Dorothy Winstone Theatre, Auckland Girls’ Grammar School, Auckland

05/10/2012 - 05/10/2012

Production Details

46 Acting students – chosen out of 5500 in SGCNZ’s 2012 22 Regional and National University of Otago Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festivals – perform:

Twelfth Night
Orsino:  Duncan Bakke
Valentina:  Monique Clementson
Viola:  Jessica Stubbing/Juliet Luxton/Monique Clementson
Captain:  Ushini Attanayake
Sir Toby Belch:  Rupert Oakeley
Maria:  Aimee Smith
Sir Andrew Aguecheek:  Orion Carey-Clark
Feste:  Tiana Offner
Olivia:  Olive Wilson/Kayla Morton/Olivia Chrisp
Malvolio:  Idham Sondhi
Antonio:  Folau Lavemai
Sebastian:  Eliot Fenton
Fabiana:  Ushini Attanayake
1st Officer:  Jessica Stubbing
2nd Officer:  Olive Wilson
Priest:  Juliet Luxton

The Tempest
Boatswain:  Mathew Mount
Master:  Ashton Blake-Barlow
Prospero:  Claudia Richards Act I, II, III / Lauren Andrews Act I, V
Miranda:  Victoria Bell Act I / Alex Norman Act II, III, IV, V
Ariel:  Harriett Maire Act I, II, III / Lydia Peckham Act IV, V
Caliban:  Prashan Casinader Act I, II / Ryan Cundy Act III, IV, V
Ferdinand:  Joseph Raea
Antonio:  Jaime North
Sebastian:  Lydia Verschaffelt
Alonzo:  Paige Ngatai
Gonzalo:  Abbey Mennie
Stephano:  Mathew Mount Act II /, Jaime North Act III, IV
Trinculo:  Ashton Blake-Barlow / Lydia Verschaffelt 

The Merchant of Venice
The Duke of Venice:  Mariata Pittman
Prince of Morocco – suitor to Portia:  Phillip Mtambo Mungoni
The Prince of Arragon – suitor to Portia:  Andrew Hunger
Antonio, A Merchant of Venice:  Gabe Schoonderwoerd
Bassanio, his friend, suitor to Portia:  Zac Swift
Solanio:  Kelly Harris
Salarino:  Miranda Hitchings
Gratiano:  David Mock
Lorenzo, in love with Jessica:  Kasidit Chatchaipholrat
Shylock, a rich Jew:  Zacherie Leet-Guinan
Tubal. A Jew, his friend:  Phillip Mtambo Mungoni
Launcelot Gobbo, the Clown, Servant to Shylock:  Bradley Mortensen
Balthasar, servant to Portia:  Andrew Hunger
Portia, a rich heiress:  Alice Allfree, Tyra Wilson
Nerissa, her gentlewoman:  Sally Brady, Imogen Finlayson
Jessica, daughter to Shylock:  Priscilla deGroen Hutchinson
Maid to Portia:  Mariata Pittman 

Student Costumier – Hazel Smith (from Upper Hutt College Supreme Winner of SGCNZ/Bernina Shakespeare Costume Design Competition);
Student Composer – Ammaron Uri-ke (from Kaiapoi High School – Supreme Winner of the SGCNZ /Morrison Music Trust Shakespeare Music Composition Competition)

April is in my mistress’ face
Composer: Thomas Morley
Taught by:  Philip Griffin
Performed by:  Full Company 

Taught & rehearsed by: Zak Swift & Harriett Maire
Performed by: Full Company 

Taught & rehearsed by:  Joseph Rea & Monique Clementson
Performed by:  Full Company

CEO & Organiser of NSSP:  Dawn Sanders QSM
Administrative Assistant:  Fiona McNamara (part time)
Programme:  Fiona McNamara, Dawn Sanders, Rapid Copy
Videoer:  Paul Mockridge
Photographer:  Grace Hood-Edwards
Web Master/Designers:  The SunRoom
Stage Manager:  Charlotte Gordon
Lighting:  John Burrows, Andrew Lindsay
Ushers & FOH:  Thomas Hart, Crystelle L’Amie, Lexi Claire, Kalyani Nagarajan, Caleb Wells, Volunteers 

Auckland Girls’ Grammar School Dorothy Winstone Centre 
on Friday 5 October at 7.30pm 

Astonishing work

Review by Lexie Matheson 07th Oct 2012

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises, 
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not. 

This quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest sums up an extraordinary evening. 

The substantial audience for the SGCNZ National Shakespeare Schools Production 2012 were briefed about what was to follow by Dawn Sanders QSM, the CEO of the Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand and a member of the Shakespeare Globe Council, London. We were told that this was the 21st year in the life of the centre which is, of itself, something seriously worth celebrating.

Dawn Sanders name is, of course, synonymous with the work of the centre and with the University of Otago Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival where New Zealand’s young theatre talent is nurtured and opportunities provided that would make the most hardened among us salivate at the thought.

Sanders told us that what we were about to see was a ‘work in progress’, that the young performers were a mere 48 chosen from the 5,500 youngsters who had participated in the national festival this year, that their week in Auckland had been made up of inspirational morning workshops followed by afternoon rehearsals with three of our finest directors: Raymond Hawthorne ONZM, Paul Gittins and Laurel Devenie. She added that, in total, 85,000 students had participated since that first Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival way back when.

It was tempting to ask what see’st thou else in the dark backward and abysm of time but it seemed inappropriate so I let that go in the hope that someday a book recording the wonderful anecdotes of participants may be written.

It was a night for reminiscing and acknowledgement, however, and many of the audience were recognisable faces quietly celebrating what was three generations of professionalism with Laurel Devenie being an alumni of the SGCNZ and the Sheilah Winn Festival system, Paul Gittins being a student and long time friend and colleague of Raymond Hawthorne, with Hawthorne’s own training including, as it does, The New Zealand Players and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art which he attended as a student and to which he returned as a teacher.

Who wouldn’t want to be seventeen or eighteen years old, to have teachers like that and to be able to give themselves over to the work, to answer thy best pleasure; be’t to fly, to swim, to dive into the fire, to ride on the curl’d clouds … This was an opportunity to be grasped with both hands and these kids did just that.

The post-positivist in me quickly worked out that this probably meant fifteen hours or workshops with instructors such as Dr Ida Gaskin CNZM, Monique Chappell AISTD Dip., NZAMD (SPD), the sublimely talented Stuart Devenie, Philip Griffin who, along with a MMus for The University of Auckland, has written music for the Royal Shakespeare Company, celebrated actor Maaka Pohatu and 2009 Shakespeare’s Globe International Artistic Fellow Sylvia Rands.

That’s very classy company – and that’s just the mornings!

The 48 secondary school students then divided into three groups for rehearsals in the afternoons with directors Laurel Devenie (The Tempest),the vastly experienced Paul Gittins (Twelfth Night) and Raymond Hawthorne (The Merchant of Venice). I knew I would struggle to find a way of describing Hawthorne in words that sound even vaguely original and it was suggested I give him the accolade of being Shakespeare’s contemporary which, for some reason, didn’t sound all that silly, such is his seemingly endless ability to channel the bard at will.

Again I went into positivist mode and calculated that this meant each group had 20 hours to come to terms with 40 minutes of text, a mammoth task at the best of times and for senior secondary students, many of whom were away from home and working with strangers – not to mention pretty elite strangers – this was always going to be a very big ask no matter how talented they were.

At this point I gave up on the quantitative data gathering and returned to my more comfortable qualitative mode and figured the love of the work, talent and passion – plus a few stolen (unacknowledged) evenings in the rehearsal room and late night line-learning – would get them through.

The first of the evening’s offerings was Gitten’s Twelfth Night with music by Supreme Winner of the Supreme Winner of the SGCNZ /Morrison Music Trust Shakespeare Music Composition Competition Ammaron Uri-ke and costumes compiled and co-ordinated by Supreme Winner of the SGCNZ/Bernina Shakespeare Costume Design Competition) Hazel Smith. This extraordinary duet created music for, and dressed, all three works and contributed tremendously to the overall success of each individual piece.

Cutting a Shakespeare text from three hours plus to forty minutes is a journey in itself. There’s the complexity of what to excise from such integrated narrative for a start. Then there’s the way the characters carry the narrative and use it – and the on-going action – to evolve themselves and their relationships and progress the plot. Then there’s the expectation that an informed audience will be deeply disappointed if you’ve cut their favourite bit! Add to this marrying up the genders – and the cross dressing – age and cast numbers, and you have a logistical exercise to deter the not easily daunted.

