Auckland has a new theatre company dedicated to performing works by William Shakespeare, but its debut production is something never done before in New Zealand.

Rather than staging one of the Bard's 37 plays, the Auckland Shakespeare Company will launch with its own re-invention of the poem The Rape of Lucrece, written in 1594 and regarded as one of Shakespeare's darkest works.

It relates the historical legend of how Lucretia, the wife of a prominent Roman, was raped by a member of Rome's royal family and subsequently took her own life. The real-life incident is thought to have contributed to Rome becoming a republic.

The Artistic director of the Auckland Shakespeare Company, Rita Stone, says turning the poem into a play started with detailed readings of the text before consulting with the University of Auckland's Shakespeare expert, Professor Tom Bishop.


Stone and actors Anthea Hill, Calum Gittins, Daniel Watterson and Sheena Irving then produced a script, turning the words into a three-act play. Two characters, who act as narrators, and a six-strong chorus were also introduced to comment on and explain certain parts of the story.

She says once past the initial fears about taking such a risk, they found the process "creatively liberating".

"We realised we had this amazing freedom to create and perform. This is something we haven't seen David Tennant or Benedict Cumberbatch do on stage; there is no film version to be influenced by."

Composer Paul McLaney, who put Shakespeare's Sonnets to music for performances at the Pop-Up Globe, has written original music for the production.

Stone, who started the Young Auckland Shakespeare Company, says she has long wanted to start a company for older actors. She wants Lucrece to show the company isn't afraid to take risks and make provocative work that reflects contemporary concerns.

"This is a poem written in 1594 about an incident that happened in 535BC being turned into a play and performed in 2016, where you can see things like this playing out in the media right now," she says.

"I hope those who see this will be angry, upset and motivated to keep conversations going about why these things re-occur and the impact on everyone involved."

The play comes with warnings that it is recommended for those aged 16 years and older and includes themes of rape and suicide.

What: Lucrece
Where and when: Tapac, October 26-30