Te Reo has come under another attack - with the use of one of our national language's in the the Pop-up Globe's production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream the latest target.

Online reviews left about the Pop-up Globe performance said the move was "disrespectful" and "bastardising" Shakespeare and confusing for audiences. Other theatre goers have made their equally damning views direct to the venue's management.

In the Globe's production, which is running in Auckland until the end of March, the mischievous fairies scheme entirely in Te Reo.

Their dialogue makes up about 20 per cent of the play.


Miles Gregory, who directed the production and founded the Pop-up Globe, said people often felt a strong connection to Shakespeare, so had strong ideas about how his plays should look and sound.

It was a director's duty to excite, inspire and at time challenge an audience, Gregory said.

"We are a little surprised at the vehemence of some of the feedback we've had," he told the Herald on Sunday..

"Every night that it's performed we see packed houses and very warm, loud enthusiastic responses from audience members but there seems to be a very small percentage of people who do find the use of te reo confronting, which is a little surprising, yes.

One person wrote on social media the use of Te Reo in A Midsummer Night's Dream "spoilt what otherwise was a thoroughly entertaining and professional production."

In a Facebook review, another disgruntled theatre goer said the decision to have the fairies speak in Maori meant only two people at his count could understand what was being said.

This was silly because the fairies revealed key plot points, the man said.

Feedback sent directly to the Pop-up Globe echoed these sentiments, with various audience members saying Shakespeare's plays were not an appropriate place to use Te Reo, not enough people could understand the language and the language choice was "bastardising" the play.

Pop-up Globe founder and director Miles Gregory on the set of Midsummer Night Dream. Photo / Dean Purcell
Pop-up Globe founder and director Miles Gregory on the set of Midsummer Night Dream. Photo / Dean Purcell

Gregory said having the fairies speak Te Reo was a long-held dream because in Shakespeare's original work the fairies were written as communicating in a language unfamiliar to the other characters.

"So to me, having the fairies speak another language enhances the storytelling and provides a fresh and exciting take on a play that is extremely well known."

The dialogue was accompanied by visual storytelling which conveyed the key plot points well, meaning even audience members not versed in Te Reo should be able to follow along, he said.

"As the director of the production and a proud New Zealander we thought perhaps this was something an audience would have embraced."

Keeping a 400-year-old text fresh and interesting was something Gregory, who has a PhD focusing on the works of Shakespeare, believed he was doing by playing with the language in the play.

A Midsummer Night's Dream associate director Te Koha Tuhaka, a former Shortland Street star whose first language was Te Reo Maori, said the criticism was "like water off a duck's back" for him.

"It's not like it's the first time a piece of Shakespeare has been translated to another language."

Good theatre could never please everyone, but an open mind was essential for theatre goers, he said.

"If people aren't prepared to go on a journey for something, regardless of being language or a piece of theatre, you're not setting yourself up to enjoy anything."

Te Reo in the news

The debate about the use of Te Reo Maori has flared several times in recent months.

Most recently, National MP Nikki Kaye drafted a private member's bill which would require every primary and intermediate school to offer at least one second language from a list of at least 10 "national priority languages".

This included Te Reo Maori and NZ Sign Language.

Kaye wanted to spark a national debate about how to change New Zealand's monolingual culture. Only 19 per cent of New Zealanders in the 2013 Census could speak more than one language, including only 4 per cent who spoke our second official language, Māori.

A day after Kaye's bill was announced, Opposition leader Bill English caused consternation among some when he said it was up to Maori to preserve te reo.

"The language will be saved by the people who own it and love speaking it," English told The AM Show on Tuesday.

"Māori need to speak Māori if they want to preserve the language."

His comments were in response to a new book by historian Paul Moon, called 'Killing Te Reo Maori: An Indigenous Language Facing Extinction'.

Moon posits that the Maori language is dying - a claim he has been making since at least 2012.

In response to Moon's book launch, the hashtag #LetsShareGoodTeReoStories took off on Twitter, with scores of people sharing their or their family's experience of learning or using Te Reo in everyday life.

"My dad, a white fella from Gore, secretly learnt te reo for a year so he could speak on the paepae at my 21st. He was epic. He is epic. He reckoned, what's good for Māori is good for all New Zealanders," Labour list MP Kiri Allen tweeted, followed by the hashtag.

In November last year, an opinion piece in the Otago Daily Times about the use of Te Reo Maori on Radio New Zealand's breakfast show, Morning Report, kickstarted a storm of criticism and backlash.

The fracas culminated with former National Party leader Don Brash clashing with RNZ's Kim Hill on her Saturday morning show over the public broadcaster's use of Maori greetings on air.

Brash said Morning Report's host Guyon Espiner was "spouting on" in a language most couldn't understand.

After suggesting people who wanted to hear Maori should listen to tax payer funded language stations, Hill asked Brash whether he was suggesting separatism.