Unitec Theatre, Entry 1, Carrington Rd, Mt Albert, Auckland

30/05/2014 - 07/06/2014

Production Details

Featuring Unitec’s third year actors 

What has become an anticipated event on the Auckland theatre calendar – the 2014 Unitec Shakespeare season – is now upon us! 

Two directors, with a company of 10 third year actors each, create an 80 minute performance from one of the great works of our ‘ancestor in drama’ William Shakespeare. 

This year the dark, vengeful The Merchant of Venice is being directed by Elena Stejko. Set in the shadows and secretive waterways of the city the tensions of European tribal and religious prejudice becomes a treatise on the divine quality of mercy. 

In alarming contrast Ben Crowder directs an opulent and comedic Twelfth Night. Set in a millionaire’s playground this juggle of gender jumping celebrates the sufferance of romantic love, those who rejoice in its presence and those who are stung by its absence. 

This season of back-to-back Shakespeare sees Unitec acting programme at its best; talented and skilled performers, top industry directors and the Bard himself.

Don’t miss out!

Full Schedule:
Fri 30 May – Merchant of Venice @7pm
Sat 31 May – Twelfth Night @7pm
no show Sun 1 June
no show Mon 2 June (Queens Birthday)
Tue 3 June – Twelfth Night @7pm
Wed 4 June – Merchant of Venice @7pm
Thu 5 June – Twelfth Night @7pm
Fri 6 June – Merchant of Venice @7pm
Sat 7 June – Twelfth Night @7pm

Venue: Unitec Theatre, Entry 1, Building 6, Carrington Rd, Unitec Mt Albert Campus, Auckland

Cost: Adult $15; Concession /Unwaged /Seniors /Unitec staff $10; Student /Unitec grad $5

Tickets: On sale now at (09) 361 1000. Booking fees may apply.

Door sales limited due to high demand so book early to avoid disappointment. Saturday Matinee special $5 all tickets; Discount for pre-bookings of 4+.

Book here:  

Duke:  Orsino/Officer Craig Wilson
Sebastian:  John Burrows
Curio/Antonio:  Loren Black
Sir Toby/Priest:  Shane Jefferys
Sir Andrew/Officer:  Georgina Silk
Malvolio/Captain:  Elizabeth Morris
Clown/Officer:  Holly Osborne
Olivia:  Irasa Siave
Viola:  Natasha Daniel
Maria:  Elizabeth Turner  

A rollicking good night sans melancholy

Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 03rd Jun 2014

Having thoroughly enjoyed Elena Stejko’s work with the other half of UNITEC’s third year acting class the night before (The Merchant of Venice) I won’t deny I was looking forward to Ben Crowder’s production of one of my personal favourite Shakespeare plays, Twelfth Night. I’ve always enjoyed Crowder’s playful style and can imagine that the student cast would have appreciated and enjoyed his unique and effective way of working, as always collaboratively, on a play subtitled ‘What You Will’.

The pairing of The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night is fascinating for a couple of reasons. It was obvious from the previous night that women are being cast in traditionally male roles and, while they make a great fist of it, it is probably for expeditious reasons because, unlike Twelfth Night, there are no cross-dressed characters in The Merchant of Venice. Big ups to them all, they do an excellent job.

The second reason for fascination is the categorising of both plays as comedies. Sure, they are both funny plays but each also has a dark undercurrent running frighteningly beneath the romance, the excitement and the laughs. Shylock is perpetually at risk and so are his family, Antonio puts his life on the line, there are themes of violence and humiliation and all is not well in the state of Venice /London. Elene Stejko and her excellent young cast choose not to mine too deeply into the dark and menacing vein of The Merchant of Venice and I wonder how much of the melancholic despondency and deep sadness that permeates Twelfth Night will be explored by this second cast on their opening night.

Two Shakespeares in two nights is a big ask in anyone’s book but the UNITEC Performing and Screen Arts team has done it successfully before so it’s reasonable to assume, I say to myself, that they’ll do it again. 

It’s said ‘never assume’ and usually I don’t because I’ve had my bum bitten a fair few times in the past but I do on this occasion and, for once, my assumption proves correct. Twelfth Night is a classy production: neat, tidy, professional and, despite significant trimming – it’s a mere 90 minutes long, short even for a court play – the narrative holds together well. The quality of the story-telling is, as always with a Ben Crowder production, exceptional. 

