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Unitec acting students perform The Bacchae in te reo Māori

  • Te Pakkhai

In a world first, graduating Unitec acting students will perform Euripides’ classic tragedy The Bacchae as a bilingual version in te reo Māori and English.

Directed by Ariana Williams, Teiaro Taikato and John G. Davies, Te Pakkhai confronts issues of power, revenge, sexism and the consequence of shunning divinity.  It is set in the fictional land of Kiriki, a transliteration of Greece, where the characters from the play are recognisable as Māori but are performing a story from 3,000 years ago.

“The idea is that we take a Greek tragedy and we perform it in a Māori world with Māori language, Māori behaviour and Māori sensibility,” said Mr Davies, Discipline leader - Acting, and Senior lecturer, Performing and Screen Arts at Unitec.

In the story of Te Pakkhai -- a Pacific island that looks like Aotearoa -- a young king is making a fool of himself. He locks up women who seek freedom to dance and sing, he mocks the prophet, he abuses his given power and is blind to his fate.  His downfall is brutal, and tragedy bites deep to the bone.

Te Pakkhai features a stellar line-up of industry guests including Charles Te Ahukaramū Royal, who wrote the translation, artist Vicki Yiannoutsos, designer Gavin McLean, and master carver Guy Moana, who John Davies says brings to the stage set, “a commitment and authenticity that can’t be imagined or bought.”

“This ambitious, courageous and witty rendition of Euripides’ classic play is testimony to the fact that we aim to equip our graduates with a diverse set of skills to reach a contemporary audience,” said Dr Vanessa Byrnes, Head of the School of Creative Industries at Unitec.  “We aim for Unitec students to confidently work in multiple media and fields, and this exciting project enables a uniquely creative bicultural experience for all involved.”

The Unitec staff and student body includes sound artist Mike Vernon, stage manager Sean Randal and costume designer Erin O’Neill, who is overseeing the Unitec costume design students involved in the production. 

“The acting students have shown outstanding commitment to embrace te reo Māori and bring vitality and skill to the performance,” added Mr Davies. 

Te Pakkhai runs from 8-16 November at the Unitec Theatre.  Tickets are available from i-ticket

For a trailer to the show, see here and here