June 10 2016
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Directed by Craig Geenty
Produced by Te Rēhia Theatre Company
Starring Regan Taylor
Part of the Kia Mau Festival 2016
Presented in Association with The British Council
This Matariki see Māori Performance Mask (Te Mata Kokako o Rēhia) come to life as Regan Taylor unfolds an adaptation of the Shakespeare’s Othello as a solo performance.
Set in Te Ao Māori, SolOTHELLO weaves together the original prose, modern English and Te Reo Māori to deliver a dynamic and cheeky interpretation of one of history’s more tragic plays.
When Maori actor Regan Taylor set out to re-write a Shakespeare classic last year, it wasn’t because he loved the bard’s work.
In fact, he hated it.
He could never get into it, it was always “too old”, and found it to be more of a technical exercise than an intuitive one.
But as the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death approached, he saw it as the ultimate challenge.
“I thought, what I’m going to do is make a play that’s going to be accessible to my cousins and my aunties and uncles and parents. I set myself a challenge really, to try and think I was arrogant enough, to rewrite Shakespeare.”
What resulted is SolOthello, a bold Maori twist on the classic tragedy in which Te Reo, original prose, and contemporary english come together.
With SolOthello, Taylor makes his solo debut at Circa this week as part of the Kia Mau Festival (formerly Ahi Kaa Festival) – which celebrates Maori theatre and dance during Matariki.
Directed by Craig Geenty, Taylor will deliver a “dynamic and cheeky” interpretation of one of history’s most tragic plays, Othello.
Using traditional Maori masks (Te Mata Kokako o Rehia), SolOthello puts the spotlight on the characters Iago, Rodrigo, Othello and Desdemona, and places them into the context of a war between tribes in pre-colonial New Zealand.
The idea of Maori performance masks has been sitting with Taylor for over a decade, influenced by Marae visits, and wondering what the carvings would do if they could come off the wall and tell stories.
While Othello may be a story of betrayal, racism, love, jealousy, and the deterioration of man, Taylor was keen to unlock humour in the story through improvisation and modern speech.
“There’s more humour than people expect. The masks love interacting with the people, and the more the people interact, the more I get out of it performing. There’s definitely a lot of humour and it’s very Maori-centric, Aotearoa humour.”
For Geenty, who is on the other hand a big Shakespeare fan, one of his tasks as director was to see that non-speakers of Te Reo could follow the show as well.
Taylor himself only began speaking Te Reo three years ago when he helped start the Auckland theatre company Te Rehia.
“I started it with fluent speakers and I thought, this is a beautiful language, so started forcing myself more and using it in different shows.
“Being with them and being held by their sense of protocol, I was able to work with it safely within the context of this show.”
Regan found similarities between Shakespearean prose and the structure and imagery of Whaikorero. They also found that themes translated well into a Maori context, such as Othello losing his Mana, or honour.
Taylor admits he set himself a challenge blending Te Reo and with a Shakespearean tragedy, and assuring audiences they would not feel alienated if they lacked knowledge in either.
“The first thing that puts people off is Othello – then you put Te Reo on top of that, and it’s already fighting up against mainstream theatre,” he says.
“But the great thing about this play is that Shakespeare enthusiasts come, mask enthusiasts come, and a Maori audience come, that’s three very different people under one roof and that’s a blinking success for me, I think that’s a really great thing.”
Since creating SolOthello, Taylor admits his view on Shakespeare has changed.
“I now realise that every word he has written has a purpose and that he has taken the time to polish every word so they can sit and shine.
“And I truly believe that being able to combine Shakespeare, masks and Te Ao Maori is a winning combination.”
SolOthello, Circa Theatre, June 15-18. Book at Circa.co.nz.
Reservations can be made by calling the Box Office ph. 04 801 7992.
This production is sponsored by the British Council and Creative New Zealand.
SolOTHELLO is produced by Te Rēhia Theatre Company.