No problem for Gittens and his team though, they did magnificently. The numbers issue was solved by tripling the characters of Viola and Olivia and the tripping from one to another was done pretty much seamlessly.

Staged within a semi-circle of inward-facing chairs and costumed from a large, cane sea-chest the action skipped intelligently along throughout with the sharply etched characters each contributing to some fine ensemble work. The narrative was clear, the comedy broad and the pace cleverly varied which allowed the intersection of the action – the exposing of Belch, Aguecheek and Maria, the resolution of the love themes and the cheerless departure of Malvolio – to work a treat.

It’s treacherously difficult to balance the pathos, the romance and the slapstick of Twelfth Night but Gittens and his cast went a long way towards achieving this which is no mean feat.

It almost seems inappropriate to single out actors in a work in progress – especially when all were very good – but I’m going to anyway. Tiana Offner – a lithe and irreverent Feste – combined an intelligent understanding of the role with an exceptional physicality and Folau Lavemai’s complex Antonio was complete in a most fulfilling fashion. Much has been written about this enigmatic character but Lavemai played him right down the middle, a man passionate about friendship, and his friend in particular, yet baffled by the situation he finds himself in, and he left his audience to make their own minds up about the nature of this friendship and how it might evolve in the future.

Shakespeare never shies away from the spiteful or the malicious and Gittens and his cast doesn’t either. We feel marginally sorry for Malvolio and despise those who have made a fool of him despite Shakespeare never telling us that this is what we should be feeling. It’s easy to secrete this malevolence inside the comedy and it was very satisfying to see no such evasion in this production. Thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges and we suspect that Malvolio’s revenge will simply give up the ghost and die a sad and impotent death.

The Tempest, written a decade after Twelfth Night, is quite a different kettle of fish. In its entirety The Tempest plays an hour shorter than Twelfth Night which certainly helps, at least when substantial trimming is required. It’s worth mentioning here that a feature of these three works was the clarity of vision maintained and a strict adherence to retaining and maintaining Shakespeare’s narrative despite the need to get each down in forty minutes and this was a real achievement.

Laurel Devenie chose to concentrate on the narrative which was probably wise with a week’s rehearsal and a young and relatively inexperienced cast. After all, much cleverer people than I have debated for over four hundred years what Shakespeare was about – or on – when he wrote the play and Devenie has addressed this predicament by taking the story line, running with it and largely leaving the text to speak on behalf of the characters. It works in a particularly effective way, and it really helps that all the young actors are adept at both interpreting and speaking the language.

Hazel Smith has opted for a theatrically appropriate 19th century look for her characters and it works surprisingly well as it links the vastly different worlds of sophisticated Milan and the far more elemental isle. With all the textual references to music and sound, this production is blessed with exceptional musicians in Harriett Maire (cello) and Prashan Casinader (violin) who also just happen to play an excellent Ariel (Maire doubled with an equally impressive Lydia Peckham) and ‘the thing of darkness’ Caliban (Casinader). The stand out performance for me, however, was that of Joseph Raea as Ferdinand but there were actually no weak links in this successful foray into one of Shakespeare’s darkest and most difficult works.

At the end of a twenty minute interval, time’s winged chariot, in the form of a tinkling bell and a most articulate reminder that we might now return to the auditorium, transported us back into the safety of the dark for Raymond Hawthorne’s truncated version of The Merchant of Venice.  

To digress yet further, I find intervals fascinating. Comments passed between friends and overheard by the wary, can be quite telling.  Just such an eavesdropping produced this gem from an elderly audience member – who shall remain nameless as there’ll be strict chastisement if I name her – who said, “I think they’re fabulous, they’re all fabulous. Actually, we’re all fabulous,” she said, and who could disagree. Theatre people certainly are an extraordinary bunch irrespective of their age.

We resumed our seats. The lights went down. They didn’t come up. A voice rang from the auditorium ‘lights!’ and the lights dutifully, and immediately, responded. Well, you do, don’t you. Even if you’re a light.

The stage was again set with a semi-circle of chairs, a gap at centre back. This time the actors faced outward, still, silent, alert. We were transported to the Rialto in Venice to meet Antonio, the merchant of the title. He is surrounded by young men as he should be, and girls too, but it’s the men who matter. I am reminded that plays are visceral things. Actors move with purpose, pass each other, exchanges are made and the plot stirred and thickened. We meet Bassanio (Zac Swift) who is in love with Portia (initially Alice Allfree and later Tyra Wilson) and we can see – and feel – why. The romance in this production is palpable, the attractions obvious, the passions deep-felt and real.  

