Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Troilus and Cressida - in Te Reo

First: today is Anzac Day. I wanted to go to the dawn service in Hyde Park, but it started at five am and I would have had to leave the house at 3.45. Maybe when I live within one bus journey of Hyde Park. I've also been thinking about why Remembrance Day is not a holiday in the UK and Anzac Day is a holiday in Aus/NZ. I guess Anzac Day marks our coming of age as countries - our young people spent six weeks on boats travelling to far-off places for the promise of adventure and honour. My journey echoes this part, in a way: leaving NZ to see the world. And yet they went through horrific battles and returned very different men from the ones who'd left. If they returned. It was our first chance to really prove ourselves as countries, and prove ourselves we did, but not without cost.

Second: On a wholly different level of being, a note to self. Do not wear slip on shoes on the tube (just saw a girl lose a shoe down the trench where the rails are. Not sure how she's going to get it back).

Shakespeare's original Globe Theatre (as seen in Shakespeare in Love) burned down a few centuries ago (I remember some story about cannon and the roof catching fire?) but there is a modern-day replica sitting beside the Thames in the shadow of the converted-power station Tate Modern gallery. At the moment they're doing a 'Globe to Globe' festival, with thirty seven Shakespeare plays played in thirty seven different languages by actors from countries around the world. Monday night opened the festival with Troilus and Cressida in Maori, so I had to go and see it.

They don't use surtitles, which could have been very annoying but actually wasn't - I think the surtitles would have been more annoying than anything, because you'd keep staring at them rather than watching the performances of the actors. They did have scene descriptions up on light boards, and while I think I would have liked a few more of these at times, it's amazing how much you can pick up just from watching gestures and expressions. I had a very slight advantage over much of the audience because I could pick up a few words and guess what the rest of them might be. At one point the moon was mentioned a lot, and I decided they were probably talking about fickle love and the waxing and waning of the moon.

And the actors gave very good performances. If you've ever seen a Maori kapa haka performance, cross that with acting and you get the feel of it. For those of you who haven't seen kapa haka, imagine subtly fluttering hands, lots of movement across the stage and almost-constant gestures. It's incredibly dramatic, and add in the haka and the fighting with taiaha and you've got a breathtaking performance.

The women were dressed in pseudo-medieval dresses with Maori-inspired bodices or accents, while the men wore a more traditional Maori dress of loincloths, tattoos and, for the older men, cloaks. The story, occurring during the Trojan War, works well in a tribal Aotearoa setting with battles and war-torn love.

The playhouse was pretty full, and I'd half-expected a few people to go home at half time ('what do you mean there are no surtitles? But I can't understand what they're saying!') but the crowd didn't seem diminished even with the cold and light drizzle. I was glad of the blanket I'd hired. At the end there was a standing ovation and the company performed a kapa haka song and Ka Mate (the haka the All Blacks do) as an encore.

It's amazing the power of dramatic performance, even when the words are in a language you do not speak. I think there's a sort of magic there when you can't understand the words, because you are focused so much more on the body language and the tone and you hear the music of the language. Your imagination fills in the gaps of what you don't understand.

I'll have to see what other ones I can fit in. Swahili? Hip hop? British Sign Language?


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