Incorporating Māori culture into Shakespeare sees performer take to the stage in London

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

From the Hokianga to London, 18-year-old performer Māhanga Mitchell is travelling across the globe into a theatre of global proportions in less than two months’ time.

Mitchell was selected to appear in the recreated Globe Theatre, where William Shakespeare performed his plays, based on the strength of his performance of Welsh character Owen Glendower in Henry IV in the 2021 National Shakespeare school production.

Mitchell says he will find out what role he will get when he arrives in London, all while everyone who is invited reads through their scripts together.

“The performance for Henry IV was key because I added Māori culture within and translated some of the Welsh lines into te reo Māori.

“I thought Welsh people were like the culture of the people from the United Kingdom, they’ve probably got the most mythology, so I just paraphrased all that kind of reference of Welsh mythology and dialogue into te reo Māori.”

Te ao Māori is everything to the Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa and Waikato stage actor.

Kicked off by kapa haka

“It’s the canvas I see when I’m looking around. I think everything that I do within my performance is not about incorporating te ao Māori into my performances, it’s about incorporating my performances into te ao Māori.”

Mitchell’s love for performance, he says, comes from kapa haka, back in times before he could walk.

“When I went to high school it was ignited by studying drama. Throughout the years our drama teacher slowly put more opportunities in front of us, leading to the Shakespeare Regional Festival and then to the national festival, which led me to the national Shakespeare school production and now the Young Shakespeare Company in London.”

While also studying for a degree in theatre and Māori studies at Victoria University, Mitchell is also looking toward the professional world of drama.

“Maybe even move on to become a master in fine arts and creative practice.

“I’ve even been contacted by a few agencies who want me to do some film and TV work, so [I’m] just following that pathway and trying to make some money out of it but it’s not about that at the end of the day. It’s about using my skills as a platform to show the world who we are.”