Last week at the fabulous Pop Up Globe in Auckland, I went along to see Richard III, Shakespeare’s depiction of the last Plantagenet monarch’s rise to power.
Richard III is often simultaneously described as being a comedy, tragedy and historical play. This production perfectly captured the comic side which can often be difficult to portray with such a villain at its centre. Richard mercilessly manipulates and murders his way to the top, still managing to win audiences along the way with his wonderful way with words and memorable speeches. Think House of Cards but with fantastic Jacobean period dress and swords.
Is it also a tragedy? This, I guess, will depend on how attached/frustrated/indifferent you become towards the other figures in the play. Richard’s contemporaries are certainly not portrayed as being the biggest and brightest on the block (unfortunate pun that I am sure Shakespeare would approve), with some, such as Lady Jane, seemingly complicit in her own doom.
As to the play’s historical label, audiences have to be wary of Shakespeare’s bias (or perhaps just adaptability to the times), considering his audience included Elizabeth I, the granddaughter of Richard’s successor, Henry Tudor. In this production there were also some modern references – the two princes in the tower were sulky teens sporting headphones, while Richard’s hired thugs presented themselves as street wise gangsters. These small hat tips to the modern day were subtly done and received some good laughs.
Against the beautiful backdrop of the replica Globe Theatre, the performance was given just as it would have been in Shakespeare’s day, without microphones and depending solely on the power of the actor’s voice. The cast really knew how to draw in their audience – at times even making their audience the actual audience, to Richard’s coronation, for example.
As with all of Shakespeare’s plays, universal and timeless themes come through, such as the abuse of power and man’s journey into evil. If you think Shakespeare isn’t for you and you don’t see the point of pondering over all those footnotes, you really should think again. It is often said that everything you need to know is in Shakespeare – and really who could disagree? No one has ever managed to capture the good, the bad, the ugly, the wise and unwise quite like the Bard, and no one has ever managed to surpass his beauty and mastery over the English language.
The library has many resources to help you start or continue your journey through Shakespeare’s oeuvre including copies of his works and free to borrow DVDS of his plays. If you can’t make it to the Pop-up Globe, locally our own Court Theatre often has a Shakespeare production on the way, and there is also Top Dog’s open air theatre to keep an eye out for.
One of the prizes in our Winter Read Challenge for teens is three double passes to see Astroman at The Court Theatre. This show is on from 27 October to 10 November. It sounds like a ripper – the 80s, video games, and Michael Jackson moves:
It’s 1983, and young Hemi ‘Jimmy’ Te Rehua knows how to dominate the games at the Whakatāne Astrocade Amusement Parlour. Too smart for his own good, Jimmy has a knack for trouble.
In this vid, playwright Albert Belz talks about Astroman to The Court Theatre’s Artistic Director Ross Gumbley.
We asked Albert a few questions:
How would you describe your play Astroman in a couple of sentences?
A coming of age story set in the small town N.Z. 1980s where a young boy genius discovers what it really means to be brave.
Do you have any tips for teens who want to get into writing plays?
Write with humour about the things that make you most angry.
What are your fave things – games, books, comics, movies, tv etc?
Twenty years ago, Hone Kouka wrote a play for the New Zealand International Arts Festival, set in the 1960s called Waiora. It toured nationally and internationally for several years afterwards and has been staged in places as diverse as the UK, Japan and Hawaii. It is studied in universities and high schools.
Waiora is being restaged in Christchurch at the Court Theatre and I spoke to playwright Hone Kouka about the play. He describes it as “an immigrant story”, specifically that of his own family who moved from north of Gisborne to the Catlins, later settling in Rangiora.
One of the key phrases for me, was my mum said a few times that it felt like we moved to another country. So it was a really interesting story of being like immigrants in our own country. And yes there were other Māori there… but even so for her going from a community that was predominantly Māori to a community that wasn’t was a major shift.
And my family eventually settled in Rangiora and have pretty much been there for the last 30-odd years. So that’s pretty much the basis of my family, and that’s where the story came from. My dad was a saw miller, and I just wanted to pay a homage, to a degree, to them.
It’s really interesting being here in Christchurch. There are a lot of new immigrants here…
For this reason and others, Kouka feels that Waiora is as relevant now as it’s ever been.
There are a lot of reasons why I said yes to it happening down here, just engaging with the Māori community down here. There are a lot of great artists and yeah, just wanting more art in regards to all the changes that have happened to the city. And it’s great to be partnered with the Court Theatre and they are working really hard to try and engage with Māori here which is just fantastic.
One of the reasons it’s being done here at the Court was that 20 years ago it was done here as well, at the old Court Theatre…
He’s hopeful the play will encourage people, Māori particularly, to discover theatre.
Lots of Māori I know would never have been to the theatre before. This (play) is a really great example of something that’s travelled around the world and is lauded over there and bringing it back for our people… It’s been a great experience to be back here.
It’s just an art form that Māori don’t usually associate with and that’s really what it comes down to, and what I’ve found is lots of the shows that I’ve put on around the world, and around New Zealand, once Māori turn up they go, oh yep, this is ours… and it (Waiora) covers a whole lot of things in regards to us as Māori – there’s haka, waiata, reo all through it as well – and that’s one of the things that theatre, because it’s live, can do that books can’t. That you’re actually living and breathing it.
