Sunday Afternoon in the Park with Will
And so to Brisbane where one of the country’s newest experiments in outdoor Shakespeare had its second, annual 2-day event. Shakespeare on Oxford in Bulimba Brisbane culminated in a one-off performance on Sunday afternoon of that most satisfying of Shakespeare’s plays, Much Ado About Nothing.
The team of mostly professional actors worked on the project over several months. The development of this project speaks volumes for the determination and talent, not to mention savvy, of Brisbane’s artists and creatives. It feels as though there is a ‘tipping point’ happening in this respect … a critical mass to draw upon to create the kind of diversified ‘independent’ theatre scene that Melbourne has long had. But really … I’m just thrilled to see another community-supported gig start to take a meaningful lung-full of air: as chief sponsor, 4MBS (a community radio station) is committed to ‘classical’ work. Shakespeare on Oxford is also supported by the Brisbane City Council Morningside Ward’s Liveability Committee. Yes please! It’s nice to see local government in Brisbane taking the hint from Toowoomba Regional Council in seeing the point of spending money on optimising the use of their green spaces (and ratepayers’ assets) by supporting public theatre production. Did I mention this was also free? Props to local government, community organisations and all business sponsors.
And the production itself? The word ‘delightful’ springs to mind. The costumes were basic, but worked just fine. The set was … well, IMHO not the most compelling part of the production … but it served. The real winners were the actors who took the old adage of bare boards and a passion as well as a good yarn, and ripped into it with gusto. The story and their skill at telling it lay at the heart of the production’s success … and isn’t that the way it should be?
The inspired clowning under Scott Witt’s direction figured strongly in the success of those (usually) god-awful clown scenes in Shakespeare … I dread ’em like the plague. They are linguistic nightmares, and mostly to be endured between the ‘real’ scenes. Yesterday afternoon I laughed myself silly … so did everyone around me. They were beautifully integrated with the rest, and totally within the spirit of the play which swings across its arc from sunlight to stormclouds in a beat.
Open air Shakespeare can be a tough nut to crack … and daylight performance even more challenging. It’s a sweet idea at heart, but prone to the vagaries of weather, ambient noise, and distraction. On the other hand, this is all part of the gig … you bring a rug or a chair, slap on the sunscreen, the kids run around what is a soccer field most of the year, the jets hang a right on the flight path in the audience’s eyeline, traffic revs up and down on Oxford Street beyond the fringe of trees (a lovely green backdrop by the way) … but it’s OK. The action, the story, the excellence of the work up there is sufficiently engaging to keep the groundlings happy. And in the best tradition of groundlings, we laughed, booed, hissed, ‘aaawed’ and generally had a great time egged on by real, actorly engagement with us … and the cheesiest ‘sound track’ which well … just worked.
I was delighted to see how the wriggly little girls suddenly materialised from all over during the second wedding scene towards the end of the play. As is the nature of little girls, they’d been running around the park on their own adventures, but when Hero, Beatrice and the wedding party appeared with basic ‘bridal accoutrements’ they stopped wherever they were and silently, and from all directions, crept back to the front. There they sat reverently, completely wrapt to watch the high romance unfold … . It’s a girly thing of course … Princess Bride stuff … if you get my drift. The boys equally sat still and gaped at the swordplay and knockabout physicality choreographed by Nigel Poulton. All of which proves … if you had to prove it … that the audience itself is a vital part of the passing parade of open-air theatre.
It was a lovely afternoon in the park with Will. Thanks to all the Shakespeare on Oxford team lead by AD Tama Matheson. Do come back now won’t you.