PREVIEW: Mary Stuart (Auckland Theatre Company)

Edward Peni
Edward Peni plays two very different characters in Mary Stuart

Edward Peni on playing French, and the trials of making it as an Actor [by Sharu Delilkan]

Edward Peni
Edward Peni plays two very different characters in Mary Stuart

It was all about being at the right place at the right time for Edward Peni.

He admits that he hadn’t considered auditioning for Auckland Theatre Company’s production of Mary Stuart until he bumped into Artistic Director Colin McColl.

“I had actually called the company to see if I could borrow some boxes for a production I was doing.  While I was in the office Colin happened to walk by and asked me whether I would be interested in being part of their new production of Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart.  Naturally I jumped at the chance,” he says.

Mary Stuart is the thrilling account of the extraordinary relationship between England’s Elizabeth I and her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth’s rival to the throne.

Despite having done a number of smaller roles in the professional arena for the past seven years, Peni considers himself a very young actor. More so in the company of what he terms “luminaries of New Zealand theatre” – acting on the same stage with the likes of Stuart Devenie, Elizabeth Hawthorne, George Henare and Robyn Malcolm.

The 32-year-old actor, who graduated with a Bachelor of Performing & Screen Arts at UNITEC in 2004, says working on the play is reminiscent of his university days, especially since there are a couple of students on the set with him.

“As an actor I basically feel like I’m in a good version of purgatory – I’m not as experienced as the amazing iconic actors commanding the stage yet I’m not as young as the third year UNITEC students.”

Peni will be playing two diametrically opposite characters in Mary Stuart–Count Bellievre, French envoy sent by the King of France to illicit Queen Elizabeth’s hand in marriage, and O’Kelly, who’s part of group of men determined to bring down Queen Elizabeth.

Coming to grips with the French accent for his part as has been a huge challenge for Peni.

At the moment he admits he’s watching and listening to the French accent wherever and whenever he can.

Having taken a year off from theatre acting, to refocus and think about his career direction, Peni says this show is great because it’s not too heavy a workload and allows him to retrain in the technical side of things, including diction.

Peni was candid with me when he said he was actually a bit disillusioned with acting after working on Oliver a couple of years ago.

“I thought I knew what to expect with Raymond (Hawthorne) as director, having had him as a teacher at UNITEC.  But he actually broke my spirit in terms of enjoying the process.  And even though I came out the other end knowing it was a great experience for me I began to doubt myself.”

Although Peni has other areas he wants to pursue as an actor the Auckland Theatre Company will always have a place in his heart.  After all he started there as a student actor fresh of UNITEC as part of the inaugural Roadcrew Tour.  The new intiative at the time, in 2005, provided Peni the chance for professional employment as a trainee practitioner.

He has been in a number of their productions including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (2008) and Oliver (2009).

In addition to working on the show Peni hopes to try his hand at auditioning for commercial roles.

“I took an Advanced Audition Workshop run by Stephanie Paul last year which was great.   She taped us and which allowed us to look at ourselves to see how we looked on camera.”

His most recent triumph was being called back for the TV Series Terra Nova, a Steven Spielberg production, where he had to fly to Sydney for the first time in his life last August.

“It was a step up for me in terms of being proactive about my career.  I basically had three days to organise everything including the funds, flights and accommodation and get myself in the right frame of mind for the audition.  And although I didn’t end up getting the part I really enjoyed myself and hope the next time ‘round I end up getting the part.”

But despite all this experience behind him Peni can’t help feeling a bit daunted by the calibre of the other actors in the production.

“To be honest I do feel a bit naïve as an actor so it’s not only great to be in this production but to watch these seasoned actors in action.  One thing I find most interesting is the way they all still love fooling around – it shows they’re still having fun after all these years.  Which is great.”

Mary Stuart, presented by Auckland Theatre Company, plays at the  Maidment Theatre until May 24.  More information at Auckland Theatre Company website.

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