Sunday, March 28, 2010

Witi Ihimaera

I'm writing this in Houston, Texas. I arrived here yesterday, grabbing just a week at home between New Zealand and the States! A very busy week it was too - with a board meeting by conference call, briefings for the publicity designers (Eureka!), and the inevitable work on funding applications. So it's only now I've got a moment to cast my mind back to the flight from New Zealand back to London (with an overnight stopover in Korea, would you believe?), and the Maori texts I was reading.

One of these was The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera. I knew about this novel because of the film - but I had no idea just how brilliant it would be as a piece of writing. The blend of contemporary "reality" (in the conventional, Western sense) with the mythic and spiritual realities of Maori culture is astonishing. It's more than a claim to post-colonial specificity - it's about a whole different way of looking at the world and being in the world, which allows human beings to relate directly to the environment and to an historical and spiritual continuum of being. Really inspiring. So I was very excited that James from Taki Rua had given me a script by Witi Ihimaera to read. It's called Woman far Walking, and it was commissioned by the company, and performed by them some years ago. They are thinking about reviving it, and wondered whether I'd be interested for Origins. Sadly, the greta novelist doesn't always make the great playwright - and this piece seemed to me to lack drama and conflict. It's about a very old Maori woman - the age of the Treaty of Waitangi - which is a quirky idea in itself, but has the effect in this play of turning her into a symbol of the Maori people, with the entire history since the treaty being re-told in the play. It becomes didactic, lecturing.

We saw Cheek by Jowl's Macbeth on Friday night. Nisha and I have a special relationship to the play - we met while working on it together. This production had lots of similarities to the one we did in Mauritius: a very fast pace, with no gaps between scenes, the presence of observers to witness even private moments, the text of the witches echoed by a surrounding ensemble, Duncan played as a blind man.... Of course, there are lots of differences too - but it was exciting to see the play being delivered with the raw energy we identified as its key!

Time to think about the Houston Xerxes now!