St Christopher's, 22 Forres Street, Seatoun, Wellington

23/03/2018 - 23/03/2018

NZ Fringe Festival 2018 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details

Evensong is a solo chamber suite of 17th century songs, sonnets and scenes by Dowland, Purcell, & Shakespeare, arranged and performed by Sydney based, Kiwi actor/counter-tenor Glenn McKenzie. It is an eclectic and evocative 70 minute romp through music, theatre, and history’s most intriguing and audacious days.

Alone in his bare monk’s cell, the infamous Mr W. H. laments the Tyranny of Time and celebrates the Persistence of Love. In the white light of death he flashes back through his life to recall the Shakespearian roles he played as boy (including Juliet, Ophelia, Portia) and man (among them Hamlet, Richard III, Lear, & the Fools); the Dowland songs and Purcell arias that he sang on stage and at court; and the sonnets that Will wrote for him in celebration of their relationship.

In imagining the life of the mysterious dedicatee of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Evensong presents a kaleidoscope of brilliant fragments from Elizabethan and Jacobean portraits of gender and sexuality, sanity and folly, aging and death, to explore the eternal challenge of being fully human. If “All the world’s a stage” then does a boyhood playing Shakespeare’s repertoire of fascinating women make a male adult any less masculine? What does it even mean to ‘play’ a woman? What might a man need change in his nature to be convincing? What makes a goodly life? At the end of our mortal adventure, when our ‘charms are all o’er thrown’ what will be left each one of us – regret or celebration?

Evensong also seeks to celebrate performance as it experiments with the connection between the ‘pop’ music of the 17th and 21st centuries, setting Dowland and Purcell’s timeless songs and arias to contemporary TripHop, Pop, Punk, Jazz, and EDM grooves. Hear Dowland’s raunchy ‘Come Again’ in the style of new-wave rockers The Cars, his romantic ‘Times Stands Still’ in a Hip Hop setting, the melancholic ‘None But Me’ over Drum ’n Bass grooves, or Purcell’s comic mad-aria ‘I’ll Sail Upon The Dogstar’ as might be conceived by pop-punk thrashers Blink 182. Of course Purcell’s ground-bass masterpieces ‘Dido’s Lament’ and ‘Evening Prayer’ are sung in their exquisite original forms.

“Time Stands Still – Dowland” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uabk7XNcK6U

Glenn McKenzie is a “bravura”* Kiwi performer, director, and singer who has spent the past 25 years performing in England, and Australia.
*The Dominion Post
Graduating from Auckland University with a B.Mus (Composition) he was a Drama/Arts Director for South Pacific Television, a member of The Depot Theatre (NZ), a featured Performance Artist at The Performance Space (Sydney) and on ABC Radio (AUS). He has a strong interest in community participation, directing The Victoria University “Summer Shakespeare” plus writing/directing for “The Lichfield Mystery Cycle” (UK).

An accomplished Counter-Tenor, with a wide repertoire ranging from Bach to Björk, he recently spent 5 years as a Lay-Vicar Choral and soloist in the great Cathedrals of England. He also teaches voice, with students graduating from Oxford/Cambridge.

Glenn has published two novels for Young Adult/Teen readers exploring gender, sexuality, creativity and resilience.

St Christopher’s, 22 Forres Street, Seatoun, Wellington
Friday 23 March
Concession/Student $13 | Fringe Addict
$16General Admission | $23Group 6+ $20 

Theatre , Musical ,

1 hr 10 mins

Much wit, lightheartedness, pathos and depth

Review by Pepe Becker 24th Mar 2018

Melodramatic, yet subtle; achingly poignant, then suddenly hilariously funny… These words could be a description of any number of Shakespeare’s works, and here they are but a portion of the myriad adjectives that spring to mind when experiencing the wonderful journey we are taken on by Glenn McKenzie in his multidimensional one-man show, Evensong

Through the sung and spoken word (largely penned by the bard himself, with a spattering of improv and a bit of contextual license), accompanied by live keyboard and a variety of pre-recorded soundscapes which juxtapose and mix different musical genres, McKenzie immediately draws us in as he expounds on those timeless themes of love and death. (Actually, he first draws us in with his warm and humorous romp through the ‘safety and toilet announcements’, prior to his official grand entrance.)

Shakespeare’s words are as relevant today as they ever were, and it’s both fascinating and affirming to sit and absorb these soundbites and snippets – which range from sonnets, to monologues from the plays (Richard III, Romeo and Juliet…), to beautifully apt songs by Renaissance composer John Dowland and early Baroque composer Henry Purcell – and notice how familiar so many of those phrases have become to us in the modern era.

But alongside that familiarity, there is also the mystery that surrounded much of Shakespeare’s personal life, and it is one of these mysteries – the identity of ‘Mr W. H.’ to whom the sonnets are dedicated – that provides the starting point of a story, and the fictional character to tell it. 

McKenzie is a consummate performer, both as a musician and an actor, and as he flamboyantly flits from character to character, recalling the roles ‘W.H.’ played as a boy and a man, he glides just as seamlessly between his countertenor singing and speaking voices. (As an ‘early music’ singer who has performed many of these songs myself over the years, and one who prefers not to speak too much in concerts, I must express my admiration for his ability to alternate between the two.)

On this opening night, there are a couple of minor glitches of rhythmic and backing-track synchronization, and a need to cough at one point, but all of this is handled very naturally and with great recovery skills, so it’s no disruption really. In fact, these more vulnerable moments, where the actor ‘breaks character’ briefly, only further our sense of enjoyment and connection with the performer himself.

There is much pathos and depth, as well as plenty of wit and lightheartedness, in dealing with the ‘tyranny of time’ and the ‘love, loss and lunacy’ that is experienced over a lifetime, and the physical movement and pacing is excellent throughout. There are well-placed silences, rapid excitements and passionate frenzies, twerkings(!), deft facial expressions and hand-gestures and beautifully poised long notes that hang in the air for just the right amount of time to allow us to digest their emotions.

The music is a smorgasbord of delight, ranging from Purcell’s haunting ‘Dido’s Lament’ (which opens the show) with stylistic French-Italian ornamentation, to a sassy rap (in the character of Ophelia), to electronica, to smooth-chorded synths beneath Dowland tunes, to funky jazz beats, to vampy keyboard, to dramatic cello and industrial textures (beneath Purcell’s ‘Cold Genius’ aria – originally written for a bass), to pure-voiced Renaissance singing with lute-like accompaniment.

Personal favourites (all of which I have sung) are: ‘Time Stands Still’, ‘Come again, sweet love doth now invite’ (with its double-entendres perfectly implied by McKenzie), ‘I saw my lord [lady] weep’, ‘In darkness let me dwell’ (with lovely rubato timing) and the closing ‘Evening Hymn’ by Purcell.

Holding this ‘secular’ show in a church is unexpectedly appropriate, considering the title ‘Evensong’ (which is a contemplative service of psalms and canticles, sung in the evening), and also considering the themes portrayed and the intimacy of the delivery. Glenn McKenzie is one of those rare gems who truly gives it his all in performance and is not afraid to lay himself bare in his characterisations.

Highly entertaining, and at times moving, Evensong deserves to be more well-attended for its final two performances, for “When griping grief the heart would wound … Then Music with her silver sound / Is wont with speed to lend redress.” 


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