Shakespeare in the Park celebrates 20th anniversary

By Dionne Christian

Theatre royalty - Shakespeare in the Park founder Carol Dumbleton (centre), with Rex Steele as King Lear and Alison Cowan as Gonzalo from the Tempest. Photo / Fiona Goodall
Theatre royalty - Shakespeare in the Park founder Carol Dumbleton (centre), with Rex Steele as King Lear and Alison Cowan as Gonzalo from the Tempest. Photo / Fiona Goodall

After 20 years of running Shakespeare in the Park, there isn't a lot that surprises the event founders - and Shoreside Theatre stalwarts Carol and Allan Dumbleton.

They recall when a young actor named Benjamin Mitchell appeared in Othello, took his shirt off and girls in the audience went berserk (Ben Mitchell later turned up on Shortland Street as Dr T.K Samuels). Another young actor, James Napier Robertson, went on to write and direct feature films including The Dark Horse.

Then there was the night when actor-turned-journalist Andre Hueber, irked by noise from a nearby party, stomped up the hill at Takapuna's Killarney Park in full costume complete with realistic-looking sword, to tell the revellers to pipe down.

Once it rained so much - oddly, given the uncertainty of Auckland's weather, an unusual occurrence at Shakespeare in the Park - the audience moved from the PumpHouse Amphitheatre into the main theatre, but actors still had to do costume changes outside.

"And the actors have to be fit because sometimes we have them enter from the top of the amphitheatre which means they have to walk up the hill," says Carol.

This year marks the 20th continuous year of Auckland Shakespeare in the Park's annual season of two plays. The Dumbletons have chosen King Lear and The Tempest for 2016, which run on alternating nights during a four-week season and are directed by Craig Julich-Serventy and James Bell.

Shoreside Theatre has staged both plays before but Carol says the tragedy and the romance are among Shakespeare's most popular. After 20 years, she and Allan appreciate it's best to stick with the tried and true.

The first Shakespeare in the Park was Richard III and among the 39 staged by Shoreside are The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Othello and Henry V. Though King Lear and The Tempest have been done before, Allan and Carol say every production is different because actors and directors bring their own touches. All adhere to Shoreside Theatre's number one rule - to portray Shakespeare's plays genuinely.

Allan, now president of Shoreside Theatre, believes Shakespeare in the Park owes its longevity to presenting the Bard's works true to the original text and period.

"When people come to Shakespeare in the Park at The PumpHouse they know what they're going to get: a play that is easy to understand and just as we believe Shakespeare intended it to be," Allan says.

"Our mission statement is to do Shakespeare's plays in the style true to his period. Shakespeare's language holds up so well that there's no need for gimmicks."

The desire for authenticity extends to the costumes, with a storage lock-up packed full of Elizabethan-style costumes made by costumer Lyn Carlisle who usually starts work on the next Shakespeare in the Park when the current season opens.

Begun in 1976, Shoreside Theatre originally encompassed Milford Playhouse Incorporated and Milford Little Theatre. Carol, who came to New Zealand after she met and married Kiwi Allan, had focused on children's theatre but says as the young players got older, they wanted more challenging material - so she introduced them to Shakespeare. "They weren't doing it in a schoolroom, just reading it boringly with a teacher, but they got to speak it and be the characters and dress up and they just loved it."

Shakespeare in the Park grew to include older and professional actors; the PumpHouse built an amphitheatre and, in 2010, Carol was honoured as a Companion of North Shore City for "exceptional service to the North Shore Community benefiting present and future generations of the Auckland region".

Performance

What: Auckland Shakespeare in the Park - King Lear and The Tempest
Where and when: The PumpHouse Theatre Amphitheatre; January 16-February 13

- Weekend magazine

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