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Meet the thespians of Hamlet – Summer Shakespeare

25 Jan 2019 • 4 Comments

To be, or not to be: that is the question. Or perhaps, to head to Summer Shakespeare, or not head to Summer Shakespeare: there is no question!

Wellington’s beloved outdoor theatre event is returning to the Botanic Gardens from 15 February, this time tackling one of the most famous plays of all time – Hamlet.

Running in the city since 1983(!), Summer Shakespeare has always attracted a range of new talent and experienced practitioners so we decided to ask some of them how they were approaching their famous characters and, of course, some of their favourite local spots.


Dell Actors WREDA 1 of 15
Dell Actors WREDA 2 of 15
Ivana Palezevic

Ivana Palezevic - Polonius

Ivana Palezevic lives and breathes theatre. An administrator for Playmarket by day and an actor and director by night, for the past three years she’s also been running her own Shakespeare company, Lonely Shakespeare Collective, where the focus is on the less performed plays of the famous bard. When she isn’t immersed in theatre life, she teaches karate with her mother on Saturdays. As she puts it, “I get to help people achieve personal life goals. It’s a great feeling.” Ivana will portray Polonius, chief councillor to the king.

What are your thoughts on the relevance of Hamlet in 2019?

Hamlet is known for its dark, angry and troubled setting in regards to issues such as leadership, politics, mental health and the role of women. So, not that different from today and this comes up a lot in rehearsals. Casting women to embody iconic roles like Hamlet, Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is a great start for audience discussion, but you only have to open a paper or turn on your phone to see how little things have changed in the 400 years this play has been performed. It's a little scary.

Can you give us a sense of how you're approaching your character in this production?

It's hard to find any reference to a female Polonius online so I can only assume this hasn’t been explored much. But in the few weeks of rehearsal I've seen delivery, relationships and word meaning completely shift as a result of this choice. Certainly, making her a woman of power in politics is very familiar for New Zealand at this point in time and gives the character a level of respect it might not have had otherwise. As a person, she is such a contradictory character and can be sweet, funny, goofy, and protective then suddenly conspiring or imposing. Sometimes all of those come through in just one scene and you can't tell whose side she's on. I'm loving the ability to play with such a complex personality.

How great is it presenting a show in the Dell at the Botanic Gardens?

I haven't done outdoor theatre for many years and I’m excited to have the chance to do it again, particularly at such an amazing setting as the Gardens. I look forward to the bigger crowds and really making sure I deliver every word loud enough for all to hear. Considering how petite I am, I’ve got a real task ahead of me!

A quick Wellington question, have you got any favourite spots near or around the Gardens?

You can't beat the Lady Norwood Rose Garden. I’ve had many events there in my life and it’s one of my earliest memories of the Botanical Gardens. It's a particularly important spot for me. And we’re performing just around the corner.

Dell Actors WREDA 10 of 15
Dell Actors WREDA 12 of 15
Jenny Nimon

Jenny Nimon - Ophelia

Outside of acting, Jenny Nimon is in the process of wrapping up a Bachelor of the Arts at Victoria University in Theatre, English Literature and Creative Writing, and plans to roll straight into post-grad study. She also keeps busy working for Wish Upon A Star, a company that provides entertainment services for children’s birthday parties. Jenny will portray Ophelia, a young noblewoman of Denmark.

What are your thoughts on the relevance of Hamlet in 2019?

Hamlet resonates with modern audiences because of its heavier themes such as mental health. With the way we’re presenting it especially, playing Hamlet as a woman adds a dimension to the character and the wider play that doesn’t necessarily read when played as an entitled, straight, white male. A feminine perspective sheds new light on some of Hamlet’s more sexist exchanges with Gertrude and Ophelia, and I think that it will be thought-provoking for our audiences, just as it has been for the cast in the rehearsal room.

Can you give us a sense of how you're approaching your character in this production?

I want to say that I’m taking a fresh spin on my character—which is true in a sense—but in reality my approach is to build a character that aligns with the text. Ophelia is portrayed time and time again as flighty, naïve, and weak-willed. This is something that I would call an inherited cultural understanding, based on a history of performance interpretations. Dissecting the text over the last few weeks, however, has proved to me that Ophelia is quite the opposite. She is forthright and rational, and she stands up against characters of higher status, even if she ultimately falls under their control.

How great is it presenting a show in the Dell at the Botanic Gardens?

I’m especially excited to present there because performing outside poses its own set of challenges, particularly with volume and light. I think there’s also something about the audience being able to bring along their fold-out chairs and picnic blankets that makes a real event out of it. It builds a community feeling that mirrors the Elizabethan experience of theatre.

A quick Wellington question, have you got any favourite spots near or around the Gardens?

Honestly, the Botanic Gardens as a whole is a bit of a haunt of mine, because there is always somewhere tucked away that I haven’t been before. It feels like it’s always expanding somehow. That said, I do love food, and Picnic Cafe is right by the Rose Garden and the Dell.

