The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
09/02/2024 - 18/02/2024
Play by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield
Directed by Lara Macgregor
A production for Dunedin Summer Shakespeare
A Community Theatre production, by special arrangement with Josef Weinberger Ltd. and
NZ Play Bureau Ltd.
Dunedin Summer Shakespeare is celebrating its 5th Anniversary Season — a true milestone for a Pro/Am company that wrapped its debut season a month before the first Covid lockdown, and has weathered the dearth in arts support since then to continue to offer FREE Shakespeare in the Park each summer.
This season will be a banner one, with co-founder Lara Macgregor joining DSS to direct THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (Abridged). She’s rounded up a stellar all-pro cast of 3 actors (Sara Georgie, Gregory Cooper, and Nick Tipa) to helm this riotous hit-and-run-comedy tackling “all 37 plays in 97 minutes”. Bring a rug, bring a mate, and get to know ALL of the Bard!
Dunedin Summer Shakespeare
5th Anniversary Season
FREE SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARK
9-11 and 16-18 Feb
Fri & Sat @6pm, Sun @ 4pm
Chingford Park (Wedding Area 1)
(North East Valley, Dunedin)
No booking required
Bring a rug, your sunnies — and a jumper!
Gregory Cooper (Actor 1)
Sara Georgie (Actor 2)
Nick Tipa (Actor 3)
Producer – Kim Morgan
Stage Manager – Sacha McConnon
Props/Costumes – Matthew Morgan
Marketing – Lucy Summers
Graphic Design - David Summers
Volunteers – Miriam Noonan, April McMillan-Perkins, Jessica Sutherland, Simon Anderson
Outdoor , Theatre ,
2 hours (including interval)
Summer Shakespeare is a gift to Dunedin
Review by Terry MacTavish 11th Feb 2024
‘Do you bite your thumb at me, sir?’ Tragedy begins with a biting of the thumbs (so much more ominous than a pricking!) we are loftily informed as the show begins, and yet here we are, immediately plunged into utterly manic comedy.
All praise to Dunedin Summer Shakespeare for its sheer grit in continuing to offer fabulous free Shakespeare in the Park five years in a row, despite covid closures and niggardly funding. This year one of the original founders, legendary Lara Macgregor, is back to direct three professional actors in that wildly popular spoof, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). Anything but a sincerely reverent look at the Bard’s work, this is quite some departure for these seriously talented Summer Shakespeare creatives, but they are versatile enough to carry it off triumphantly.
The Complete Works, which has been running successfully in London for longer than I can recall, appeals on more than one level: the old bard buffs enjoy pluming themselves on recognising the plays and the outrageous liberties and misquotes, while the youngsters roll on the grass laughing helplessly at every fart and vomit joke. (Brief pause to ponder whether the world’s hideous warfare might cease, if we acknowledged we are all one, in our absurdly childish delight in bodily functions…?)
With a dynamic director like Macgregor to crack the whip, the pace is exhilarating, and as promised, we race through 37 plays in 97 minutes, absolutely no chance of a moment’s boredom. In fact, the first half covers so many plays, that there is time to devote most of the second half to one play only, ‘the greatest ever written in the English language’, TheTragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Enough time, indeed, for a magnificent encore in which the cast see if they can run the whole play in even less time, say, a minute. Then backwards. Well, why not?
It is all completely mad of course – gory Titus Andronicus turned into a gruesome tv cookery show – anything to send up show biz and amuse the punters. A lightly sketched-in plot line has delightful Sara Georgie as a desperately eager wannabe Shakespeare scholar who gets everything mixed up, to the derision of her two superior fellow actors, Gregory Cooper and Nick Tipa. And somehow the trusted Wikipedia search lands them on Adolf Hitler, so we are blithely assured that William Shakespeare dictates Mein Kampf to Rudolph Hess before swanning off to invade Poland.
