Twelfth Night

Maidment Theatre, Auckland

13/07/2006 - 05/08/2006

Production Details

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Michael Hurst
Original music composed by Jason Smith

Set Design: John Verryt
Lighting Design: David Eversfield
Costume Design: Elizabeth Whiting

Auckland Theatre Company

“Michael Hurst. . . proved yet again that he is our finest interpreter of the Bard.”
– Gilbert Wong, Metro

“Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”
– Malvolio [reading a letter sent him to send him up – ed], Act II, Scene V, Twelfth Night.

Tandi Wright picks up where Gwyneth Paltrow left off in Shakespeare in Love as she brings to life Twelfth Night’s gender-bending heroine, Viola. George Henare stars as the aptly named Sir Toby Belch and Paolo Rotondo as Viola’s twin, Sebastian.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Oliver Driver, Paul Barrett, Andrew Laing, Charlie McDermott, Peter McCauley, Jason Smith and Jacque Drew complete the stellar line-up of first-class stage actors.

Lyrical, emotional, bitter-sweet and hugely funny, Twelfth Night is a spectacular concoction of cross-dressing and confusion where everyone is in love with the wrong person. Viola loves Orsino who loves Olivia who loves Sebastian and his twin brother Cesario who also happens to be Viola!

Michael Hurst and his superb cast unscramble the confusion, madness and mayhem all the while breathing new life into Shakespeare’s most poignant comedy.

“I’m astounded by how rich it is – a delicious jewel full of love and light, whilst still piercing with tears of exquisite agony. Shakespeare would have had to have experienced love in all its extremities before he could have written Twelfth Night”, says Michael Hurst.

Auckland Theatre Company Artistic Director, Colin McColl, is thrilled Michael Hurst is on board to direct for Auckland Theatre Company.

“Because he knows Shakespeare so well – Michael is able to take wonderful lateral leaps of interpretation – to bring us a Twelfth Night which is exotic and familiar, accessible and aching with desire”, says Colin.

With luscious costumes by Elizabeth Whiting, set design by John Verryt and an original musical score by Jason Smith, Twelfth Night offers the ultimate in romantic tropical island getaways this winter.

Twelfth Night – the heart of Auckland Theatre Company’s Things We Do For Love season – is a rare opportunity to see some of our finest theatre talent reinvent Shakespeare’s most perfectly constructed comedy.

Paul Barrett
Rachael Blampied
Jacquie Drew
Oliver Driver
George Henare
Ben Kissell
Andrew Laing
Peter McCauley
Charlie McDermott
Brian Rankin
Paolo Rotondo
Jason Smith
Esther Stephens
Jennifer Ward Lealand
Tandi Wright

Theatre ,

2hrs 15mins, incl. interval

Intoxicating drug of love

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 17th Jul 2006

Michael Hurst’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night or, What You Will, is exquisitely crafted, beautiful, and enormously accessible. The continuous ripples of hearty laughter from the opening night audience, who willingly interacted with the players, is testament to his triumph.

Hurst’s last two Shakespeare’s have been dynamic yet intense tragedies, so it is refreshing to see his uncompromising mark stamped on one of the Bard’s greatest comedies. In particular, his bold direction of Feste the fool, (played by Oliver Driver at his unique and comic best), giving him total artistic freedom to weave in and out of Shakespeare’s text, results in a Twelfth Night showered in freshness, yet true to the original manuscript in all other regards.

Opening in gloomy shadows, immersed in musical melancholy, then plunging into a black storm, Hurst wastes no time casting us upon the shores of Illyria, where John Verryt’s set has a vastness to it that defies the size of The Maidment. Beach, sea and sky, stretching the width of the stage and beyond, evoke a feeling of endless summer days in a land of love, long lasting parties and mid summer madness.

Costume Designer Elizabeth Whiting complements to perfection. Choosing warm tones, she takes full advantage of Hurst’s c.1950s setting, with exquisite style and class that would turn heads at NZ Fashion Week. By contrast, she dresses Feste initially in black and white, ready to flirt with anarchy. However, Whiting’s crowning moment is saved for Malvolio.

Lighting Designer David Eversfield relishes every opportunity to paint Verryt’s backdrop beautifully, and skilfully enhances many stunning tableau moments such as Olivia first entrance. However, it is a shame that on occasion faces were left in shadow during important narrative and exposition.  

There are many, many outstanding performances, in particular Paul Barrett as the sober puritan, the enemy of fun, Malvolio. Every aspect of his performance, from vocal delivery to physicality, is simply outstanding. 

George Henare’s perpetually drunk Sir Toby’s is expertly performed, oozing effortless craft. Peter McCauley’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek makes the perfect cohort for indulgence. Add to their mischief, Jacque Drew’s lippy, sassy Maria, and this unbeatable trio freely exploits every opportunity for humour. They are enormously entertaining in their revelry.

Right from his spectacular entrance, Oliver’s twist makes the phrase "Or, What You Will" his own, as he segues between his own words and the Bard’s, effortlessly. Among his many performance highlights are his appearance at the end of interval, and his taunting preacher-man.

Jason Smith, described as The food of love in the programme, does indeed provide a musical feast throughout the evening. As Musical Director / Composer, he has achieved what some would think impossible, by drawing out a Nick-Cave-like voice, from deep within Driver, to create three outstanding vocal performances. In addition, as Fabian, not only are Smith’s original piano stylings a forte throughout the evening, he shows through his muted interplay with Driver and others, that a little goes a long way.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand as Olivia, graces the stage with powerful presence, and disarming stillness. But as this untouchable lady in mourning is undone by love, her transformation is superb.

While Paolo Rotondo and Charlie McDermott strike up a solid comradeship as Sebastian and Antonia, Rontondo’s most focussed work is alongside Ward-Lealand, at one point, conveying all he needs to, with a simple turn to the audience.

As Viola, Tandi Wright conveys great vulnerability and truth. Although she occasionally underplays the vocal variation and physical energy needed for such a multi facetted role, her scenes with Andrew Laing as Orsino, (who wallows in the misery of unrequited love to great affect), deliver some well-crafted comic inter-play.

Ultimately the cast is a pot pouri of vastly different acting styles and strengths, yet under the skilful guidance of Hurst, these fifteen converge in a land swayed by endless liquor and the madness of love in all its manifestations, and collectively become a mirror to all aspects of the human psyche.

Finally, thank you to the Auckland Theatre Company for assembling a cast of fifteen, including four capable students on secondment from Year three of UNITEC School of Performing and Screen Arts. The satisfaction of enjoying quantity as well as quality is a rare experience for regular theatre patrons these days.

If you’re looking for humour and warmth to combat the mid winter chill, look no further than Twelfth Night. Its intoxicating drug of love guarantees fun, laughter, and a truly satisfying, happy outcome.


Beth Sundberg July 18th, 2006

This is a MUST SEE production. Everything works: brilliant direction, an amazing cast, imaginative set, lighting, and costuming. And I totally agree that ATC should be commended for putting on a production with this huge and talented cast. It doesn't matter if you love Shakespeare or just like a great comedy; prithee get thee to this show!

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