Fortune Theatre Studio, Dunedin

20/03/2014 - 22/03/2014

Dunedin Fringe 2014

Production Details

Finding Hephzibah (Hephzibah meaning ‘My Delight is in Her’) is a performance piece inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Using dance, dialogue and film it asks the question: How does a woman in today’s society relate to sweet, gentle Juliet? This piece ‘uncovers’ the essence of Juliet and finds redemption for the women of today. 

Using the character of Juliet, who is essentially an embodiment of youthfulness and purity, this work juxtaposes her with the state of today’s society and its effect on women.  This project will see Claire and Nadine collaborate with Jonathan Guy (Artistic Director, Zsofi Pictures) to create a dynamic combination of film and live performance. 

Claire Sara and Nadine Kemp co-direct Urban Heart Productions – a newly founded company aiming to produce and direct powerful and unique pieces of dance and theatre. With a strong passion for collaboration, they enjoy crossing artistic boundaries by collaborating with artists from different disciplines. After producing, writing and directing two amateur productions over the last 18 months, they are ready to share their work with the public.

Finding Hephzibah will be the second piece of work in their first season which started in December 2013 and finishes with (The Final Hour of Barrington Brown) a play to be staged at Allen Hall in May this year. 

March 20, 21, 22 
Fortune Theatre Studio 
7:00 pm | 70 min 
Online Tickets: $15 | Door Sales: $20 
Dash Tickets (0800 327 484) 
World Premier
Adult Themes
Wheelchair Accessible 

Fortune Theatre Studio
231 Stuart St, Dunedin 9016 

– See more at: 

Theatre ,

1hr 10 mins (no interval)

Sincerity, beauty, flashes of humour

Review by Terry MacTavish 22nd Mar 2014

This is out of question the most enthusiastic, nay, enraptured audience I’ve seen at the Fringe so far, filling the Fortune Studio, buzzing excitedly before the show and leaping to their feet to applaud at the end.  

The popular appeal of Finding Hephzibah might seem a little surprising for a devised feminist work uniting dance, dialogue, film and original music with the lofty aim of finding “redemption for the women of today” through uncovering the true essence of Shakespeare’s Juliet.  The Hebrew name Hephzibah means “My delight is in her”, and creators Nadine Kemp and Claire Sara are touchingly determined to challenge the objectification and over-sexualisation of women; to see them instead as delightful and precious. 

The sincerity of the work, combined with its sheer beauty, disarms cynicism, while the professionalism of performers and production commands respect.  The integration of art forms is imaginative and smoothly confident.  Kemp’s dancing in particular is lyrical and lovely, beautiful also in the film images of her moving against different wild landscapes to dreamy song by Joshua Baines. 

The premise is akin to that of Jean Betts, writing in Ophelia Thinks Harder that though she identified with Hamlet, she found as a girl she was measured on how she compared to Ophelia.  Finding Hephzibah opens with Sara in an audition, attempting to deliver the speech of Juliet as she waits for night to bring Romeo, but confessing, “I am having trouble connecting with Juliet’s voice.”  However would the heroine of the most famous of love stories, the epitome of femininity, cope in a world where women are disrespected and prostitution is legal – though as we know, it may end in murder? 

I must admit that I have never envisaged Juliet as a naive innocent.  After all, there are only a couple of days from meeting to bedding Romeo, and the audition soliloquy, “Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds” absolutely throbs with the driving imperative of sexual desire: Juliet can’t wait to be, as she puts it, “enjoyed”. 

But the company portray Juliet as a symbol of purity with a conviction that carries me along.  As they say, it’s not about her actions, but about the ideas she embodies.  

The soliloquy is actually performed with breathless excitement by dancer Kemp, who represents Juliet, wrapped in a white dress like a sheet – cover for a modest lover, bridal wear, a shroud?  On the huge screen, red-splattered sheets flapping on a line recall those ghastly rituals in which the bridal sheets stained with virgin blood are tossed from the window next morning. 

Altogether the images conjured up tantalise the imagination and impress with their power, especially the strong biblical references, often in the form of ritual, culminating in a quiet, serene scene that evokes Christ washing the disciples’ feet. 

Lest this all becomes too earnest, there are welcome flashes of humour, especially when Kemp and Sara are joined by Katarina Schwarz in a hilarious cacophony of women bitching nastily about other women, while using the elongated legs of Barbie dolls as chopsticks for their weight watcher sushi.  All three actors radiate personality.    

The rapid mood changes are often evoked by the music, performed on stage by the talented (and rather surprisingly, male) Baines, ranging from the sweetly melancholy to the decidedly ominous, when the musician, hooded and in black, steps forward to loom threateningly over the kneeling girl, like Fate, or Death.  

The most memorable and affecting scene is the one in which the three women, together on stage but isolated from each other, dangle red high-heeled shoes, street walkers awaiting business. The degradation and the pain, all there in that one image: “She leans against the wall, heels in hand…standing broken in the grass…numbed by the bliss of momentary acceptance…” 

Striking indeed, as the audience response testifies.  There seems no doubt that Urban Heart is an intriguing new development on the local theatre scene, bringing delight to many.  Maybe they’ll slay ‘the multi-million dollar giant’ yet!


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