A larger than usual group of Whangārei secondary students will be representing Northland at the national Shakespeare Festival finals in Wellington after top-quality performances at the regionals this month.
The Tai Tokerau Regional Shakespeare Festival was held at Kamo High School and involved 59 Whangārei high school students from five schools performing different scenes from Shakespeare's plays and sonnets. The categories were won by Whangārei Boys' High and Tauraroa Area Schools.
The competition was judged by actress Laurel Devenie, her father and actor, Stuart Devenie, and previous competition winner Luke Baker.
"Both dad and I have judged at these events before over the years and we were really surprised at the quality," said Laurel. "I think it was really high across the board. We really enjoyed it and found the decisions quite tough."
The schools involved were Tauraroa Area, Whangārei Boys' and Whangārei Girls' Highs, Kamo, Pompallier and Making a Scene theatre group. They entered two categories; a 15-minute category directed by a teacher and a five-minute student-led category.
The winners of the 15-minute category, Whangārei Boys' High School (WBHS) Year 13s, directed by Fiona Churchill, performed a style of Macbeth that Stuart had never seen in the 40 years he had been working with Shakespeare.
"I would love to see a full production in that style," he commented.
Judges were also impressed with Tauraroa Area School's student-directed Henry V, using Te Reo and Māori/English encounters, instead of French/English. This was directed by Delphi Sturgess and Darius Martin Baker.
But it was the five-minute excerpts that proved difficult for the judges to decide on, resulting in two winners.
Laurel said that WBHS's Comedy of Errors and Tauraroa Area School's Titus Andronicus were equally deserving.
While the Tauraroa group used Shakespeare words from Titus Andronicus to show how women have been treated over the years through a dramatic trio of chorus and choreography, Comedy of Errors was "side-splittingly ridiculous". Both groups will be representing Northland in the national festival.
For confidence and charisma in his role, among other accolades, Tauraroa's Darius Martin Baker was selected for direct entry, meaning he will go straight to the next process after the Wellington finals to work in a week-long intensive with professional directors.
Winner from 2013 Luke Baker said he was "proud to see the festival going strong" and believes "Tai Tokerau punches above its weight".
Te Tai Tokerau Regional Shakespeare Festival co-ordinator Debi Walters-Brown said that, once again, Tai Tokerau had delivered.
"The bard is strong in Northland despite attempts from MOE to limit Shakespeare in schools, as identified by senior adjudicator Stuart Devenie. Shakespeare's themes and words resonate with today's youth."
Opportunities abound from the Wellington festival, said Laurel, who performed there herself as a teen.
"There are judges down there selecting people who stand out (for further performances). It can really have quite a dramatic effect on people's trajectories and pathways."
A total of 22 Northland students will travel to Wellington for the event and will be carrying out fundraisers in the lead-up.