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Wellington Summer Shakespeare - Hamlet

Directed by David O’Donnell

The 36th Summer Shakespeare returns to the Dell, Wellington Botanic Gardens with a spectacular large-cast production of Shakespeare’s most famous play. Iconic though it is, Hamlet has never before been performed by Wellington Summer Shakespeare. This stylish contemporary production will explore the universality and relevance of the play by featuring Hamlet performed by a woman.
There could not be a better time to cast the most famous character in theatre history as someone other than a white cis male.

The production will be directed by award-winning Director David O’Donnell, renowned practitioner and Associate Professor in Theatre at Victoria University of Wellington.

David constantly advocates for new voices onstage, having directed premiere productions of plays by Lynda Chanwai-Earle, Briar Grace-Smith, Jo Randerson, Albert Belz, Ken Duncum and Arthur Meek as well as frequently championing Māori and Pacific work in his writing for The Theatre Times and his book publications. In 2015 he won an award from the Hawai’i State Theatre Council for directing Victor Rodger’s My Name is Gary Cooper in Honolulu and his book, Floating Islanders, co-authored with Lisa Warrington, won the Rob Jordan Prize for Best Performance Studies Book in June 2018. He’ll be working closely with dramaturgs Lori Leigh (Shakespeare and the Embodied Heroine) and David Carnegie and the project will be overseen by Summer Shakespeare producer Sally Thorburn.

As well as being a Chapman Tripp award-winning Director (Best Director – 2004, Best Production – 2006 & 2009) he’s been Head of the School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies at Victoria University for the last three years, and what better production to resume directing than with a story about the most famous university student of all time?

O’Donnell will capture the energy and vitality within one of Shakespeare’s most dynamic plots, built around its compelling, chameleon-like central character. Filled with timeless poetry, political intrigue and philosophical ideas, Hamlet is a fast-moving, action-packed drama spiced with playfulness and surprising humour. Part-ghost story, part-thriller, part-dark comedy, Hamlet moves at breakneck pace towards a tragic conclusion.

For the 2019 Summer Shakespeare the epic story of Hamlet and her dysfunctional family will be told in a spectacular production against the stunning backdrop of the Dell, as part of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the gardens. Seeing as O’Donnell was the first director to ever stage Wellington Summer Shakespeare at the Botanical Gardens in 1991, we couldn’t think of a more fitting celebration.

Auditions for the role of Hamlet are now available at The Big Idea ( with general auditions happening in October.

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