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Twelfth Night

TimeOut (New Zealand Herald) , 13 July 2006



A Will to Laugh and to Learn

The latest Auckland Theatre Company production is just part of a feast of Shakespeare in Auckland, writes Dionne Christian

A new production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night--the one with "if music be the food of love, play on"--is promising theatregoers a stage comedy to chew on.

But it's just the maincourse of a mid-winter Bard banquet.

The Michael Hurst-directed Auckland Theatre Company play coincides with six nights of six experts exploring sex, murder, passion, envy, greed, humour and pathos in Shakespeare's life and work.

Organised by Auckland University's English Department, the Shakespeare in Winter lecture series features local and international experts including Hurst, who finds time in the Twelfth Night season to discuss Inventing Shakespeare.

Hurst is saying little about what he has conceived for Twelfth Night other than that the inspiration for its setting came when he was relaxing on Waiheke Island during summer.

The publicity describes Twelfth Night as "the ultimate in romantic tropical island getaways this winter", meaning it is bound to have a festive atmosphere.

It certainly has the cast to do so:  Paul Barrett, Jacque Drew, Oliver Driver, George Henare, Andrew Laing, Peter McCauley, Charlie McDermott, Paolo Rotondo, Jason Smith, Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Tandi Wright.

Hurst says the actors have enabled him to make Twelfth Night a physical and rich character-driven production where the audience remains one step ahead of the players.

Drew, who came to New Zealand from the United States with her Kiwi husband, says she thought it was professional suicide to be over 40 and shift to a new country.  But having had leading roles in The Women, Steel Magnolias and now Twelfth Night she is more relaxed about the decision.  Drew believes the richness of Shakespeare's work is best served by practised performers.

"It's like the Olympics of acting and you don't go to the Olympics without years of training and preparation beforehand."

Wright did some of that preparation at London's reconstructed Globe Theatre during an intensive training programme in 2004.

She says they performed soliloquies and excerpts from A Winter's Tale but this is the first time since then she has performed in an entire Shakespeare play.

"It feels like such a luxury and an opportunity to see if I can use a few tricks I learned, but ultimately all the answers are in the text.  As an actor, I think you almost need to get out of the play and let it do the work for you."

Regarded as one of Shakespeare's more sophisticated comedies, Twelfth Night is set on the sea coast of a mythical place called Illyria where a sister and brother are shipwrecked.

Fearing her brother drowned, Viola (Wright) takes on her brother Sebastian's (Rotondo) identity, spending most of the play disguised as his fictitious twin brother Cesario.

Cesario attracts the attention of Olivia (Ward-Lealand) who, in turn, is the object of Orsino's love.  But Viola is in love with Orsino and meanwhile the servants play a cruel trick on the pompous Malvolio (Barrett) by pretending Olivia is in love with him.

Cross-dressing and confusion reign in a play with underlying messages about the need to embrace what and who we really are in order to overcome obstacles to love--a common theme in Shakespeare's romances--and find true happiness.

Like most of Shakespeare's comedies, Twelfth Night has its funny moments and comedic characters, but there are melancholy currents and poignant references to wider fears and concerns.

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WHAT:  Twelfth Night

WHERE AND WHEN:  Maidment Theatre, July 13-Aug 5

WHAT:  Auckland University Shakespeare in Winter lecture series featuring Professor Tom Bishop on Shakespeare as an actors' writer; Professor Michael Neill on King Lear; Professor Emeritus Mac Jackson on whether Shakespeare really was Shakespeare; Professor Dympna Callaghan (University of Syracuse, New York state) on Hamlet, The Comedy of Errors; Professor David Schalkwy (Capetown University) on friendship, love and courtship in Twelfth Night, and Michael Hurst.

WHERE AND WHEN:  University Auckland, Wednesday, 6.30 pm. July 26-Aug 30


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