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Source: Massey University

Summer Shakespeare Twelfth Night actors (from left): Massey graduate Cam Dickons (playing Sebastian); Sasha Lipinksy (playing Viola/Cesario) and Lisa Swinbanks (playing Olivia). (Photo credit/Anu Grace Photography)

The popular summer theatre event, launched in 2003 by former Massey School of English and Media Studies theatre lecturer and award-winning playwright Professor Angie Farrow, opens next Thursday in the Victoria Esplanade Rose Garden. And it promises to be a night of “lust, laughs and larks in the park”, say organisers.

The romantic comedy revolves around the escapades of a shipwrecked brother and sister, and the comical commotion that erupts amid love, rivalry and mistaken identity. 

International immersive theatre director and British visiting artist Mel Cook has crafted a colourful, quirky production of this chaotic comedy, says publicist Amy Atkins. “Set in modern-day Illyria, the inhabitants of this world exist in a vaporwave [a microgenre of electronic music] aesthetic reality where the 80s beats are rocking and colours are constantly clashing! Think 80s and 90s nostalgia meets 21st century tech,” says Ms Atkins, who graduated from Massey in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English and Theatre Studies. She says 20 of the 36-strong cast and crew are Massey students, staff or graduates.

Twelfth Night celebrates LGBTQIA+ people like no other Shakespeare play, she says. “Manawatū Summer Shakespeare promises this 2020 performance is the most inclusive production yet. The play is queer and family-friendly and the stage placement around the duck pond in the Victoria Esplanade Rose Gardens allows for easy wheelchair or pram access for audience members, too.” 

“Come celebrate life!” urges Mel Cook. “Twelfth Night is the ‘eat, drink, and be merry’ antidote to the gathering clouds of our times. Pack a picnic, assemble your posse, don a lewk [your signature style], and sing along with the aesthetic riot in the roses. It is better to crack a glow stick than curse the darkness.”

Manawatū Summer Shakespeare is a collaboration between Massey University, Palmerston North City Council, Square Edge Arts Centre, and the actors and creative artists who “give up their summer to bring these accessible, often hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking productions by the undisputed king of verse and crude jokes,” says Ms Atkins.

It is the second time Twelfth Night has been staged by Manawatū Summer Shakespeare ­– the first was in 2006, under the direction of Ryan Hartigan.

Director – Mel Cook 

Mel Cook is an experiential theatre maker working in site-responsive transmedia and devised theatre. A graduate of RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), she has directed productions for many United Kingdom and United States theatres. In the United Kingdom, she runs Snakebit Theatricals and has worked with many world leading theatre companies, including the Barbican and the National Theatre Studio. She is known for her work in interactive theatre with companies including Punchdrunk, Shakespeare’s Globe, and the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as for building immersive events for corporations and for creating narrative adventures in parks, graveyards, museums and derelict buildings.

Mel Cook is being hosted in the residency apartment at Square Edge Arts Centre in Palmerston North. With an office space on Massey’s Manawatū campus in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, she is involved with Massey’s summer school contact courses. In the residency’s Shakespeare in Schools programme, she is bringing expertise and inspiration to local high school students, as well as offering workshops to the wider community. 

Twelfth Night: Victoria Esplanade Rose Garden (above the pond)

Shows: Feb 27, 28, 29 and March 4, 5, 6, 7 at 7pm.

Matinee 1 March: 5pm 

Entry by koha (donation/gold coin). Spot prizes for anyone who comes dressed up.

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