Paul Chapman checks out the treat in store for pl' />

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Shakespeare is back at Te Puna Quarry Park after last year's successful outdoor debut. Paul Chapman checks out the treat in store for play-goers. Actress Suzy Sampson made a promise to the people of the Bay in 2015: if her first Outdoor Shakespeare received enough public support, she would put in the hard yards to turn the event into an annual feast on the cultural calendar. It did. Residents and visitors flocked to A Midsummer Night's Dream at Te Puna Quarry Park to enjoy sunlit summer's evenings with a picnic, a bottle of wine, or simply to soak up the magical performance. This month, Sampson's Twice as Good Productions is back with another of the Bard's delightful comedies, As You Like It, with the sylvan setting of the Dragon's Lawn lending itself ideally to the Forest of Arden, where most of the action takes place. "It's the perfect location," says Sampson, who is directing the production. The story tells of the noble Rosalind - one of the best female parts Shakespeare wrote - who stumbles her way through the forest with her cousin Celia and the waggish court jester Touchstone. Disguised as a youth for her own safety, Rosalind falls in love with the wronged Orlando and their budding romance is at the centre of a tale of pastoral delight that harks back to an England now sadly long gone. With its cross-dressing, wit, humour, bucolic bungling, and finally forgiveness and reparation, As You Like It has long been one of Shakespeare's most popular works. "We have almost an entirely new cast compared with last year," says Sampson. "Casting has had its ups and downs but as we have lost some actors we have been replacing them with even better ones. "I am really excited about the talent we have this year, especially seeing what the youngsters are bringing to the play. They bring a dynamism of their own. "I spend my time in rehearsals grinning like a Cheshire cat, they are so good." Newcomer Brittany Betjeman takes the leading role as Rosalind. "She is so good you would never know she has no previous experience," says Sampson, "and chemistry happens between her and Orlando, played by Oscar van der Beek. "She also works so well together with Tamanna Khurana, who plays Celia." David Simes from Mount Maunganui College is Touchstone, a shrewd judge of character whose name Shakespeare appears to have taken as a metaphor from the "touchstone" that was traditionally used for identifying precious metals when they were struck against it. Simes and Kaydin Budd, from Te Wharakura o Mauao, who appears as Le Beau, have both been selected to be part of the Young Shakespeare Company travelling to The Globe in London and the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2016. "Only 22 students from around the country were selected to go to The Globe as part of the Sheilah Winn festival," says Sampson, "and I have two of them." Sampson herself takes on the role of the melancholy Jacques, who delivers the moving and often quoted Seven Ages of Man speech. "There are a lot of famous quotes in this play," she says. "It's a wonderful piece of writing." She has again insisted on getting costumes tailor-made to the highest quality in the United States and China. "I have gone 18th century," says Sampson. "I was inspired by the gorgeous costumes in The Duchess, which starred Keira Knightley." Musical arrangements within the play are by award-winning singer-songwriter Leah Carroll. The "stage" has been rotated by 90-degrees from last year to make better use of the trees on the Dragon's Lawn, but is still convenient for buying coffee and snacks from the stalls that will be in attendance, toilet facilities and parking. Sumptuous picnic hampers will again be available for purchase. Opening night is Wednesday, January 27, and the play will run from Wednesdays to Sundays until February 7. Shows start at 7.30pm. And there is another treat for show-goers. Before each evening's performance a seven-piece ensemble from Bethlehem College will be playing Baroque music to get audiences into the mood for Elizabethan revelries. Tickets for 2016's Outdoor Shakespeare at Te Puna Quarry Park are available from Ticketdirect. The production's website is at www.summershakespeareinthebay.com.