Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare


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.







heartBeast Theatre

Spring Hill Reservoirs

October 7 – 22 2016

Reviewed by Katy Cotter


What is it about Shakespeare’s Hamlet? It is the story of a grieving and tortured young man who seeks revenge for his father’s death. Do we sympathise with him? Do we forgive him for his sins? As an audience, we are sucked into the drama, into the madness, into the world being presented before us. There is no doubt a tragic end approaches, though we never stop rooting for the Prince of Denmark.

Why keep telling this story, or any Shakespeare for that matter? There is no denying that the Bard’s words, his language has continued to be a point of investigation; a search to uncover new meaning. Companies are now taking on the challenge to modernise Shakespeare or place his stories into different worlds. Some have been more successful than others.


HeartBeast’s production of Hamlet is set in a post-apocalyptic world – D-MARK – a High Security Compound. It was my first visit to the Spring Hill Reservoirs and I was immediately transported into another space and time. There was no seating bank. The audience was free to stand or sit wherever they desired, on crates or wooden boxes, and followed the actors as they moved around the compound. There were roughly 10 rooms where the scenes would play out, although I found the spaces other than where the main action was taking place were sometimes more captivating. These “off side” moments were capturing Ophelia in her private moments, or Hamlet meandering around the compound reading or muttering to himself. These were fresh insights into the character’s psyche. Perhaps they were too distracting from the main action at times. I definitely found them more interesting.


Lighting by Jason Harding and sound design by Paul Young were incredibly detailed, creating a threatening and ominous atmosphere that allowed the audience to sink deep into the drama unfolding in front of them. The sound did overpower the actor’s at times and clarity was lost. The lighting and sound desk also doubled as a monitoring room where Claudius and Gertrude would retreat to spy on Hamlet.

The post-apocalyptic scenario worked as far as placing the story into a new aesthetic. The costumes had a medieval/Viking/space-like/futuristic feel to them that looked great under the lights. There were guns and gas masks. Ophelia had a wire strapped to her chest at one point. These elements were visually pleasing but I was not convinced it enhanced or revamped the story. I wondered what were the reasons behind setting the play in this time? What was happening in the world outside of the bunker? The sound design alluded that there was a war but I only sensed this at the end of a scene when there was an explosion, a drone strike perhaps, and Gertrude and Ophelia hit the ground in fear. That scene was terrifying and I yearned for more of these moments, though it never happened again. I felt this may have been a lost opportunity to raise new and exciting stakes for the characters and push the story into unchartered territory.


Hamlet is a long play and like any Shakespeare, it is a challenge for the actor’s to keep the audience invested in the story. Grappling with the language and conveying meaning and genuine emotion is paramount. David Paterson who played the leading role delivered a strong and complex performance. He was charming yet extremely dangerous. I must admit I found it difficult to listen to some of the performers. The ladies in particular spoke in high registers as if they were struggling with the acoustics, and the men sometimes spoke with thick Australian accents that was jarring and brought me out of the world. I think the company would have benefitted from a more coherent sound. That being said they were united and invested in each moment.


HeartBeast’s production of Hamlet dares the audience to participate in the action and not sit back and watch it unfold. I enjoyed the opportunity to view the story from different perspectives and let my imagination interact with the character’s I have grown to know and love. Or do I know them? Do I love them? This work challenges those preconceived perceptions of some of Shakespeare’s well known characters. There are so many elements to this show and some of them work and some fall short of hitting the mark. It is so important to see theatre that makes you question what you like or what you don’t like, what works and what doesn’t work. This High Security Compound is accessible this week only. Head on down to D-Mark.





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 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.





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?






A Midsummer Night’s Dream


A Midsummer Night’s Dream

La Boite Theatre Co

Roundhouse Theatre

February 11 – March 7 2015


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward



“A wildly original take on Shakespeare’s magical romantic comedy.”






Alright. That may be, but I have a few questions about this one. Firstly…


Who killed Kenny?! PUCK?






