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Fire-breathers, minstrels and courtly dancers will bring The Winter’s Tale to life on the banks of the Manawatū River this week, says Sara Brodie, Massey University artist-in-residence and director of the 2017 Summer Shakespeare.
The highly respected and experienced director, choreographer and New Zealand Arts Laureate cites The Winter’s Tale as one of her favourite Shakespearian plays because of its riveting plot, fantastical premise and setting and its cast of strong female characters.
Seen by critics as Shakespeare’s ‘problem play’ with its sudden swerve from acute tragedy to rousing comedy, Ms Brodie, however, considers this a bonus that contributes to a rich theatrical experience.
“The Winter’s Tale is known as something of a tragicomic conundrum as the first three acts are intensely psychological and dramatic, yet, from the pivotal entry of a rampant bear the play veers abruptly into broad comedy,” she says, referencing Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction in Act III: ‘exit, pursued by a bear’.
A later work by the Bard penned in 1611, this year’s Summer Shakespeare promises to be epic in scale and offers something for everyone. A cast of 40 includes Massey University staff and students, as well as musicians, fire-breathers and a bear. The production features four major dance sequences including two Elizabethan courtly dances, (Pavane and Galliard) choreographed by Ms Brodie, with original music by Suzi Hawes.
Valentino-inspired costumes with a gothic twist are the realm of behind-the-scenes theatre artists Lee Matthews and Karen Newton, known for their creativity, resourcefulness and attention to detail in creating wow-factor outfits.
The plot hinges on the irrational Leontes, King of Sicilia, who wreaks havoc on those he loves most, having become consumed by jealousy after a visit from his old friend, Polixenes, the King of Bohemia.
Leontes’ wrath is invoked after he sends his pregnant wife, Queen Hermione, to persuade Polixenes to return for another visit. Leontes suspects she’s had an affair with Polixenes so arranges for his old friend to be poisoned whilst declaring his unborn child illegitimate and throwing his wife in prison.
The oracle of Apollo decrees his throne will be forever without an heir until, “that which is lost be found”. Through acts of defiance, kindness and a good dose of luck, a condemned child survives.
“Only one voice can move the King – Paulina is Shakespeare’s most forthright and reasoned female, who – just like those old wives that tell wild tales by the fire on a winter’s night – speaks wisdom,” Ms Brodie says.
After a gap of 16 years of repentance, that which was lost is found, a queen is brought back from the death and a daughter restored. Whether all is forgiven or not, Shakespeare leaves up to his audience, says Ms Brodie, with the play concluding with an essentially happy ending.
For veteran actor Paul Lyons, a senior lecturer in computer science in the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology, The Winter’s Tale is his 25th Shakespearian production and among the 90+ theatre shows he’s performed in. Finding the structure of the speech is the key to learning the lines and delivering them to younger audiences in a way that transcends the 400-year timespan since they were written, he says.
This year the production takes place amid festive ambience off the bridle path on the banks of the Manawatū River, down the path from the paddling pool near the Esplanade Cafe. Vendors will be lined up on site for those in need of sustenance. Seating is available, with easy wheelchair access and plenty of space for picnickers. The audience meeting point is either on site or at the paddling pool for a processional walk five minutes prior to performance time.
Summer Shakespeare has been a popular Manawatū tradition since 2003.
Christchurch-born Sara Brodie brings a wealth of national and international theatrical experience to the Summer Shakespeare production, from dance to theatre and opera. She worked in London as an actress, dancer, casting director and theatre teacher, then as the Head of Acting at the Wellington Performing Arts Centre.
With roles as movement director and choreographer at Musica Nel Chiostro, Italy and then New Zealand Opera, she embraced a new direction working more in opera as well as other dance-theatre and musical performances. She’s worked at both community and national level, and went on to direct numerous opera, music, dance and theatre productions including Nixon in China, for the Auckland Arts Festival, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time for Auckland Theatre Company, and The Magic Flute, for New Zealand Opera in 2016.
Performances are March 2, 3, 4, 9, 10 and 11, starting at 7.30pm with a matinee on March 5 at 2pm. Entry is by koha.
The site in the Esplanade is the bridle path on the banks of the Manawatū River, down the path from the paddling pool near the Esplanade Cafe. The audience is asked to meet at the paddling pool for a processional walk down five minutes prior to performance time.
Visit the 2017 Summer Shakespeare Facebook page.
Created: 28/02/2017 | Last updated: 28/02/2017
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Watch stunning aerial footage of Massey University's Manawatū campus.