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"Will: The Lost Years" a hit for energy and not-stop action

June 24th
Review by David Armstrong

Got the mid-winter blues? Need an energy boost? Then you could do far worse than watching the high-octane production of "Will: The Lost Years" at Motueka High School. While there, don't rest your eyes for a second - there's always some action taking place somewhere on the set, which takes in the stage, centre of the hall, and all entrances and exits in the vicinity.

The story is the product of the obviously fevered imagination of Robynne Jephson and Bashan King, answering the question (that no-one was actually asking) of how William Shakespeare spent his early adult days. Apparently the naive and generous Will journeyed to Bankside London to meet people and develop the ideas and material for his later career. There he meets a wonderful array of people who occupied the streets and nearby buildings.

The plot develops to include street waifs, witches, puritans and pirates, aristocrats and ladies of charity, prostitutes and barmaids. I missed a lot of the spoken details and therefore some of the plot's nuances but it didn't matter too much - the gist was there and the chaos and hillarity was plain to see and highly infectious.

Top marks first to the wardrobe people. An astounding array of individual costumes scurried before and around us, which if nothing else helped to remind us who was who among the huge and highly mobile cast. The amount of work that must have gone into designing and preparing these outfits was truly remarkable.

Close behind comes the direction and, it would appear, the improvisation by the players of the action away from the main speakers. With often 20 or more actors in sight at any time, there was no-one ever just standing by as extras. There were frequent silent sub-plots to the sides and back as players improvised scraps and other interactions that looked totally natural and unscripted. The result was constant viewer stimulation, even if you see only a portion of the activity.

The six musicians performed with credit, although I thought the amplified guitar too often overpowered the singers when the acoustic guitar better suited. I appreciated the atmosphere provided by the violin. The range of music - from period classical to rap - along with the professionally choreographed dancing, made the musical side of the performance good for this level of theatre. And as you would expect, the athletic and confident dancing of our young people never ceases to impress us oldies.

I won't go through the cast, but several performances stood out. Will (Jon Anderson) himself was assured and, once the early sound problems were ironed out, clearly stated. Scenes involving the flamboyant playwright Marlowe (Duncan Phillips), leering Ironspike (Alex Hannah) and pompous Puritan (Dylan MacDonald) invariably drew huge laughter. I couldn't understand a word the three witches said, but they were highly entertaining nonetheless. And as for those never-resting street urchins .... just watch your pockets.

Other highlights for me included the swordfights, which would have impressed even Errol Flynn, and the graceful Ladies in Waiting for Queen Elizabeth. Lighting was very good, allowing us to focus on the action, be it in the body of the hall or at stagefront. If you're a competitive sort, you may want to spot how many references to well-known Shakespeare sayings (often delightfully mangled) are included. And be warned - a lot of the humour is quite "adult".

The only problem I found was with the sound. For the first 20 minutes or so there was too much reverb or delay and too little volume, making the words of songs and much of the dialogue hard to follow. Gradually this was overcome (perhaps the players themselves were settling their first night nerves) so that by the second half there was far greater clarity. However, the sound was still somewhat uneven, with some players miked up and others relying on their own resources. (It must have been hard with such a large cast to get all these balanced out correctly.) And of course it takes a few years for some young actors to learn to slow and project their speech to make it clear for people hearing it for the first time.

But with this proviso, the production was much enjoyed by all the audience, with long applause afterward. By Saturday, this show will be a must-see, so go see it.


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