So the faery servant is not altogether dead in this production, but he is actually mostly dead. Or, he is reborn as an alien who channels himself using the magic of television. Or whatever. We hear his voice – well, sort of; it sounds eerily similar to the evil voice in The Child, to which I’m currently listening – and we never actually see him. Oh sure, Oberon sees a version of him, but DOES HE EVEN REALLY EXIST? Who’s to say? Read it how you will; of course the absence of Puck will seem awesome and inspired to some, of course – of course! – but to me it smacks of too much cleverness. Why mess with A Midsummer Night’s Dream? I don’t believe Shakespeare’s characters need to be transported to a terribly different time and place in order to make the old stories relevant to new audiences, or whatever, unless you are Sam Mendes. (I do hope you’re keeping up with the NT Live screenings at a cinema near you because THAT is how we reinvent the classics, kids). #ntlive #nuffsaid


Where is the magic here?

Because the magic of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is its magic.


Four awkward teens find themselves entangled in a god-awful love quadrangle. A sextet of amateur drama enthusiasts earnestly rehearse a play for a wedding. The Godfather and Godmother of the fairies are locked in a bitter argument over an adopted child, which they seek to resolve through the careless application of dodgy witchcraft.






In Benjamin Schostakowski’s brave reimagining the magic is almost entirely lost. Where are the faeries? Why must Titania speak to them (and for them) when they are clearly, according to this version, not really there? It seems she is going slightly mad! Or is it just me?! Why do we need to dream the Dream so differently? Other than making a mark as a director, putting one’s own stamp on it and all that stuff, why go to such lengths to pluck out and dispose of all of the gleaming, glistening, beautifully coloured tail feathers? As I know it, the Dream is a peacock, or Amazing Mayzie, but now we see it stripped (though not edited; it’s a long show!), and without the magic we are left with Gertrude McFuzz. Before medication. Poor Gertrude. (Sorry, Gertrude).






When we re-stage a classic, a well-loved text, we have to ask, “What’s the message now?” What do we want the audience to take away this time? Has this story changed? No. Have these characters changed? No. We still have lovers (and faeries and crazies) among us. In theory, the story and its characters can be thrown into any setting, but in practice does the (insert superlative here) conceptualisation continue to serve the story?


Having enjoyed intelligent conversations with so many people about so many productions over so many years I’m ready to hear the triumphant cries of “genius!” And “inspired!” (No doubt I missed most of them at the after party. It was late. There are roadworks every night. There is school every day, and there were four more fabulous shows to get to last week!). I’ve said the same, loudly, about A Tribute of Sorts. I loved it! But Schostakowski’s “wildly original take” on A Midsummer Night’s Dream has missed the mark, despite its moments of inspired genius. Do you know what I love most about this production? That it happened. That Chris Kohn had scheduled it, that Todd Macdonald & co have supported it, that everybody involved was up for something new, exciting and daring and IT HAPPENED.






I had high expectations, which prevailed upon sighting Dann Barber’s beautiful, cluttered set (everything brought onto stage stays on stage); it’s an interior not unlike the country house in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (or what the Year 7 drama students might imagine Darkwood House to look like), with a great, grand central staircase and incredible detail in the dressing of the space, right down to the carpet on the stairs, the suitably slightly garish wallpaper, and the props placed on shelves and side tables, creating an old fashioned feeling of the typical homely, cosy, hoarder’s precious mess. It doesn’t strike me as particularly Australian but, y’know, whatever.






More importantly, why is there no beauty in it? My initial intrigue turns to dismay when nothing more than the obvious is done: the house is a house is a house. Another missed opportunity perhaps as far as lighting states go (although the next night, at Sex With Strangers, I spoke with Lighting Designer, Jason Glenwright, about it and he didn’t seem to mind in the least), when we have no magical dappled forest lighting. It’s. A. House. I think sometimes the obvious choices annoy me. We see no subtlety, no subtext; everything is exactly as it seems. Except in the acting choices, and perhaps as the lamps flicker… More of that kind of magic too, please!






