Review: Hamlet in the box ‘Ugly-beautiful’ La Boite Theatre

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Top Posts of 2010

Originally published 15 February, 2010

Toby Schmitz as Hamlet Photo: Amelia Dowd

Let it be known, nothing sums this show up better than its poster: a soaking wet Toby Schmitz (very Trainspotting) arms raised as he pulls his hair back … with just a fine whisper of pubic hair on show. Whilst grabbing my tickets from the box office to see this not-so-subtle erotic piece of marketing on sale for three dollars a throw, I could understand how (if I were a Year 11 school girl) I’d have begun hungrily digging through the bottom of my school bag, gathering change from my tuckshop visit in order to pick up a copy. You get this feeling throughout the show: it’s sexy, cutting, and brutal, and it’s made for the 21st Century Twilight obsessed kid.

Ophelia is seen texting on her mobile phone, the Gravedigger grabs a quick digital pic with Hamlet, letters and messages are sent over an odd Star Trek-like video system. In addition (and I promise I’ll get to the finer points of the actual performances in a moment) it would be hard to find a group of more beautiful actors without resorting to Photoshop. Berthold has assembled a sexy cast, and he knows it. Skin (and on one occasion, full frontal nudity) is shown without hesitation, often in pairing with the four or five rock-opera style contemporary songs.

Hamlet’s play, in particular, makes you feel like you’re at some kind of incestuous drunk dance concert, and I’m not totally certain that this isn’t exactly how Shakespeare would have liked it.

You can’t begin to truly look at the show without placing it in its larger context. Continue reading Review: Hamlet in the box ‘Ugly-beautiful’ La Boite Theatre

The Secret Love Life of Ophelia (Review): Fractal Theatre

Iambic pentameter (aka blank verse) is known for being the rhythm that most closely approximates everyday speech in English. Most of us meet it for the first time in the plays of Shakespeare. With its repetitive de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM spring on each line of the verse, despite – or perhaps because it’s closely associated with Shakespeare – IP often gets a bad working over in the hands of inexperienced actors. In a misguided attempt to make it sound more ‘real,’ all the insistence and momentum in the rhythm can get flattened out and choked. Perhaps even more unfortunately, it can be spoken in a kind of reverential ‘poetic’ voice which casts the content and the speaker into some kind of other world divorced from reality. IP is full of traps for the young player.

And now, here’s playwright Steven Berkoff appropriating the old master’s metric verse form for  The Secret Love Life of Ophelia, currently playing at !Metro Arts Studio in Brisbane.  I started by mentioning IP because one of the real delights of this Fractal Theatre production, directed by Brenna-Lee Cooney, is that the two actors in the production, Eugene Gilfedder (Hamlet) and Mary Eggleston (Ophelia) handle the verse so well; it’s earthy, muscular, lyrical, downright dirty (but in a soft-porn kind of way) often delicate, and always affecting. Neither actor is the slightest bit disarmed by the text, in fact they chew it up and spit it out – as utterly befits this 21st century, retro-Elizabethan, poetic psycho-drama. Phew!  Hoorah for them and hoorah for Berkoff; it’s great to hear such tough verse done proud. Continue reading The Secret Love Life of Ophelia (Review): Fractal Theatre

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.

This Week in Queensland Theatre: March 8-14

Image via Wikipedia

For show times check company websites

The big wet continues in the south-east and west of the state. Wonder how, if at all, this has affected box-office figures for companies.

There’s one week to go for Hamlet for La Boite and The Little Dog Laughed for Queensland Theatre Company; both close on Saturday. Avenue Q at QPAC has had an extension to its season.

Click the date on Greenroom’s home page calendar to go to more details on each event.

Opening:

Flicking the Flint by Kate Lee !Metro Arts Independents (Brisbane) – Tuesday

Macbeth by William Shakespeare Jute Theatre (Cairns) – Thursday

Continuing:

Avenue Q the Australian touring production at QPAC (Brisbane)

Hamlet by William Shakespeare dir David Berthold at the Roundhouse (Brisbane)  Check the updated Greenroom reviews index.

The Little Dog Laughed by Douglas Carter Beane dir Michael Gow at the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC  Check the updated Greenroom reviews index.

Other:

Staging Lives: in conversation with Michael Gow, Will Eno, and David Williamson. State Library of Queensland – Tuesday.

See QSE’s training program which continues throughout the month (Brisbane)

It’s QPAC’s 25th Birthday this year.  While you’re on the South Bank in Brisbane head into the Tony Gould Gallery for the QPAC 25 Exhibition.

… and check out the recently-opened Edge space further upstream – near the fabulous GOMA.

This Week in Queensland Theatre: March 1-7

Avenue Q
Image via Wikipedia

For further details check company websites

Another quiet week.  It’s mid-season for Hamlet and The Little Dog Laughed with two weeks of their seasons left.

Continuing:

Avenue Q the Australian touring production at QPAC.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare dir David Berthold at the Roundhouse.  Check the updated Greenroom reviews index.

The Little Dog Laughed by Douglas Carter Beane dir Michael Gow at the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC  Check the updated Greenroom reviews index.

Other:

Check out QSE’s training program which continues throughout the month.
Play-briefing Thom Pain Queensland Theatre Company at Bille Brown Studio (Monday).  Writer Will Eno in attendance.

Reviews and Reviewers: a poll

UPDATE Nov 2011: Greenroom used to collect reviews into an index at the beginning of our time here i.e., when other groups and companies were not making it quite so easy for people. A couple of years on social media has really taken a grip and it’s not hard to access online versions of play reviews i.e., from those big media companies who bother to publish them on the web as well as from independent arts writers and bloggers. Indeed, there is far more writing about the arts in general now that we have so much free space in cyberspace. The issue of quality? Ah, well, another can of worms there.

Greenroom suggested last year – after the results of a poll on whether or not theatre workers read reviews – that another poll on the quality of theatre reviewing might be in order sometime.  Perhaps it’s always time to mull over such a thing – but that time is surely right now at the start of a new theatre season here.  Theatre reviewers around the traps have flexed their fingers over keyboards and let rip with their take on the new and older shows like Hamlet and The Little Dog Laughed which have opened this month in Brisbane at the city’s two full-time professional companies.  Play reviews posted to blogsites generally allow commentary, and readers – who may or may not have seen the plays being reviewed – are letting rip in return with their opinions on well … just about anything.

Michael Billington (Guardian) and Charles Isherwood (New York Times) – both distinguished reviewers – have also blogged on the business of being a play critic.  I particularly like Billington’s little piece from earlier this week on what you need to be a theatre critic.  There are four points that he makes, and they’re worth a look – I’ll let you click through and read for yourself.  Isherwood, in a Q&A post to his readers puts it this way

Maybe the best analogy is to consider us aesthetic referees – calling ‘em like we see ‘em. That is the ideal anyway. My responsibility is to write honestly, and (I hope) with eloquence and understanding and maybe even passion about what I see.

But, it’s time for that poll.  Here’s your chance to say what you think poll-style.  It’s open for two weeks, so have your say and share it round.  The results will be published here when the poll closes.

And, just in case you didn’t know, Greenroom does its best to gather all reviews into an index here on site.  You can find links to online published reviews and blog commentary by clicking our home page calendar during a play’s season; you’ll find links there to all shows entered in the calendar and the reviews we’ve ‘captured.’  Just follow the links to their originating sites.  To save you the trouble this time, here they are for La Boite’s Hamlet, and here for Queensland Theatre Company’s  The Little Dog Laughed.