On the Occasion of Mr Shakespeare’s Birthday – or – Me and Will

“To me, fair friend, you never can be old.” (Sonnet 104)

We go back a bit, Will and I. It’s his 448th birthday today but my knowledge of him only goes back about 50 of those years.

I first met him as a child in the Queensland Primary School Readers. Little extracts or quotes from the plays littered the pages as my 8 years of elementary school tripped by. Back then the word ‘Shakespeare’ meant very little to me, although I came to recognise this quite exotic name in time.

I do recall loving poetry as a kid. Along with the person whom I came to learn was called ‘The Bard’ I loved Coleridge, Tennyson, Wordsworth … all the great English poets. They appeared in our readers along with Australian bush balladeers and romantics. These were a great introduction to literature, I must say. But, back to Will …

I really got to know him in high school. I think I studied … and I mean, studied … and learned how to learn lines in at least four of the plays. It’s a skill that has stood me in great stead. They were Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, Henry IV (I) and King Lear, although I could be wrong on this last one. The good Sisters of Mercy made us read the plays out loud – hooray – and learn great chunks of the speeches. I remember the thrill of standing behind my desk or in front of the room reciting away madly to the bemused faces of my classmates. I can still trot out huge passages of … Caesar. Needless to say, I adored these classes and learned to love language even more because of Will. During high school we were taken to the theatre to see productions of the plays or the Young Elizabethans visited the school with their travelling shows. I would get the tingles sitting in the audience for even the dreadful stuff. I was falling in love, you see.

By the time I got to Teachers’ College in the mid-60s, I was pretty much hooked on theatre and had decided that was where my life should be. I just had to save the money to run away to London, as most of us did back then, in order to study acting. I did, eventually, but not before working on a couple of the plays for the amateur Brisbane Arts Theatre: Julius Caesar (Portia) and backstage in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Shakespeare’s plays are windows onto other worlds – to those long gone in history and to those private worlds that still reside deep within men and women.

During my actor-training in London I played Helena in a rather hippie version of MND – lots of purple as I recall – and saw lots and lots and lots of Shakespeare: in the West End at the National Theatre (still at the Old Vic in the late 1960s-early 70s) and up at Stratford Upon Avon. I recall queueing from dawn and eating breakfast in the line to get standing-only tickets to that day’s performance of Peter Brook’s seminal … Dream.  I’ve been back to Stratford a couple of times since. Touristy it may be, but it’s still magical, especially when the crowds are gone. Just walking in the Warwickshire countryside through harvested wheat fields under the wide, blue skies is sheer bliss. There are skylarks … Continue reading On the Occasion of Mr Shakespeare’s Birthday – or – Me and Will

Review: As You Like It – La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse

Main Image: Bryan Probets (Touchstone) | Images: Al Caeiro

David Berthold is quickly setting up a tradition for La Boite: opening a season with a Shakespeare, directed by the Artistic Director himself. As You Like It was preceded by Hamlet (2010) and Julius Caesar (2011), in which Berthold proved he could bend the material to his will, creating sexy and contemporary productions. Make no mistake, As You Like It has a completely different feel, and is a more cohesive production than its La Boite forefathers. Indeed, it feels as though Berthold is infinitely more comfortable in the comedy of Shakespeare, and the result is superb production.

Helen Howard - Rosalind

As You Like It centres mainly around the love quest of Rosalind (Helen Howard), the daughter of a Duke who has been usurped. Rosalind is banished from the new Duke’s court and takes her cousin Celia (Helen Cassidy) and the court’s jester (Bryan Probets) with her. In order to escape persecution Rosalind disguises herself as a man, and leads her band of exiles through the Forest of Arden in an attempt to find her exiled father (Kate Wilson). But the real spice of the plot lies in Orlando (Thomas Larkin) who is forced to flee the court when he is rejected by his older brother Oliver (Luke Cadden) and then upsets the fascist usurper Duke (Hayden Spencer) by challenging and defeating his wrestler, Charles (Thomas Carney). But before he flees, Orlando and Rosalind fall in love, only to be reunited once again in the Forest of Arden, but with Rosalind in a man’s disguise. Commence Shakespearean gender-bending comedy.

The show is stolen, in my opinion, by an absolutely spell-binding design. Renee Mulder’s costumes and set are absolutely breath-taking.

This is theatre design at its very best, peppered with all sorts of tricks and surprises that the audience never see coming … it’s a spectacular achievement.

Mulder’s work is accompanied by sublime music and sound from Guy Webster, and incredibly clever lighting from David Walters. Together, the trio create a forest of Arden that is warm and inviting. The evocation of a campfire makes the potentially cold La Boite theatre feel small and intimate. The gypsy aesthetic of the the exiled Duke and his kingdom has the appeal of a charming, cleaner Woodford Folk Festival. It’s a spectacular achievement. Continue reading Review: As You Like It – La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse