Te Tangata Whai Rawa – Director’s View – by Don C Selwyn
The concept and style of this production of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice leaves the viewer in no doubt that this is a distinctly New Zealand production and the interpretation
of this 17th Century drama could not have been sourced from any other cultural perspective.
The reason obviously is because the language is indigenous to New Zealand and this has allowed the adaptation to
include a mix of Maori and other cultural elements. Central to the geographic identity within the film is Portia's (Pohia) domain Belmont - in Shakespeare's view a fictitious abode. This has allowed the adaptation
to set Belmont (Peremona) in New Zealand.
So within the film there are two major locations that the Jewish/Christian scenario is played out. Portia is still of the Christian denomination but her cultural
roots are strongly Maori. She set the protocol and cultural ethos within her estate. It functions within its own entity but there is considerable attention to detail when she engages her visiting suitors.
the guardianship by the Turehu (the fairy people) through the great forest of Tane; the welcome to her dominion in the form of a karanga (call) and wero (warrior challenge) are part of her welcoming ritual.
Surrounding the visitors presence is the generous performance by Portia's dancers, musicians, singers and servants.
The visual style in lighting, wardrobe, sets and decor reflects a distinct concept, drawn
from a heritage that pervades the language and cultural depth, that the dramatic text allows us to embellish.
The basic story and characterisation is unchanged from the original drama. The film adaptation
allows us to pursue a more expansive portrayal of the drama overall. The 'deal' scene between Antonio (Anatonio) and Shylock (Hairoka) is set within the Venetian Market, surrounded by classic works of art by Selwyn
Muru, which portray the historical struggle of Parihaka New Zealand.
The ethnic and cultural presence within the play are sharply defined within the film. The utilisation of Hirini Melbourne's composition
both in solo and choral (St Joseph Girls Choir) performance, complement the Clive Cockburn original music score. Two talented opera singers make their film debut in two original arias as part of Portia's cultural
All these artistic images provide an intriguing background to the range of dramatic demands of the narrative.
Cast, crew and production consists of New Zealand talent. Moroccan, Spanish and
Italian actors are also drawn-from within New Zealand.
The Maori Merchant of Venice provides an adaptation from New Zealand that is unprecedented in any Shakespearean film.
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