a dash as Othello. He looks magnificent and mostly makes a good fist of the complexities of the language and this can only improve. The best is brilliant as the greater the emotional challenge the better Magasiva’s performance becomes – and Othello’s emotional journey from hero to zero is profound. Unlike many Othello’s I have seen who manage the domestic but fall at the high hurdles, Magasiva does the opposite, never missing a beat with the hard stuff but tending to underpay the everyday.

His relationship with Iago is complex and it’s easy to see why he has overlooked his ancient in favour of Cassio yet is able to maintain a friendship based on his misguided trust. Casting against Shakespeare’s text is always a vexed option – Othello is said to be an “old black ram” rather than a powerful young buck – and in this case it removes a major motive for jealousy, that of the older man fearful of being replaced by the younger, but Magasiva finds alternatives that make it work for him.

Morgana O’Reilly has got Desdemona just right. None of the look sweet, daddy’s girl, do-as-she’s-told innocent here as O’Reilly’s bride is both spirited and sassy in all the right ways. She did, after all, go against her father’s wishes in marrying this hunky Othello and not just that, she seriously peeved him off! She’s feisty to the end and doesn’t die easily, a real high-point of this production. 

Matt Walker’s Cassio is a bit of a curate’s egg with the good bits being very good and the not so good bits still OK which ensures he serves the play and the production and always drives it forward. As a dupe to Iago his does the job well.

It’s good to be able to celebrate women in Shakespeare and Peach has ensured that all three, despite their roles being comparatively small, are real flesh and blood and are honoured in the text. O’Reilly I have mentioned but she – and the play – are wonderfully served by Olivia Tennet (Emilia) and Gypsy Kauta (Bianca).

Tennet is a worldly Emilia, sexy and fun, and in no way in awe of her iniquitous husband, and the scene where she and Desdemona discuss marital fidelity has an honesty and propinquity that is truly exciting.

Bianca is often seen as merely a cipher, a means to an end, but Gypsy Kauta has put fire in her belly and, along with O’Reilly and Tennet, physicalises the text in an electrifying way. The women also provide excellent fodder for the genius of choreographer Douglas Wright who makes the most of their physical skills and performer intelligence at every opportunity. 

Rounding out the cast are Ciarin Smith as a competent Roderigo, Kevin Keys as Lodovico and a handy horn player, and the evergreen Ken Blackburn as a dignified Duke of Venice along with Othello’s sardonic servant, the latter in true – and most memorable – clown fashion. Blackburn’s dismissal of the raucous gang of musicians from outside his master’s house is one of the most memorable scenes of the evening. 

Gareth Farr’s music is fantastic, evocative, compassionate and far more than the standard ‘hide the plumbing’ bridge between scenes. His soundscapes augment the text and support the plot with apposite aural imagery, none better than that which accompanies the disclosure of Cassio’s manufactured disgrace. It’s as if he and Wright have got into the head of this play of words and, in miniature form, understood utterly what it’s all about. Clever Mr Farr and clever Mr Wright – and doubly clever Mr Peach! 

All theatre is as much about what you choose not to do as it is what you choose to do and Jesse Peach’s direction and the instincts of his actors have shied the production away from many of the standard pitfalls. It’s not pretentious, it’s not pompous and at all times ‘the play’s the thing.’ This is more than just refreshing, it’s positively invigorating.

There are a few treasures – O’Hara’s set and Marlow’s lighting; the hauntingly beautiful Willow Song; the closing of the eyes of the corpses; Wright’s work with the women; Ken Blackburn’s clown; the death of Desdemona; the breathtaking means whereby the bodies are finally hidden from sight – and a few things I didn’t care for, such as all the pointing and the odd bit of wandering. But, all in all, this is a powerful and accurate new look at a most difficult play staged by an exciting new company for whom mediocrity is not an option.

If you have international visitors – or friends of any sort – encourage them to see this world class work, especially if they like to debate challenging art. They, and you, won’t be disappointed.
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.  


patrick graham August 5th, 2011

 In a world where everything has been reduced to bite sized 140 characters and less it is gratifing to read a well writen review.

