Ngaio Marsh and Shakespeare

There’s a Ngaio Marsh birthday party event at Christ’s College Old Boys Theatre this Sunday 24 April. The event is a fundraiser for the Ngaio Marsh House and Heritage Trust, and includes wine, nibbles, and a talk on crime fiction by Professor Ken Strongman. Find out more on the Ngaio Marsh birthday event on Facebook.

Crime writer and theatre director Ngaio Marsh’s actual birth date is 23 April, and she shared a birthday with Shakespeare. It’s doubly appropriate – as her production of Shakespeare’s plays were widely acclaimed. This is Ngaio as Hamlet …

Baverstock, William Sykes, 1893-1975. Ngaio Marsh - Photograph taken by W S Baverstock. Dacres-Mannings, J :Photographs relating to Dame Ngaio Marsh. Ref: PAColl-0326-09. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23167157

If you want to find out more about Ngaio and Shakespeare, I recommend the splendid Inaugural Ngaio Marsh lecture – it was given on 22 April 2012 by Elric J. Hooper, MBE who appeared in several of Dame Ngaio Marsh’s acclaimed Shakespeare shows. He explains how they met (pages 10 and 11):

Three years later, in 1956, I was appearing in a student revue in the Civic Theatre and Gerald Lascelles told me that Ngaio Marsh and Charles Brash wanted to meet me. I went up to the empty stage after the performance. Two figures were standing there. The man was reticent. The woman was flamboyant. She was dressed in a handsome, three-quarter length seal skincoat. She was wearing a grey woollen skirt – not trousers. Her hair was wildly dressed. She smoked a cigarette. She asked me what I had been doing. Said Macbeth.
“Not the thane!” she said in alarm.
“No, A lord. Lennox.” I said putting her at her ease.
She mentioned that she was about to direct Lear.
A few weeks later, I auditioned for Ngaio. I was chosen to play the Fool in King Lear.
It was a memorable production with Mervyn Glue as the King, salivating so copiously that looking up into the lights one did not have to imagine the rain and storm. The costumes and set were blue grey. The set was a curved podium which a descending ramp on one side and steps down the other. In the centre was a kind of shelter for hovel. It worked extremely well.

Cast of Hamlet. Marsh, Ngaio :Photographs of theatrical productions. Ref: PA1-q-173-73-2. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23074208

His summary of Ngaio as Shakespearean director is a good one (page 10):

One of the great features of Ngaio’s Shakespeare were the moments that can only be described as “Theatrical.” Hamlet, at the end of the speech which concluded the first part, “The play’s the thing whereby I’ll catch the conscience of the King,” threw the loose sheets of the play in the air and stood there while the leaves descended around him. In Julius Caesar, hands were bathed in blood. In Lear, the eyes were ripped out.

Hamlet, produced by the University of Canterbury Drama Society and performed at the Civic Theatre [11 July 1958] CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0039
Hamlet, produced by the University of Canterbury Drama Society and performed at the Civic Theatre [11 July 1958] CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0039

More about Ngaio Marsh

Three New Zealanders: Ngaio Marsh

#shakespeare400 tweets

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