Anne Tenney emerges from a stage combat class, clad in black activewear and still looking a little surprised to find herself in Auckland, working in a replica of Shakespeare's second Globe theatre, based at a racecourse.

This isn't a place the much-loved Australian actress ever expected to find herself but, at 64, she's in the midst of a career resurgence that has seen her starring in plays far removed from the two roles she's best known for.

Those include much-loved mum and "the greatest cook on Earth" Sal Kerrigan in the cult Australian comedy film The Castle 21 years ago. Previously, she'd brought nearly the whole of Australia — and a sizeable chunk of New Zealand — to tears when, as young mum Molly Jones in A Country Practice, she died an untimely and tragic death.

Pop-up Globe is her new castle where, for the next four months, she'll appear in Richard III as the Duchess of York, mother of said monarch, and in The Taming of the Shrew in a smaller role as a wealthy and independent widow.

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"I'm not what you would call an expert in Shakespeare," Tenney says. "I never got the opportunity to do much Shakespeare but I've always loved it and I'd been doing some workshops. Then I got asked if I wanted to audition so I'd thought I'd give it a go."

Because, as she says, if you don't give things a go then you'll never know and, in the last few years, she's done just that and played some intriguing characters — a homophobic mother still coming to terms with the death of her son from Aids, in the play Mothers and Sons; a New York drug dealer in Stalking the Bogeyman.

The Duchess of York is quite a different character. She's a woman of gravitas, influence and based on a real-life historical figure, Cecily Neville. An English noblewoman, she was the mother of two kings of England — Edward IV and Richard III — and survived the deaths of her husband and many more of her children. Reputedly a proud woman with a sharp temper, she lived until 80 — quite a feat for anyone in the 1400s.

Anne Tenney (second from left) as Sally Kerrigan in the hit 1997 Australian movie, The Castle.
Anne Tenney (second from left) as Sally Kerrigan in the hit 1997 Australian movie, The Castle.

Tenney says it's her first time playing such a powerful character. Choosing her words carefully, possibly trying to avoid the phrase "type casting", she believes that's because there's a deep pool of talent and those known for playing certain roles get offered the same ones again and again.

"It was fantastic to be cast as a drug dealer and it's great to get this role. I'm looking forward to the whole experience," Tenney says. "I'm usually slow to make decisions. When I heard I had the part, to take it was one of the quickest decisions I have ever made. I thought I'd jump in boots and all."

So, now it's combat classes and learning Jacobean-style jigs along with lines and rehearsals on a formidably large stage in a theatre built out of scaffolding. Surrounded by Shakespeare aficionados, Tenney feels a bit like she's back at drama school — in a good way.

While confessing that baking sponges isn't her strong suit, she says the experience of playing two of Australia's most recognisable screen characters puts her in good stead for her role as the Duchess of York.

Her serial-killer-son Richard will be played by Stephen Butterworth, who's been a fan favourite at Pop-up Globe since it began three years ago. Also joining them are Dave Fane, Sheena Irving and Kevin Keys in a now gender-balanced cast.

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Lowdown:
What: Richard III and The Taming of the Shrew
Where & when: Pop-up Globe; from November 17

Peter Pan Goes Wrong and the two Pop-up Globe plays are just three of the summer productions opening in Auckland in the next three months. Others to get booking for include:

Shortland Street — the Musical: The nation's favourite TV drama gets its musical theatre debut in an all-singing, all-dancing Auckland Theatre Company production with cliff-hanger storylines and musical numbers like Not in Guatemala Now and The Five Wives of Doctor Warner. The cast includes Lisa Chappell, Mark Hadlow and Chris Parker. Shortland Street — the Musical, ASB Waterfront Theatre, November 14-December 9

Here Lies Love: It's an unlikely musical marriage but when David Byrne and Fatboy Slim made a concept album combining political history and dazzling disco-pop to chart the rise and fall of Imelda Marcos, somehow it worked like a charm. Now Silo Theatre's taking five powerhouse female vocalists, including Ria Hall and Jennifer Ward-Lealand, and turning Q Theatre into a Studio 54-ish cabaret den.
Here Lies Love, Rangatira at Q Theatre, November 22 — December 8

Shrek the Musical: Some 200 budding young performers from all over the Auckland region re-create the story of an ogre named Shrek who finds himself on a life-changing journey with a quick-to-quip donkey and princess who's no damsel in distress. Staged by the National Youth Theatre Company, it's a family musical not be missed. Shrek the Musical, November 30-December

Disney's Aladdin — the Musical

: Got some time of your hands this Labour Weekend? Then we strongly recommend starting your Christmas shopping by booking tickets to this blockbuster which comes direct from an Australian tour. It really is the most lavish Disney musical to fly into town — 300 costumes and more than 700 props — and features some from the Academy Award-winning film including

Friend Like Me

,

A Whole New World

and

Arabian Nights

.

Disney's

Aladdin — the Musical

, Civic, from January 3

Madiba the Musical

: Billed as powerful and uplifting, this production celebrates South African leader Nelson Mandela. It's a true epic which explores the struggles, racial conflicts and divisions which confronted Mandela as he sought reconciliation in South Africa. Expect pulsating African rhythms, haunting drama and inspiring songs in a unique theatrical experience.

Madiba the Musical

, Bruce Mason Centre, January 24-February 3