CULTURE Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival 2019
“Frame your mind to mirth and merriment, which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life!” With characters like the drunk Christopher Sly and a pageboy dressed in drag, Shakespeare was undoubtedly all about the foolery when it came to his comedic masterpiece The Taming of the Shrew – a perfect selection for this year’s entry in the SGCNZ University of Otago Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival. Held on Saturday 6 April at the Middleton Grange School theatre, the College team of six actors, one student director and I, along with teams from seven other schools, spent the day performing a range of Shakespearean scenes to a packed house. This annual event involves half of all secondary schools in New Zealand, over 5500 students. It is watched by more than 200,000 people and is what keeps the Bard alive in our students today. Each team is encouraged to demonstrate engagement with Shakespeare's plays by performing excerpts in new and interesting ways, with the goal being selection for the national festival in Wellington. The scene we chose shows how a belligerent drunk gets his comeuppance. Modernising the costumes, we found ourselves in a swindler’s world with a snoring, scruffy, comatose Christopher Sly (Claude Tellick) splayed out on the stage. Enter two swindlers (Oscar Gosling and Ed Davidson), dressed in snazzy black and white suits, followed by their “servants” (Thimeth Wijesinghe and Henri
Quested) hired to play this elaborate prank on the unsuspecting Sly. They say their gracious leader, Sly, has been asleep for 15 years and now they are ecstatic to see he has awakened and must remember he is actually a “mighty Lord”, not a drunk, and should behave accordingly. Towards the end of the scene, his “wife” in the form of a cross-dressed pageboy (James Currie) is shoved comically on stage and instructed to go and flirt with the slovenly Sly. Currie’s comic timing, reactions and facial expressions won the laughter of the audience and ended the scene on a high note. The delight evident in both the actors and audience is a credit to the extensive work these young men put into creating such an entertaining scene. After spending lunchtimes and after school hours for six weeks auditioning, blocking, rehearsing
scenes and learning lines, the hard work proved rewarding at the competition. Although College did not make it through to the finals, bested once again by Cashmere High School, these students have shown outstanding aptitude and eagerness for the Bard’s work. They were awarded the prize for Best Connection with the Audience, and Josh Mortenson won an award for Best Student Director. Josh also wishes to acknowledge the hard work of Alistair Morgan and Oscar Gosling as assistant directors. Each year we seem to find new, exciting ways to explore Shakespeare’s work and world – and who knows what next year will bring? One thing is certain, we will be treading the boards with gusto in 2020.
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