Archive for the 'Shakespeare' Category

07
Sep
19

Henry IV Part 1

 

Henry IV Part 1

Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble 

Roma Street Parkland

August 22 – September 8 2019

 

Reviewed by Rhys M Becks

 

 

 

Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble delivered a refreshing interpretation of Shakespeare’s Henry The IV Part 1. Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre is the perfect outdoor venue for a Shakespeare, however; at this time of year I feel the bitterly cold winds sweeping across the stage, at times hindering my ability to focus on the text. I must commend the players on their ability to maintain their individual levels of performance throughout frequent cold blasts of wind! While Box Office was difficult to find as there was little to no signage, the polite and cheerful manner of the front of house staff made up for this minor inconvenience. The vibe is welcoming, the space cooly lit, and a pleasant ambience created by folk band Skimble Skamble Stuff, comprising actual cast members, playing us to our seats.

 

 

Playing King Henry was Liliana Macarone, who gave a commendable performance, and managed to perform a cross-gendered king in a believable and enjoyable fashion. Rebelling against the king was Angus Thorburn portraying Henry Percy. Thorburn gave a delightful performance that held the audience’s attention. His performance, only slightly marred by occasionally delivering lines with too great a speed, was nevertheless engaging. The greedy, thieving, yet loveable drunkard, Jack Falstaff, was played by Rob Pensalfini, who gave an outstanding performance, practically flawless. Pensilfini kept us captivated by the way in which he spoke, and moved through the space, making the text come to life, especially, I would imagine, for those less familiar with Shakespeare’s floral language. He brought to us that much needed ounce of comic relief between the slightly more serious scenes, which aided in holding our attention for the play’s rather long duration. Opposite Pensalfini as the young Prince Henry, was Silvan Rus, another sterling performer who like Pensalfini, in many ways carried the show right through to its end, with his engaging, charming performance that was easily enjoyed by all.

 

 

 

The pub scenes, and scenes involving Pensalfini, Rus and Murphy, were beautifully done, however; less effective due to blocking, were the royal court and rebel scenes. Similarly, aspects of the stage combat proved hard to watch, with some cast members more proficient and practiced than others.

 

 

With a cast of nineteen players it’s impossible to mention every performer, however; honourable mentions must go to Rebecca Murphy (the show’s director), for her captivating performance as Prince Henry’s dear friend, Poins; Dudley Powell, who played both the Hostess in the traditional, comical, cross-gendered style of classical theatre that we have come to know and love, and for his depiction of the Earl of Douglas, demonstrating superb accent work. John Siggers, in the role of Bardolph, was always interesting to watch, and won us over with his frequent renditions of Up To The Rigs of London Town and also, his speedy recovery after unexpectedly falling straight through a bench mid-delivery. Leah Fitzgerald-Quinn as Francis, is a stand out, whom I simply enjoyed watching.

 

In Henry IV Part 1 Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble delivers an enjoyable production and lovely evening out. I look forward to their next offering.

 

 

 

15
May
19

Richard III

 

Richard III

QUT 2nd Year Actors

Creative Industries Precinct

May 7 – 11 2019

 

Reviewed by Shannon John Miller

 

 

Director, Travis Dowling’s program notes give us insight as to why QUT have ambitiously selected Shakespeare’s Richard III to showcase the bold talent of their Bachelor of Fine Arts 2nd year acting students. He opines that “we need only look at the recent history of our political system to see that the ambition and actions of these characters are still present in our world today.” It’s only fitting that Richard III’s lyrical prose, with its machinations akin to the revolving-door leadership of current Australian federal politics and its slaughterhouse cabinet reshuffles finds its mouth peace in the rising millennial voting body of its confident young cast.

