Since its first performances in 2016, the Pop-up Globe has gone on to become a national and international phenomenon. The venue has since housed over 600,000 audience members enthralled by productions of the Bard’s most loved works, including Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, and Othello.
For its 2019 winter season at Auckland’s Ellerslie Racecourse, the two central plays on offer are Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, both well-known comedies that are nonetheless presented with originality and flair. Both productions are performed by the Pop-up Globe’s Exeter Company, a group of actors so full of talent and stage presence that listing stand-out performances would inevitably result in listing almost the entire company.
Pop-up Globe’s artistic director Dr Miles Gregory directed both productions. In Twelfth Night, much of the cast is clad in traditional Jacobean costumes, albeit with a colour scheme cranked up to 11. The vibrant costumes are perfectly in-keeping with the performances, which play fast and loose with the script. Though Shakespeare’s lines are never meddled with or modernised, occasional asides or outright swearing keep the audience gleefully on their toes.
Gregory’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes arguably Shakespeare’s best-known comedy and gives it a distinctively Kiwi twist. The high-class gentlemen and women of Athens are presented as Pākehā, whereas the fairies Oberon, Titania, and Puck are Māori. The fairies speak almost entirely in te reo Māori, a bold decision which somehow avoids alienating an audience presumably largely incapable of understanding the language. The physicality of the performers means that it’s never unclear what is going on as the fairies discuss their plans for mischief. Reuben Butler’s Puck, in particular, is wonderfully watchable – backflipping and cartwheeling his way around the stage, perfectly walking the line between fearsome warrior and mischievous fairy.
Elsewhere, the wiry Jonathan Martin steals every scene he’s in as Malvolio in Twelfth Night and Tom Snout in Midsummer. Peter Hambleton is enigmatic and lecherous as Sir Toby Belch/Bottom, at his best when sharing the stage with boisterous young sidekicks played by Johnny Light. And Harry Bradley and Rebecca Rogers are fantastic as the romantic leads in both plays. But it’s Patrick Carroll who really won the audience’s hearts as both Orsino in Twelfth Night and Demetrius in Midsummer. His wet, clueless princes were irresistibly charming, and watching his physical transformation as a lust-filled Demetrius was a sight to behold.
Both productions are laugh-a-minute romps, full of slapstick and visual comedy. The hedge scene alone in Twelfth Night is worth paying for, as well as Bottom’s ridiculously bloody death as Pyramus in Midsummer‘s play-within-the-play. A live band of just two musicians brilliantly and subtly heighten the emotion and drama of the performances, as well as providing some hilarious opportunities for breaking the fourth wall.
It’s well worth getting tickets to both Twelfth Night and Midsummer, as it’s a real joy to be able to see the same brilliant performers in two different plays. And, at just $10 for a standing ‘groundling’ ticket, there’s no excuse for missing out on these fantastic performances.