Troilus and Cressida is not a well-known play, and when it came time to review the video versions, the BBC version from their Collected Works series was the only one I could find. Or so I thought.
Back in 2012 as part of both the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth and the London Summer Olympic Games, Shakespeare’s Globe put on what they called the Globe to Globe Festival. Over the course of just under two months, the Festival presented 37 plays in 37 languages from nations around the world. The Troilus and Cressida was from the New Zealand theater troupe Ngakau Toa from Auckland, New Zealand, and done in a Maori dialect. Captured on film, it has been released on Shakespeare’s Globe’s Globe Player app for a rental fee.
The text seems to be pretty much a straight translation of the play. At the opening of each scene, there’s a subtitled synopsis/preview, so it does seem to be the same characters, same scenes. There are a few minor cuts, but it’s mostly there.
Like all the Shakespeare’s Globe captured productions, it’s taken directly from a public performance, which allows us to see and hear the audience’s response. I’m not sure how many in the audience spoke Maori, but I do know that there was quite a bit of laughter, and not just at the more visual jokes. Maybe the audience was well versed enough in this obscure play to know where the jokes were, but I kind of doubt it.
It’s a weird experience watching a play, but not knowing the language. Is this what it’s like for some of our kids? I don’t know. But if it is, it is then it helps to have as strong a cast as they have here. The actors and presentation–with its Maori warriors–are straightforward, straightforward enough for the live audience to understand… and enjoy.
It opens with a great, ritualistic haka that not only introduces the Maori presentation but also acts out the pre-play Trojan War lead-up, with the stealing of Helen and the beginning of the war. We get a gay Pandarus (what is it with this? the BBC version’s Pandarus was “fabulous” as well). In this production, Patroclus is more stereotypical gay (read, swishy) than Achilles, and the Thersites here is played by a woman, tough and bitingly sarcastic. I found it interesting that the Helen is the most “western” looking member of the cast, with long flowing hair.
There are some great things in this: the women onstage watching the battles at the end, the growing participation of Cressida in the Greek kissing sequence, the interplay between Cressida and Troilus. The only thing I missed (beyond the English) was the scene where Hector allows Achilles to rest on the battlefield, which makes Achilles later killing of Hector more hypocritical.
But all in all, if you’ve got the time, and a couple of bucks, this Maori Troilus is pretty good.