 

The story follows the treacherous uprising and hubristic downfall of Richard III, the short-reigned last king of the House of York whose death marks the end of England’s middle ages. Motivated by an evil career demon within, it’s his charm and eloquent dance with language that allows him to perpetrate his atrocities and traverse the poisonous royal court to the top. “Now is the winter of our discontent,” our villain opines in his opening line played formidably by Rachel Nutchey whose dynamic repertoire effortlessly encompasses Richard’s many faces. From his vulgar tuning of the women in his midst to his raging threats of violence, Nutchey navigates the titular character’s demanding spectrum with ease, transforming herself physically to effect his malformations and psychologically as she swings to the audience, entreating us to delight in her puppet mastery with a spontaneous comic timing.

 

Half the battle in modernising Shakespeare is the suspension of disbelief actors must effect, which requires them to tap into workable anachronistic instincts, while orating convoluted and archaic dialogue without being clunky and disingenuous. But the women of the cast have got this one with strong performances from Isobel Grummels playing Queen Elizabeth, Imogen Trevillion’s Lady Anne, Lucy Heathcote as the Duchess of York, and Sidney Shorten as Queen Margaret. And it’s when they’re all playing together that the dramatic tension, like a tightening spiral, really collects and draws us in. We quickly forget ourselves and are consumed into their lyrical and tumultuous predicaments.

 

However, in an age where presentation is everything, it’s the costuming, hair and makeup that need attention. With a young and vibrant cast posited in contemporary grit and grunge, it would be prudent to have a finger on the fashion pulse and invest in good wardrobe design.

 

The stage, although minimal at first, is lit with a dull effervescent-purple floor, which resembles either a discothèque or the cold floor of a slaughterhouse. The walls are draped in translucent flaps of plastic which evokes Psycho’s famous shower scene or perhaps Dexter’s clinical killing room and this allows director, Dowling seemingly infinite possibilities when it comes to blocking his actors on and off stage. With entries and exits choreographed tightly against Sage Rizk’s punchy and grim soundscape, and Glenn Hughes’ gruesomely stark lighting design, action is effectively obscured beyond the plastic shrouds. There’s lots of blood too with director Dowling choosing thankfully to Macbethise some of the dispatchings.

 

There are also bold voices and noteworthy performances amongst the cast, especially Ethan Lwin’s Clarence, Angus Linklater’s Buckingham, Tate Hinchy as the affable Hastings and Ben Jackson. This is a confident production of enthusiastic young talent whom will no doubt pursue promising careers in the dramatic arts, and it’s their director who truly cares about them, who’s pushing them to exploit their talents and physicality, and whose success in grappling with the demanding text has resulted in a solid and visually engaging production.

 

08
Sep
18

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble

Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre

August 23 – September 8 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Presented in rep with Hamlet, directed by Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble AD Rob Pensalfini

 

the single assumption which makes our existence viable – that somebody is watching…

 

Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, about the misadventures of the messengers, two minor characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is treated with due respect, and new and delicious humour by Director, Rebecca Murphy, and the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble. Admittedly, I hadn’t seen a QSE production for some time; like Brisbane Arts Theatre, they suffered a period of sameness for a little while there, not that it ever appeared to hurt ticket sales (who doesn’t love Shakespeare in the park!?), and I think it’s safe to say that both companies are back now, with fresh energy and some new approaches to staging some of the most accessible theatre in Brisbane by considering carefully the work they produce, ensuring its broad appeal and affordability. Perhaps QSE have always taken this approach (their training has certainly remained one of the most highly regarded by performers).

 

In a contemporary context, as the director notes, QSE’s continuing work with their Shakespeare Beyond: Shakespeare Prison Project adds gravitas to the waiting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do. We feel the hopelessness of their situation. And the stubborn attempts to continually discover joy in tiny moments. Because, would we choose despair?