We’ve got kapa haka exponents in the play as well and I wanted to wrap those art forms up. So it’s really bringing together, the strength of Māori all over the place to tell a Māori story.
He goes on to explain that theatre offers something that other media can’t.
I spend a lot of my working world between the film and the theatre industry, and at the moment people want a live experience because they’re constantly in front of screens, and they want, actually, communication with other human beings.
…it’s not like a movie. You can’t talk through it. You can’t turn it over or anything like that – it’s right in front of you. You can hear them breathing. You can see them sweating and people really like that.
Kouka has worked on recent features such as Mahana (based on Witi Ihimaera’s novel Bulibasha) so I asked him if there is much of a difference working in film and working in theatre.
Yeah there is. I was the original screenwriter for it (Mahana) and then I was one of the producers. I prefer theatre to the film industry. And the biggest difference is money, to be honest, as it therefore goes through more people’s hands, and as an artist it’s more diluted – what you create. And that’s why I prefer theatre because you can say exactly what you want to say, how you want to say it, where you don’t have to abide by the finances and things like that. So it’s just more difficult that way.
I feel really lucky that I can move between the two. Mahana and Born to dance are two projects that came out recently that I worked on and I’ve got others coming up as well. So I’m just really lucky that that’s what I do – that I’m an artist who moves between both art forms.
Oh the horizon are another film project, travel, and more indigenous theatre.
Our company’s got a new feature that’s basically, you know the French film Amelie? – it’s a Māori Amelie. I wanted to write something that was light and really colourful, bursting with energy… so that’s where that came from. So I just had a Skype meeting with a financier in Denmark so that’s one of the most recent.
I leave on Saturday to do a theatre project to travel to Vancouver – our company’s got a co-production with 2 Canadian First Nation companies over there, It’s super active at the moment and it’s really on a big upswing, and that’s another reason why I wanted to engage with Christchurch and get the Court Theatre involved because globally there’s a lot of work happening – in Wellington it’s really on a big upswing and upsurge there so it seems to be a good time to be involved in Māori work and travelling around the globe because they’re very open to it, which is great.
When it comes to libraries he is unequivocally in favour.
I didn’t start reading until I was about 7… and then I went crazy. I love them. For me, it gives me time to think because it’s quiet, most of the time, if that makes sense?
Libraries, they’re essential. They’re great meeting places. They are places of space and thought – that’s really what I associate with libraries. They should be one of the absolutely protected things that we have. It’s important for us to have knowledge and share it and at times the Internet – there’s not always a lot of depth to what you can gain from there – but you can from books. And also I really love the tactile nature of books. I really love them.
It’s been about 18 years since I first met The Boy Who Lived. My little brother — he was about 9 at the time — introduced me to Harry Potter, and lent me the first few books. By book four, I wanted my own copy, so I bought it, and The Philosopher’s Stone too, with the book voucher Mr K gave me for our first wedding anniversary (it’s the paper one). When he saw what I’d chosen, Mr K said “what did you want that for? You’ve already read it!” But I had to have copies of my own. And from book five on, I had my copies on advanced order at my favourite book shop.
I have the full set now, of course — the ones with those distinctive colourful spines that are so instantly recognisable as Harry Potter — taking pride of place on my bookshelf, now flanked with my very own wand made the other day at Harry Potter Day at South Library (Miss Missy didn’t want one, but I did!). And I have read them all over and over.
So when I first heard about an eighth Harry Potter, I was so excited! But then I found out that it wasn’t exactly going to be a novel, and it wasn’t exactly by JK Rowling, and…well, I had my doubts. Could it be as good as the others? Would it really — count? Did I even want my own copy?
Well, Harry Potter Day decided matters for us. As well as getting sorted — Miss Missy into Ravenclaw, and The Young Lad and I into Hufflepuff (the perfect houses for us all, actually) — making wands, and drinking polyjuice potion, we were treated to a wonderful storytime reading from Scene One of the Cursed Child. At the end, Miss Missy looked at me and said
After this, we are going straight to the book shop!
And we did!
We decided we were both going to finish the books we were already reading first, so we didn’t actually start till Friday. I took it to work to read at lunch, while Miss Missy had teacher only day, and finished reading Mocking Jay in anticipation. During the weekend, we started out taking turns with the book, but ended up sitting side by side on the couch reading on the same page together. Miss Missy was always just ahead of me, so there was lots of gasping and squealing, and then waiting for me to catch up. There was even occasional page-covering when it got too exciting (does anyone else do that?) At 10 o’clock on Sunday night we had to force ourselves to stop, and on a cliff-hanger too!
If you’d asked me what I thought while I was reading Act One, I’d have said I was enjoying it more that I expected, but less than I’d hoped. Because I really had hoped that somehow, once I started reading, the words would scurry round the page and reform themselves into the kind of Harry Potter story I was used to. Magical as Harry Potter is, of course that didn’t happen. But after getting past the first bit, where I felt I needed the director telling me what he wanted so I could better understand the stage directions, not to mention my annoyance that important things and people seemed to be being ignored — and got to the REALLY good bit! Well! It’s just as exciting and magical, occasionally funny, a little bit scary, and a little bit sad, as any of the other Harry Potter books are.
