Things are getting fruity at Pop-up Globe as the company prepares to farewell Auckland – possibly for good.
Rising Aussie star Darcy Kent strides into the replica theatre wearing a bright yellow banana costume while Jess Hong, taking on her biggest live role to date, is dressed as a giant strawberry. They're playing Romeo and Juliet in a new version of Shakespeare's much imitated and performed 16th-century play, which is usually staged as sombre tragedy ending in the deaths of the two young lovers.
"When they said Romeo, not in any universe did I realise I would be wearing a banana suit," says Kent.
"Well, I'm absolutely stoked. I always wanted to play some sort of seeded berry," says Hong.
The cast will dress as fruit – or in fruit-themed costumes – for the Capulet ball scenes early in the play. It's designed to give audiences a different interpretation of the romantic drama, which, claims Pop-up Globe artistic director Dr Miles Gregory, is shot through with comedy.
"Romeo and Juliet ends as a tragedy but, I would say, much of it is comedy. It looks as if everything will work out, everyone will be happy and we will move from chaos to order with it all ending in a marriage but instead we get something different," he says.
"It goes from comedy to tragedy; the more comic we can make the first half, the greater the depth of tragedy we can experience in the second half. If you don't achieve that, you actually diminish the tragedy. It's a clever way of wringing as much emotion out of the play as possible and is one of the reasons Romeo and Juliet has stood the test of time."
It could be said that Pop-up Globe, the phenomenally successful enterprise that opened in Auckland in February 2016, is doing something similar as it prepares to pull down its 17m-high theatre at the end of March. Its closing season will feature bigger fight scenes than ever before, massive dance and musical numbers and performers abseiling onto the stage meaning while it may be gone, it won't be forgotten.
The company, based at the Ellerslie Racecourse for the past three years, will travel to some of the world's biggest cities thanks to a partnership with global entertainment giant Live Nation. Gregory says the plan was always to tour its productions and, so far, Pop-up Globe has enjoyed blockbuster seasons in Sydney, Melbourne and now Perth.
He would have liked to have found a way to keep the theatre up and running in Auckland – a production office will remain here to develop its shows - but it hasn't proved possible. Gregory points out that Pop-up Globe has injected millions into the local economy and created some 212 acting jobs filled by 125 actors aided and abetted by a full creative team.
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Actor Stephen Lovatt, who joined Pop-up Globe in 2018 to star in MacBeth, says the dismantling of the 900-seat theatre will be a sad day.
"It's a wonderful performance space where the audiences have a great time and I'm sad to be losing that." says Lovatt, the first New Zealander selected for the Shakespeare's Globe International Actors Fellowship. "Once I'd done MacBeth, I wanted to come back."
Fellow actor Greg Johnson says the building, which combines scaffolding technology with the 400-year-old design of Shakespeare's second Globe theatre in London, is as much a character as those in the plays.
"I love this theatre."
• Pop-up Globe's "The Summer of Love" begins on Friday, December 13, and includes its new version of Romeo and Juliet and a reprise of its most popular show, Much Ado About Nothing. Other productions at the Pop-up Globe's youth theatre production All's Well That Ends Well and The Children's Midsummer Night's Dream. It closes its season in March with the West End hit Emilia about the "dark lady" of Shakespeare's sonnets.