Posts Tagged ‘queensland shakespeare ensemble

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.

 

 

01
Sep
15

TITUS

 

TITUS

The Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble

Roma Street Parklands

August 19 – September 6 2015

 

Reviewed by Katy Cotter 

 

After a decade of war against the Goths, the Roman general, Titus Andronicus, returns home victorious but battle-weary. He brings with him Tamora, the fallen Goth queen, and her sons as prisoners. In an act of ritual sacrifice to the gods, Titus kills Tamora’s eldest son, fuelling a bloody and unrelenting cycle of revenge between himself and Tamora. Violent acts are met with more violent deeds, blurring the line between victim and perpetrator.

 

Seen through the eyes of modern day Australia, Zoë Tuffin’s production serves to remind us of our most primal human instincts. When we have a brutal act committed against us, as an individual or as a nation, our baser instincts are awakened and we demand justice.

 

 

But justice can turn to revenge with alarming ease and blood be answered with blood.

 

 

titus_robpenselfini

 

Titus Andronicus is one of Shakespeare’s bloody and gruesome tragedies that feeds on revenge and retribution, leaving few alive, who in turn suffer the same horrors as their predecessors. Sounds like our current political system… Under the direction of Zoe Tuffin, The Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble is tackling one (out of many) of the bard’s epic texts in their adaptation, TITUS.

 

The mood before the show commences is celebratory and jovial as part of the cast forms what can only be described as a medieval rock band, The Gloves of Blood, playing live music. General Titus Andronicus, played by Rob Pensalfini, is clad in garb fit for the battlefield as he sings while strumming a tiny ukulele. His sister Marta, played by Anthea Patrick, wears a flowing gown as she bashes at the drums. This pre-show performance feels an odd way to lead into the main-show, although it prefaces this adaptation, which continues to surprise and subvert expectations.

 

titus_imagebybenjaminprindable

 

 

Tuffin’s knowledge of dissecting a Shakespearean play shines through her direction, as she not only explores the darkness of the text, but also embraces the comedy.

 

 

There are moments where the ensemble revel in the complete absurdity of a scene, leaving the audience howling with laughter. This in turn creates different perceptions of particular characters. Silvan Rus who plays Aaron is a stand-out, embodying the words flying out of his mouth with controlled speed and precision. He infuses the character, who is one of the villains in the play, with such an abundance of charm and charisma that the audience can’t help but adore him. Lavinia, played by Johancee Theron, has the most harrowing character through-line and yet Theron’s facial expressions and storytelling through movement and mime are hilariously tragic.

 

The Parkland’s amphitheatre provides an epic backdrop – a salute to Ancient Rome – with the audience seated onstage among the actors, looking out at the tiers of seats. Tuffin took full advantage of the space, so that not all the action is centre stage. A mention must be given to Steven Tibbits for his beautifully understated lighting design. The simplicity of each state helps forge the tone of every scene without becoming overwhelming.

 

Do not let the two hour run time deter you from seeing this vivacious and entertaining work; time is seriously a non-issue.

 

The ensemble unifies to deliver a fast-paced extravaganza, keeping the audience engaged and leaving little opportunity to tune out. The play is timeless and reveals the cyclical nature of human behaviour. Can we ever truly learn from history and evolve? Are we meant to? Or is all the world a stage of repetitions?

 

 

 

 

03
Mar
14

The Bomb-itty of Errors

 

The Bomb-itty of Errors

Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble

UQ Geoffrey Rush Drama Studio

February 24 – March 8 2014

 

Reviewed by Meredith Walker

 

The Bomb-itty of Errors

 

The Bomb-itty of Errors by Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble is a rapid-fire humoured take on Shakespeare, irreverent and pantomime-like in its silliness, and very entertaining.

 

The energetic twist on one of the Bard’s earliest works, The Comedy of Errors tells the story of lost identical twins and ridiculous mistaken identity, all while a DJ spins and actors rap. Despite this modernisation, the play manages to retain much of the Bard’s original text. William Shakespeare’s template features two sets of twins—a pair of masters both conveniently named Antipholus, and a pair of servants, both named Dromio—who are separated as infants. In The Bomb-itty of Errors, they’re quadruplets—two pairs of twins—left abandoned. When the duo that was raised in Ephesus shows up in Syracuse, this comedy of mistaken identities ensues.

 

Shakespeare demands intensity of actors and this is especially so when there is the additional vocal pressure of 90 minutes of hip hop. And the ensemble cast is more than up to the challenge, with just a few dialogue slips, easily forgiven given the frenzied nature of the show, with four actors, playing multiple characters and multiple genders, all while rapping and rhyming. Indeed, frequent entrances and exits, and frantic costume changes only add to the farcical nature of the chaos, especially when they see actors revealing in Shakespearean drag tradition.

 

The quartet has as much fun acting as females as in their male roles. In fact, as ‘dumb as paint’ Luciana and her fierce sister Adriana, Zac Kelty and Silvah Rus steal the show. Contrastingly, Colin Smith and Luke Cadden find their strength in their male roles as the two strutting and fretting brothers Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse. And then there is Artistic Director, Rob Pensalfini’s appearance as Rastafarian apothecary, Dr Pinch, which heightens audience engagement as he eyes the ladies.

 

The fast-paced nature of this ‘ad-rap-ation’ means that audience members must be on their toes, not just due to its fourth wall breakdowns, but to catch all the lyrics as they tumble word play and pun upon alliteration and rhyme, with a rhythm not unlike that of Shakesepare’s iambic pentameter. It really is a feast for the ears, clever and lewd, and very Shakespeare. The dialogue is infused, not just with bawdiness, but pop culture references such as to twerking and quidditch, and phrases like cray cray and OMG, which is fitting, perhaps given that the work is based on that which would have been the pop culture of its day (given that way in which his works are so influenced by the world around him.)

 

bomb-ittyoferrors

 

Visually, too, the show does not disappoint. Although there are some early lapses in the precision of lighting transitions, the colour and movement of the show are almost to the point of animation, with The University of Queensland’s Geoffrey Rush Drama Studio set transformed to into a hip-hop cultured, cartooned world of brothels and convents by urban artist Will Powell.

 

As such, The Bomb-itty of Errors becomes more than just slapstick silliness; rather it shines as an exuberant celebration of the Bard that retains the integrity of the original text as much as it transforms it.