Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

30/08/2017 - 30/08/2017

Crystal Palace, New Plymouth, Taranaki

25/08/2017 - 25/08/2017

Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson

14/10/2017 - 14/10/2017


Taranaki Arts Festival 2017


Production Details

“If music be the food of love, play on…”

Fresh from the team behind Fly My Pretties comes Play On, a celebration of Shakespeare set to contemporary music.  

In a world first, Tui-nominated songwriter and award-winning composer Paul McLaney has enlisted the help of high-profile musicians to perform a number of Shakespeare’s most well-loved soliloquies as a song cycle.

Play On will feature performances from McLaney himself alongside Julia Deans & Mara TK (Electric Wire Hustle), with accompaniment from the EDIN string section, featuring Rachel Wells, Jessica Hindin & Mahuia Bridgeman-Cooper.

To celebrate the August release of Play On: The Album, this one-off show combines some of New Zealand’s best acting and music for an unforgettable experience.

To the point: Shakespeare in song/contemporary music/award-winning composer/accomplished performers/accessible.

Crystal Palace, New Plymouth 
Friday, Aug 25, 8pm

Featuring Julia Deans, Ria Hall, Maisey Rika, Paul McLaney, Fran Kora (Modern Maori Quartet) & Mara TK (Electric Wire Hustle), alongside a three–piece band and the EDIN string section.
Co-presented by Loop and the Isaac Theatre Royal.

Isaac Theatre Royal
WED 30 AUG, 7:00 pm
A Res $95 | B Res $82.50 | C Reserve $65 | D Reserve $55
Concession – Senior 65+ $39 | Student – ID required $39
*Fees & conditions apply, see How to Book.

Sat 14 Oct, 8pm
EARLY BIRD $43 | UNDER 19 $25
SENIOR $43 | GROUP OF 6+ $43pp
FULL $48
(Group bookings only available at Theatre Royal Nelson) 
Book Now!

Theatre , Musical ,

1hr 30m approx

Admirable intentions

Review by Lisa Allan 15th Oct 2017

Paul McLaney’s Play On is a collection of Shakespearean speeches set to music. There are some tremendous moments. The tortured repetition of Macbeth’s words “she should have died” as vocalist Mara TK spirals into a world of grief. The string trio’s evocative and swooping start to ‘Come Away Death’, a Twelfth Night-inspired song. Julia Dean’s crone-like rendition of ‘Hold!’ from Macbeth, her pitch increasing to incredible, vulnerable and revealing heights as she calls on the help of the spirit world.

I believe that this show has all the ingredients to be absolutely brilliant. For me, however, it misses some obvious opportunities to bring Shakespeare’s words to life in a new way.  

It is hard to take in the words. Shakespeare is a challenge to interpret at the best of times but the language is the gift. When gesture is used, it is fantastic and does help us to connect.  But there are large chunks that swirl into a mass of sound with no meaning. It is difficult for the performers to deliver the words in a way that helps us understand them whilst they concentrate on simultaneously excelling vocally (which they all do).

Shakespeare’s work contains beautiful rhythms and heart-breakingly poetic imagery. I find myself mourning the fact that these rhythms and images don’t snake their way into the expression of the music more. A little more playfulness between the words and the music would go a long way.

I truly admire the intention of the show, “to spread some love” and to give people a chance to connect to Shakespeare’s words in a new way. As I was leaving the theatre I heard one punter say, “Oh my goodness, that was so good, delicious kicks!” 


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More invisible than accessible

Review by Naomi van den Broek 31st Aug 2017

Paul McLaney has assembled a stellar cast of musicians, both instrumental and vocal, for this concert performance featuring his settings of soliloquies and sonnets from some of Shakespeare’s most well-known texts.

Vocally and musically there is much to love about this performance: soulful and committed vocal performances supported by sensitive and balanced musical accompaniment. Add to the mix some of the most universally revered text of all time, this should be a home run. However Play On leaves me feeling that for this show the whole is not greater than the sum of its considerable parts.

No one wants to read a negative critique of their work, and I take no delight in writing harsh words. It is obvious that much love, passion and commitment has gone into this project from all parties involved, most evidently from McLaney who is clearly an intelligent, articulate person with a genuine passion and love for the power of words and language, and in particular Shakespeare’s. I feel like the concept he has developed has not been fully realised.

Shakespeare’s work is visceral, impassioned, earthy, lusty, joyous, violent, brutal stuff, and the musical settings seem almost completely disconnected from this rich source material. The cast of singers try to eek all the drama they can out of the songs but it frequently feels like they are having to work very hard against the music to realise the meaning and story in the text. Sadly the text in a few of the songs is almost unintelligible due to poor delivery by one of the soloists.