Lexie provides context for her comments... many times I find reviewers making ridiculous statements about shows which display a relative lack of knowledge of theatrical form/ genre/ style etc

I never want to read a bite sized review that gives a plot review and a few well placed comments about which Shortland Street star did what, that's for the realm of DVD reviews in a weekend magazine... next you'll be suggesting a star system to rate theatrical performances.

I am talking from experience, I was a a theatre reviewer for Craccum for two years and then arts and entertainment writer at Express newspaper 

Thanks for publishing this John and thanks to Lexie for continuing to write.

Matt Baker July 31st, 2011

Noting John's comments in relation to his role as editor, and considering the link I posted for Lexie, I thought I should clarify that these are entirely my views and don't reflect those of the people at or publication of Craccum.

Dane Giraud July 27th, 2011

 "If you spent less time trying to impress?!?" Is referencing ones experience now deemed offensive or something?!? Such a brazen display of intelligence!? How dare she!? Get a life. This is a strong, thoughtful and extremely well written review by a person who knows the craft and that irks for what reason exactly?!   

Lexie Matheson July 26th, 2011

All good Matt, no bother. When I began reviewing for The Christchurch Press the word limit was 1500 words. Eight years later it was 450 and that only if the subs were generous. Reviews became merely reports and, having said that the show was on, where it was on and what it was that, sadly, was it. The tyranny of the word limit made any serious attempt at comment impossible and if someone fell off their bicycle in Hagley Park and this was deemed newsworthy the 'report' might disappear altogether. I can appreciate your frustration and empathise with it.

Thanks for the link, I'll check it out. Thanks for engaging, it's been valuable and fun.

Matt Baker July 26th, 2011

Hi Lexie,

I never said I disagreed with your views. They are your own and I totally respect them. As I mentioned before, reviews are from opinionated (that is not meant to have any negative connotation to it - I myself am ridiculously opinionated) and informed people, and it is clear to me that you are both, and that is a very good thing in my opinion. Although I have been writing for some time now, I am relatively new to the 'review' world, and, while I would never profess to 'know' anything more than someone of your obvious calibre, I do have a very specific idea of what a review should be. That's not to say your review ISN'T what I think a review should be, merely that there was...'superfluous' information. I agree that the theatre experience begins upon arrival and well into the post-show drinks and includes everything in between. However, as I recently quoted, a very dear and intelligent friend of mine offered his view that a reviewer's job is to inform the audience of the production. Nothing more. Your personal experience, while entirely legitimate, is not of importance to the production. I won't get into your comments regarding the production, as I have a sneaking suspicion that this would become a VERY long series of posts, and again, this is YOUR review and I respect that. Unfortunately, I DO have a word limit, which varies between 300-600 depending on my editor's say so, and often find I must leave out MANY things I wish to discuss. In saying that, here is link to everything I have reviewed so far. The Othello review should be up shortly, once the printed edition has gone out.


LOVELY to be able to converse with you. I truly enjoy a well-written and valid response.

My sincere apologies for the 'Wikipedia rewrite' comment, it was never meant to be defamatory, simply an observation.

Lexie Matheson July 26th, 2011

Hi Matt,

Readers have the right to comment in whatever way they choose as we all live by what we say or write. What we write will invariably be judged by others and, like reviews, they often say more about the writer than what is written. Personal attacks fall into this category I suspect. marineboy63 seems to have taken exception to my comments about what he calls 'theatre etiquette' on opening night and my contextualising the play for readers who may not have had the time to get that information for themselves, information you describe as a Wikipedia rewrite. If that material does exist on Wikipedia I'm pleased as it shows that someone has been serious in loading 'factual' information there but my sources were a bit more diverse than that and included material published by the RSC and from my own research done when I played Iago for John McKelvey at the Fortune in the late 1970's and as a cast member in Mervyn Thompson's 1989 production which featured the wonderful Nataniel Lees as Othello. Sadly there was no Wikipedia in those days :-)

Facts are facts wherever they are published and you'll note in my review that I talk about 'academic conscensus' but draw the line at saying whether I agree or not. I simply invite debate. It's hopefully what academics do.

The themes are mentioned because tradition would have it that race and age, and possibly religion, are important factors in the text. As Jesse chooses cleverly to underplay the importance of these while presenting a quite traditional reading of the text is worthy of mention especially since the staging of the play and it's concept are, in my view, very original.

