The Pumphouse celebrates 20 years of presenting Shakespeare under the stars with an ambitious double-header that traverses the extreme poles of the Bard's art: The robust humour and strange enchantments of The Tempest entice us to experience "such stuff as dreams are made on"; while King Lear asks the audience to "feel what wretches feel" and confront what it is to be human in the face of intolerable affliction.
In such productions, some unevenness in the quality of performances is inevitable but the principle roles are all delivered with great clarity and conviction while the presence of so many capable young actors attests to the quality of drama education in New Zealand schools.
The Tempest is enlivened by Liam Herlihy's remarkable take on Caliban that is perfectly attuned to the play's lively blend of humour and pathos.
Jason Moffat convincingly conveys the force of Prospero's rough magic along with the frustrations of maintaining order amongst his rebellious subjects. Emma Campbell's Ariel is a spirited and surly servant while Alice Allfree brings an appealing sweetness to Prospero's headstrong daughter.
In King Lear Rex Steele elicits great sympathy as the beleaguered monarch who loses his sense of identity along with the trappings of royal authority; Trevor Sharp builds a heartrending image of human frailty as the blinded Gloucester.
John Dawson lends an engaging and down-to-earth quality to the loyal Kent while Melissa Williams-Pope and Caroline Phillips combine well to express the callousness of Lear's scheming daughters.
Kate Young and Geoff Gunn bring plenty of energy to the rivalry between Gloucester's sons though the decision to play Edmund as a woman feels awkwardly at odds with the text which provides no basis for a statement about gender fluidity.
The dearth of Shakespearian productions from Auckland's professional companies is offset this year by the arrival of the Pop-up Globe under construction behind Q-Theatre. The stage is set for a stunning summer of Shakespeare.
• Shakespeare in the Park: The Tempest & King Lear.
• At The Pumphouse, Takapuna to February 13.