Tag: Mark Wilson

Theatre Works Presents ANTI-HAMLET

Fierce, funny and fraught

By Leeor Adar

Satirising the current state of Australian politics with the heady and destructive tendencies of the Prince of Denmark lends for a wild, funny, and at times utterly confusing production. Just as I’ve grasped one metaphor and issue, Mark Wilson’s Anti-Hamlet shifts us onto the next, expecting its audience to intelligently manoeuvre themselves through the multi-layered political arc Wilson has created.

Anti-Hamlet.jpg

This is the third of Wilson’s Shakespearean adaptations after Unsex Me and Richard II. Wilson comments that these productions “inherit from Shakespeare”, and fill the gaps. On this occasion, Wilson engages with the Australian inability to confront its history. History is the underlying theme of Anti-Hamlet, but I am deeply sceptical as to how tenuously Hamlet itself connects to a country’s collective blindness.  I will say in Wilson’s defence, his ability to bring Shakespeare’s Hamlet into contemporary ‘realness’ and embellish its themes with references to the Australian political climate is impressive. That is no easy feat. Despite this tenuous connection, the key issues rage on. A young man, both sexually and politically impotent – afraid and trying to find meaning at a time when ‘democracy’ feels more like forcing kool-aid down your throat.

Wilson is wildly funny and painfully irritating as Hamlet. Wilson is accompanied by some theatre-heavyweights in Marco Chiappi’s Claudius, Natasha Herbert’s Gertrude, and Brian Lipson’s marvellous contribution as Sigmund Freud. These actors brilliantly dive into Wilson’s writing and bring to life the characters in an exciting and relevant way. Herbert’s Gertrude is an indulgent, lazy queen whose concern is with turning her gaze towards her possessions rather than noticing that her power is waning. Chiappi’s Claudius is the fabulous politician in the blue tie (a wink to our political leaders), desperate to become President of Australia’s new Republic. A new addition is the role of Freud, and it’s so apt that Freud should show up as the family psychiatrist to stir Hamlet et al. Freud, like Hamlet in this production, is a self-aware character that almost recognises that he is party to a play and merely a plot device. It works very well, and adds yet another intricate layer to this complex work.

Anti-Hamlet unpacks two issues astonishingly well. Firstly, there’s the spin-doctoring behind politics, which takes on a seductive and serpentine fervour in Charles Purcell’s energetic American marketer, Edward Bernays. Secondly, there is the idealism of those politically-minded young Australians who succumb to the political machine in a feeble attempt to create change in the world. Ophelia (Natascha Flowers) is the modern woman; she’s no limp-limbed belle of Shakespeare’s imaginings. A Rhodes Scholar and Oxford graduate, Ophelia comes brimming with ambition for a better nation, but is the futile pawn to a more experienced and cynical power under Claudius and his newly-minted henchman, Bernays. Wilson’s Hamlet serves as the alternative to Ophelia – a politically awakened youth with nothing but privilege and a blossoming conscience who thinks taking back ‘blackface’ to undermine racism is an acceptable and intelligent statement. Hamlet is politically impotent, and this funnels through into his sexuality, which he attempts to mask. This is a striking point of discussion for this production, because it single-handedly takes on issues that are utterly relevant in Australian politics today, but does so in a manner that humours and pinches those politically aware within its audience.

Anti-Hamlet is self-indulgent and utterly self-aware. If you’re a Shakespeare puritan, perhaps step away. However, if you’re interested in a play that engages with the politics of today in an original way, you may be convinced to come down to Theatre Works and indulge yourself… and Wilson.

Anti-Hamlet continues to run Thursday-Saturday 8pm, and Sunday 5pm until November 13 at Theatre Works in St Kilda. Afternoon session at 2pm Saturday. Book your tickets here: http://www.theatreworks.org.au/whatson/buyeventtickets/?id=278

Image by Sarah Walker

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REVIEW: Red Stitch Presents THE RITUAL SLAUGHTER OF GORGE MASTROMAS

The evils of success

By Caitlin McGrane

The opening of this interesting postmodern production is explicit in its scene setting: the five members of the ensemble cast explain the circumstances of Gorge Mastromas’ conception, birth and childhood. It is immediately apparent that this will be a performance that will both show and tell its protagonist’s story. Written by Dennis Kelly, the Australian premier of The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas is well executed by director Mark Wilson; the staging is highly stylistic and minimalist – sleek, sharp lines frame the performance space and projectors are gainfully employed to immerse the audience in Wilson’s vision.

The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas

Initially Gorge, excellently played by Richard Cawthorne, is unassuming and almost unbearably feckless. Then, after a particularly tense business deal, Gorge’s temperament changes; he becomes convinced that the only way to succeed is to live by three rules, all of which revolve around lying. The rest of the play unfurls while Gorge’s morals crumble and dissolve as he manipulates his way to personal and financial success.

The rest of the cast beautifully bring to life this darkly comic morality tale; Jordan Fraser-Trumble, Olga Makeeva and Dion Mills inject so much humour into the narration that the exposition rarely feels unnecessary or laborious. However, there are certainly moments where the play drags, particularly in the second act. The first travels at such a cracking pace that it was surprising over an hour had passed since we first entered the theatre; but this was sadly not repeated in the second act. This lack of continuity was distracting, yet the performance was saved by the strength of the script, and the combination of lighting (Clare Springett), sound and video design (Robert D Jordan). Red Stitch’s small performance space has been well utilised by stage manager Melissa Place.

There are some very, very dark themes in this play: scenes of suicide and child abuse, scenes with blood and implied violence. Never gratuitous, it wasn’t until the end of some scenes that I noticed my hands had formed tight fists. And that’s how I felt when I left the theatre, like I had been hit by a well-placed, well-timed punch to the gut.