I make no apology for mentioning the audience in the review, nor singling out behaviour, as the audience/text/performer dynamic is what makes the theatre experience complete. As someone with a bit of experience with both it's my view that the suspension of disbelief is critical and that the audience has a role to play in buying into this. Opening night attendees have a variety of reasons for being there and some of these differ from those of the average person who just wants to experience the production. That's OK and I reflect on that, using one particularly invasive example. Buy-in by all participants makes for the best experience and often this happens least on opening night.

You mention 'everyone' you spoke to. That's cool as I have had responses from 'everyone' else and they're all quite happy :-) That has to be good thing in an interactive world and fully understandable as it's those with the gripes who are the ones who traditionally leap into print - I mentioned Mervyn Thompson earlier, he was a ripper at it  - and those who are sweet with something usually don't bother to comment. Either way, it's fine by me. I say what I say, you say what you say and everyone benefits.

For the record the review contextualises for 300 words, comments on the audience for 256 words and addresses the production, production values, the excellent design, the achievement of the production team, the excellent work of the actors in the subsequent 1,731 words which provides a balance of sorts :-) I mention virtually everything about the production and almost everyone. I'm happy with that. I'm also happy with the context I provide as most of it is relevant to this production. Shakespeare was one of the most powerful social commentators of his day and Jesse has used his production to make some pretty powerful statements about his own and that is fantastic. Staging plays is easy, making them relevant is not and Jesse is developing a powerful voice that we, I hope, will hear a lot more of in the future. I'm sorry that you disagree with my views but welcome and value your comments all the same. Debate can never be a bad thing.

Thanks for letting me know that you also review. I look forward to reading your work.


Matt Baker July 26th, 2011

It was meant in jest, but thank you for specifying.

John Smythe July 26th, 2011

Thanks for that Matt. It’s no secret that ‘Editor’ is me, John Smythe – the Contacts page states that clearly. I simply try to differentiate between what I do and write as an editor and what I write as a critic, commentator and forum participant.

Matt Baker July 26th, 2011

Oh, and I think the 'personalised' attack - with which I agree to SOME extent - is something reviewers have to accpet. Reviews are nothing more than the opinionated and (sometimes) informed writings of individuals who have had their thoughts published in some form or another. I believe this, because I also review. That is also the reason I do not hide behind a pseudonym...EDITOR.

Matt Baker July 26th, 2011

I have to support marineboy63 on this one. Everyone I have spoken to in regards to this review has made similar comments. I totally agree that contextualising a play is a great advantage to a review as it informs the audience - I, personally, would love to have no word limit in that respect - however, in this particular case it does NOT inform the reader in regards to the production - and I have a personal gripe in Editor quoting the reviewer's 'expertise', as they are clearly nothing more than a Wikipedia rewrite.

Lexie Matheson July 25th, 2011

Thanks for your observation Marineboy63, I appreciate the feedback.

You're right, of course, it's not about me, it's about Peach Theatre Company's excellent production of Shakespeare's 'Othello' staged at the Maidment Theatre, created and marketed by skilled professionals and performed by admirable actors. Because this is what I was to review I contextualised the production, mentioned the playwright, spoke about the experience of attending the show, made extensive comment about the production and all the  performances and, as usually happens with reviews, gave my opinion as one single member of the audience.

It's 2011 and, for this reason, I also spoke of the complete theatre-going experience as going to the theatre is about the whole evening and not just what happens on the stage. If what I write is too long for you then you are at liberty not to read it in the same way you are free to make the comments you have made.

While I suspect you did see the show on opening night if I am wrong about this I would encourage you, as someone who has already had that pleasure, to take yourself along and celebrate a great night out.

Thanks again for your feedback.


Editor July 25th, 2011

 As editor I have chosen to include the dimensions Lexie has added to this review (and others). Because there is no word count, there is no reason to suggest her coverage of the production itself has been reduced as a result. Some may appreciate the contextualisation and those who don’t can easily gloss over to get to the substance.

What I don’t appreciate is personalised attacks, invariably hiding behind pseudonyms, on people who give of their time and expertise to write these productions into history. 

marineboy63 July 25th, 2011

If you spent less time trying to impress us with your knowledge of Shakespeare and theatre etiquette and more time telling us about the play, your review would be a lot shorter and we'd know a lot more about the production.

It's not all about you, you know.

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