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Some Ado About Something!

April 2, 2017

It may sound like heresy, but I think that some of the best live theater I’ve ever seen has been in Auckland.  I think it’s a combination of the English tradition combined with Polynesian humor and creativity combined with a willingness to take chances and be innovative.

All that continued last night at the Pop Up Globe where we saw Much Ado About Nothing.

Let me answer your first question, which I’m sure is “What is the Pop Up Globe.”  It’s a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre made of metal and wood scaffolding with corrugated iron walls.  They call it “the world’s first full scale temporary working replica of the second Globe.”  The term pop up comes from the fact that it can be taken down, moved and reassembled.  Last season it was downtown but this year it’s moved out to the suburbs where there’s more room.  And free parking!

We got to the theater and had a walk around.  It really does look like the Globe Theater.

And of course, it wouldn’t be the Globe Theatre without . . .

This year they are doing Henry V, Othello, As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing.   The company includes some well known NZ actors and the entire company performs in all of the plays.

The atmosphere was more like a rock concert than a Shakespeare play—the venue and the theatre helped to create a party atmosphere and the audience was definitely there to have fun.  The demographic was definitely not what we are used to when we go to the more mainstream theatre.  For once we were above the average age of the audience!

To be honest, the venue is suboptimal for sound and viewing.  But that didn’t matter.  It was more about the event.

To add to the fun, when local NZ companies do Shakespeare, they take huge liberties.  One time we saw an outdoor Macbeth in which the final sword fight took place in the seats among the audience.  Another time we saw a Taming of the Shrew which started outside in a field.  A pickup truck drove up hauling a trailer with a boxing ring.  Kate’s suitors all took her on in the ring and she knocked them all out until Petruchio showed up in a 60s surfmobile.  The play then went inside, but for the wedding scene moved into an auditorium and the audience were the wedding guests with the cast circulating among us.

It was no different for Much Ado About Nothing.  Ancient Messina became Samoa and the costumes were sort of a mix of Samoan and Renaissance.  For the wedding scene at the end they did this wild Polynesian dance complete with fireworks—which of course got everyone remembering that the first Globe theatre burned down because of sparks from cannon fire!

The character Dogberry, who is the constable, for some reason is portrayed as an airport customs officer with a (real) sniffer dog.  (For most of the play, the dog is “lost” and spends its time wandering among the groundlings getting petted.)  Anyway, at the beginning of the play, Dogberry pretends to confiscate a cell phone off someone in the audience and starts on what sounds like the usual make sure your cell phone is off reminder.  Instead he encourages everyone to leave their phones on to take pictures but to make sure they are on silent.  Then he says if you don’t put it on silent this is what will happen and throws the phone to the dog who destroys it.

Here are some of the authorized pictures I took.

This is the view from our seats—you can see the scaffolding the theater is built with.  And yes, they used all of the doors and windows and top balcony on the stage in the course of the performance.

This is the scene where Benedik is supposed to be hiding in the arbor and overhears the guys talking about Beatrice.  He’s really hanging from a swing which came down from above and which he has to tell the operator when to raise and lower it.  For some reason, Friar Francis is playing the saxophone to the right.

This is the final scene with the wedding dance. The fireworks are just starting on the sides of the balcony.

I’m sure some Shakespeare purists were offended but it was a lot of fun.  They use the same cast for all of the plays and it will be interesting to see how they do the history and tragedy plays because the comedy we saw was so irreverent.  There were references to contemporary events, digressions as the actors addressed the audience or consulted the crew on points of staging and of course a lot of audience interaction.

We took our nephews, ages 14 and 16.  Before we went the younger one asked “It is a comedy comedy or a Shakespeare comedy?” They both had a really good time and absolutely loved it and now actually want to read the actual play and see more live theatre.  Mission accomplished!

Congratulations and best wishes to the Pop Up Globe company for their rich addition to Auckland’s artistic life—a great way to get people interested in Shakespeare and live theatre!

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