Review / ‘Zany’ night out introduces new Ophelia musical

Musical theatre / “Shadow House Party.” By Krewd, Shadow House Pits and Acoustic Theatre. At the Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre until January 21. Bookings to canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA

THIS zany night out is a mix of philosophy, punk rock, burlesque, tragedy and sheer fun that suggests where the directions for Canberra’s theatre will go in the coming year.

Party at the Courtyard

At one level, it’s a party. The audience enters the Courtyard Studio space filled with loud music and gyrating bodies. Sometimes they join in. This, it turns out, is the opening of “A KREWD Incarnate”. Seamlessly, the figure of Bambi Valentine, director from the experimental company KREWD, appears wearing a distorted gorilla mask in a kind of dance commentary on the relationship of humans with their animal origins. At the end alone, she unmasks, looking with horrified astonishment what she has “been”.

Almost immediately Joe Woodward’s now-famous bath tub is wheeled centrestage as he takes on his persona Trinculo, Shakespeare’s 400-year-old character from “The Tempest”, but also, as he slips into the tub, a manifestation of the French revolutionary figure Jean-Paul Marat appears, slaughtered in his bath tub by Charlotte Corday.

Trinculo pontificates from his bath tub

If it sounds tragic, it’s not – a bottle of tomato sauce serves for blood and before he goes the way of all flesh, Trinculo/Marat cleverly flaps his own wings, declaims, listens to his own recorded voice and takes a few metaphysical questions from the audience, which then begins to chant “Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte”, as actor Miriam Slater raises her knife in a gesture of annihilation.

The second half of the evening is something many theatregoers have been waiting for, Lucy Matthews’ new rock musical “Ophelia’s Shadow”.

A partial deconstruction of “Hamlet”, this play looks at the action from the point of view of the much-put-upon Ophelia, arguing that punk rock is the perfect vehicle to explore the idea that “submission, purity and gentleness are not the only qualities from which to admire women”.

Miriam Slater as Ophelia is advised by Benjamin Russell as Laertes

Matthews sticks surprisingly close to the Shakespearean text, and as composer has a field day setting Ophelia’s mad songs and even Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy to music. The stage is dominated by Miriam Slater as the hapless Ophelia, although Valentine and Matthews appear as an all-purpose duo of characters both supporting and taunting her. Luke Middlebrook plays mostly Hamlet, Benjamin TB Russell plays mostly Laertes and the insinuating voice of Woodward intones the domineering platitudes of Ophelia’s father Polonius, all clearly delineating her path to insanity.

Matthews, an important figure in the Canberra writing scene, is onto something exciting and I have little doubt that the play will surface again soon as a full production. Before it does, Matthews might consider in further workshopping, whether some scenes from the original Shakespeare could be eliminated, and in particular the play scene, even though it has a couple of irresistible exchanges between Hamlet and Ophelia to do with “country matters”.

The problem is that as it veers into the play within the play, that is so important in the original, we move very far from considering the character of Ophelia. Far from challenging her image as supine and subservient, it tends to reinforce it, making “Ophelia’s Shadow” more an analysis tracing her decline into madness than an affirmation of her individuality as a woman.

The production standards and the theatrical sophistication of this evening commend themselves.

Photos by Workmanlike Images

 

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