Zecharie Leet-Guinan plays Shylock’s hatred of Antonio and his boys with supreme confidence and clarity; makes it understandable – you can taste it – and again we sympathise. The racism on both sides is unattractive and runs deep but Shylock’s treatment is appalling. It’s Jew versus Christian, free market versus mateship, and all avowed with an articulate clarity that was, at times, simply breathtaking.  Again, the work fronts the issues, it doesn’t take sides, leaves that to us, but the case is made, narrative developed, exposed and moved on at lightning speed. 

This is incredibly clever work: the swapping of the Portias and Nerissas is timed to perfection, the courtroom action with Balthazar and his clerk dispensed with in brutal and perfunctory fashion, and the ring trick teased out with a lightness and ease that was delicious.

There are lines that ring incredibly true, that are phrased and delivered in ways that are justly memorable – Portia’s ‘quality of mercy’ speech and the chilling Tarry, Jew. The law hath yet another hold on you and, in happier times, thus shines a good deed in a naughty world and by my honour which is yet my own which leave us in no doubt that Bassanio’s marriage is going to be no male-dominated jog in the park.

These three productions are extraordinary examples of what can actually be achieved and I admired them all immensely. Each actor and musician, crew member and director should feel immeasurably happy – and proud – with what they’ve achieved individually and as a group. The Shakespeare Globe centre CEO and board should be mighty happy too.

It came as no surprise then that Hawthorne’s work was so astonishingly good. It almost embarrasses me to say so. Almost, but not quite. No-one – and I mean no-one – drives a play as he does, makes exits and entrances intrinsic parts of the intelligence of the narrative, makes simple sense of wild complexities, builds achievement-based teams who can tear a passion to tatters, to very rags yet show admirable and essential discretion when it’s needed as well. He is truly the master – as director, motivator and teacher – and I salute him as such.

What a joy for each and every student to have experienced this past week. The theatre should change lives and these young lives will never be the same and, for many, it’s not over yet as there is a trip to London, to the Globe itself, in 2013 and what a trip that will be. To stand on that stage and speak those lines.

The evening ended on a special note also. The assembled company, rehearsed and conducted by Philip Griffin, sang Thomas Morley’s memorable Elizabethan madrigal ‘April is in my mistress’ face’and‘Ka waiataki a Maria Hine i whakaae’ whichwastaught to the company by Zac Swift and Harriet Maire.

The evening concluded with a feisty haka – ‘Tika Tonu’ – taught to the company by Joseph Raea and Monique Clementson and lead superbly by Jospeh Raea. Stirring stuff – as if we needed more!

The work of Dawn Sanders and The Shakespeare Globe Centre is exceptional. Simply exceptional. The extraordinarily detailed programme advises us that ‘the SGCNZ 2012 NSSP performance is the culmination of a week of intensive workshops and rehearsals Like an old tale which I have matter to rehearse. This line from Act V of The Winter’s Tale reminds us that this is “a work in progress with the process being more important than attempting to unrealistically achieve a brilliant finished product in this short time.”

I suspect no-one told the directors and the actors because this is astonishing work in any space of time. Sure, given all the paraphernalia that modern theatre technology has to offer, a product that was swisher might have been possible but I was reminded throughout that making performance art is really about bare boards and passion and nothing much else. It’s what happened in Shakespeare’s day and this evening of theatre was true to the spirit of those incredible Elizabethans.

I suggested to Dawn Sanders after the show that Shakespeare Globe Theatre New Zealand might investigate the possibility of establishing yet another national Shakespeare festival, this time for gold card carrying senior actors, as there seem to be plenty of us around. She seemed quite warm to the idea, probably realising that, by the morning I’d have forgotten all about it.

I left the theatre thinking of Rogernomics and Ayn Rand, those ill-advised advocates of the free market who proselytise that if an activity can’t pay for itself it has no right to exist. If that was the case The SGCNZ National Shakespeare Schools Production 2012 – or of any other year for that matter – would not have been possible and there’s no question in my mind that our world would have been the worse for that. Dawn Sanders asked that we all keep them in mind, when we’re talking to friends about cool things to invest in. Personally, I can’t think of anything better than this.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.


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