It was the unexpected consequence no one anticipated: that Pop-up Globe, started in 2016 to stage Shakespeare's plays in a replica of his second Globe Theatre, would be so successful it would draw audiences away from the 55-year-old Auckland Summer Shakespeare at the University of Auckland.

Rather than face a winter of discontent, the Auckland Summer Shakespeare Trust has made some changes. It didn't stage a large outdoor summer production earlier this year because it's opted to do almost the exact opposite.

It's launching a winter season with The Changeling, a play that wasn't even written by William Shakespeare.

One thing hasn't altered. Widely acknowledged as one of New Zealand's leading exponents of Shakespeare, Michael Hurst is at the helm. Hurst is also a "Jacobean tragedy fanatic" who's directed or acted in productions of Tis Pity She's a Whore, The Duchess of Malfi, The Revenger's Tragedy and The Changeling in 1990.


"It's in winter, indoors and not actually Shakespeare and one of the reasons we did that was to respond to the pressure that's come on with Pop-up Globe," he says. "Their success has been fantastic but it has had the effect of drawing away the Shakespeare dollar, which is limited in this city, so it's a function of the city as well.

"We have to think differently and go at a different time. Rather than just disappear, we thought, 'let's take a step in a different direction and no one else is doing this work so let's go for it!"

The Changeling, by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, is considered one of the Jacobean era's most masterful tragedies and will be performed in some of Auckland's most intimate theatres.

That's fitting given Jacobean theatre tends to be darker than that of Shakespeare, possibly reflecting social changes that followed the death of Elizabeth I but also responding to audiences who wanted more realistic depictions of the world they were in.

While that started during the latter years of Elizabeth's reign, the stories staged became increasingly concerned with the nature of evil. Psychological thrillers, with more sex and violence, were the hot ticket items of a voracious 17th century theatre-going public.

The Changeling has all these elements.

Originally, two storylines were shot through the play; both complicated relationship entanglements, one was a dark tragedy and the other, although set in a madhouse, more comic. Hurst has done away with the secondary subplot, so he can focus on the more sinister of the two: Beatrice loves Alsemero but is engaged to Alonzo so she hires a "hitman" De Flores to murder her future husband - but once the deed is done, she discovers De Flores doesn't want money or jewels as payment.

Hurst says a fascination with "the dark side" remains as potent today as it ever was. He wants to explore "proximity, intimacy and high-octane acting" at close quarters — an experience that can't be downloaded or seen in bigger theatres. Why a Jacobean play?

"Because they're out there! If you look at the twisted nature of the psychology of human beings; look at Netflix and Amazon Prime and look at all those things, what are the shows that are getting inside people's minds? All of that stuff is there and this is in a similar vein but it's intense because they say everything and you are in a room with them."

In keeping with the Auckland Summer Shakespeare, a training ground for young actors, the cast includes emerging actors including Anthea Freya Hill, who's worked with Pop-up Globe, Mel Odedra, Caleb Wells, who plays Westside's Sparkie, Jono & Ben's Edwin Beats, Jonathan James, Travis Graham and newcomers Ruby Payne and Shona Harris.

Lowdown / Preview
What: The Changeling
Where & when: University of Auckland Studio Theatre, June, 29 June — July, 7 July, 7.30pm & 10pm; Pumphouse Theatre Takapuna, July 9 — 13, 7.30pm & 10pm; Vault, Q Theatre, July 18 July — 28, 7.30pm & 10pm and Uxbridge Theatre Howick, August 2 & 3 August, 7.30pm