 

 

#teacherlyf in a delightful Drama Department means that I get to go with the kids to see the shows they have to review. Some of these are so insightfully written that I would like to share them here. Alana? Anyone? We took Year 11s and 12s to Roma Street Parklands to see R&G (not to be confused, when you see that, it’s an easy mistake, with R&J), and they loved it. Of course they love a night out together too so if you can host a whole bunch of them at your venue, do let me know. They’re great for business; they’re super polite, they eat heaps, they share amusing stories and they Snapchat it all. You’ll adore them.

 

Murphy’s production plays with the traditional casting, and while the gender-blind approach is nothing new (UM. SHAKESPEARE) it could be considered a diabolical error of judgement if the actors are not up to the task. Fortunately, our titular characters are played to the hilt by fine fellows, Ellen Hardistry (Rosencrantz, and in the BAT 2012 production, Hamlet’s mother) and Paige Poulier (Guildenstern). The other crowdpleaser/scene stealer/all-round charismatic and effortlessly funny guy here is Colin Smith (First Player and the English Ambassador), a long-time favourite of mine, and of this ensemble. You may have seen him recently in any number of QT productions. Is he a bit of a Brisbane darling? He can claim it. But everyone admirably plays their parts, injecting excellent energy with their highly physicalised characterisations and animated facial expressions juxtaposed against well considered dynamic stillness. The ensemble scenes are really great lessons in directing and sustaining focus. 

 

 

As the not-quite-as-bright Rosencrantz, Hardistry approaches the text lightly and sustains childlike commitment to every thought uttered aloud, while Poulier adds necessary weight to Guildenstern’s authoritarian manner. Their games are delightful and the wordplay is fast-paced and precisely directed, and so well practised there’s barely a stumble, even with the awkward pauses that allow for stifled giggles, snorts, whispered comments and LOLs from this student audience. These moments are also hilarious. At times it feels like LOLbar at Solbar (speaking of which, Josh Lyons, a special guest in our most recent production presented with Two Braids Collective, is a standout Player). We almost expect to hear a heckler’s comment from the crowd. But of course, everyone is very polite and well behaved, even when the witty references get a little bit naughty.

 

Hardistry and Poulier establish from the outset the kind of friendly intelligent/inane banter that drives a friend insane after long periods of it, and in fact this is what happens. It’s no spoiler, it’s Stoppard; there’s going to be conflict in the conversations, or where else? Guildenstern eventually takes umbrage with the innocent insistence of Rosencrantz to continue playing the same gorgeous, engaging, childish games, and discussing the same simple topics over and over and over and over…………. the very point, that there’s no point in insisting there is an end, until the end comes. And knowing their fate before they do, we feel some of the absurdity of life, and by the same token, the absurdity of wasting it by…waiting. 

 

 

The space, refreshingly reversed, means the audience is seated at the back and along the sides of the amphitheatre’s stage, and we see the scenes from Hamlet played out in the terraced seating bank. This keeps us appropriately distanced from these events, allowing us to consider our perception and/or judgement of Hamlet’s behaviour and how it is perceived by the Danish court, and that perhaps, as succinctly discussed in Jasper Jones, the greater the distance, the less we care.

 

The musicians are the versatile members of the company, and we find our way to our seats after passing them at the top of the stairs. The music is fantastic, adding merriment and a relaxed end-of-the-week (FRIYAY) mood before the fun and games even begin, even as we approach the amphitheatre, having crossed the footbridge to reach it and hearing the sounds long before seeing the band. Magical!

 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a tough one to get right. Rebecca Murphy and QSE have created a highly entertaining and engaging contemporary production, succeeding in every aspect. Let’s hope it stays in the repertoire, giving us a chance to see it again sometime.

 

 

17
May
18

Midsummers At The Lake

 

Midsummers At the Lake

Little Seed Theatre Company

Noosa Botanic Gardens Amphitheatre

May 12-13 & May 19-20 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

Little Seed Theatre Company, founded and directed by Johanna Wallace, continues to go from strength to strength, with this outdoor production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Anywhere Theatre Festival showcasing a couple of talented young performers in particular, largely due to great casting.

