Shakespeare’s Queens: She-wolves and Serpents
Straylight Australia @ Bakehouse Theatre – Main Stage
1:00pm, Thu 8 Mar 2012
Every Fringe I trot out some variant of “I love me some Shakespeare,” and use that to justify another peek into The Bard’s world. This production, though, purported to be meta-Shakespeare, so I was doubly intrigued.
The premise has Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth I, and Mary, Queen of Scots meeting up in the afterlife to contemplate The Bard’s use of women in his plays. They do so by stepping into the roles of the characters – meta-acting, if you will – and analysing their roles in each play in turn.
The programme – or, more accurately, the running sheet – lists thirty-eight additional characters from over a dozen of Shakespeare’s plays, which has the three principal characters meta-acting at a pretty rapid pace. And, generally, they bring the appropriate mood to each piece – the comedies are played for laughs, the weightier pieces given the appropriate gravitas. In adopting another character, the principals will often indicate the role via a simple piece of costumery… and as the sole male onstage, Patrick Trumper gets off lightly, as his costume changes are limited to various hats. The two women – Rachel Ferris and Kath Perry (who plays a great Queen Liz) – tend to have more elaborate shifts.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that Shakespeare’s Queens was coming across as edutainment. The characters frequently drop into modern language, with modern narrative about the snippets being performed, which had the effect of taking me back to my Year 11 English teacher (who attempted to make pertinent points about Macbeth through over-the-top blustered acting – and sparked my interest in Shakespeare). Indeed, in this 1pm matinee there was a school group of about ten (who, after being sternly warned about the non-use of mobile phones in the theatre, were far better behaved than the group of silver-tops behind me, who insisted on chatting during some of the narrative links).
And there’s nothing wrong with edutainment… until it gets preachy or lecture-y. And, unfortunately, Shakespeare’s Queens does the latter, with motives being coldly analysed in-between fragments of performance. Sure, the performances are pretty good overall (save the occasional broken French), but I was constantly being pushed away by the fourth-wall-breaking commentary. That, and I couldn’t help but think that there was something sickly sado-masochistic about Mary and Elizabeth sharing such a casual conversation – I tend to think there would have been a bit more tension there, what with the whole “execution” thing.