The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas is showing at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre until 7 March 2015. Tickets are $20-$39 available here: http://redstitch.net/bookings/.

Photo credit: Jodie Hutchinson

REVIEW: Speakeasy and MKA: Theatre of New Writing Present MKA: RICHARD II

Time doth waste him

By Narelle Wood

MKA: Richard II is a little hard to describe. Not being familiar with the Shakespearean work, it is a little hard to know how true to the original storyline this modern adaptation is. Regardless of accuracy, it is a highly entertaining and sometimes uncomfortable look at leadership.

Richard II

This tale of Richard II begins with 11 year-old Richard (Mark Wilson) and 10 year-old Henry (Olivia Monticciolo) already establishing their leadership rivalry, citing everything from age lineage and gender as reasons for their own superiority. Flash forward a few years, Richard is king and the bids for leadership takeovers, strip-teasers and political rants begin. Monticciolo is great, but there is something about Wilson that is hilarious.

Interspersed throughout the dialogue, which may be closely based on recent political events, there are excerpts from the Bard’s Richard II and what appears to be some ad-libbed political ranting. What Wilson and Monticciolo have created is a very funny link between Shakespeare’s world and the Australian world of politics; the parallels that are drawn are brilliant and the resulting commentary on leadership resonates as true.

The set is simple but effective, with a runway becoming the political platform whereby each leader assumes their position. It did seem a little long at times (it kept to the hour timeframe) but this was mostly during the Richard II soliloquies that remind you that Shakespeare, whilst brilliant, had some exceptionally verbose tendencies, especially when his characters are wallowing. The costumes were also really well done; Richard’s costume was amazing and certainly had all the embellishments one would expect from royal robes. It was interesting to see Wilson’s skill at putting on tights and Monticciolo’s ability to tastefully get changed while dancing to some good old-fashioned 80’s rock.

MKA: Richard II is a fun, but fairly intense show. It has certainly inspired me to read Shakespeare’s Richard II (and maybe a Henry or two). It would certainly be a good Fringe Festival choice for anyone interested in Shakespeare, politics or planning their own political upheaval.

Venue: Northcote Town Hall, 189 High St Northcote
Season: Saturday 20th September to Sunday 28th September, 9.30pm, Sundays 8.30pm
Tickets: Full $26| Conc $21
Bookings: www.melbournefringe.com.au/fringe-festival/show/ mka-richard-ii/

REVIEW: George Tabori’s MEIN KAMPF

Bold and confronting comedy

By Myron My

The farce Mein Kampf revolves around Hitler’s younger years as a man who is struggling to become an artist (and to secretly take over the world – including New Zealand). In Vienna, he meets a well-educated, bible selling Jewish man Shlomo Herzl, and through this chance encounter, chaos ensues. Written in 1987 by George Tabori – himself a survivor of the holocaust – it is somewhat autobiographical yet it is also a complete fabrication, and knowing this really sets the mood quite fittingly for Mein Kampf.

Mein Kampf

The three leads; Mark Wilson (Shlomo), Glenn van Oosterom (Hitler) and Mark Bonanno (Lobkowitz) are just phenomenal. Their comedy timing is impeccable and their superb facial expressions and physicality are a testament to the skills and dedication they have brought to the roles. The three of them ensure that every line they deliver is with utter conviction. Wilson is on stage for the whole show – nearly 2 hours – and there is not one scene where he wavers or his energy lowers in this demanding role. Van Oosterom is most impressive as the man with the short and fiery temper, especially when he threw himself into one of his many angry speech-giving tirades the vehemence of which would turn the character’s face red from frustration.

The humour in Mein Kampf is used not to poke fun at the atrocities that occurred under Hitler’s regime but behind the entertainment, we are reminded of the tragedy. Shlomo attempts to persuade Hitler to get into politics and later Hitler comments he will purchase Shlomo a gift: an oven, so he can keep warm.  Tabori famously wants us to recognise that the holocaust and events surrounding it “are taboos that must be broken or they will continue to choke us”. The writing is sharp and witty, and despite its plentiful laughs there are poignant moments in the script with dark forebodings of what’s to come. There are a couple of times where the momentum did get lost ever so slightly, including when Frau Death (Uschi Felix) comes to visit and a long scene between Shlomo and his love Gretchen (Stephania Pountney).

I really enjoyed Mein Kampf as I am a firm believer in the idea of there being comic value in everything and through humour we can be educated and informed. The cast were flawless and the laughs kept coming. However – and this is where I feel quite conflicted – there were about ten minutes where I was left morally dubious and extremely uncomfortable. I’m a vegetarian and I don’t impose this view on others but in one scene, a dead chicken is brought on stage and hacked up and drained of its blood with various parts being ripped out, all  by Himmlisch, a young Himmler (Samuel Macdonald). It may have been dead, but I was still shocked and disgusted at seeing this and it really dampened my whole experience of this otherwise impressive performance. I feel that as a theatre production, there should be other creative and more sophisticated ways of conveying these visuals and ideas.

Nonetheless, director Beng Oh has done a great job in putting this production together and the importance of having Mein Kampf performed is highlighted with what has been occurring in the world recently. Even after all these years it is very easy for society to discriminate and be hateful towards people because of perceived differences. The absurdity of Tabori’s play succeeds in insisting that we don’t forget, and more importantly, don’t allow anything like those events to happen again.

Venue: La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday Street Carlton
Season: Until 25 August | Wed-Sat 8:30pm, Sun 6:30pm
Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Conc
Bookings: http://lamama.com.au or 9347 6142