Pianist Jay Cameron and singer Katerina Smalley, “Songs & Sonnets in the Park”.

FOR Lakespeare & Co, it’s the fourth year of staging works by the Bard of Avon outdoors and free for all to enjoy. 

But this year, as the company recovers from the impact of COVID-19, its al-fresco venture will be somewhat curtailed and will take the form of “Songs and Sonnets in the Park”, performed for one night only at Glebe Park. 

Executive director and co-founder, Taimus Werner-Gibbings, is experiencing a mixture of excitement and disappointment.

He’s a total Shakespeare tragic and it excites him to think how many people have an awareness of the Bard 400 years or so after his death. He tells me he’d love to do “Henry V” outdoors.

“Shakespearean phrases are in our day-to-day language and the whole point is to make that free and accessible to people in Canberra,” he says.

“We’re trying to get [people] to understand and appreciate Shakespeare… kids might be a bit bored when they read it off the page at school, but watching it free outdoors is different.”

Executive director and co-founder of Lakespeare & Co, Taimus Werner-Gibbings.

Werner-Gibbings hasn’t personally trod the boards since performing in “Much Ado About Nothing” in 2018.

“It’s a long time since I’ve done any form of practical performance – aside from the political arena”, he says, a reference to his candidature for Labor in Brindabella at the 2020 ACT election – but he wouldn’t mind.

If not for the pre-Christmas covid glitch in Sydney, the company would have put on “Measure For Measure” in outdoor venues this year, he explains, but just before Christmas as the rehearsal schedule was in place and a production planned for late February, two cast members and the director, Chris Stollery, found themselves stuck in Sydney.

Then there was the sudden departure of co-founder Lexi Sekuless, who was offered a plum job as a chief adviser to federal Arts Minister, Paul Fletcher.

“She took it and so she should have,” Werner-Gibbings says. 

“We decided we had to defer the production and instead we reimagined our ‘Songs & Sonnets’ program.”

In a format tried out at Typica Cafe in December, four performers and a grand piano will perform selections from songs by Stephen Sondheim and originals from composer Jay Cameron, “peppered”, they say, with sonnets from Shakespeare,

And just as Peter Garrett occasionally appeared with Midnight Oil when he was in politics, Sekuless will still appear, alongside David Pearson, Katerina Smalley and composer/pianist Cameron.

It’s a way of staying alive and in the public eye, but the plan is to go ahead with “Measure for Measure” in the future. Werner-Gibbings pooh-poohs any scepticism about the choice of Shakespeare’s darkest and sleaziest problem play in a family-friendly atmosphere. 

“We can’t just keep doing the three or four best-known comedies. It may be hard to stage but we have to try it,” he says philosophically.

The coming show, a bit shorter than usual, plays with the synergy between Sondheim and Shakespeare.

“They’re both masters of specificity with language… they both paint evocative, relatable and extraordinary pictures with the words they choose,” he says.

He hasn’t heard Cameron’s original music as yet, but given the composer’s track record creating the original score to Lakespeare’s “Rockspeare Richard III” last year, he’s looking forward to it.

“Songs & Sonnets in the Park”, Glebe Park, Canberra City, 6pm-8pm, Saturday March 20. Free, but bookings essential.

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