Maidment Theatre - Old Arts Quad, Auckland

13/02/2015 - 07/03/2015

Production Details


Valentine’s Day just got a whole lot sexier, you guys. This February 14, the mistakes and follies of young love, wildly hammy amateur acting and warring fairies are whipped up into a turbulent maelstrom by a cast aged 18 to 94 when A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM opens the annual Auckland Summer Shakespeare season.

One of the greatest stage comedies of all time, Shakespeare’s take on love and obsession is also amongst his most popular. It’s been given the feature film treatment no less than ten times and has inspired artists for centuries including Terry Pratchett, Mendelssohn, George Balanchine, Elvis Costello, Neil Gaiman, Benjamin Britten and Woody Allen. Even Google have had a go at reinterpreting the narrative. It’s also the most performed in the Auckland Summer Shakespeare’s repertory, having been produced six times in the annual event’s history.

Director Michael Hurst is perhaps New Zealand’s foremost Shakespeare professional. He has five Hamlets under his belt, four King Lears, four Macbeths, two Romeo and Juliets and two Othellos. This is his third time directing the annual Auckland Summer Shakespeare, following productions of Measure for Measure in 1987 and King Lear in 1990. In the 2013 production of King Lear, he played the Fool and served as Artistic Consultant. Michael is also Chair of the Auckland Summer Shakespeare Trust.

Surprisingly though, this is the very first time he has worked his formidable magic on Dream. He’s promising a wild event of rambunctious encounters. The audience will be plunged from the security of a wedding feast into a strange and unpredictable dreamtime in which all expectations are likely to be reversed. Our star-crossed young lovers will be watched by a gaggle of very, very naughty fairies, brought to life by the now infamous Marvellous troupe of sexagenarians, septuagenarians and octogenarians.

Marvellous is a weekly performance group for motivated senior citizens aged 65+, created by ATC Participate in 2011. Some had acting experience; others had never performed before. Launching themselves with an adaptation of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (directed by Hurst), they walked away with the award for Best New Cast in Metro’s Best of Auckland and proved that you are never too old to learn.

The 45 strong cast of actors and musicians includes talent from all across Auckland is led by well-known Auckland actor Alistair Browning as Oberon, King of the Fairies. In an almost 40 year career in New Zealand, the UK and Australia, Alistair has surfed the Shakespearean canon many times, appearing as Hamlet, Antony in Antony and Cleopatra, Cornwall in King Lear, Orsino in Twelfth Night and Cinna in Julius Caesar.

Over the last five decades, the Auckland Summer Shakespeare has provided the launchpad for a wealth of most celebrated talent, kickstarting the creative engines of people such as Dean O’Gorman, Oliver Driver, Anna Marbrook, Paolo Rotondo, Simon Prast, Christian Penny, award-winning film director Lauren Jackson, bro’Town‘s Mario Gaoa, 2014 Arts Foundation New Generation winner Vela Manusaute, Dame Cheryll Southeran, Lisa Harrow of the Royal Shakespeare Company, world champion freediver William Trubridge and legendary ex-pat Kiwi theatre directors Simon Phillips (former Artistic Director of Melbourne Theatre Company, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies) and Peter Evans (Artistic Director of Bell Shakespeare in Australia).

Backed by a pulsing soundtrack composed by Callum Blackmore, expect an evening of strange and rancid charisma. It’s time to lose yourself in the woods.

February 14 – March 7 2015
Old Arts Plaza, the University of Auckland
Adults $30, Group (10+) $25, Students $19
Tickets on sale now from The Maidment Theatre 
www.maidment.auckland.ac.nz or 09 308 2383

