Tag: Shakespeare

Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Traversing the pitfalls of love, deceit and pride 

By Rebecca Waese 

Shakespeare was celebrated joyfully last night in a Sevenfold Theatre Company production of Much Ado About Nothing in an inner-city backyard in Kingsville, Melbourne. First-time director Mitchell Wills led his youthful cast, hailing from Federation University, in an Australian-inspired Much Ado About Nothing that included well-crafted references to Melbourne suburbs and the Australian Open Tennis. It was a happy, accessible production with some moments of deep feeling and bawdy humour. For Shakespeare fans and, perhaps, VCE English students who are studying this play, this production of Much Ado offers an engaging way to experience the comedic adventures and misadventures of two couples, Hero and Claudio, and Beatrice and Benedick, who traverse the pitfalls of love, deceit, pride, and Don John’s cunning plots against Hero’s honour.

With some cuts to the original Shakespeare to condense the play to two hours, Wills includes modern references to make the story resonant with his audience, with messages arriving by iPhone and Don John vaping on top of the doghouse. There were many enjoyable interactions with the audience where audience members were winked at, called a drunkard or asked to record the notes from the trial led by a very funny and capable Watch duo, played by Fae O’Toole and Tess Walsh.

Other highlights include the strong performance of Benedick, played by Jesse Calvert, in his transformation from sharp-tongued bachelor to the love-struck, poetry-writing wooer of Beatrice, played by Petea Stark.  Benedick’s spying behind the laundry and Beatrice’s squeezing through the doggie door contributed enjoyable moments of physical comedy and a clever use of the backyard and surrounding space.

There were a few questionable interpretive choices involving the sheer likability of Claudio, (Tom Costigan) who might benefit from emphasizing the darker aspects of his fickle nature, and interest in appearances and in Hero’s inheritance as suggested in the subtext of the play. The level of campiness of Leonato, played by Joshua Strachan, was a little out of place at times and I believe Leonato’s strongest moments were in his more dramatic and grounded rejection of Hero. Perhaps Don John, the evil plotting villain, ought to remain estranged in the final dance and not mingle in the celebration with the revellers?

While rocking up to someone’s backyard for the evening involves some level of trepidation, the audience was given a warm welcome from Leonato, and invited to an intimate setting with paper lanterns, strings of lights and laundry hung artfully in hues of red, pink and blue. Costumes were coordinated and appealing and music added a convivial feeling to the relaxed night. While the level of professional experience of the ensemble is new and the company is in its debut season in the Melbourne theatre scene, there is certainly a place for this pleasurable outdoor Shakespearean production and its promising ensemble. 

Playing until the 26th January. Tickets available here


They who dared do more

By Narelle Wood

In a year that marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death you can’t go far this season without encountering a performance celebrating or commenting in his life’s work. The Union House Theatre present a mostly traditional retelling of Macbeth juxtaposed with a modern, colonialist version through macdeath: a coda.


Under the artistic direction of Petra Kalive, the traditional section of The Tragedy of Macbeth is performed almost in its entirety, with only small, arguably non-essential lines omitted from the script. The fast pace at which the actors speak means the production has quite a manic pace to it at times and also affords some extra time at the end for the coda. The pacing works, the staging is minimalist so transitions from one scene to another match the speed of the dialogue, with only a few well-crafted pauses along the way. The only downside to this was that sometimes Lady Macbeth’s (Sen Wagaarachchi) lines were delivered with such fervour and haste the character’s linguistic manipulation was lost in a blur of words.

There was some characterisation that didn’t sit well with me. Malcolm (Lachlan Watts) seemed sleazy and entitled; an interpretation of his character that I had not considered before and didn’t particularly like, mostly because there was nothing, even by the character’s own admission, kingly about him. This was not helped by the fact that I found Martin Hoggart’s portrayal of Macbeth to be completely charismatic; for the first time ever I was hoping that things were going to work out for Macbeth, despite his ambitious ways.

Despite my reservations in some of these character interpretations, the acting was great. The Weird Sisters (Bec Riggs, Amy Spurgeon and Liam Bellman Sharpe) epitomised sinister and malevolent, and Georgie Daniels’ (Macduff) was fierce making her character a fair contender for the throne.

