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Summer of Lear

DANIELLE STREET
Last updated 05:00 20/02/2013
King Lear
JASON OXENHAM

SWORD PLAY: Actress Anthea Hill and producer Oliver Rosser experiment with some of the props used for the Summer Shakespeare production of King Lear.

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William Shakespeare once wrote "all the world is a stage" and it's a declaration that the University of Auckland has taken quite literally for the last five decades.

This year marks the 50th anniversary since the university began using nature as a backdrop for the Outdoor Summer Shakespeare series.

To celebrate it is holding a very special production of the Bard's greatest tragedy, King Lear.

During the month of March audiences can sit under the stars to watch the play acted out by a 30-strong cast including world renowned Shakespeare scholar Michael Neill, the older brother of actor Sam Neill.

The university professor plays Lear, an aging king who descends into madness after dividing his realm among two of his three daughters based on their flattery.

Show producer Oliver Rosser says the tale portrays a world being torn asunder by the pride and arrogance of the king.

"The play isn't often performed because once you reach the age to play Lear you often lack the stamina, but Michael Neill brings a huge amount of power to the role."

Fledgling actress Anthea Hill is acting alongside Mr Neill as Lear's youngest daughter Cordelia.

In the play the princess is disinherited after she fails to adequately articulate her feelings for her father.

"She has her morals and her ideas and she sticks by them, in the face of everything. She doesn't want to fall into the trap of waxing lyrical about love like her two sisters."

The 22-year-old drama student says despite being written more than 400 years ago the story and themes are still relevant for today's audiences.

"I love it because it's got a passion which you don't so easily find in modern TV shows or films. It's got this immediacy and intensity."

The large-scale production is set to revive the tradition of Summer Shakespeare after the annual event had "fallen into disarray" over the last couple of years, Mr Rosser says.

It has been his job to piece the project together from the initial ideas for the show, which involved recruiting Michael Hurst to play the all-knowing Fool and Lisa Harrow to come on board as director.

Ms Harrow was a cast member of the first Summer Shakespeare half a century ago and has worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company. In his role as producer Mr Rosser also helped employ the services of an award-winning costumier to dress the epic cast.

"It's nigh on operatic scale," he says.

"Being able to costume and prop all these actors is not only a feat, but will be really cool for someone to see on stage."We are transporting them to Lear's time, which keeps the theme absolutely relevant. It's the play as it was meant to be seen," he says.

"We are trying to make a big splash, we are trying to say Summer Shakespeare should be on everyone's calendar."

The AUSA Outdoor Summer of Shakespeare production of King Lear opens on March 1.

Visit maidment.auckland. ac.nz.to book tickets.

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- Auckland City Harbour News

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