Review: Faustus – Queensland Theatre Company & Bell Shakespeare @ Brisbane Powerhouse

Michael Gow has not so much adapted Marlowe’s and Goethe’s pre-existing Faustus texts as editorialised them with a whole range of other western cultural materials – poetry, drama, music, song and film. He’s woven them together with his own words into a contemporary take on the man who bargains his soul away to the devil in exchange for power and youth.

Gow directs this new play in a highly theatrical realisation that calls upon all the traditions of story-telling: mask, puppetry, song, and multiple role-playing by the ensemble. It’s absolutely 21st century theatre, but this production retains the earthy flavour and naiveté of the medieval theatre’s Morality plays and their lively playing out of the forces of good and evil in the world.

Apparently the devils, imps and vice figures were hugely popular in these early pieces, and so it is here. From the outset we know it’s not going to be a good ending for Faustus (Ben Winspear) but rather his sparring with Mephistophilis (John Bell) and the journey along the way to Hell’s Mouth that will provide the thrills for an audience.

With design by Jonathon Oxlade and lighting by Jason Glenwright the playing space fills the main stage of the Brisbane Powerhouse. Production design supports a range of theatrical delights which include Phil Slade‘s musical composition and Chris More‘s video designs. Continue reading Review: Faustus – Queensland Theatre Company & Bell Shakespeare @ Brisbane Powerhouse

Review: King Lear – Bell Shakespeare, Queensland Theatre Company & QPAC at QPAC

As I walk into the Playhouse Theatre for King Lear’s Brisbane opening night, I must admit I’m a little cautious.  A successful play that runs over three hours is an enigma.  If any play can do it, however, it’s King Lear, one of my favourite Shakespeare plays.  Perhaps I still had Queensland Theatre Company’s other recent production of Waiting for Godot in my mind, but I’m reminded that King Lear is the closest to existentialism that Shakespeare gets.  It’s a play where ‘nothing’ is a central theme, and where the protagonist deals with his own mortality with a tragic descent into madness.  The play is violent, heart-wrenching and devastating.  At least it’s supposed to be.  I’m afraid to say this latest production with John Bell in the lead doesn’t quite hit the mark. Continue reading Review: King Lear – Bell Shakespeare, Queensland Theatre Company & QPAC at QPAC

Happy Birthday Dear William! Shakespeare here, there, and on your iPhone

The Cobbe Portrait of William Shakespeare
Image by Real Distan via Flickr

It’s the Bard’s birthday today, and if you Google the name ‘William Shakespeare’ you will undoubtedly find that there are heaps of celebratory happenings around the world to commemorate its favourite, and most popular playwright.

We like this image of the Cobbe Portrait of Shakespeare which the grand-daddy of Shakespeare scholars, Stanley Wells, reckons is the real thing.  It only surfaced last year and we think it is a much nicer image of a young and sexy Shakespeare than that Chandos engraving we’re so familiar with – bald and like an ageing uncle – the one in the cartoon above.  You might also note that he is a Mac user too!

In Queensland so far this year we’ve seen professional productions of La Boite’s Hamlet, and JUTE’s Macbeth, with Bell Shakespeare‘s King Lear about to hit town for Queensland Theatre Company at QPAC.  Then Zen Zen Zo took out the Best Independent Production with their The Tempest at this year’s Matilda Awards.  Just for interest’s sake, Shakespeare remains the most produced playwright for the state theatre company.  On first glance Shakespeare and David Williamson may appear unlikely bedfellows, but they remain top of the pops for Queensland Theatre Company during its 40 year history.

Queensland has several indie companies dedicated to presenting either the original texts or variations on their themes.  There’s Shake and Stir who get around the state on schools’ tours (and nationally next year with Playing Australia funding), QSE, a training and production company based in Brisbane, and Soapbox a new company on the Gold Coast who are more than happy to bring their own brand of Shakespeare to any kind of venue, whether it’s a golf course or a night club.

Footnote:  Since Shakespeare’s last birthday, the 300 or so year quest to find the ‘lost plays’ continued apace.  There was great fanfare (well, in Shakespeare circles at least) with the authentication earlier this year by scholars at Arden Publishing, that a heavily-edited play from the 18C called Double Falsehood had, in fact, been written by Shakespeare in collaboration with John Fletcher.  What really got the Shakespeare scholars’ hearts beating faster was the fact that Double Falsehood was a rework of Cardenio, a play by Shakespeare first performed in 1612, only to disappear without a trace.  Now Cardenio, aka Double Falsehood, has been added to the Shakespeare canon; it’s been published – even on the iPhone – and the RSC are planning a production.  Wonder when we’ll get one here?

There’s a screen shot (below) of the scene breakdown of Double Falsehood which was published almost immediately it became available on the very useful iPhone app called Shakespeare Pro ($US2.99)  This is a great app with so many different features.  The one I like is the random quote; shake the iPhone when you’re in the app and you get … a random Shakespeare quote!

But back to Double Falsehood/Cardenio –  already the plot sounds awfully familiar – couple of sparring brothers (one good, one creepy – but who turns out well in the end), cross-dressing, and a double love plot.  I guess what worked the first, second, and all the other times was worth a re-work!  Shakespeare, like most good playwrights still, knew what his audience liked.