The staging (Kalive), lighting (Jacob Trethowan and Brendan McDougall) and soundtrack (Nat Grant and Connor Ross) were genius. The combination of all 3 turned a minimalist black set into something eerie and atmospheric; especially the use of the chairs and sound effects produced by the witches.

Jean Tong’s macdeath: a coda was intriguing but left me feeling a little ambivalent towards what was a very good production. The political message in the coda was poignant and the comparison between Macbeth’s story and more recent historical drew some rather worrying parallels. I couldn’t help but think though that this section deserved to be more than a coda; that either story in its own right deserved to be told and performed in full.

Macbeth + macdeath: a coda is a thought-provoking and intense combination of the traditional and the reinvented Macbeth. It is perhaps not a production for die-hard traditionalists: that been said though, it certainly does raise questions, and propose some answers, about why Shakespeare and The Tragedy of Macbeth is still relevant today.

Venue: Guild Theatre, Union House, University of Melbourne

Season: 16-24 September, 7.30 Wednesday – Saturday, Saturday matinee 3pm

Tickets: $20

Bookings: chook.as/uht/macbeth

Nothing But Roaring Presents THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR

Fast, fresh and funny – just as farce should be

By Narelle Wood

The Merry Wives of Windsor is Shakespeare, (almost) as it should be; there are minimal sets and theatre-in-the-round style seating – the only differences are modern costumes, a roof on the theatre, female actors and a One Direction reference or two.

The Merry Wives of Windsor.jpg

It’s not a play that I’m familiar with, but it follows all the main plot points of a classic Shakespearean farce that makes it instantly recognisable. The farce is based on making a mockery of John Falstaff (Tom Considine) who declares that he shall seduce not one but two of the wives of Windsor. The wives of Windsor, Mistress Ford (Carole Patullo) and Mistress Page (Helen Hopkins), upon hearing this decide that revenge through humiliation will be a befitting antidote for Falstaff’s lustful and presumptuous ways. As is the case in most Shakespearean plays, the minor characters wield havoc as they manipulate and betray each of their masters, and this results in the one not-so-merry husband of Windsor (Master Ford played by James Wardlaw) planning an entrapment of his own to prove his wife unfaithful. Meanwhile several suitors vie for Anne Page’s (Jing-Xuan Chan) hand in marriage, which adds to the intrigue as lies are told and deceit unfolds.

There is so much going on in this play, with twists in plot and a number of soliloquys and asides, that the minimalist approach of basic set and lighting is a welcomed relief. For the most part the Shakespearean language fluidly rolled off the casts’ tongues, as would be expected of actors of this calibre, but it also means that the dialogue is unapologetically fast. There is also an unexpected challenge in deciphering the Bard’s prose; Shakespearean language mixed with a Hugh Evans’ well-articulated Welsh accent made sure I was definitely concentrating on what was being said.

The actors all played multiple characters, with small costume changes signalling the character changes, and they all effortlessly morph from idiot suitor to jock-houseboy, from simple houseboy to jealous husband or whatever other transformations are required. The actors, under Rob Conkie’s direction, also make impressive use of the space; not once, even with the actors’ directing their attention to the other seating areas, did I feel excluded from the performance. The farcical nature of the plot was often reflected in the physical performances of the characters, gesticulating, groping or gyrating for humorous effect.

It’s hard to shy away from Shakespeare in a year that marks the 400th anniversary of his death. There will be a lot of Shakespeare on offer but The Merry Wives of Windsor is an amusing tale and this production makes for a very merry evening indeed.

Venue: Fortyfive Downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane Melbourne

Season: Until Sunday 1st May, Tuesday-Saturday 7.30pm, Sunday 5pm

Tickets: Full $38| Conc $28

Bookings: www.fortyfivedownstairs.com


A truly wonderful evening of entertainment

By Margaret Wieringa

Cancel your plans, pack a picnic and get yourself to Pipemaker’s Park. This is a show that you won’t want to miss – and if that hasn’t sold you, it’s free!