Theseus – Julian Toy-Cronin
Hippolyta – Maxine Cunliffe
Egeus – Mustaq Missouri
Helena – Anthea Hill
Hermia – Natasha Daniel
Lysander – Liam Ferguson
Demetrius – Arlo Gibson
Quince – Jenny Parham
Bottom – Patrick Graham
Flute – Jeremy Fraser-Hoskin
Starveling – Jacqui Whall
Snout – Mark Mockridge
Snug – John Goudge
Fairy Court:
Oberon – Alistair Browning
Titania – Sheena Irving
Puck – Amber-Rose Henshall
Fairy – Amelia Macdonald
Fairy – Anya Banerjee
Marvellous Theatre Group / Fairy Ensemble:
Annie Webster
Kerr Inkson
Angela Reading
Elisabeth Degremont
Heather Simpson
Helen Jermyn
Joaquim Francino-Arenillas
Joyce Irving
Karen Staniland
Kathy Walker
Les Everett
Lesley Reihana
Lesley Smith
Ora Lefebvre
Patricia Quirke
Rex McIntosh
Rosalie Williams 
Susan Sanders
Valerie Leech 

Director – Michael Hurst
Assistant Direction – Tom Bishop
Producer – Natalie Beran
Composer – Callum Blackmore
Choreographer – Emily Campbell
Costumes – Troy Garton
Assistant Producer – Vishi
Rehearsal/Directors Assistant – Alex Bonham
Lighting Designer – Rachel Marlow
Technical Operator – Russ King

A Perfect Midsummer Night Out

Review by Jan-Maree Franicevic 14th Feb 2015

Is this the right time to say that I have never seen A Midsummer Nights’ Dream performed?

Sure the story, I am an avid reader. But played? I have never seen it played. I guess because I have often said about movies that they seldom match up to the book. And such a beautiful, fantastical tale as this I was never too keen to see what someone else’s head had thought to make it ‘real’. 

It is Valentine’s weekend, and I love theatre outdoors so thought it about time I changed my story.

What we have here is a perfect midsummer’s night. The crickets are singing, the breeze is whistling, the air is humming with the buzz of opening night; armed with wine, a blanket, my paramour and a cardy everything feels… Well, perfect. 

As we walk through the gates, the usher, a soft-faced older gent, says, “Here you go, keep one (ticket) each for your scrapbook.” How does he know I have a scrapbook? And so the magic of this tale begins.

We are sat either side of the stage which is set with a leather sofa and bar at one end, a grand entrance way with flaming lanterns (one of which keeps going out, and if I am honest this is pretty much the only part of the production that needs fixing).

Physically this cast works; they all look meant for each other, and meant for their roles. The tall and elegant long bones and regal noses of our soon-to-be-married couple, Hippolyta (Maxine Cunliffe) and Theseus (Julian Toy-Cronin); the gangly, goofy, goggled, all-arms-and-legs Helena (Anthea Hill), truly the adoring pup, heady with unrequited love. Fine, elfin and ravishingly beautiful with the blush of true young love, Hermia (Natasha Daniel) is radiant. Lysander (Liam Ferguson), looms large over all; in braces and shirt he looks the eloquent hipster – as is his counterpart Demetrius (Arlo Gibson…or was it Ryan Dulieu: two actors share the role and I haven’t a clue which it is this night). They are all so lovely. Their acting is pretty good too. 

Egeus (Mustaq Missouri) bursts in with all the refined rage of a father who is not getting his way; surprise, surprise: he isn’t. There is no doubt in my mind that if this man doesn’t have children to know what it feels like, he sure is good at pretending! But then, that is good acting, innit? 

Away into the woods we go. The setting is so right. We sit under the majestic clock tower nestled into the trees and greenery as the sun fades and the moon lights up the stage, or is that simply the excellent placement of a few very effective lights? It is as if we are in the woods with these fairies, not simply sitting watching them. 

This is the real magic! Choosing to work with an older cast of fairies, director Michael Hurst has given a real twist and an unparalleled meaning to these mystical woodland creatures: the softness of their faces, the quiet presence that someone of an age can offer to the moment simply for all that they have seen and done in this world. We talk about fairy godmothers and reference them in literature, so why not a fairy grandmother? This is what I feel Hurst has innovatively given us tonight: a swag of revelling fairy grandmothers and fathers (played each night by different actors as they are a rotating cast), dressed in swathes of luxe fabric, the gents in black tie. There is only one word to describe them, which I borrow from Cole Porter: swellegant!

