Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Shakespeare Festival

Last night we went to the - wait for it - Otago Regional Festival of the Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand University of Otago Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival. Yeah, I know, quite a mouthful.

Basically it's the regional part of the finals that will take place in Wellington at the National Festival later this year. 48 of the young actors chosen to represent NZ then go on to work together for a week in the National Shakespeare Schools Production. I wrote about this last year, when the NSSP week was held in Dunedin. And then 24 of those actors are invited to go to the Globe in London for a two and a half week intensive course with actors, directors and back stage staff. They finish up doing a performance there.

I hadn't been to the regional festival before, and of course the standard varies quite a bit compared to the productions that are presented in the NSSP. The performances are either five minutes or fifteen minutes (roughly). The five minutes, I think (I missed out on getting a programme), are generally directed by the students themselves. The fifteen minute ones are directed by drama teachers in the schools.

As I say, I didn't have a programme, so I can't name names, but I wanted to make a few comments. Overall the standard was high, and there were some wonderful moments of pure theatre, and some laugh-out-loud moments. Shakespeare still cuts the mustard.

There were also scenes in which actors, having learned their lines, spoke them at such speed that not an actual word could be heard, or ranted them in such a way that the sense was lost. Part of the learning curve, I guess. Shakespeare just needs to be spoken; he does all the work for you. Speak it clearly and we'll all hear it and (mostly) understand it.

And some actors were on the move the whole time - I'm not going to focus on any particular performances in this regard, because too much movement is something the directors need to deal with. Actors can be just as intense standing still as moving. On the other hand, standing still in a line saying a couple of pages of dialogue is the other extreme, as happened in one piece.

But there were many wonderful things: the four boys doing the scene from Love's Labour's Lost, in the equivalent of a messy student flat. Hugely energetic (one lad leaping straight up into the air and into a large box; quite a gymnastic feat), and very entertaining. The French/English lesson from Henry V was done absolutely wonderfully, with the French being spoken as fluently by the two actresses as was the broken and battered English. And the young man playing Henry did a great job too. The background actors in this piece were also wonderfully on the mark, and the costumes and props were excellent.

The incredible fight scene from Romeo and Juliet, with Tybalt and Mercutio throwing each other off the stage onto the floor of the theatre, narrowly missing a chair that had already been tossed down there, and leaping up and down onto the stage again in the course of it.

A very much over the top performance of Pyramus and Thisbe from A Midsummer Night's Dream; it was almost too over the top but managed to maintain the balance. A good strong performance of the Brutus/Cassius scene from Julius Caesar. Quite a difficult piece to do without the context of the rest of the play.

An intriguing performance of a scene from The Tempest in which a very athletic-looking Prospero berated Ariel (continually bowing down and slithering around the stage; one time in which all the movement was justified). Prospero's make-up was crazy, and yet it worked.

These are the stand-out performances that come to mind immediately. I may remember more as the day goes on, in which case I'll add them into the post.

You can see some photos from last night's performances on the ODT website. 

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