A Midsummer Night's Dream.jpg

In case you don’t know, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a Shakespearean comedy, set in Athens one hot summer’s night. There are characters in love and characters betrothed and characters running away, and then the faeries and the like get involved, and things go crazy. Ultimately, the perfect play to watch as the sun sets in a beautiful Australian park.

The Pipemaker’s Park is a place that has been let got for a long time; walking from the carpark, you pass some ugly concrete and rusted fences. Director Alan Chambers and playwright Andy Harmsen have clearly drawn inspiration from these contrary surrounds, with the central feature of the set a rusted old pickup truck beneath a most beautiful and expansive tree.

And then the cast arrive – it was like Elizabethan Mad Max, a dystopian future-feel with ripped clothes and skinheads and a bit of ‘Am I Ever Going to See Your Face Again’. I cannot praise the cast enough. They were just fabulous – to a tee. Even the smallest role was filled with humour and delightful little quirks. As always, Puck was the favourite of the crowd – Brendan Ewing played the cheeky fawn with perfect comic timing, slipping through the crowd on the most mysterious stilt/legs. I want to go on about all of the performers, although space won’t permit – the wonderful lovers played with so much humour by Katharine Innes, Hannah Bolt, Letitia Sutherland and Seton Pollack; the hilarious Mechanicals lead by Jimmy James Eaton as Bottom. Just brilliant.

A couple of things for your comfort – plan a little. Bring a blanket and a jumper and maybe a picnic (though there are snacks, including a delicious smelling BBQ). And if it looks like the weather may turn, don’t cancel your plans – there is an undercover area where the show can move if need be. We were very lucky – there were a few drops of rain, but once some umbrellas were handed out, the rain stopped.

This was truly a community event – the audience was full of families and kids, couples and people on their own, young and old. It was a lovely feeling, and in a delightful park that I had not until this night even known existed.

Where: Pipemaker’s Park, The Living Museum of the West, Maribyrnong
When: 63:0 pm February 19th, 20th, 21st, 26th, 27th and 28th
Tickets: Free! Just arrive, spread out your blanket and enjoy!


REVIEW: Monash Shakespeare Company’s TITUS

Ferocity unleashed

By Amy Planner

Violence has many forms and this production holds no punches in exploring the history of humanity and our gravitational attraction to that violence. Written and directed by James Jackson, Monash Shakespeare Company presents Titus, a non-conventional and radical reworking of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.


Broken down in to three distinct acts, Titus explores the Shakespearean tragedy in a vastly postmodernist way. The focus in its many forms is violence; Act I presents The Symbolic in an almost wordless adaptation, Act II delves in to The Objective with a script-ridden dialogue surge, and Act III tackles The Subjective in a physical exercise of rather ferocious proportions.

In true post-modernist form,  Titus does away with answers and instead raises many deep-seeded and philosophical questions about humanity, honour, love, family and violence.

The small cast (Elizabeth Brennan, Emily Stokes, Lindsay Templeton, Meaghan Laurie and Tom Molyneaux) offered a range of talents and although some performers were stronger than others, there were a number of memorable moments. The lighting was stark but appropriate and the use of sound and music created an eerie ambiance.

Designed by Nathan Burmeister, he unique staging comprised of a beach-worth of sand, a brick or two and metres of Dexter-esque plastic lining the spray painted walls. The distinctive take on Shakespeare was matched only by the interesting use of space. Unfortunately, the meekly tiered seating did leave those behind the front row gasping for news on the activity happening down front, but were left out of the loop.

Being ready for the metaphysical interpretation did not prepare for the blitzkrieg of symbolism, figurative actions, metaphorical moments and deluge of questions thrown at the audience in rapid succession. Perhaps a more defined focus on one or two theatrical elements would have allowed the unsuspecting audience to follow the hasty plot and really grab a hold of some of those big subjects.

If you play shy to a bucket-load of blood, have a phobia of sand or hold on to haunting memories of the dreaded Beep Test then perhaps Titus isn’t for you. But if you are in need of a little philosophical punch to the face through a never-before-seen Shakespearean awakening, then Titus should be right up your postmodernist alley.