Dell Actors WREDA 7 of 15
Dell Actors WREDA 8 of 15
Maggie White

Maggie White - Gertrude

Maggie White is an actor and theatre performer living in Wellington. Her performance and training experience ranges from Shakespeare to the Tadashi Suzuki Method of Physical Actor Training. She studied Theatre at Victoria University of Wellington, graduating with 1st class honours in 2014. When she’s not performing or working at her day job, Maggie likes to write poetry, go hiking, or read a good book from Unity Books, her favourite bookshop in the world. Maggie will portray Gertrude, Hamlet's mother and the Queen of Denmark.

Could you give us your thoughts on the relevance of Hamlet in 2019?

I think we live in a time where a lot of people - ordinary people - feel the weight of all the uncertainty and fear that is bred by what goes on in world politics. It’s this great sense of unease, something that we can’t always name. We watch dangerous games being played out in the global, political stage. Leaders wearing layers of ambition, agenda and deception. This is the vibe of Hamlet.

Can you give us a sense of how you're approaching your character in this production?

I believe Gertrude has a lot more agency and depth than a lot of productions and interpretations give her credit for. Playing her has also made me think a lot about the public, private, and personal selves we present to the world. So many of the big, juicy scenes happen in public settings, or in private spaces with voyeurs looking on from behind curtains. It makes me think about how we all, to some degree, live in the public eye. We are one version of ourselves when we’re out in the world, on the internet, another when we’re with our friends and family, and another when we are alone with our thoughts. The play deals a lot with deceit and hidden agenda, the theatrics of constructing an image of who we are. Gertrude is a challenge and a gift in this regard. A lot of her decision making happens behind the scenes, and when we do see her she is already two steps ahead of us.

How great is it presenting a show in the Dell at the Botanic Gardens?

The first play I saw when I moved to Wellington in 2011 was in the Dell. It was The Winter’s Tale, directed by our dramaturg extraordinaire Lori Leigh (it was the Wellington Summer Shakespeare of 2011). Since then it’s been a dream of mind to perform here. We’re telling this massive, famous story. There’s something magical about doing so in such a massive, famous space. Performing outdoors is a challenge and a dream as an actor; to fill that space with your energy and voice as the sun sinks and the audience reclines on picnic blankets in a haze of wine and Shakespeare…what more could you want?

A quick Wellington question, have you got any favourite spots near or around the Gardens?

When I’m not rehearsing or working, I can almost certainly be found at one of my favourite cafes (Loretta, Olive, The Lido) reading or writing. Failing that, on a nice day I’ll be sweating it out on the Eastern Walkway, taking in views of the sea and bush.

Dell Actors WREDA 4 of 15
Dell Actors WREDA 6 of 15
Mitch Tawhi Thomas

Mitch Tawhi Thomas - Claudius

By day, Mitch is a high school teacher making a difference for rangatahi at Tawa College. He’s also a veteran of the NZ theatre industry. Over the past 25 years Mitch has performed sporadically in various productions all over the country, including Shakespeare classics like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, and The Winter’s Tale. Since graduating from Toi Whakaari as an acting student in 1997, Mitch has also spent time developing his craft as a playwright and scriptwriter, spent time as a writer in residence at Waikato University, won a swag of theatre awards, and most recently, been appointed as a judging panel member for the Wellington Theatre Awards. His new play, Pakaru,will be part of the Kia Mau Festival 19 at BATS theatre in June. Mitch will portray Claudius, brother to Hamlet Senior.

Could you give us your thoughts on the relevance of Hamlet in 2019?

I think some stories never lose their power. In fact, they get stronger the more they are retold. The story of Hamlet is full of dysfunction, fear, political subterfuge, oppression and power. These concepts are ever present as it seems we as a species have learned nothing from history. What is particularly relevant about Hamlet is that the context involves a strained and tense family that are living under the scrutiny of the public eye. Whether you are into the British royals, the Kardashians or trashy serial killer true life stories – there is something about an unravelling slow-motion car crash that we just can’t get enough of.

Can you give us a sense of how you're approaching your character in this production?

I’m approaching Claudius as a modern day, privileged one-percenter. Adept at political manipulation, but with massive inner turmoil. I want to base him in that knife-edge tension between the smiling public leader and the desperate little brother with an inferiority complex. 
Maggie White (Gertrude) and I are having fun creating a juicy backstory and inner life that our characters can live in truthfully and not just be cookie cutter murderous villains.

How great is it presenting a show in the Dell at the Botanic Gardens?

The Dell has always been a magical place to perform in and to watch. I’m an O.G. having been in two of David’s Dell Shakespeares over a thousand years ago (Midsummers, Richard III). There is such a dynamic connection between the audience, blanketed, wining and dining, and the live performers owning that setting on a warm summer's night. I love that transition from when the sun fades and the theatre lights take over – gorgeous!

A quick Wellington question, have you got any favourite spots near or around the Gardens?

I can’t even begin to specify! I mean, Wellington is a village. That’s the cool thing – almost a city but not quite big enough to be all spread out and dooshy. It’s an absolute embracing, vibrant village where you can experience food, drinking, art, sport and theatre. All in a hub. I should work for the council, right? Tumeke Poneke!


Hamlet - Summer Shakespeare

Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most dynamic plays, built around its compelling, chameleon-like central character.

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  • Pat on 26 Jan 2019

    Can’t wait.

  • Mairi Lauchland on 26 Jan 2019

    Looking forward to seeing it!

  • Robyn Connor on 25 Jan 2019

    Can’t wait to see this!

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