Shakespeare Tonight – Sydney Fringe Festival (Theatre Review)
New Theatre, Sydney Fringe Festival
We live an a fascinating, exciting and daunting time for literature. In an age when universities are business and innovative corporations are the sources of knowledge, writers and artists must respond to the changing way we perceive the world and understand who it is who forms our modes of thinking. Who is collating and analysing anthropological data? Who is working on the most difficult mathematical problems? Where are the best engineers working? What interests our greatest thinkers? If the task of literature is to work on the problems of perceiving, describing and writing, then how innovators are helping cities rebrand themselves and governments better narrate their policy agendas is really the meat and potatoes of observing our current culture. In Shakespeare Tonight, writers Paul Wilson and Tim Ferguson drag William Shakespeare and Francis Bacon out of the late 1500’s and plonk them in a TV interview with the intention of providing Enough Rope for them to hang themselves. Hamlet has just opened to mixed reviews (too bloody long is the critical consensus) and William has agreed to his first ever TV interview.
What starts out as a great comedy with lots of clever nods to Shakespearean text, swiftly becomes a genuinely interesting examination of who The Bard may be in our current age. We live in a post Freud world, so the question of daddy issues inevitably raises its head, particularly in light of the current Hamlet (which interviewer Martina walked out of after three and a half hours) and the parallels with Shakespeare’s own fractured relationship with his father. Using the difficult to resist pressures of word association, Martina (supported by Francis Bacon, Shakespeare’s rival) are able to reduce Shakespeare to a complex confession about his longings for his father.
The issue of plagiarism comes up as well, and how much of other people’s work Shakespeare takes credit for. He wants to keep his reputation as a freak genius in place, but his arch-enemy and the woman trying to secure a second season have no loyalty to that cause. Shakespeare finds himself in a world that moves at a rapid pace and exists only in response to ratings and Twitter. What would the great appropriator made of a world where nothing needs to be written down, because everything has been written down already? How would he feel about protecting his genius in a world where anonymity is more precious, powerful and admirable than fame, something we all have within our grasp, thanks to social media. The celebrity is just another person famous for being famous, and Shakespeare would have to think of something other than great plays to get a foothold in a world that bestows and removes its ephemeral worship in seconds.
The writers of Shakespeare Tonight leave us with the intended recognition of Shakespeare as just another person, just another dude, just another leather clad rebel with enormous talent, great dedication and a whole bunch of daddy issues. Or is he? What starts out as a light weight comedy turns every so gently into something more complex and far-reaching, leaving the audience with more than just another fun night at the theatre.
Pete Malicki directs this fun night with his trade mark playful and minimalist style. He brings unparalleled enthusiasm and joy to his productions and it’s always a pleasure to watch a cast blossom and have a wonderful time under his direction. Shakespeare tonight is filled with energy that is captivating and warm. Rosemary Ghazi is a great comic talent always cleverly in tune with her material and in command of her performance. She’s a surprisingly realistic interviewer, clever here, a little lost there, but quick to grasp the opportunities that come her way. She is supported by the fabulous Miss Suzie Q who continues in her successful transition to a different kind of stage. Suzie Q along with Jemimah Knight play producer and production assistant to the stages action.
Calib James is a very funny Francis Bacon (watching this man run is worth the price of the ticket alone) bringing all his character performance talents to a wonderful role that is little more than nemesis. Damien Carr is an understated, rebellious, egotistical William Shakespeare that manages to endear himself to an audience that never stops rooting for his success. Patrick Cullen is a stand out, holding his own against a more experienced cast, singing us into the room initially and keeping us together as an audience throughout the show. He’s a wonderfully talented young man who will be fun to watch in the future.
So Shakespeare Tonight is a great Fringe Show if you’re into light-hearted fun, want to laugh and be entertained and want to be sure you will have a great time. Theatre needs its house-filling good times, just as much as it needs its seat-emptying high brow challenges. This show is a house filler, with a lot to think about to boot.