The play opens with a comparatively leisurely look at Romeo and Juliet: thumb-biting, sword-fighting, drinking poisons, and naughty passions. Realising a lax 12 minutes per play is going to take too long, the actors shoot off on a crazily spirited sprint through the comedies, achieved by merging all the ludicrously similar plot strands, reminiscent of Michael Green’s hilarious old Edinburgh Fringe skit All’s Well That Ends As You Like It. The cast is indefatigable, rehearsed to polished perfection, voices carrying well in the open air.
Yet even more taxing to the actors’ stamina is the Historical Play Marathon, ingeniously choreographed by Macgregor with the crown as football, requiring a phenomenal feat of combined verbal and physical dexterity that is accomplished with impressive aplomb. (And impressive visible beads of sweat!) Spoiler alert: Lear is sent off, penalised ‘for being a fictional character’.
But these three are after all experienced performers, inhabiting myriad roles with witty panache and too many clever flourishes to mention. Well, perhaps just a token few from Hamlet. Favourites of mine include Sara Georgie, last year a dignified Prospero, now portraying a cherubic Prince Hamlet, (her black bob wig perhaps a tribute to the great Sarah Bernhardt who frequently switched gender to play the doomed prince), psyching herself up hilariously in the famous ‘To Be’ speech, to end raving wildly about her own nightmarish dreams, before confessing she is more influenced by the Kardashians than the Bard.
Then there is Gregory Cooper as a manic blonde Ophelia, determined to build the role by enacting on-stage what should be the off-stage scene of Ophelia’s drowning, repeatedly and with total commitment, to the point of wildly dousing his/her face with water (which inevitably splatters the lucky front row). He has to be reminded ‘vomiting is not an interpretation, not even on Throw up Thursday!’ Quite some contrast, when in a rare serious moment, it is Cooper who gives a true and lovely rendition of ‘What a piece of work is man’.
Nick Tipa, a Summer Shakespeare regular who revealed a stunning Bottom in 2022, plays almost every other character, interacting delightfully with the audience, who are charmed even when he insists on calling them all Bob and telling them they suck. But audience participation is part of making the spectators feel they are true Shakespeare-wranglers, who know an iambic pentameter from a metaphor, and we respond readily, out-chanting other sections of the audience (as Ophelia’s Id, Ego and Super-Ego!) with noisy enthusiasm.
Matthew Morgan has provided a simple but winning set, two tents joined by a sheet on which is painted Will’s face. Various amusing props, dummies, and glove-puppets assist the three actors, with lightning-fast costume changes for the multiple characters, baggy tights, puffling pants and all. Nothing else is needed, as the actors are so engaging and the majestic mature trees surrounding the green lawn are so glorious.
Summer Shakespeare has tried out various parks, including the Botanic and Woodhaugh Gardens, but Chingford Park is the perfect setting, secluded and romantic, especially here on Wedding Space Number 1, where the big house once stood, now the favourite of every fierce Bridezilla.
I had thought The Complete Works might have been positioned in front of the original Stables. Many local artists fought to have the charming old Stables preserved, leaders among them Louise Petherbridge and Honor McKellar, theatre icons Dunedin has just recently sadly lost, who then gave entrancing musical, dance and theatre performances in the restored stone building. But it is a tad small for large audiences like today’s, so in wet weather the company moves to the cosy hall of Dunedin North Intermediate.
This is indisputably Popular Theatre, designed to provoke mirth while demystifying our most revered and earnestly studied playwright. The set up is deliberately casual, the audience relaxed, with rugs on the grass and fish ‘n’ chips wrapped in paper, and every patron is seemingly quite elated. A friend who is a well-known writer comments, ‘Wonderfully inventive and entertaining, a perfect night out for me and the grandies!’ thus confirming my belief in the wide appeal of The Complete Works.
Still, it does seem the perfect fare for school students, particularly as it costs nothing, and I hope every Drama, English and Physics teacher seizes the opportunity to coax their classes to Chingford for the liveliest, most provocative start to the academic year. Meantime, lugging my rusty deck chair, I slink shamefacedly through the happily buzzing crowd, not a penny in my purse for koha, when truly this is so well deserving of a generous donation! Long may it be funded – Summer Shakespeare is a gift to Dunedin.
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