Woodhaugh Gardens, Dunedin North

31/01/2020 - 16/02/2020

Production Details

“Did my heart love till now?”

Dunedin Summer Shakespeare proudly presents Romeo + Juliet, Shakespeare’s greatest love story.

Jessica Latton and Lara Macgregor, well known in Dunedin theatre and performance circles, have joined Dr Kim Morgan, a Shakespeare specialist, to “bring back the Bard” to an outdoor Dunedin audience.  Says Macgregor, “Dunedin has not had such an event for over 25 years, and we are very proud to be able to present Romeo + Juliet FREE to the public.”

Morgan, who is directing the show, says “Romeo and Juliet’s story has endured more than 400 years because it is a glorious mix of humanity’s fundamental oppositions and struggles: comedy v tragedy, personal v public, love v hate.” 

“We have chosen, accordingly, to make our production contemporary. Using the lush environs of Woodhaugh Gardens, our Verona depicts a fictional Dunedin of 2020 – one that contains the people and passions we see around us every day, and incorporates elements of Te Ao Māori.”

Proudly supported by DCC, Otago Community Trust, Logan Park High School and our Give-a-Little sponsors, this is a FREE event from 31 January to 16 February: Fridays @6pm, Saturdays @4pm, and Sundays @2pm, in Woodhaugh Gardens (no shows Mondays–Thursdays). Please check Facebook for alternate venue in case of severe weather.

Bring a rug, a picnic and enjoy a timeless tale of loyalty, family rivalry, passionate love and tragic loss.

Featuring Nick Tipa as Romeo and Emily McKenzie as Juliet, and a cast of both local and national talent, Romeo and Juliet will have you laughing, crying and on the edge of your… picnic blanket.

View the Facebook event here 

ROMEO AND JULIET aims to be the first of an annual FREE event in the city.

Woodhaugh Gardens (near Queen St entrance), Dunedin
31 January – 16 February 2020
Fridays 6pm, Saturdays 4pm, Sundays 2pm (no show Monday-Thursday)
FREE event: feel free to bring a blanket and a picnic

Emily McKenzie:  Juliet
Nick Tipa:  Romeo
Bonnie Harrison:  Mercutio
Alfred Richardson:  Benvolio
Tomuri Spicer:  Tybalt
Jessica Latton:  Lady Capulet 
Marisiale Tunoka:  Capulet
Rhys Latton:  Montague
Helen Fearnley:  Lady Montague
Isaac Martyn:  Paris
Julie Edwards:  Nurse
Phil Grieve:  Friar Laurence
Cain Sleep:  Gregory
Cheyne Jenkinson:  Sampson
Courtney Drummond:  Balthasar
Thomas Makinson:  Peter / Abram
Fran Kewene:  Prince
Tom Dixon-Stewart:  Ensemble
April McMillan Perkins:  Ensemble; Rosaline; Watch #1
Esther Smith:  Ensemble; Mont Servant; Paris' Page
Patricia Pantleon:  Ensemble; Servant; Watch #2; Benvolio sub?
Quinn Hardie:  Ensemble; Cap Servant; Watch #4
Sophie Graham:  Ensemble; Cap's Servant; Watch #3; Benvolio sub?

Masin Kewene-Masine:  Musician

Kim Morgan:  Director
Alex Wilson:  Assistant Director
Katrina Chandra:  Prod. Manager
Amy Wright:  Stage Manager
Zoë Fox:  Costume Design
Matthew Morgan:  Technical Director
Katrina Chandra:  Props
Lucy Summers:  Marketing
Julie Edwards:  Voice, Warmups
Jessica Latton:  Movement, Producer
Lara Macgregor:  Photography, Producer
Kim Morgan:  Text, Producer
Rhys Latton:  Administration
Jessica Latton:  Kaitiaki
John Broughton:  Kaumatua

Theatre , Outdoor ,

2 hrs (no interval)

Performances excellent in great setting

Review by Barbara Frame 02nd Feb 2020

The Woodhaugh Gardens’ trees and shrubs are a natural backdrop and all the scenery you really need, the descending sun provides the lighting, birdsong makes a great soundtrack and a summer evening’s pleasant breezes produce good ventilation.

The stage is set for a production of Shakespeare’s play about family feuding, impetuous youth and doomed romance.

Only a rope separates the audience from the designated stage, and the actors come and go from all angles, sometimes weaving their way through a picnicking audience seated on rugs or folding chairs. [More]


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Positively pants with passion

Review by Terry MacTavish 01st Feb 2020

“These violent delights have violent ends.” The message is clear, no call for spoiler alerts or trigger warnings in the famous prologue describing the two great households of fair Verona locked in enmity. We are told there is only one possible agonising conclusion but also that this tragedy is what it will take to bring reconciliation, a “glooming peace”.

The tale of supposedly “star-cross’d lovers” must be known to all who speak English, and no doubt every language has its own version. Yet clearly Romeo and Juliet still contains plenty of relevant material for a renowned Shakespearean scholar like director Kim Morgan, and Dunedin is in for a treat.

Executive producers Lara Macgregor, Jessica Latton and Morgan, have been planning this free event, as a gift to the community, for many years, hoping it will become an annual event. The cast and crew are drawn from the best on offer in Dunedin and beyond: a blend of experienced professionals with eager young actors and interns working (naturally) for love, and the Woodhaugh Gardens on a warm summer evening is surely even fairer than Verona. I find a friend to sit beside, while another kindly offers me a chilled cider. 

