Botanic Gardens: The Dell, Wellington

15/02/2013 - 02/03/2013

Production Details

Celebrate 30 years of Summer Shakespeare!

With the Summer in the City festival in full swing, the Victoria University season of Antony & Cleopatra is shaping up to be something special. Summer Shakespeare is celebrating 30 years as an iconic feature of the Wellington arts scene, with a production starring outstanding New Zealand theatre and screen stars Carmel McGlone and Alistair Browning.

Since Summer Shakespeare began in 1983 with a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the not-for-profit organisation has become a theatrical institution and proudly boasts as alumni many of New Zealand’s leading actors, directors and arts practitioners.

“So many great New Zealand artists cut their teeth with Summer Shakespeare,” says producer Sally Thorburn. “This anniversary is an opportunity to celebrate, commemorate and catch up with old friends.”

And Antony & Cleopatra is no different; audiences will be treated to stellar performances from household name Carmel McGlone and star of Sundance Festival hit Shopping, Alistair Browning.

Performances take place in the beautiful setting of The Dell, a picturesque picnic spot nestled in the heart of Wellington’s Botanic Gardens.

Audiences are encouraged to bring a picnic and a friend along to The Dell between 15 February and 2 March to be part of this exciting milestone for Summer Shakespeare. With the force of talent assembled, they will be in for a treat, whatever the weather.

The Victoria University Season of
Antony and Cleopatra
The Dell, Wellington Botanic Gardens,
15 February – 02 March 2013
Tickets available from / Wellington i-SITE Visitor Centre / Door Sales 

Cleopatra:  Carmel McGlone
Antony:  Alistair Browning
Caesar:  Andrew Goddard
Pompey:  Gareth Ruck
Charmian:  Sharon King-Campbell
Octavia:  Martine Gray
Macaenas:  Helen McIntosh
Iras:  Hannah Wilson
Soothsayer, Clown, Lead Musician:  Emma Wollum
Enobarbus:  Benjamin Haddock
Alexas, Eros:  Ania Upstill
Lepidus, Scarus, Proculeius:  David Lafferty
Menas, Dollabella:  Chennoah Walford
Mardian:  Ingrid Saker
Menecrates, Messanger:  Shannon Friday
Agrippa, Demetrius:  Ruth Corkill
Silus, Messenger, Decratas:  Brett Reid
Taurus, Messenger, Thidias,Guard:  Tom Kereama
Ambassador, Pacorus:  Zara Mansoor
Canidius, Diomedes, Guard, Philo:  Jack O'Donnell
Attendant:  Iris Henderson
Attendant, Servant:  Philippa Biggs
Ventidius, Watchman, Selecus:  Ben Richards
Watchman:  Cordelia Black
Soldier, Mardian:  Jessica Coppell
Sentry:  Charlotte Pleasants

Director:  Alison Walls
Set, Props & Publicity Design:  Theo Wijnsma
Costume Designer:  Marly Doyle
Lighting Designer:  Matthias Mard
Assistant Lighting Designer:  Rowan McShane
Producer:  Sally Thorburn
Production Manager:  Catherine Swallow
Publicity & Marketing Manager:  Sarah Leary
Stage Manager:  Julia Campbell
Assistant Stage Manager:  Ruth Love
Front of House Manager:  Beth Goodwin
Wardrobe:  Lisa Kiyamoto-Fink, Stephen Jackson, Poppy Sinclair-Lockhart
Make-up:  Caroline MacLeod
Set Build Supervisor:  Les Meek
Set Builders:  Niell Hamilton, Jose Dulce, Achille Segard, Thomas Pepperall, Kim Bonnington
Film Documentarist:  Corey Le Vaillant
Fight Choreographer:  Peter Hassall
Musical Advisor:  Lucien Johnson
Props Maker:  Rose Kynoch
Lighting Operators:  Rebecca Sim, Jonathan Churton, Shreyasee Halder
Stage Crew:  Jessica Bukholt-Payne   

Bard back in the Dell

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 19th Feb 2013

Summer Shakespeare is back where it belongs: in the Dell. To celebrate its 30th anniversary it is presenting for the first time in Wellington since 1970, Antony and Cleopatra, which was then played in period costume unlike the current production which is in contemporary dress.

The Dell stage is hidden by a large wooden bleacher-like stand on the steps of which some of the drama takes place. Most of the action, however, takes place close to the audience to which some of the speeches are directly addressed.

I assumed the bleachers would be used for Cleopatra’s Monument where she flees when Antony is defeated. Fortunately there is no heaving of the dying Antony aloft by Cleopatra’s women, but the structure does suggest Rome and an oriental rug placed in the centre of the steps an Egyptian throne. This setting allows the action to flow swiftly from on board a ship to battlefields, and back and forth between Rome and Egypt.

The success of any production of this play depends on its three leading players.

Andrew Goddard avoids the usual interpretation of making Caesar a cold fish, but he makes it clear that this Caesar is “the universal landlord”.

Alistair Browning brings a bluff heartiness to his ageing warrior Antony, whose final mocking of the midnight bell reveals that he knows too well he’s Fortune’s knave. There’s an alarming anger covering his panic when defeat is inevitable and his final scenes with Eros and Cleopatra are touchingly performed.

Shakespeare’s lovers are aware they are stars in a world drama. They play up to their public image. As with Browning’s Antony, we see in Carmel McGlone’s brilliant Cleopatra both the human being as well as the icon. She plays the comedy showing Cleopatra’s inner pain as well as cracking jokes (“O happy horse”) that will amuse the courtiers.

