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Burbage

burbageThere really is an over abundance of plays derived from the stories that surround Shakespeare’s life. Though I am getting a little bored of them, I am nonetheless drawn to further explorations of the context in which the Bard lived, and speculations about his times.

Burbage has been one of the better ones I’ve seen lately. Essentially a one hour rant imagined from the realities of Richard Burbage’s life and the common themes of the actor’s existence, it explores these with some depth and develops a strong image of the man left behind as the great playwrights and actors of the Elizabethan era fell off the twig in the early seventeenth century.

Richard Burbage, for those who’ve either forgotten about him or never heard of him (really?), was an actor who performed lead roles in the premieres of many now-canonical works of Elizabethan drama. Playwrights such as Shakespeare and Marlowe wrote roles with him in mind, and he was owner of the Globe Theatre with his brother.

In this monologue, he engages an imaginary young actor, Tom, who is seeking to continue his acting career past the roles of his youth.

Neil McGarry’s greatest achievement in his performance is creating a believable ‘Tom’ in the auditorium. While I am not a fan of monologues, and the idea of an invisible and inaudible second character in a monologue usually seems extremely naff, I was impressed to find myself fully engaged in the reality of the piece. The result is an engaging performance that gives humble recognition to one of the artists who contributed so much to the golden age of English theatre.

Despite some oddities of accent (which I will happily forgive with the knowledge that the English of Burbage’s day sounded a little more like the modern American accent than modern Received Pronunciation), McGarry was entirely believable and made a strong connection with his audience.

This was the last performance at the New York Fringe, but it’s likely to pop up again with the Bay Colony Shakespeare Company, and is worth a look if you’re an artist.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 22 August 2014 in American Theatre, Theatre

 

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Broadway Bard

I have just had one of the most enjoyable experiences of Shakespeare’s work I can remember. Broadway Bard, part of the Sydney Fringe, is a show in which a bunch of random soliloquies or scenes (and even a couple of sonnets) and match it with a Broadway song. Simple enough. But the vivacity with which this concept has been realised is refreshing and very real.

Setting the tone by reminding us that Shakespeare didn’t write for academics, but for the brutal criticism of the paying customer, Julian Kuo, the voice of the show, proceeds at an almost frantic pace through a selection of bits of the plays and sonnets of the Bard. His recitations of Shakespeare’s words are just brilliant, and his performances of the musical numbers are inspired. He holds a great rapport with the audience throughout, and is most engaging as an almost-solo performer.

Kuo is supported by Isaac Hayward on piano, who must find it tiring at such a long sitting. His entrance, however, was awkward, and I’m not sure the director achieved what he was aiming for. Pianists, unless they are also actors, are probably best left at the piano. Especially the really good ones. Kuo could have used some better direction, too. Despite excellent presence, the stage at times felt like a large open paddock, and the plethora of props was really unnecessary. I suspect that it could be successfully staged with none, but at least half of the props really should have gone.

I forgot all that, however, during Kuo’s rendition of Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ speech, which, while a little difficult to relate to at first, given that Kuo had his back to the audience for far too long, really sprang to life when it segued so seamlessly with Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The juxtaposition of these two pieces lent both an air of melancholy such as I have never seen more successfully brought about.

This, like many other moments, left me with goosebumps, and I don’t goosebump very easily. I almost found this journey through the familiar and not-so-familiar highlights of Shakespeare’s work to be more fun than seeing an entire play. Watch for it in Canberra!

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 10 September 2011 in Sidetrack Theatre, William Shakespeare

 

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