Our History

Victoria Esplanade Rose Garden photo captured with the wedding rotunda in the background and white roses in the foreground.
Photo credit: Distinction Palmerston North

In 2003, the yearly Shakespeare production hosted by Massey University was opened up to the Manawatū community for the very first time. The decision to move the annual event to the Victoria Esplanade, and involve the local community in the performance, was made because we knew we needed more people to experience this magical event. The first ‘Manawatū Summer Shakespeare’ production, The Tempest, directed by Simon Ferry, was staged in and around the duck pond in the Dugald McKenzie rose garden.  It created huge interest for its boldness and originality, despite the incredibly windy season in which actors’ voices were challenged.  The following year, Ralph Johnson directed a lively and popular version of Comedy of Errors and we began to realise that Manawatū Summer Shakespeare was here to stay. 

The Visiting Artist scheme that was established around this time meant that we could begin to pay our directors a realistic and professional fee for their work.  It also meant that we could entice highly skilled and award-winning directors from national and international locations. Indeed, we have had directors from Los Angeles, the United Kingdom, Chile, and Australia as well as excellent directors from Aotearoa New Zealand.

We had no idea what an iconic event Manawatū Summer Shakespeare would become. We attract huge crowds; involve highly skilled actors, technicians, designers and backstage support every year. The event has become part of the fabric of Palmerston North’s art scene. There is something mystical about watching a show that begins in the early evening when the sun is still warm and creating a natural light for the performers that evolves as night descends and the theatre lights take over.

Rhian Firmin with cast members of Romeo & Juliet 2023.
Photo Credit: Sam Millen

“I am really proud of what Summer Shakespeare has achieved… it has brought great people together. My hope for the future is that the Manawatū Summer Shakespeare will simply go on and on.”

Angie Farrow
Snapshot from Antony & Cleopatra. A young woman in a grey tunic looks into the distance with a look of slight concern, nearly blank faced. She has her right hand on her hilt.
Antony and Cleopatra 2019

Past Productions

2022 – 2023Romeo & JulietDirected by Rhian Firmin
2021A Midsummer Night’s DreamDirected by Mel. Cook
2020Twelfth NightDirected by Mel. Cook
2019Antony and CleopatraDirected by Ralph Johnson
2018The Comedy of ErrorsDirected by Peter Hambleton
2017The Winter’s TaleDirected by Sara Brodie
2016The Merry Wives of WindsorDirected by Kelly Harris
2015King LearDirected by Jaime Dörner
2014As You Like ItDirected by Grant Mouldey
2013The TempestDirected by Vanessa Stacey
2012Much Ado About NothingDirected by Amanda McRaven
2011A Midsummer Night’s DreamDirected by Jaime Dörner
2010MacbethDirected by Paul McLaughlin
2009All’s Well That Ends WellDirected by Peter Hambleton
2008Romeo and JulietDirected by Ralph Johnson
2007HamletDirected by Lilicherie MacGregor
2006Twelfth NightDirected by Ryan Hartigan
2005Love’s Labour’s LostDirected by Penni Bousefield
2004The Comedy of ErrorsDirected by Ralph Johnson
2003The TempestDirected by Simon Ferry
Oberon gesturing at Titania. They might be in the middle of a fight.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2021
Photo Credit: Rob Edwards