The Mechanicals are another example. They come this close to bringing the house down with their silly antics and sure, they’re funny, but they should in fact be so excruciatingly bad that they become holding-your-belly-hilarious. The performances within The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe are actually fine. Oh, but wait! The most delicious, wicked, tongue-in-cheek comedy comes with the actors’ focus exercises and warm ups! The focus exercise gets me every time, each one a masterclass in comic timing and the magic of a good ensemble. Absolutely hysterical! HA! #sittingacrossfromseanmeelaughing #comedygold


It’s a reduced cast, boiled down to six instead of the usual twenty or so, and it’s an inspired (and economically sound) idea that doesn’t quite work. We wait, old-school high school musical scene-change style, for costume changes. Despite being mostly hilarious, and winning over the majority of the opening night audience with his vocal and physical work, Kieran Law’s Lysander, Bottom, Pyramus and the ass are too similar. (For the uninitiated, the latter refers to the donkey he becomes when Bottom is transformed by Puck’s magic spell). And can I say; what a missed opportunity it is to just die! “I die. I die. I die.” And he does. Sigh. Sometimes I wonder how much is the director’s choice, and how much is left to the actor’s discretion? I wonder again as Pacharo Mzembe (Demetrius) runs and leaps about the space shirtless and shining with sweat, months before he will return to this stage in Prize Fighter…is it not yet selling well? Now it will! You know I have no problem with admiring a well maintained male (or female) form on stage (or screen) but what should have been completely natural, joyous and boisterous reeked of  a marketing stunt akin to an etsy crafter friend taking advantage of Ryan Gosling’s memeness to self-promote in your newsfeed. #yesmemenessisawordnow #heygirl





There are plenty of lovely moments, to which Law and Mzembe contribute, and the girls are great. There is much to enjoy. After the show, when I wonder aloud at my simultaneous delight and frustration with the four of them, despite mostly gorgeous performances, Julia reminds me, “You have to be in love with the lovers!” OH YES. (Am I? Am I in love with the lovers? Perhaps I would be by the end of the season).






Well, if you LOVE Kathryn Marquet you’ll LOVE her sighing, gasping, whimpering, wailing, plain ol’ little Hermia. I loved her Snug, and for what purpose its interpretation I cannot tell you, but I LOVED Marquet’s delivery of what becomes a Slide (Sydney) worthy performance poetry piece (think Maureen in Over the Moon). The interpretive dance, which opens the play within the play? Not so much (Choreographer Neridah Waters). I’m glad many on opening night enjoyed the sequence – it feels like a fond, funny throwback to A Tribute of Sorts – but like so many aspects of the production it’s a token gesture, and perhaps that’s the point. #tryeverythingonce








Speaking of A Tribute of Sorts, of the four lovers, Emily Burton is the standout. Her Helena makes the most sense in this context, and her performance keeps me captivated. Burton has been offered here, like everyone else, a couple of very OTT moments but she’s the only one who manages to make each one completely plausible. Her facial expressions make this Helena more animated than perhaps you’ve seen before, and the effect – she – is beautiful.


Christen O’Leary, as you will know if you’re a regular here, is one of my favourite physical performers. She has a voice, yes, and as Hippolyta, she uses it effortlessly to command and cajole. We won’t mention the Helen Howardesque hair. (Why is it we are still all having so much trouble finding perfect wigs for productions? Huh? Please send help!) Anyway, sans wig, as Titania O’Leary flits and flirts and seduces her way around the space like a proper nymph, and I expect more to come of her relationship with Bottom as the ass. There is nothing more yet. It feels, so early in the season, as if they are holding back, being very careful in that bathtub! Somebody send them to Wicked for research! (N.B. There are no complete clips of Steve & Jemma yet, sorry). Anyway, she talks with faeries that are not there and voices their few lines, as I’ve said, creating what comes across as a slightly mad Ophelia vibe. Again, this may have been the vibe we were going for! WHO’S TO SAY? #theresrosemarythatsforremembrance





