Shakespeare and the Classics

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A theatre in financial difficulties often turns to Shakespeare where there are no copyright problems. Surprisingly, it was not until 1964 that the New staged one of his works. Although there were plenty of bodies to make up big casts, members' talents varied and it is unlikely that many had training in interpreting and delivering iambic pentameter. Shakespeare also did not neatly fit into the theatre's policy of didacticism. Shaw, on the other hand, did and by 1964 at least twelve of his plays had been given full productions, the earliest Pygmalion and On The Rocks three decades earlier.

Over the years the New competed with companies specialising in Shakespeare. These included actor-managers such as John Alden and ,later, Bell Shakespeare and Harlos Productions.

The 1964 NT production was Othello directed by Eddie Allison. Howard Vernon in the title role prolonged his death scene with each performance, and Bob Bell as Iago overacted and raced through his lines. Judith Rich was reviewed as a graceful Desdemona and Alex Marchevsky as a lithe and intelligently played Cassio. One performance was a benefit night for Faith Bandler's Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement.

Troilus and Cressida was mounted in 1969. Directed by Algis Butavicius, it was presented as an anti-war play with links to Vietnam and Biafra.

Eight years elapsed before the next Shakespeare: The Merry Wives of Windsor directed and designed by David Marshall-Martin.

In the 1990s several members had a passion for Shakespeare. Peter Douglas in 1990 directed Henry 1V Part 1 with John McKenzie-Lowe as Falstaff and Simon Arlidge as Hotspur. It was well received and played extra nights. Its success led to a revival the next year, directed by Frank McNamara and David Beard. Peter Douglas also directed Shakespeare in the open air and Macbeth in 1992. King Lear, directed by David Ritchie with Frank McNamara in the title role, was staged in 1994. Winner of the Theatre Critics Award for Best Fringe Production, its season was extended. Rosane McNamara's production the next year featured David Ritchie as Lear. In 1996 Marian Dworakowski directed Hamlet; in 1997 it was directed by David Ritchie with Damien Ryan in the title role and played to good reviews and good houses. In 1999 Christopher Johnson directed Othello which also did well. Refugees from Kosova attended a performance of Robyn McLean's A Midsummer Night's Dream, also in 1999.

The year 2000 saw Christopher Johnson's Macbeth, followed by Lee Lewis' The Tempest 2002, Fiona Pulford's Bollywood-style Twelfth Night 2003, Louise Fischer's Richard 111 2004, Fiona Hallenan's Hamlet 2008 and Anthony Skuse's modern-dress Julius Caesar 2011.

The New has also regularly staged "classics".

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