“The play’s the thing”, Sarah Ross

Ngaio Marsh’s Hamlet: The 1943 Production Script
Polly Hoskins (ed)
Canterbury University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781988503134

In August 1943, as New Zealand troops in Europe began the Italian campaign, the Canterbury University College Drama Society (CUCDS) performed Hamlet to sell-out audiences at the Canterbury College Little Theatre. Hamlet had not been seen in New Zealand “for a generation”, and it was a roaring success: students were straddling the beams in the rafters, and CUCDS was reproached by the City Council for overfilling the space. The acclaimed season was produced and directed by Ngaio Marsh, the celebrated crime novelist who went on to direct several Shakespearean plays. Marsh embraced the war-time context for the production, featuring modern, military dress. Owing to its success, Hamlet returned for a second season at the Little Theatre, November–December 1943, after university exams were over for the year; and after CUCDS mounted a season of Othello in 1944, both productions toured nationally.

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