With the audience happily picnicking alongside dogs and the odd infant on the soft grass, the actors liable at any moment to include them in the action, it strikes me that this is closer to the atmosphere of Shakespeare’s original theatre with its noisy groundlings, than the Pop-Up Globe achieved when its touring productions were staged last year in the conventional Regent Theatre. When a dog barks a warning as stage voices threaten, or a nearby motorbike accelerates away as combatants flee in panic, it all feels thrillingly real.

This is aggressive contemporary Shakespeare, hurtling along with fierce energy and lashings of dark comedy, in the gorgeous natural woodland setting. Immediately apparent is the subtle referencing of Te Ao Māori, from the sounding of a conch shell as the play begins, to the waiata at the end.  Designer Zoe Fox has added certain significant detail to the lovely earthy ochre and russet costuming, and the actors, trained in mau rākau, use taiaha as deadly weapons. Juliet’s family, the Capulets, appear as Māori – in one charming scene Lady Capulet plaits hei tiki into Juliet’s long hair – while Romeo Montague and his mates are Pākehā. It works; it works beautifully.

Fran Kewene is magnificently cast as the Prince, a stunning ariki in feathered cape, imbued with powerful authority that seems both temporal and spiritual. The rulers of the noble houses, Marisiale Tunoka and Jessica Latton as Lord and Lady Capulet, and Rhys Latton and Helen Fearnley as the Montagues, are also superb in their roles, managing to convey dignity as well as strength of passion.

The comic pairing of the lovers’ respective mentors, Julie Edwards as Juliet’s Nurse and Phil Grieve as Friar Lawrence, is similarly successful. Individually extremely effective – Edwards chortling deliciously over a vulgar old joke and Grieve’s rich voice booming out from his orange hoodie (whimsically emblazoned with #God) as he lectures his pupil Romeo – they are absolutely irresistible in concert, complaining with disgust over the feebleness of their charges: “blubb’ring and weeping, weeping and blubb’ring!”

But of course it all hinges on the chemistry between the lovers, and from the enthusiastic response of the rapt audience, this is clearly a triumph. Nick Tipa, returned from theatre study in Australia, has developed most impressively as an actor. His depth of understanding of the lines gives Romeo a sensitivity that is credible and appealing. Emily McKenzie is a Juliet for our time, bold and stroppy in the extreme. Where the ‘Bad’ Quarto of 1597 has the stage direction “Enter Juliet somewhat fast, and embraceth Romeo”, this Juliet races on, literally leaping upon Romeo and wrapping her legs around him in a ferocious bear-hug. “Love moderately,” beseeches the Friar. Not bloody likely!

The actors have been rehearsing over a long period, and consequently each one displays tremendous confidence and mutual support, from Cheyne Jenkinson (Sampson) and Cain Sleep (Gregory) opening the play with disgracefully lewd banter instantly appreciated by the groundlings, to Thomas Makinson as manservant Peter trailing humbly after the bossy Nurse, and Courtney Drummond as the forlorn page Balthasar, tenderly reluctant to deliver news that will break Romeo’s heart.  

Alfred Richardson is engaging as gentle Benvolio, while the casting of Bonnie Harrison as mercurial Mercutio gives the iconic role a new slant which, as she lies dying, lends shocking impact to the off-stage laughter of Tybalt, played with insolent swagger by Tomuri Spicer.

The actors even in tiny roles commit absolutely, their vigorous physicality consistently emphasised in swift circling movement choreographed by Jessica Latton, serving the double purpose of conveying robust energy and allowing a fair share of the view for the widely-spread audience. Characters stride over the lawn and swiftly climb trees, lovers emerge half naked from behind bushes, and the spirited fighting takes full advantage of the landscape.

Despite truly admirable vocal projection and clarity, because we are so dispersed some of the longer speeches can be hard to hear, and I find myself most engaged when the whole cast is standing among and behind us, observing the action, calling out lines; the angry citizens of Verona who have had enough of what we Kiwis recognise as essentially gang warfare. “If we meet we shall not ’scape a brawl, for now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.” I love the scenes where the whole cast urgently erupts onto the centre space and all is carefully planned chaos and ferocity.

“Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love,” exclaims Romeo when he sees the carnage left from the opening scene. Morgan’s direction brings out the love, not necessarily romantic, that motivates the violence. Even the fury for revenge springs from loyalty to one’s household, one’s gang, the bro’s. Here is powerful parental love too, for despite Capulet’s temper tantrum when she defies him, Juliet is revealed as a most beloved only child, and long before his life is in danger, Romeo’s parents are lovingly anxious to know and cure his depression.

But every character, except perhaps the Prince, that representative of order and reason, shows the lack of moderation deplored by the Friar: the determination to have their own way, whatever it costs, whatever destruction it brings. Despite Romeo’s famous line, ‘I defy thee, stars!’ it is human frailty, not Fate, that is to blame.

“Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire, I hold with those who favour fire…” wrote another poet, Robert Frost. It may be that the Australian fires now burning across the Tasman are the result of our greedy human desire for more than we need to sustain life.   

Ah, so many lessons to be drawn, and once the undeniable excitement of what the Friar calls “fire to (gun)powder” is over, we are left with much to contemplate, the audience lingering for nearly an hour to chat with the cast and crew in the sunlit Gardens.

The season extends for three leisurely weekends, and I plan to return for a different view of this enthralling production. It is always a joy to see life breathed into a classic play, and Summer Shakespeare’s ebullient production does more than breathe – it positively pants with passion! Congratulations to Morgan and her dedicated cast for getting the mad blood stirring!


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