Having only ever read the great bard’s tale, the picture I stand to have ruined is that I have of Puck; I see a jaunty, tiny, sexy, naughty nymph. Bravo, then, Amber-Rose Henshall who plays that Puck and so much more. There is a hinted subtext of her own love story which plays out in her face as she parties her way through the wood. She is par excellence errant in her work, giving us the great pleasure of watching the perfect tragi-comedy of love’s labour unfold without conceit or contrivance, trod so delicate as to play the bard’s words in that timeless fashion which is what makes him so great.

Shakespeare understood the three rules of comedy so well: that we laugh because we have been in that situation, we know someone who has, or indeed the situation is our worst fear. This, this is why we laugh and tonight, we are laughing.

Titania (Sheena Irving) is the essence of ethereal queen, glittering through the night, weaving her fairy magic sensuality with ease; her attendants Peaseblossom (Amelia MacDonald) and Cobweb (Anya Banerjee) in tow. The three are formidable and work as one; no mean feat. I am spellbound. This, this is what I want my fairy queen to be!  

It is here that I would like to take my hat off to costumier Troy Garton and her team who have excelled here. The fabrics, the sparkle, the draping, luscious floating chiffons, the making of a cast that not only physically fits but is so aptly clad into the setting. Here is a woman who can transform a vision. To say well done is not enough. The makeup is splendid, the work of Cut Above Academy students under Eric Waite: nice.

Enter the band of players. Extremely well played by all in that robust farcical way that we so readily view traditional am-drams. Sensational work by Patrick Graham (Bottom) and Mark Mockridge (Snug), each of whom, in their own very unique manner, steal the show on occasion.

Of course when we talk about a scene stealer, should we not talk of Oberon (Alistair Browning)? He plays with command, and sexuality oozes out of him. Here is an Oberon who will keep filling your cup and smirk as you start to yield to it, and unto him.  Cocksure in an open necked white shirt, dinner suit, Cuban heeled boots and thatch of dark, wild hair, all I see is Tom Jones. I want to throw my knickers at him. 

Simple is a touch point of the production. In design, in lighting and soundtrack delivered by a three piece band simplicity can easily leave one feeling a lack. It is only when simplicity is done right that it becomes the most complex and auditorium-filling sumptuousness. Tonight is a good example of how to do it right.

While I am at it; where are you going to hear Gloria Gaynor at Shakespeare? HERE! 

Anthea Hill (Helena) is the true star of the show, she has this in the bag from go to whoa. There is no one word that fails to fall with the moment and meaning it should. She is not frivolous, she is not fey. She is spot on. In saying that, the women of the core cast are magnificent one and all. When Hermia and Helena face off, it is like pure poetry in motion; they are like boxers sparring, bobbing and weaving. The wonder is their great ease; the boys look a little blank in comparison. 

The physicality in the show is sensational. Choreographer Emily Campbell has done well and, in combination with Hurst (who I regard as an A1 movement man), has made an agile production here.

In my mind there are two basic requirements that qualify a show as great: I have not looked at my watch; as the audience applauds I feel this un-nameable overwhelming sensation in my heart and soul and tears spring to my eyes. Both of these things happen tonight. I am in nirvana. I wanted this to be good. Thanks everyone for not undermining my book reader’s vision of A Midsummer Nights’ Dream.

Look, I could go gushing on, but to what end? The show is over and the humility of the cast as they wave and smile in departing as we clap and clap and clap (I feel a little disappointed that they didn’t walk on again to stand and receive our applause), is the kind of humility borne from knowing when a good job has been done. 

My partner and I leave in high spirits, all smiles and hand in hand. As we walk through the park-like university grounds, we both remark a real feeling of of being loved up. The perfect way to start a Valentine’s weekend. Why can’t every weekend start like this? If I lived closer I think I would be at this show every night. 


Susan Sanders February 14th, 2015

Just a couple of notes: Demetrius was played by Ryan Dulieu, and costumer Troy Garton is a woman.

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