Shakespeare: As You Write It

Celebration Theatre, Hagley Park, Christchurch

20/07/2011 - 20/07/2011

Production Details

New Zealand Playhouse presents Shakespeare: As You Write It. A hilarious improvised tribute to the plays of William Shakespeare.

Three of New Zealand’s most experienced improvisers will collaborate with the audience to create a brand new Shakespeare play.

To achieve this they will have to look under the hood with the audience and see what makes Shakespeare tick. 

One night only at the Canterbury Celebration Theatre in Hagley Park – this is an evening you don’t want to miss.

20 July 2011
Tickets $20+BF
Tickets on sale here:    

Comical-historical-tragical freshness

Review by Erin Harrington 21st Jul 2011

After a seven week national schools’ tour, Shakespeare: As You Write It was revived for a well-received one off performance as part of the Canterbury Celebration Theatre season. After some mulled wine and scene setting – harpsichord renditions of pop hits; Britney Spears never sounding so good – three seasoned improvisers, clad in striped doublets and flanked by giant polystyrene pillars, take it upon themselves to school the audience in some Shakespearean basics through the performance of a brand new play.

As is drolly pointed out, “this show is meant to be semi-educational,” and it is informative without being overly didactic. Over the course of the performance, “through the medium of silly hats,” the cast outlines the differences between tragedies, comedies and histories, Shakespeare’s favourite go-to settings (Renaissance Italy, Dark Ages Britain, and Ancient Rome) and the use of iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets.

In a demonstration of the way Shakespeare lifted his plot points from other sources, thanks to ‘offers’ from the audience, we were treated to a retelling of Finding Nemo, with the one-armed gladiator Nemius of Rome ultimately taking on the King of Sharkage for the love of his forgetful and hirsute daughter Dory by invoking the power of rhythm. The cast endings three endings, for comedy, history and tragedy versions.

The educational aspects give the piece a focus and framework that is sometimes lost in improvised theatre and the performers do well to distil Shakespeare 101 into something so silly without losing the guts of the lesson. 

Brendon Bennetts, Dan Bain and Ralph McCubbin-Howell, all of whom have performed with the Court Jesters, have a strong rapport with the audience and their considerable improv experience and their history of working together is evident. Bennetts and Bain have an extensive background in creating and promoting long-form improv in Christchurch and further afield, and the three performers walk carefully the fine line between spontaneity and careful preparation.

The structural and choreographed elements of the piece segue fairly smoothly into the impromtu storytelling and although there was a slight lag in the energy at the beginning of the ‘play’ – perhaps due to the unwelcome intrusion of a very noisy diesel heater – I was impressed at the freshness of the show, given its prior tour.

Michael Bell, on the keyboard, provided his usual apt and fluid musical extemporisation in a way that did not detract from the action on stage – and despite the adage ‘don’t shoot the piano player’, he even got to wield a foam sword and die a dramatic death.

The Canterbury Celebration Theatre is not the most comfortable venue (either too hot or too cold, packed quite tightly, difficulty in getting to seats while clutching a glass) but it has a convivial intimacy that benefits this sort of performance. As an audience member, I find it has a sense of warmth and community that is often lacking in more traditional venues.

The show ended with a stirring ‘hey nonny nonny’ and the audience spilled out into the frosty evening, satisfied and gleefully recounting their favourite scenes. If only all lessons in literature were so entertaining. 
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