 

Admittedly, we experience this production in a slightly more traditional theatrical setting, and while Shakespeare in the park has its merits, when we add an immense body of water as the backdrop and frame the action with an amphitheatre inspired by ancient Greek design and gifted to the community, lakeside Shakespeare becomes the best sort. If you’ve never ventured out to this venue, here’s the perfect opportunity.

 

 

A light-hearted and entertaining production, this Dream features the comic talents of Oscar Long (Peter Quince), Luka Burgess (Nick Bottom) and QACI graduate, Alex Cox (Demetrius); each has a terrific sense of themselves in the open air space, a knack for slapstick and natural comic timing. Burgess in particular knows how to play the audience and as a result, he basically steals the show. The Mechanicals work energetically together, retaining their individual characterisations and appearing as a tight-knit ensemble at the same time, bouncing off one another (and into each other!) to the delight of the audience. Their play-within-the-play and the rehearsal scenes leading up to it could easily be considered a touring entity, and wouldn’t it be terrific for someone to sponsor such an opportunity for these enthusiastic young performers?

 

 

 

Nathaniel Knight (light on his feet without losing any of the weight of authority as Oberon) and Jack Miller (a lovely, lively Puck) embrace the same sense of spontaneity and mischief, and at times we see this in the Lovers too. Cox and Emily Potts (Helena) share some beautifully awkward moments. The over-the-top Potts also plays well with fourteen-year-old Virgo Nash (Hermia), who offers a surprisingly mature performance for one so young. In fact, it’s worth noting that as challenging as Shakespeare’s text and themes tend to be, there’s certainly a solid understanding of the play here, and only rarely do we miss a phrase. Some of the youngest members of this company have some vocal work to do, but if more mature performers such as Harper Ramsey (a firm, fair and distinguished Theseus) and Ayla Long (a stern Hippolyta and a playful fairy) are any indication of Little Seed’s training over the years, this too will come. 

 

 

A soundscape and a series of original songs by Heather Groves in collaboration with her musicians perfectly underscores the action, punctuates comical moments and sustains the magical mood, established early, when the fairies enter the amphitheatre from all directions. We’ve only seen this musical aspect of Shakespeare’s comedies bettered by Tim Finn, for Queensland Theatre’s Twelfth Night. I hope Groves continues this tradition and also, that other Sunshine Coast companies can feel inspired to make the effort to involve live musicians in their productions too; far too often now we lament aspiring and accomplished performers having to learn and perform their songs to click tracks, making the production cheaper to produce and often sounding cheaper and less professional as a result.

 

Little Seed creates a gorgeous atmosphere, using live music, and energetic and enthusiastic performers within the beautiful natural setting of the Noosa Botanic Gardens and amphitheatre, delivering a wonderful production of one of Shakespeare’s most loved plays.

 

 

 

21
Sep
16

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Lyric Hammersmith and Filter Theatre

QPAC Playhouse

September 9 – 17 2016

 

Reviewed by Meredith Walker

 

midsummer-oberon

It is a rare thing to be an hour into a show and still have no idea at all where it is going to go. And in the case of Filter Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this is a very good thing, given the absurdity with which the group has taken what is arguably Shakespeare’s most popular play and transformed it into a giddy and gleeful postmodern romp.

That said, it does start a little slowly with, like so many Shakespearean works, a prologue, delivered with true Irish charm, but of frantic pace by Peter Quince (Ed Gaughan). Drifting into tangents about the Royal family, for example, he tells audience members that they are about to enter the Ancient Athens of ‘fantastic architecture and thriving homosexual culture’. He promises that the part of Bottom is meant to be played by a famous actor, but a technical hitch means that an ‘audience volunteer’ may have assume the role. It is all in keeping with the clumsy craft of the play’s Mechanicals’ amateur dramatics, and, as the curtain rises on the Athenian court, Shakespeare’s society is represented in the play by three distinct class groups, lovers, mechanicals and fairies. A series of mix-ups orchestrated by king of the fairies Oberon (Harry Jardine) causes lovers’ quarrels between Lysander and Hermia, Demetrius and Helena, frantic chases and general chaos that needs to be resolved before King Theseus’s fast approaching wedding.