There is no record of Twelfth Night being performed before Candlemas Night (02 February) in 1602, when it was performed at the Middle Temple Hall, one of the Inns of Court, where it was seen, and diarised, by law student John Manningham. He liked it a lot and commented at length on the trickery that reduces Malvolio to a jibbering wreck.

It’s probable, however, that the play may have been performed at Court in the Whitehall Palace on its own name day, Twelfth Night (6 January), in 1601.(1)

We do know, however, that it was certainly performed posthumously at Court on Easter Monday, 6 April 1618, and again at Candlemas in 1623, the latter performance coinciding with the original publication of the play in the famous ‘First Folio’. Contemporary references within the text date the play to 1601 which is always a help. 

The acknowledged source of the play is Barnabe Riche’s compilation of stories entitled Riche his Farewell to Militarie Profession conteining verie pleasaunt discourses fit for a peaceable tyme (1581). Riche, a soldier and writer more than two decades older than Shakespeare, included the story of Apolonius and Silla in his collection, though it’s probable that he, in turn, borrowed the plot either from the anonymous Italian play Gl’Ingannati (The Deceived Ones) – which was written and performed at Siena by the Academy of the Intronati in 1531 but not published until 1537(2) – or a story from The Novels of Matteo Bandello, Bishop of Agen: Now first done into English prose and verse by John Payne (6 vols).(5) 

It has to be acknowledged, though, that the plot of Gl’Ingannatiis much bawdier than that of Twelfth Night(4), which makes Riche’s version the more likely source but none of this really matters much as Shakespeare tidied it all up, changed many key elements and, voila, Twelfth Night!(3)

Shakespeare packs everything into the play – a storm and a shipwreck, twins (a boy Sebastian and a girl Viola), significant amounts of life-saving cross-dressing, a drunken knight (Sir Toby Belch), a feisty knight (Sir Andrew Aguecheek),a wonderful fool (Feste), two lovesick nobles (Duke Orsino and the Countess Olivia), a hunted sea-faring outlaw (Antonio), a very knowing maidservant (Maria) and a vainglorious steward (Malvolio) – all of whom appear in full colour and beautifully dressed (Lauren Dodman) in quasi-modern attire, in Crowder’s delightful production. 

The action involves an awful lot of disconnects, all of which are riotously funny, and Crowder’s particular gift for physical comedy suits this work admirably. 

Viola is shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria (modern day Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Albania). She loses touch with her twin, Sebastian, whom she thinks is dead. Disguising herself as a man and adopting the name Cesario, she joins the staff of the Duke Orsino. Orsino is pining with love for the countess Olivia, who is, in turn, grieving the loss of her father and brother and who refuses to see any man for the obligatory seven years. Orsino sends Cesario as go-between to profess his love for Olivia but instead Olivia falls in love with Cesario. Viola has, in the meantime, fallen in love with Orsino. Perplexed? Don’t be. It’s Shakespeare, so all will unravel and then knit together in the fullness of time. 

Sir Toby, Maria, Feste and Sir Andrew arrange, by means of a forged letter, to make Olivia’s steward Malvolio believe that Olivia has fallen in love with him. They do this as punishment for him telling them off for drunkenly disturbing the peace of Olivia’s house. The letter tells Malvolio to wear cross-gartered yellow stockings, to be rude to the staff and to smile constantly when Olivia is present. Malvolio finds the letter and responds accordingly. Olivia is stunned at the weird change in Malvolio and the plotters, playacting that Malvolio is mad, are permitted to lock him up in a dungeon. Feste visits disguised as a priest named Sir Topas and as himself, and torments poor old Malvolio, reinforcing his belief that he is mad.

Sebastian, rescued by the sea captain Antonio, arrives adding to the confusion when he is assumed to be Cesario. Olivia asks Sebastian to marry her which he does in secret. When the inevitable happens and both Cesario and Sebastian appear together to Olivia and Orsino, there is much confusion until Viola discloses that she is, in fact, a woman and that Sebastian is her long lost twin. The play ends with a proposal of marriage for Orsino and Viola, and we learn that Sir Toby has married Maria, and that Olivia and Sebastian are wed as well. Malvolio swears revenge on his tormentors and the play ends with Orsino sending a servant to console him.  

