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Saturday 11 April 2015

Patrick Graham: Getting to the Bottom of Shakespeare

Posted in: Performance
By Jacqui Stanford - 14th February 2015

Patrick Graham is reprising a role dear to his heart as he plays Bottom in Auckland Summer Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

A few years ago he was in a Lexie Matheson-directed version of the Shakespeare favourite. “It was very different. It was sort of post 9/11 and we were in a terrorist state, and the fairies were warring factions. It was quite different.”

His latest direction is coming from Auckland theatre patriarch Michael Hurst. Graham says it’s decadent. “Most of the fairies are played by over-65-year-olds. And I am doing a very different version of Bottom. He’s based on a theatre luvvie, a sort of atypical ‘darling, sweetie’, which is very different to what I played him as before.”


Graham says if you don’t “reinvent the wheel every time” with Shakespeare it can get boring, especially with a play like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which so many people have seen before, with “twee fairies and gossamer wings”. He says Hurst is moving away from that Victorian “twee-ness” and making it much more sensual and beautiful.

The actor also believes the trick with Shakespeare is to get past the language, something which means actors need to work really hard, to make it more accessible.

Graham has a fondness for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He likes the magic and the fact it’s so accessible. “I enjoy the storyline … and it’s been played in so many other formats. Like, Neil Gaiman rewrote it for his Sandman comics. I just love the magic of it. And I adore Bottom’s subplot.”

Bottom is of course there for comic relief, and is fun to play. “I love the challenge of trying to wear a donkey’s head,” Graham laughs. But he also has a real affinity for the character, and even has a tattoo of him on his leg.

Graham hasn’t always loved Shakespeare, for which he blames a terrible version of The Merchant of Venice he was forced to watch at high school. It wasn’t till he studied Twelfth Night in 6th form, and found a graphic novel version, that he fell in love with the clown characters. A love for Shakespeare’s comedies and their clowns and fools and more extreme characters, followed.

“I don’t know what happened. I just ended up working a lot with Shakespeare. I’ve directed quite a few and I’ve acted in a lot of them. I was in the Summer Shakespeare last year, as well as doing a mash-up of Shakespeare’s problem plays.”

He is an openly-gay actor, director and writer, with his own alternative theatre company, known for Post Gay, White Trash Omnibus and Lost Girls.

Thought he created his own shows for years, he got a bit burnt out and took some time out. “And then created a drag character who wasn’t on stage at gay nightclubs. She was mainly part of the vaudeville, cabaret, burlesque scene. I did a lot of work with her on those things, then worked back up to being in theatre again and revived my theatre company.”

He loves experimental work and non-traditional spaces, such as warehouses, pubs and even a kindergarten.

“People are trying much more now to try theatre out in different places,” he says, explaining that while often they couldn’t get into places like Silo, he feels freer in fringe areas anyway.


Graham will next do a mash up of Oscar Wilde and Chekov’s works and would like to do something at the Garnet Station Little Theatre, a space and idea he loves.

“After that, I don’t know, I think I will probably remount some of my other shows just because I feel like having another go at things.”

For now, he is excited to be working with Michael Hurst for the first time. “This is a big thing for me. Normally I work with people who are midway through professional training ... this is kind of like ‘wow, I’m working with Michael Hurst’. It’s really good for me, it keeps me on my toes, definitely.”

February 14 – March 7 2015, Old Arts Plaza, the University of Auckland
Tickets on sale from The Maidment Theatre

Jacqui Stanford - 14th February 2015

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