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CULTURE Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival

“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention, a kingdom for a stage, princes to act and monarchs to behold the swelling scene!” These unmistakeable opening lines of Shakespeare’s historical play Henry V immediately conjure up the passion, imagination and magic required for actors to perform such lofty scenes on a bare, wooden stage. What greater challenge for our Year 10 students than to take this 400-year-old text and transform the Old Boys’ Theatre into a battleground, a sailing ship, and a stately palace? The annual SGCNZ University of Otago Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival engages half of all secondary schools in New Zealand and over 5,500 students – and is what keeps the Bard alive for our students today. Each team is encouraged to demonstrate engagement with Shakespeare's plays by performing excerpts in new and interesting ways in the hopes of selection for the National Festival. While a global pandemic made the festival impossible to perform for a live audience in April, appropriate changes and precautions were taken to develop the first ever digital submissions. And so, our troupe of thespians raced to perfect their iambic pentameter for the camera in our very own theatre. Shakespeare’s Henry V is a brilliantly self-aware play that opens with the Chorus painting a picture for the audience and apologising for the lowly actors that must endeavour to bring this epic tale to life. We took this idea and a series of scenes

to show how these humble actors, armed with only scraps of costumes, makeshift props and a Brechtian style, would tell the story of King Henry, as played exceptionally well by Matthew Brett. James Lange opens the performance, drawing in the audience as the Chorus, a role shared among the company. Jack Sutherland, as the Archbishop of Canterbury, miraculously appears from a suitcase in the centre of the stage, delivering the comedy alongside the Bishop of Ely, played by Alex Stead. Portraits come alive as actors move through the frames and into the scenes: Matthew Hepburn as Exeter and Joel Fulford as Westmorland. The tone of frivolity swiftly turns warlike when the cheeky French Ambassador, played by Sam Cross, delivers a chest of tennis balls, implying the King is but a child playing games, and soon finds himself disrespectfully thrust into that chest and returned, dead, to the King of France. However, France’s heir, the Dauphin (Reuben Oh) is not flustered by this

insult to the crown, and instead urges his father to stand strong against the English and destroy them from the inside. Reuben’s mastery of the French accent and flamboyant portrayal of the young upstart was an excellent juxtaposition to the ensuing death and destruction, as Matthew Brett delivered those infamous lines, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends!”. The extensive hours these gentlemen gave to Henry V earned them an award for Most Creative Use of Set and Props, and Matthew Brett was awarded Best Actor in the Christchurch Festival. While this year was made particularly challenging, our junior students certainly met that challenge head on. With any luck, we will be able to experience the festival atmosphere in all its live theatrical glory next year. Nikki Bleyendaal Drama Coach – Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival


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