SEX*DEATH*MAGIC: Renaissance Poetry Unbound

Vertical Aerial Dance Studio, 27 Moray Place, Dunedin

20/03/2012 - 21/03/2012

Dunedin Fringe 2012

Production Details

SEX*DEATH*MAGIC: Renaissance Poetry Unbound  is a celebration of our superb poetic heritage, timed to coincide with World Poetry Day on March 21, 2012. It is an experimental poetry event featuring actors, musicians and dancers performing excerpts from Spenser, Marlowe, Wyatt, and Shakespeare, plus period early music.

We aim to give the poetry and music a contemporary edge by reversing genders, exploring sexualities, juxtaposing diverse texts, pulling the verse apart and reconstructing it, mixing renaissance music with jazz techniques, electronic sounds, and modern dance.

Featuring an unusual combination of classic verse and contemporary performance elements, SEX*DEATH*MAGIC is likely to be a unique event in the 2012 Dunedin Fringe Festival. In turn, the Festival also gives the performers a great opportunity to experiment and expand their creative boundaries. This event gives us license to be as playful as possible with the literary canon.

SEX*DEATH*MAGIC is produced by the Dunedin Medieval and Renaissance Society in collaboration with a very talented and dynamic group of performers, including dancers Miriam Marler and Hannah Rouse, popular young actors Hadley Tayor and Nadya Shaw-Bennett, and well-known Dunedin actor-directors Nigel Ensor and Hilary Norris, with Jonathan Cweorth on recorders and percussion, Alan Edwards on spinet, and Nigel Miller on jazz clarinet. Sound by Chris Edwards and lighting by Stephen Kilroy.

Tuesday 20 & Wednesday 21 March
Vertical Aerial Dance Studio, 27 Moray Place

A most diverting entertainment indeed

Review by Robbie Ellis 21st Mar 2012

This isn’t the first time a company has cobbled together a collection of the English Renaissance’s greatest hits – poetic, theatrical and musical – and it won’t be the last either. This one grabs hold of the spirit of the time, reusing and borrowing material for a slice of the golden age that doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Sex*Death*Magic is structured into three parts, with titles and thematic concentrations exactly as it says on the tin. “Sex” packs a solid dose of well-known Shakespeare sonnets – an ideal start to the show from my perspective, the familiar classics making my ears reacquainted with their language and idiom. “Death” brings out weightier scenes from Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, and using the anonymous Italian tune “La Morte della Ragione” (the Death of Reason) as a link, the performers move to the theme of “Magic”, where capricious spirits fly and the action teeters on the edge of collapse.

Director Hilary Norris has assembled four very strong actors, herself included, who all shine in individual performance. Nadya Shaw-Bennett opens the show with a divine singing voice: floaty and pure, it suits the idiom of Thomas Morley’s music to a tee. While she’s no slouch as an actress, it was her sung contributions that made the night for me. Hadley Taylor is full of energy as a young man “pursuing the ideal” in the first section, which carries over consistently into his desperately ambitious young Dr Faustus. His soliloquy there builds in an immensely satisfying way, aided and abetted by dancers and technical trickery.

Hilary Norris has given herself a broad selection of characters, statuses and voices to play with: star turns include a disturbing portrayal of Marlowe’s Jew of Malta as a psychopath in a straitjacket, and a clever slapstick fight between Hecate, the interpolated witch queen from Macbeth, and scholarly opinion. Finally, Nigel Ensor lends gravitas to many scenes, particularly as the remorseful Leontes from The Winter’s Tale and with Prospero’s epilogue from The Tempest.

Dancers Miriam Marler and Hannah Rowse appear occasionally with a vocabulary of stylised courtly mannerisms – sometimes it’s not clear how this adds to the performance but, as mentioned earlier, they work beguilingly with Hadley Taylor to evoke Dr Faustus’s magic and incantations. Stephen Kilroy’s lights and Chris Edwards’ sound together execute an excellent thunderstorm to accompany Thomas Wyatt’s sonnet of nautical danger.

Music is supplied by both a three-piece ensemble of mostly period instruments, and from pre-recorded sound. These two sources mix rather uneasily; although non-musical audio supports the action well, the musical interludes through speakers are jarring when set alongside acoustic voices and instruments. The live ensemble creates a pleasant sound, although they could put more energy into much of the music, particularly the final Folia.

My stand-out moments are mostly concentrated in individual performances: the company vibe and the show as a whole didn’t strike me as totally unified, despite excellent appreciation of the language and snappy flow from scene to scene. That said, given the variety, if you’re not enjoying a particular scene you need only wait a few minutes and the company should serve you something to your taste, glorious as it is to luxuriate in the aesthetic of the English Renaissance.

A most diverting entertainment indeed.  


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