Titus by Monash Shakespeare Company
Season: 9-12 and 14-18 July 2015 7.30pm (2pm show on 11th July)
Venue: Second Story Studios, 3/159 Sackville Street Collingwood
Tickets: $21 Full, $17 Concession, $15 MSC Member
Booking: trybooking.com/HYJQ

Image by Sarah Walker and Debbie Yew

REVIEW: Speakeasy and MKA: Theatre of New Writing Present MKA: RICHARD II

Time doth waste him

By Narelle Wood

MKA: Richard II is a little hard to describe. Not being familiar with the Shakespearean work, it is a little hard to know how true to the original storyline this modern adaptation is. Regardless of accuracy, it is a highly entertaining and sometimes uncomfortable look at leadership.

Richard II

This tale of Richard II begins with 11 year-old Richard (Mark Wilson) and 10 year-old Henry (Olivia Monticciolo) already establishing their leadership rivalry, citing everything from age lineage and gender as reasons for their own superiority. Flash forward a few years, Richard is king and the bids for leadership takeovers, strip-teasers and political rants begin. Monticciolo is great, but there is something about Wilson that is hilarious.

Interspersed throughout the dialogue, which may be closely based on recent political events, there are excerpts from the Bard’s Richard II and what appears to be some ad-libbed political ranting. What Wilson and Monticciolo have created is a very funny link between Shakespeare’s world and the Australian world of politics; the parallels that are drawn are brilliant and the resulting commentary on leadership resonates as true.

The set is simple but effective, with a runway becoming the political platform whereby each leader assumes their position. It did seem a little long at times (it kept to the hour timeframe) but this was mostly during the Richard II soliloquies that remind you that Shakespeare, whilst brilliant, had some exceptionally verbose tendencies, especially when his characters are wallowing. The costumes were also really well done; Richard’s costume was amazing and certainly had all the embellishments one would expect from royal robes. It was interesting to see Wilson’s skill at putting on tights and Monticciolo’s ability to tastefully get changed while dancing to some good old-fashioned 80’s rock.

MKA: Richard II is a fun, but fairly intense show. It has certainly inspired me to read Shakespeare’s Richard II (and maybe a Henry or two). It would certainly be a good Fringe Festival choice for anyone interested in Shakespeare, politics or planning their own political upheaval.

Venue: Northcote Town Hall, 189 High St Northcote
Season: Saturday 20th September to Sunday 28th September, 9.30pm, Sundays 8.30pm
Tickets: Full $26| Conc $21
Bookings: www.melbournefringe.com.au/fringe-festival/show/ mka-richard-ii/


Was Pope John Paul I murdered?

By Lyn Collet

This magnificent production tells of the last confession of Cardinal Giovanni Benelli (played brilliantly by David Suchet) who influenced the election of Pope John Paul I (Cardinal Albino Luciani – portrayed wonderfully by Richard O’Callaghan) in 1978.

This confession relates to all the events that took place before, during and after the Pope’s 33-day reign and reveals Benelli’s personal ambitions.

Tha Last Confession

Set in the Vatican, The Last Confession by Roger Crane is a complex story, but one superbly and strongly performed by this entire cast, supported with excellent sets by William Dudley and lighting design by Peter Mumford. The many scene changes were totally professional and, although simple, very effective in their creativity. The costumes by Fotini Dimou were believably authentic as were the stage props, while director Jonathan Church has made this a fascinating, fast-moving tale with just the right amount of humour.

Famed for his roles as Poirot and in Shakespeare, Suchet as Benelli convincingly succeeds in showing his character as a man struggling with his faith, fighting his dreams of power, and expressing his feelings of guilt for what he feels is his part in the death of his loved friend Luciani. Without revealing too much, Benelli’s final scene is highly dramatic and shows Suchet’s incredible talent to advantage.

This production is a powerful, absorbing and thought-provoking drama with power plays and machinations within the Vatican being strongly explored.

The Last Confession will be playing for a three-week season from the 3rd of September at The Comedy Theatre before touring nationally. Bookings at http://www.ticketmaster.com.au/The-Last-Confession-tickets/artist/34736