Two William Shakespeare plays, Hamlet and Measure for Measure, are running at the Pop-up Globe in Auckland for a limited season until March 31.
Former Whangārei Girls' High School student Summer Millett is Ophelia, the lead female role in Hamlet.
Other cast members in the two productions include the Pop-up Globe's in-house Nottinghams Company.
The award-winning idea to stage Shakespearean plays in pre-fabricated replicas of the famous Globe Theatre was born in Auckland and since exported to Sydney and Melbourne.
An estimated 600,000 people have seen one of the Bard's masterpieces at the Pop-ups on both sides of the Tasman since the first season in Auckland four years ago.
The first Hamlet the company has staged is directed by associate artistic director David Lawrence.
Pop-up Globe artistic director and founder Dr Miles Gregory said it marked a major milestone.
"Hamlet is quite rightly regarded as the best play ever written. It is not only packed with lines that almost everyone will be familiar with - "To be or not to be, that is the question" is probably the most famous - but is a truly great work of art that explores the human condition in a way that few other plays can match.
''If you haven't seen Hamlet before, this is a great opportunity to see why this play changed the way we think about ourselves as humans."
So what's Hamlet all about? Existential angst, for one thing, as evident in that ''to be or not to be'' speech among other famous ones, and revenge, indecision, betrayal, grief, madness and battles of the soul.
The play begins with the student prince of Denmark, Hamlet, returning from overseas for his father's funeral and finding his mother Gertrude now married to Claudius, the late king's brother.
Hamlet decries the marriage as "foul incest", and is worried the Danish crown has gone to the wrong head. He fears for his country.
Careering from innocent young man to victim to instigator, the young prince becomes as much devious avenger as conflicted, post-traumatic-stress-disordered, bereaved son.
The character is very nuanced. For hundreds of years, audiences, critics and academics have recognised Hamlet as brave, noble, wronged, melancholy, prone to excessive reflection and unwilling to take action despite heinous wrongdoings in the rotten state of Denmark. (Complex, indeed, but this writer has always found Hamlet the character irritating and Hamlet the play over-cooked. Interestingly, of all the summaries and analyses I've read, the one provided by Summer Millet in this article is one of the most compelling.)
Hamlet is often described as a play within a play because of its double plottery.
To put the wind up his mother and her new husband, Hamlet has actors perform a play re-enacting the murder of his father. He also convincingly acts insane in case the two drop their guard and spill some beans.
It's a spook-ridden play, the ghosts alluding to loyalty, conscience, obligation and evil.
The ghost of Hamlet's father implores his son to avenge his death; his friend, the former court jester Yorick (alas, he knew him well) appears as a skull.
But Hamlet has issues of confidence, his self-doubt and reluctance to own the events ending in a bloody mess before he stops acting and takes action.
As for Hamlet's love interest Ophelia, she really does lose her mind. She is grief stricken by the assassination of her father Polonius, the late king's adviser, and fears for the life of her brother Laertes who was Hamlet's friend until Polonius' death.
To top it all off, the self-obsessed, conflicted Hamlet then dumps the poor girl: ''Get thee to a nunnery.''
Spoiler alert: Ophelia dies. But did she fall or did she jump? Either way, her death is another directly related to Hamlet's own actions and the themes of revenge/power/conflict that drench the play.
Summer Millett has been a member of Northland Youth Theatre and Company of Giants, and is a recent graduate of Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School. In between performances as Ophelia, she found time to answer questions about her acting career to date.
Where did you go to school?
I went to Whangārei Girls' High School and my drama teacher Bill Walker fostered my love for art - creating new assignments for me to write, directing younger classes' shows, putting on amazing plays such as Brecht's Happy End in which I played Lillian and wrote some of the music for the production's songs.
I am very thankful for him. He let my mind run free and never held me back.
Where did your passion for theatre start?
A very young age. I remember being part of Stagecoach in Wales when I was 7 or 8, going to dance and acting classes there and putting on productions.
My passion for music came at an even younger age and hasn't left me, only grown stronger.
This is what I do and what I've always done. I feel like I am quite lucky because I've never wondered or had to figure out what I wanted to do. I've always known; it has never been a question.
How important in that process was Northland Youth Theatre and Company of Giants?
NYT and CoG have been immensely integral in my journey so far. They have allowed a space for me to explore all the aspects of theatre that excite me: writing, directing, teaching, performing, singing.