We also enjoy a strong, sure performance from Brian Lipson (Theseus & Oberon), and in both his guises he reminds me of somebody…ah! That’s it! #teamgilfedder





There are many who will very loudly, quite rightly adore this production, and thank goodness, because we know from past experience that in the meantime, the critics of the critics will only talk about how wildly I’ve missed the point. Maybe so. But there is something lost in translation here, which cannot be glossed over by a sparkly press release or an over zealous, super supportive review in praise of originality, the rise and rise of the indie theatre makers and the need to support them, and the desire to seduce the next generation, and yet… #stageitandtheywillcome


This truly new take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream gives us lots to talk about, and lots to look forward to because it’s clear Schostakowski has a gift. We see its promise, its glimmer, like the Arkanstone tumbling away through the masses of superfluous, distractifying treasure (#sorrynotsorry #ozspeak), and what I’d love to see again now is the return of the trust in the work; a return to the simple magic of theatre, without having to prove a thing, whatever that thing might be.


This Dream might be your thing. Find out!


Images by Dylan Evans







shake & stir’s Queensland Youth Shakespeare Festival finalists in The Tempest


The Tempest 

Shake & Stir Theatre Co

Brisbane Powerhouse

January 20 – 21 2014


Reviewed by Meredith McLean


We are such stuff as dreams are made on…




Shake & Stir are always putting on something daring. These guys make theatre as if it is it’s own living universe and not a show we have to sit back and watch. It feels like the whole show grows and changes with us on the night and we forget that there were rehearsed lines.


The top 30 competitors from the Inaugural QLD Youth Shakespeare Festival combine their powers in this multi-arts exploration of Shakespeare’s late great work, The Tempest.


So the top 30 Queensland Youth Shakespeare Festival Finalists who performed Shakespeare’s Tempest last week were nothing short of what Shake & Stir embodies.


The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works. Simply put, it is the tale of a great storm bringing two lovers together while a magically enhanced father, with the aid of nymphs and other foolish spirits, makes mischief for all on his island. What made this performance equally incredible was that the display of choreography, lighting, acting and atmosphere was pulled together in one week.


Matt Walsh, Shake & Stir’s Resident Company Actor, appeared in this production as the great and powerful (and cheeky) Prospero. This is a role familiar to him, and he delivered it with the awe and wit that Prospero would have had were he real and truly ruling his own bizarre island.


The students got to add a touch of their own perception to the play too. The experience and opportunity for them was to really delve into a great play that not many have studied. But in understanding the text they first had to compare it to their own perspective. This was done in humourous ways such as the drunkard character Stephano, played by Liam Soden, carrying a sack of “goon”, and the daughter of Prospero – Miranda, played by India Oswin, telling her father he was embarrassing her in front of her crush. This further confirms the argument, which Shake and Stir tackled last year when they asked, is Shakespeare still relevant?


This excellent display of young Queensland talent sadly stayed at the Powerhouse for only two nights. But the glorious, oceanic stage was a wonderful sight for those who did get a chance to see it, and support Queensland’s youth, which hopefully we all do from time to time. They are, after all, the future of our industry.


Ed’s note:


Hot tip for teachers – don’t let your students miss the opportunity to work alongside Shake & Stir, ever. If we could clone these guys and put them into all Australian schools you’d never hear another kid complain about having to study Shakespeare again. There’s no question that Shake & Stir has helped keep Shakespeare not only relevant but vital to Australian school students.


Keep an eye out for details about this year’s Queensland Youth Shakespeare Festival and book now, if you haven’t already (you haven’t already?!) for the return season of their fearless and flawless production of Orwell’s 1984 directed by Michael Futcher and featuring Ross Balbuziente, Nelle Lee, Bryan Probets, Nick Skubij & David Whitney at QPAC 15 July – 2 August 2014