In the final scenes she manages to make Cleopatra’s hyperbolic language seem natural. When Cleopatra imagines herself being mocked by a squeaking boy actor, Carmel McGlone pauses tellingly before saying “boy my greatness /I’th’ posture of a whore” with a momentary look of fear. In short, she captures “the infinite variety”.


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Astutely orchestrated and dynamically paced with visceral eloquence

Review by John Smythe 16th Feb 2013

The 30th anniversary of Victoria University Summer Shakespeare finds the Bard in fine fettle as we are treated to a robust rendition of his 30th play (give or take a scholarly spat or three), Antony and Cleopatra.

Having seen it only once before, in a turgid UK production featuring two neat, tidy and bloodless (but well known) English actors in the title roles, I’ve had little desire to see the play again. Now Carmel McGlone and Alistair Browning, with director Alison Walls, have redeemed it for me.

Of course Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made the roles (and themselves) famous fifty years ago in the Joseph L Mankiewicz film adaptation, not of Shakespeare’s play but of a book by Carlo Maria Franzero. According to Halliwell (Leslie Halliwell’s Film Guide), her story is “told at inordinate length and dullness in this ill-starred epic.”

This outdoor production – in the Dell behind the Botanical Garden’s Begonia House and Rose Garden – runs two hours plus interval (the length of which may vary according to the queue at the coffee cart). Presented on and in front of set designer Theo Wijnsma’s tiered wooden slats – which double as shelving for all manner of books, bottles, champagne glasses and other paraphernalia – backed by a white gauze-masked ‘’tiring house’ and a stand of native trees, the sublime setting is enhanced by Matthias Mard’s excellent lighting design, which comes into its own as night falls.

The audience sits on their picnic rugs on the grass, with a few plastic chairs available for those who want to sit at the back or sides. And thanks to a light northerly breeze, we were on the flight path for planes taking off on opening night: a hindrance handled well by the cast.

Antony and Cleopatra has been glibly described as Romeo and Juliet with wrinkles which is fair enough given the pseudo death causing real death scenario at the end. And their relationship is likewise problematic for those around them. The otherwise married Mark Antony’s addiction to the Egyptian Queen is compromising the security of the Roman Empire, now led – in the wake of the fall of Julius Caesar – by Antony with Octavius Caesar and Aemilius Lepidus.

One may also quip, then, that the compulsive lovers fiddle with each other’s emotions while Rome’s hitherto failing fortunes are rekindled by Octavius Caesar. But “fiddle” doesn’t cut it. We’re dealing with profound passions here.

Andrew Goddard’s Caesar is increasingly strong and authoritative, while David Lafferty, as Lepidus, opts for ‘the decent man caught in the wrong job’ rather than the ‘buffoon’ interpretation. Gareth Ruck ensures Sextus Pompey is a stroppy rebel to be reckoned with. And Benjamin Haddock brings a notable presence to Antony’s aide, Enobarbus.

In Cleo’s court, Sharon King-Campbell is an attentive Charmian while back in Rome, Martine Gray brings an elegant stature to Caesar’s sister and Antony second wife, Octavia. (The time frame for the action is about 10 years.)

Although costume designer Marly Doyle does an excellent job of distinguishing the various political factions with black-lapelled tuxedos of different hues and opposing styles in ties, I find it hard to believe there is real warfare afoot when the boys are running about in white shirts and suit trousers. I find myself wondering if a mafia-style gangland feel is intended but the sword employed point more to the battle fields of old.  

The women look splendid in their evening wear. Before the show and at interval, along with some of the men, they regale us with early 1950s standards accompanied by Emma Wollum’s piano accordion and other assorted instruments. The jazz era feel echoes the director’s note that Shakespeare plays “jazz-like” with the meter in this text.

There are times when I wish the actors would simply stand and deliver rather than walk aimlessly to and fro during their longer interactions. And too often ‘direct address’ is employed for relatively expositional dialogue when I feel it would be more dramatic to focus on the impact this information is having of the characters in the scene.

These quibbles aside, all the cast acquit themselves well within Walls’ astutely orchestrated and dynamically paced production. But the night belongs – as it should – to McGlone and Browning.

Carmel McGlone plays the acerbic yet vulnerable drama queen to the hilt and liberates a surprising amount of humour but anchors Cleopatra in incontrovertible emotional truth. Every inch the ruling monarch at one moment, she is a foolishly fond teenager the next, ruled by emotion and allowing jealously to justify lethal deception. Her rising about that to find dignity in her final demise is testimony to a great acting talent.

Alistair Browning likewise puts Antony through a second adolescence as affairs of state are subsumed by those of the heart. Between great heights of anger and depths of despair his passion for Cleopatra is palpable.

Both speak the Bard’s lines as if they were born to them and embody all they convey with an equally eloquent and visceral physicality. I get a strong sense that their generously inclusive leadership infuses the whole cast with an energy that compels our attention throughout, and overcomes any of the limitations the outdoor setting imposes.

There is a whole other conversation to be had about professional actors taking the leads in Summer Shakespeare’s that used to be cast with tertiary students – and without payment, what’s more. But if we accept that “the play’s the thing”, then serving the interests of a public ever-hungry for quality productions of Shakespeare in an era when professional productions are few and far between, it has to be a good move, from an audience perspective at least.  

For the profession, however … That it should come to this! That the only way to embrace the mature classical roles that should be your prize after decades of training and experience, should be to return to amateur status …? Does this mean something is rotten in the state of professional funding? But that, as I say, is a discussion for another day.

Meanwhile, take advantage of yet another run of good summer weather and book yourself in for the rare treat that is The Victoria University Summer Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.  


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