There is also the challenge of managing the inherent rhythm in Shakespeare’s text. In some settings the text feels boxed into the musical framework; in others, pulled to pieces in a way that obscures the inherent ideas and themes.

While the music is pleasant and very well played I struggle to tell one song apart from the next. Brief moments of textural variety, such as solo drums and pizzicato strings, are so welcomed, and I am craving some rhythmic and harmonic variety.

The song that comes closest to musically expressing the meaning of the chosen text is ‘Hold’ [Lady Macbeth], performed with fire and bite by Julia Deans. A wider vocal range, greater dynamic contrast and a more dramatic arrangement gives me a taste of what could be possible here. As does the stunningly delivered ‘Sonnet 18’ in Te Reo by Maisey Rika.

I would love to see what could be possible for this project in the future with the involvement of a director and a dramaturg: eyes and ears to challenge and support the full realisation of this idea. McLaney wants to make Shakespeare accessible using the tool of music. This is such a noble aim. However for me instead of accessible, in this setting Shakespeare’s text has just become invisible.  


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Superlative performances a joy to listen to

Review by Victoria Kerr 26th Aug 2017

What a fantastic evening!  To celebrate the release of his new album, Play on: The Album, Paul McLaney, songwriter and composer, gave us all a treat at the Taranaki Arts Festival. With the help of award-winning musical colleagues – the fantastic Julia Deans, the amazing Mara TK, and the superb Black Quartet, Rachel Wells, Jessica Hindin and Mahuia Bridgeman-Cooper – McLaney showcases his reworking of Shakespeare’s soliloquies into music form.  Why has this never been done before? Well, genius takes time.  Four hundred years after Shakespeare, McLaney reimagines and reinterprets his words in such a fresh way that one reflects on the beauty of the words all over again, no matter how familiar one is with them. 

We are all truly blessed to be able to see this world class performance.  From the opening song, (from As You Like It’s‘Seven Ages of Man’), McLaney has the audience captivated. This haunting ballad with its soulful last line, “Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans tastes, sans everything” cleverly encapsulates the mirroring of love and death through the two distinct sections of this showcase.

The first half of the set could be seen as a collection of love songs to Shakespeare.  ‘The Deeds of Mercy’,featuring Julia Deans is a poignant, beautiful, lyrical rendition of the “quality of mercy” soliloquy from the Merchant of Venice.  This is followed by Mara TK singing ‘Until this Night’ (from Romeo and Juliet), its haunting refrain beautifully encapsulating the wonder and bewilderment of love. 

‘Love’ from Love’s Labour’s Lost is gorgeous.  The wonderful theatricality of Julia Deans’ performance in ‘The Lunatic, The Lover and the Madman’ from A Midsummer Night’s Dream builds the drama and hints at how this performance will develop.  I say early on to my companion, “How can this get better?” But it does with each song and each performance. The only problems I have with writing this review is selecting the appropriate superlatives.  I do not think I can do this ensemble performance justice. 

With Mara TK’s performance of Christopher Marlowe’s poem ‘The Passionate Shepherd to His Love’ from The Merry Wives of Windsor,accompanied by Julia Deans, McLaney links to the past with the use of Celtic Anglo-Saxon folk influences which build to a jig.  There is a timelessness to this music with the diverse influences blending so beautifully.

Then we move to the second half: death.  The beautiful ‘Come Away Death’from Twelfth Night leads into Deans’ demonic, deep, powerful performance as Lady Macbeth in ‘Hold’.  Even McLaney asks, “How does one follow that?”

Following it superbly is Mara TK with his grief-stricken Macbeth, “bereft of solace and on the road to perdition” in ‘The Sound & The Fury’. The loss, anger and grief are palpable with Mara TK’s performance accompanied by furious strings. One reconnects with the humanity of the lost and damned Macbeth.  This is followed by another stunning performance of a King Lear soliloquy on the reason not the need.

Possibly Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquy, ‘To Be Or Not To Be’,is beautifully reenergised by Deans and again the Celtic folk influence is apparent. Loss and love are further explored in Sonnet 18: ‘Shall I compare thee’ in te reo. The penultimate song is fittingly ‘Our Revels Now are Ended’ (from The Tempest)linking to the opening.  The evening concludes with a karakia: all members of the ensemble, performing Sonnet 18.

The music, lyrics and performances all combine seamlessly to convey those vast wondrous themes of love, life, loss and death for which Shakespeare is so revered.  McLaney’s love for Shakespeare is apparent; his brilliance is a joy to listen to. Selecting such talented collaborators leads to a superlative performance. Buy the album! But, more importantly, see this live – you will not be disappointed. 


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