I really have started to forget that I’m reading a play — even though the words are staying obstinately still — and just enjoying!
If you are one of the almost 200 people who’ve been waiting for it to arrive at the library, the wait is over! I unpacked our copy this morning, as did librarians all round town. And I’m sure you’ll enjoy too!
Whilst making myself aware of what library resources we have via the Source today I came upon ‘a gem’. Now I quite understand if you don’t think this tidbit of information is mind-blowing, because, let’s face it, we all appreciate different things.
If someone mentioned in passing that they had found a fantastic library resource all about the history of football which showed vintage games of yesteryear, you would probably find me in the foetal position banging my head on any available wall (not as easy as it sounds!). But theatre productions – now, that’s a totally different ball game (every pun intended).
I clicked on Music, audio & video and chose the option Naxos Video Library. I then selected the option Genres and Programmes which showed me Theatre. I would have had much more immediate fun if I hadn’t clicked on Opera, Monuments/History/Geography and Feature Films first, but maybe I had to wade my way through the potential of these first to truly experience the excitement I felt when – alphabetically by playwright’s surname – I found plays and theatre productions I had never heard of before. Some of these productions go back as far as 1960 with the most recent being a Shakespearean play put on at the Globe Theatre in 2011.
Anyway, back to the 1960s and 70s… Eli Wallach, Lee J. Cobb, Dustin Hoffman, Ingrid Bergman, William Hurt, Sissy Spacek, Jason Robards, Walter Matthau are just a few of the American actors who ‘trod the boards’ in their younger years before Hollywood beckoned. Some of the offerings are literally on stage sets, whilst others are televised versions of plays.
After much dithering I’ve decided to watch the 1979 production of Mourning Becomes Electra, Eugene O’Neill’s ‘classic American drama of love, revenge, murder and suicide’ with hopefully not a football in sight!
Have a look at the Naxos Music or Video Library next time you are on the library website – there’s a HUGE amount of material to cast your eye over.
Did you miss out? Fear not – there is another chance to win!
Today, at 1pm at Upper Riccarton Library, Colin McPhillamy (the actor who plays P.G. Wodehouse in ‘Plum’) will present an illustrated talk on Wodehouse and will read excerpts from his writing career. Colin will also talk about the play and there will be time for a Q&A session at the end.
Three spot prizes of double tickets to ‘Plum’ and an autographed show programme will be given away during the talk.
It promises to be a very interesting presentation and, who knows, you could be one of the lucky spot prize winners. Make sure you don’t miss out!
Being lucky enough to have some sneak peeks before the opening night of Plum, The Court Theatre’s new play, has really got me giddying up at the prospect of actually seeing it.
At the photo call in the Heritage Hotel this week, Laura Hill (the Muse) channelled Wallis Simpson (only younger and much prettier) with a touch of Dita von Teese and was unbelievably at ease while being photographed. Perhaps they have classes at drama school in how to obey instantly when asked for the “1940s off to the future” look.
Colin McPhillamy (Plum) was resplendent in a specially commissioned cardigan featuring every Arran pattern known to an expert knitter. He had taken one for the team in having his normally full head of hair shaved to resemble P. G. Wodehouse’s less well-covered pate, while Laura Hill’s brunette look called forth the question “who’s in charge of the wig”?
And I cannot resist sharing the set model which is made, to scale, before each show so the set construction team, props and tech departments know what to expect when it comes time to build, install and light. Do they keep them all and if they do can I see them? All of them?
Plum is a world premiere set at the most critical time of P. G. Wodehouse‘s life. The man who set off to be interned with a copy of Shakespeare, a pair of pyjamas and a mutton chop was accused of lending “his services to the German propaganda machine” and he never returned to England for the rest of his long life.
It’s going to be quite the combination of script, actors, costumes and set. I can’t wait.
Fiona Farrell has been adapting the Ngaio Marsh novel Photo Finish into a stage play SNAP! which is coming soon to the Court Theatre. She will talk about her task at the Elmwood Bowling Clubrooms, Heaton Street, Merivale on Sunday 15 September from 5pm to 7pm.
Photo Finish was one of the four Ngaio Marsh novels set in New Zealand. ( I seem to remember another involved someone crushed in a wool press and another offed in a mud pool – both truly Enzed ends). This one was written when she was over 80 years old, was well received and sold well. It was her second to last detective novel. It follows the traditional convention of a house party trapped in a storm except the venue was not a country house but a South Island luxury lodge.
The talk is a fund raiser for the Friends of Ngaio Marsh House. To book tickets, which are $25.00, contact Philippa Bates firstname.lastname@example.org The price includes wine or fruit juice, nibbles and a social half hour.
Ngaio Marsh House is a great cause to support. It is currently undergoing earthquake repairs and should reopen in September. It is well worth a visit. We have some photos which will give you a taster of what to expect when you visit.