Miriama McDowell and top NZ performers bring magic, mayhem and mutiny to arts festivals

Lysander’s Aunty brings riotous laughs to Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts and Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki / Auckland Arts Festival.

A dazzlingly irreverent take on William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream will premiere at Aotearoa’s biggest arts festivals this March.

Nominated for the prestigious Adam Award for Best New Zealand Play, this larger-than-life contemporary comedy is written by multi-award-winning New Zealand writer Ralph McCubbin Howell and directed by Hannah Smith.

In Shakespeare’s original work, young lovers Lysander and Hermia defy the Duke by eloping to an aunt’s house in the woods – who is only briefly mentioned. But, who is this law-snubbing, free-loving aunty who lives in the bush?

This riotous reworking of the Bard’s most popular play takes a cannon to the canon. With quick, witty dialogue and a pacy plot, this world premiere and energetic production star Miriama McDowell (Coming Home in the Dark, Astroman, Whina) as Lysander’s outrageous renegade aunty.

An acclaimed actor on stage and screen, McDowell won Best Actress Award at the New Zealand Film Awards for her role in The Great Maiden’s Blush in 2016 and the 2020 New Zealand Television Award for Best Actress for her character Renee in TVNZ’s Head High.

Sepelini Mua’au (Big Data, Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, A Traveller’s Guide to Turkish Dogs) makes his Auckland Theatre Company debut as Lysander alongside a swag of celebrated NZ performers, including 2021 Billy T Award winner Brynley Stent (Six Degrees of Separation, Shortland Street, SNORT) and 2021 Comedy Festival Fred Award winner Eli Matthewson (7 Days, Earnest, Funny Girls), Stephen Lovatt (The Power of the Dog, Things I Know to be True), Claire Chitham (Mean Mums, Outrageous Fortune, Nell Gwynn), and Jonathan Martin (Twelfth Night, Falling Inn Love, Jersey Boys) plus an outstanding ensemble cast.

Auckland Theatre Company has joined forces with award-winning theatre makers Trick of the Light (The Griegol, The Bookbinder, The Road That Wasn’t There), Brilliant Adventures, Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts and Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki / Auckland Arts Festival to bring this inventive and large-scale collaboration to audiences in Wellington and Auckland.

The play was commissioned by The Court Theatre in Christchurch and set to premiere in 2020 when New Zealand’s first lockdown scuppered the season.

Director and Trick of the Light co-founder Hannah Smith say, “Our original premiere season with The Court Theatre got COVID-ed off the stage four days before opening, halfway through the lighting plot. It was as if someone had offered us a giant triple scoop of ice cream and then dashed it out of our mouths just as we were about to take a bite.

“This season feels like an incredible chance to make a new version of this bonkers, madcap romp of a play – it is an antidote to the introversion and downsizing and bleakness which has characterised the last two years, an unapologetic, irreverent, splashy comedy. It was probably Shakespeare who said: we could all use a laugh, couldn’t we?”

Smith leads a top team to bring the dazzling production to life. Creatives include Set Designer Daniel Williams (The Seagull, BOYS, Filthy Business), Costume Designer Elizabeth Whiting (The Life of Galileo, Shortland Street – The Musical, Joan/The Daylight Atheist), award-winning Lighting Designer Sean Lynch (Black Lover, Winding Up, The Audience), Sound Designer Eden Mulholland (Red Speedo, Movement of the Human, Belle), with Movement/Fight Director Dan Bain and Choreographer Brigid Costello completing the experienced team.

Lysander’s Aunty sits alongside a number of great theatrical and screen works that bounce off Shakespeare’s plays: The Lion King and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead pull from Hamlet; Shakespeare in Love is based on Twelfth Night; Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood is a samurai interpretation of MacbethWest Side Story is a contemporary reimagining of Romeo & Juliet.

Hilarious, unique and a little bit magical, the unmissable Lysander’s Aunty will take audiences on a wild ride with a fresh Kiwi spin on one of the greatest stories ever told.​

Tickets are on sale now for strictly limited festival seasons in Wellington and Auckland.

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