What the audience sees, however, is no ethereal forest setting, with set design placing the action within a run-down public bathroom of white tiles, water leaks and paper-walls through which characters literally burst on to the stage. Staging is chaotically creative as pieces are destroyed and as Puck (Ferdy Roberts) flings blue liquid gel love juice around, to instant aphrodisiac effect. Oberon, dressed as superhero in all-in-one suit and cape, flies, falls and is covered in flour as part of an epic food fight (with audience involvement). Rather than unruliness, this makes for a hilarious experience that flies by without realisation of its near two hour duration. It’s not all froth and frivolous bubble, however, for as contrast to the mania of the Mechanicals, the lovers, speak only Shakespeare’s words.

midsummer-love-juice

This is a high-energy and physically-demanding show and all the performers deliver accordingly. Francesca Zoutewelle is solid as Hermia, Cat Simmons is an initially dignified Titania and John Lightbody is sensationally smooth as the lustful Lysander, once transformed entirely from his former unassuming self in reaction to the love potion. And Demetrious (Karl Queensborough) makes music out of the Bard’s iambic pentameter. Another standout is Ferdy Roberts as grumpy, tattooed and mischievous rocker roadie/stagehand Puck, from his commanding entrance to the dignified delivery of his final wishes of good night unto all. And Fergus O’Donnell makes the scripted chaos of Bottom’s ascension to stage seem spontaneously improvised. Together, they provide a refreshing interpretation of the characters.

Despite its anarchy, in many ways, this A Midsummer Night’s Dream keeps with Shakespeare’s original text though its weave of comedy through all three of the plot strands and, in particular through the ridiculous mirth of the working class Mechanicals and their presentation to the audience of an abbreviated Pyramus and Thisbe, making us laugh at them rather than with them, in a way different to many other of Shakespeare’s jesters and clowns.

Every comic device is evident in this fast-moving funny-fest. There are moments of stand-up (showing that apparently 20 years is in fact too soon for a Michael Hutchence suicide joke), celebrity impersonations, spontaneous songs, slapstick, clowning and innuendo. The greatest laughs come, however, from notice of the little details, like the lameness of a lion costume and Oberon and Puck’s pull up of picnic chairs and crack open of drinks to watch the lovers battle it out.

Filter Theatre have made their reputation mainly for inventive takes on classic plays and this is especially evident in their sound innovation, and Chris Branch and Tom Haines’s sound design and original music is masterful . Music is effectively integrated into this production and the live band, doubling as Mechanicals, in break from their play of retro kitsch Barry White and The Ramones numbers, add the necessary magic to assist the audience in imagining the invisible fairies to life and suggesting Bottom’s transition to donkey by the sounds of coconut-shell hooves clapping. And a fight between Lysander and Demetrius is enacted as a video game, with Puck at the console, with the noise of gunfire and explosions.

Although a modernisation of a Shakespearean classic is hardly a ground-breaking idea, Filter Theatre manages to bring something truly unique to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Characters and scenes are presented with new purpose, freshly realising, in particular, the text’s sexual innuendo. It’s not always cohesive, but it is superlatively funny in its gleeful irreverence. Cutting and adding so much text is filled with risk, but it is risk that exists at the foundation of all exciting art. And, in this instance, the liberties taken with the text make for not only a highly-entertaining, but a genuinely accessible version. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much in the theatre.

midsummer-lysander

A scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream @ Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. Created by Filter and Directed by Sean Holmes and Stef O’Driscoll (Opening 25-02-16) ©Tristram Kenton 02/16 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

 

 




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