Masks and quick character changes lend vitality and humour to the tragic love story.

As celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death highlight the global reach of the Bard's vision, it is wonderfully appropriate that a distinctly Maori take on Othello should be touring Auckland marae as part of the Matariki festival.

Voluminous scholarship has been devoted to tracing the sources of Shakespeare's plays and the show opens with a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that an obscure 16th century Italian explorer might have given Wiremu Shakespeare access to Maori oral traditions.

The outlandish theory - which rests on uncanny phonetic similarity between the names of Shakespearean characters and various Maori identities - is not entirely convincing, but SolOthello's creator Regan Taylor emphatically demonstrates that the anarchic spirit of the Bard is alive and kicking in Aotearoa.

The show deploys beautiful wooden masks and lightning-quick character changes that lend enormous vitality and humour to the tragic love story.

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The frenetically paced abridgment sees Iago coming to life as a wickedly mischievous trickster in the tradition of Maui-tikitiki while Othello takes on the imposing presence of a rangatira and it is loss of mana as well as jealousy that drives the Moor's murderous rage.

An exquisitely carved full-face mask gives Desdemona a mysterious, ethereal quality that is alluringly enhanced with gesture and song.

Regan Taylor's performance is filled with witty, ironic asides that build an intimate connection with audience, but he also displays impressive theatrical skills as he finds deep pathos in the farewell speech of "one that lov'd not wisely but too well ... "

The show provides a marvellous opportunity to visit your local marae during Matariki. The wharenui proves to be an ideal setting for the drama, the whaikaro echoing the motifs on the wooden masks.

matarikifestival.org.nz
What: SolOthello

Where: Hoani Waititi Marae and various Auckland marae to July 14.