Milestone for New Fortune treasure
Actors Maxwell Keeble, Benjamin Wilkinson, Sherryl Spencer and Katrina Johnston. Picture: Megan Powell/The West Australian

The New Fortune, an official University of WA treasure, had its 50th birthday last night as the only Elizabethan-era replica theatre in the Southern Hemisphere.

Fittingly, a scene from Hamlet for the Fringe World festival re-created the opening-night performance of Shakespeare's greatest tragedy in 1964.

FRINGE WORLD 2014: Full Coverage |

It was watched by hundreds of invited alumni, actors and other guests who trod the boards in the New Fortune’s early years.

The outdoor theatre, in the UWA arts building courtyard, is modelled on the Fortune Playhouse, built in 1600 as a north London rival to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

One constant over the years at the New Fortune, apart from the countless swordfights and soliloquies, had been the interjections of its famous resident peacocks, Graduate Dramatic Society vice-president Grant Malcolm said.

“The biggest problem, quite frankly, is dealing with the peacock crap around the balcony,” Mr Malcolm said.
“It just has to be swept clear every day to keep it safe and presentable for patrons.”

The New Fortune has been underused in recent years but was popular with visiting companies at the Perth Festival until the 1990s.

UWA is planning an upgrade of the theatre to host a year-long festival of Shakespearean productions in 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

“It is just so exciting as an actor to step on the stage and speak the lines that were written for a stage like this,” Mr Malcolm said.

“When you get on the stage and say those lines and work with the other actors in the production, it is almost as though there is an audible click as the performance synchs into place," he said

"Suddenly everything is the right size, the language is right and so is the amount of time it takes to move from one side of the stage to the other.”

Shakespeare’s terrifically long entrance lines suddenly made sense and worked in the space in the way they didn’t quite fit on a traditional proscenium arch stage, Mr Malcolm said.

Hamlet runs at the New Fortune from Friday to February 15.

Nearly 400 years after his death, Shakespeare remains all the rage with at least five Fringe World shows devoted to the Bard, including The Fifteen Minute Hamlet and a play that mashes up Hamlet with Romeo and Juliet.

And in Kings Park, the comedy Twelfth Night has been drawing big crowds to the annual Shakespeare in the Park season ending on Saturday.

The West Australian

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