I grew up in a very strong, creative youth culture because of the people involved with NYT. In the same vein, Company of Giants produced the first theatre show I was ever in outside high school, The Odyssey, and to this day remains one of my most cherished arts adventures.
At drama school did you cover all aspects of the industry, and where do you want your career to lead?
I didn't, no, not all the things I wanted to achieve did I actually achieve. Honestly, I think I was a bit too young for drama school when I first started and could've made better use of my resources and time there.
Lots of that was due to mental health issues, moving to a new city and out of home for the first time, still being quite nervous and scared to really expose my thoughts and work.
In saying that, I am so glad I went when I did so that I am in the industry at this point. I think that is the biggest thing I take away from three years surrounded by hard working artists and industry professionals; an overwhelming sense of groundedness in myself, tūrangawaewae, overcoming the fear of it and getting down to the work.
I honestly don't know where my acting career is going to take me. I am currently front manning a rock band called Her Own Medicine with the wonderful Paul Mclaney and that will be my next adventure.
Who knows what will come but my gut tells me if I connect with the content/form of a piece of art, I will do all I can to be involved to tell its story. I love acting in film, I love connecting with an audience on stage, I love to sing, I love to draw. Who knows?
Tell me about the audition and rehearsals for the Pop-up Globe?
I had one 15-minute audition on the stage in which I forgot my lines to Katarina's "No shame but mine" multiple times over, then sang a neo-soul song, Slippin', by Eryn Allen Kane, and I left thinking I had completely ballsed it. Two months later I got offered the role of Ophelia.
Rehearsals have been intensive but incredibly rewarding when you get out there on the stage and get to tackle a beast like Hamlet surrounded by The Nottinghams, and at this point in time I wouldn't rather be anywhere else.
Do you pinch yourself?
I am thrilled that I get the experience of working Hamlet and Measure for Measure on the Globe stage to real people who care about what we're saying and leave feeling affected by our work and hopefully are moved, but in the same breath we all are - every person in the cast and crew. It is a great privilege.
I always think of Hamlet, the character, as swinging from emotional paralysis to overwrought hysteria. Hamlet needs to toughen up, the silly sop. No one in the play is particularly likeable. Am I being unfair?
Absolutely. I have empathy for every single character. Hamlet, in my opinion is one of the toughest characters in the play. He's accosted by a ghost of his dead father (that's enough to send anyone to the loony bin all by itself) then goes on a harrowing, life-destroying journey for justice; justice for himself but also for the people of Denmark.
He carries all this weight on his shoulders and still manages to do it with the utmost tact and cunning and at some points great care and pragmatism.
It is the story of when life gets too complicated and minds crack, and hearts break, and the line in the sand that we should never cross is washed away by the tides of pain. The queen is flawed, yes, but we all are. The king killed for power, but so many leaders have.
It's an incredibly relatable story when you compare it to what humanity actually is, not what we think a pristine society should look like. It's a mirror and not a nice, slimming one, it's a brutally honest one.
Have you found your own role easy to get into? Tell me about Ophelia?
In my experience, working with David Lawrence on my character and the play as a whole, there really hasn't been a "getting into the character" per se. I say very clear words that Shakespeare wrote for a very clear purpose for a very clear character.
Of course I'm acting and using conventions but at the end of the day on this stage my job is to have empathy for her, feel her pain and her love and be a vessel for the audience to hear this story.
I am one Ophelia in a long line of people who have played her and she was a very clear essence that I breathed in, right off the page. However, having that empathy inside for a girl overflowing with pain and sorrow is one of the most emotionally exhausting roles I've ever had to play and probably will be for a long time.
The mad scenes, on the other hand, are the most fun I have ever had on stage. I have set up games for her to play in her mind, going from one extreme to the other, laughing, screaming, rolling on the floor, crying, thrashing, kissing, hissing.
It is the most fun playground in the world, and half of that playground is the audience. Every night it's completely different depending on who I'm interacting with, how they respond. There have been some brilliant, unexpected moments so far between myself as Ophelia and a complete stranger, and that is one of the rarest experiences as an actor — really being live and playing with an audience to the point where it completely changes and for that moment it's out of your hands, it's in the air between you and it's as exhilarating you can get in theatre.
These days, it's mostly just black box theatre [unlike the Globe stage] with absolutely nowhere near as much connection with your audience.