It’s a convoluted old jumble but in Crowder’s sure hands and with his cast’s able assistance everything becomes clear and, as with all good comedies, the audience is kept one step ahead of the action, anticipating the mayhem.

The production is classy and tight but there are tensions early on as Orsino (the gorgeous Craig Wilson) doesn’t seem to be particularly love-sick and Olivia (the ‘Kardasianesque’ Irasa Siave) doesn’t seem to be much in mourning. While this works against what the text is telling us, we are carried along by the plot and some not too subtle cutting, and it ultimately doesn’t distract us too much.

Viola (Natasha Daniel) draws on every ounce of her innate maleness and is an extremely credible – and striking – Cesario. Hers is an excellent performance, richly nuanced and with a handle on the language that makes it both intelligible and easy on the ear. Her transition back to Viola, achieved by simply removing her cap and letting down her luxurious long hair, is quite magical and elicits more than a few gasps on opening night. 

Shane Jefferys’ drunken Sir Toby, Georgina Silk’s rubber-legged Sir Andrew and Elizabeth Turner’s prim Maria comprise a most remarkable assemblage of rapscallions and it’s easy to see why there is no substantial repercussion to their wicked tormenting of Malvolio (Elizabeth Morris): they’re simply just too agreeable for words. They’re also a talented bunch and make their clever knockabout slapstick with the planters seem just so easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. 

Sebastian (John Burrows) has a wonderfully piratical air which suits the character to a tee and complements the far more sober Antonio (Loren Black) very well indeed.

As I’ve already said it is a thoroughly enjoyable, and at times a rollicking good night but I’m not altogether sure I should have gone home quite so happy. The ever-present melancholic, and often sinister, undercurrent in the text isn’t played at all and it seems to have been a considered choice to make this Twelfth Night a ‘what you will’ of a different hue. I’m happy with that because it is clearly a calculated decision and the other choices made throughout are an absolute joy so it would be carping of me to harp on about it so … I’ve said it, and let that be an end on’t.

I absolutely adore Elizabeth Morris’s, long-limbed, cross-gartered, cross-dressed and mustachioed Malvolio. She fits into Malvolio’s skin as smoothy as an elegant foot slips into a tailored yellow stocking and is never out of sync with the whole. Her craft is impressive and she meet the not inconsiderable challenges of this character in this production admirably.

Having said that, I am even more impressed by Holly Osborne’s Feste. Shakespeare’s clowns are enigmatic and hard to get a handle on but Osborne manages to be true to the production and yet embody the tradition of Shakespeare’s great fools /clowns as well, which is no mean feat. She comes and goes from Countess Olivia’s house at will, is friends with everyone but no-one, plays along, disappears but is seemingly omnipresent. Hers is subtle, understated work and just what the doctor ordered. Osborne sings ‘Feste’s Song’ superbly, a snippet of which is sung by another of Shakespeare’s great fools in King Lear, and it’s probable that she could sing it in any style asked of her and in any production, such is her command of the idiom.

The full house on opening night clearly loves the production, the actors are in absolute command of their vehicle, lighting (Jane Hakaraia) and sound (Matt Borland) are divine and Brent Hargreaves’ set, in use for both plays but adapted somewhat for Twelfth Night, is as functional and attractive as anything I’ve seen in a month of Sundays. 

Yet again, Ben Crowder has done a fine job with young actors, all of whom deserve to enjoy the remainder of a most successful season. Well done, John G Davies and UNITEC: great work! Well done on both productions.

It’s strangely prescient, though, that the essence of the season can seemingly be summed up in Feste’s last quatrain:

“A great while ago the world begun
 With hey, ho, the wind and the rain.
 But that’s all one, our play is done
 And we’ll strive to please you every day.”

No question, they certainly do that.


Hotson, Leslie (1954). The First Night of Twelfth Night (First ed.). New York: Macmillan. OCLC 353282. (Accessed 02 June, 2014)

Luce, Morton. Riche’s “Appolonius & Silla,” an Original of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” Oxford University Press, 1923.

Salingar, L.G. “The Design of Twelfth Night,” in Twentieth Century Interpretations of “Twelfth Night”. Prentice-Hall, Inc. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), 1968.

Payne, John ‘The Novels of Matteo Bandello, Bishop of Agen: Now first done into English prose and verse’


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