Swashbuckling at the park

05:02, Feb 03 2014
Jenna Sales
Jenna Sales checks her progress on the puppets she is crafting for this year’s Shakespeare in the Park.

Organisers believe this year's Shakespeare in the Park will appeal to even those unfamiliar with - or not enamoured of - the Bard. Lauren Hayes reports.

It's a hot afternoon, the last class of the day. English. Lunch is by now a mere memory - you'd kill for a Crunchie - and, longing for the relief of the home time bell, you check the clock.

Forty-three minutes to go.

The teacher's talking, trying to translate strange-sounding words such as pudder and outparamoured into modern tongue, but no-one's listening. Even the class wunderkid looks bored.

You watch as the kid in front of you doodles something rude in the margins of his textbook.

You share a sympathetic stare with a seagull perched on the window ledge.


You glance briefly at the copy of King Lear open on your desk, and wonder, even more briefly, if you're on the right page.

You check the clock again.

Forty-one minutes to go.

If this is your only interaction with Shakespeare, your only connection with King Lear, this year's Shakespeare in the Park performance is probably worth a visit.

The annual festival, now more than a decade old, has almost always offered a twist on the traditional works, but organisers are promising something a little more unusual this time around.

Producer Sarah McCarthy believes people who don't like Shakespeare will almost definitely like this show.

People who like Shakespeare? They will also like this show, she says.

There's the one-man event Battle of the Bastards, performed by David Ladderman, which focuses on the baddies of the tragedy.

As well as featuring some swashbuckling sword-fighting, juggling and old-timey cussing, Ladderman manages to squeeze the lengthy Lear into an easily digestible hour-long show.

This week, the act was named the critics' choice at the World Buskers Festival in Christchurch.

There's also a lot going on before the battle, hidden around the park for the public to stumble across, and McCarthy hints there's more than just straight excerpts on offer.

Shakespeare will cater for smartphones for the first time, planting special QR barcodes beside each promenade performance as a festival extra.

When scanned by a smartphone, the codes will reveal additional information about the action unfolding in front of the audience.

The codes are a way of blending new technology with an old artform, and McCarthy hopes they will encourage people to enjoy the Shakespeare experience with strangers.

Visitors who do not have smartphones can peek over the shoulders of those who do, sharing information and perhaps starting a conversation, she says.

"It's just something fun.

"We're getting it to try and see what it's like."

To access the information, guests should download the free STQRY app onto their smartphones before the show.

As well as embracing the new, organisers have also harked back to older arts, including puppeteering, for inspiration.

In a theatre inspired by Italian commedia dell'arte and traditional Punch and Judy puppet shows, characters Kent and Oswald will exchange "intense Shakespearian insults" before ending with a smackdown in a scene from King Lear, McCarthy says.

The puppets have been carefully crafted from papier mache and tissue paper, and the theatre created to resemble the travelling puppet boxes of old.

For everything else on offer, punters will have to walk the promenade themselves.

Shakespeare in the Park begins in Queens Park on February 7, running to February 11. Evening shows start with the park promenade from 6pm, and matinee shows on February 9 start at 1pm and 4pm. Tickets cost $20 for adults, $5 for children.

The Southland Times