With Bard on the Beach in full swing during a sweltering Vancouver summer, Director Scott Bellis has taken Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors and given it the gears and gadgets of the Steampunk genre.
I know what you’re thinking, “Steampunk? Was that not a thing a decade ago? I mean, how can you add to the genre when Will Smith’s Wild Wild West filled the cup full?”
Well said and I did think the same going into the main stage on Vancouver’s beautiful Vanier Park looking out over English Bay. How many times have we seen a kind of kitschy genre played out once too many much to the audience’s chagrin?
Yet Scott Bellis and the Bard on the Beach cast delivered a delightfully entertaining performance using the Steampunk back drop to add colourful characters behind the scenes and flashy special effects right in the audience’s faces.
The widgets, levers and wire-rimmed glasses worked in and around Shakespearean forms of love, hate, jealousy, misdirection and slap stick found in his comedies. The stage lighting tricks and quirky use of the monstrous Nurse, did nothing to take away from the fun of the mistaken identities and the foibles the followed. It was not a nauseating ride through the planet’s core filled with distracting gooberfish and the bigger fish that eat the gooberfish. It was a laugh fest coloured with smoke and lightening thanks to the design team including Pam Johnson (Scenery), Gerald King (Lighting), Malcolm Dow (Sound).
The play begins with the aging Egeon (Scott Bellis) from Syracuse thrown before the Duke of Ephesus and sentenced to death simply for being a Syracusian. Sounds about right. Pleading for his life, Egeon tells his tragic tale of loss and how he came to be in Ephesus. Many years ago on a voyage at sea a terrible storm separated Egeon from his wife and son leaving him with his other twin son and twin servant. Yep. All believable so far. Both children were called Antipholus and the servants Dromio and when Egeon’s remaining son left for Ephesus and failed to return, he has been on a decade long search for him. The ever so generous Duke is moved by Egeon’s tale and grants a stay of execution granting him one day to come up with money for bail proving that all politicians are motivated by the promise of monetary reward (how can one not be cynical in these electoral times).
Meanwhile across town, Antipholus of Syracuse (Ben Elliott) and his servant Dromio (Luisa Jojic) have come ashore unaware that they have stumbled upon the home town of their twin brothers Antipholus of Ephesus (Jay Hindle) and Dromio (Dawn Petten). In the ensuing confusion created by mistaken identity schtick that Shakespeare does so well, the antics of the Dromios and Antipholi drives the energy and comedy of the play right to the closing curtain. Hats off to Elliott and Hindle as they are thrown this way and that and even more so to Jojic and Petten who were spectacular in making the horrors of slave ownership and abuse quite funny as they were slap sticked around the stage. Hmmm. Feels wrong.
Costume designer Mara Gottler deserves kudos for capturing the feel of Steampunk especially with the minor characters nefarious Dr. Pinch, the mysterious Abbess and the monstrous Nurse Poppy. The iron gears and twisting metal made for a darker backdrop to the play and added a mysterious element juxtaposing the comedic performances in the foreground. Gottler does well by taking the darker science fiction/fantasy look and decorating the characters with horned rimmed glasses, old aviator helmets and trench coats.
When mixed with the sights and sounds of the stage crew, Bard on the Beach delivers a production of The Comedy of Errors that is a unique and wild and fun and a show that demonstrates how this company continues to keep Shakespeare alive in Vancouver.
Check out the amazing writers and artists in ‘Zounds!
Did she even know it was a Christmas play? Yeah, I’m sure she knows. She seems like a smart woman and she didn’t edit out Sir Toby Belch’s song in II.3. which starts, “[Sings] ‘O, the twelfth day of December.” She knows what she’s doing, and I think she’s pretty clever, too.
So how the hell does a Christmas play work for Midsummer weather?
Well, Twelfth Night is actually the name of a Christian holiday which corresponds to the 12 days following Christmas, ending on January 6th with the Feast of the Epiphany. And how do you celebrate Twelfth Night? You drink and eat a lot, make fun of your betters, and generally the social order gets turned upside down while everybody cuts loose. Like many Christian traditions that the Church would like to claim were wholly original, this one’s actually Roman.
Yep. The Romans had this thing called Saturnalia, which took place over several days in – you guessed it! – December! They even elected this King of the Saturnalia who could order people to make out with their boss, or to pirouette in Buckingham palace, or whatever.
It’s a good gig if you can get it.
(Little sidebar: Sir Toby’s song makes sense. Seems that there was a time when Twelfth Night started 13 days before Christmas and then ended on Christmas. Trust me.)
See how it makes sense now? It’s entirely in keeping with the spirit of misrule in Twelfth Night to turn Twelfth Night from a Christmas play into a Midsummer play.
And in that same spirit, we decided to stash our monogrammed copies of the Complete Works into our bags and just watch the show.
Now that this bit of business is done, what did I actually think of the play?
In contrast to last summer’s wild, over-the-top, gut-splitting history play mash-up Harry the King, Kelloc’s Twelfth Night is a much more traditional staging of Twelfth Night.
The whole play takes place on the same simple set representing Olivia’s garden where Sir Toby Belch, Andrew Aguecheek and Maria spy on Malvolio as he reads the letter he thinks is from Olivia and which will lead him to prance around on-stage wearing ridiculous cross-gartered yellow stockings.
And thank God. I’ve seen to many plays with spinning box sets that seems less about the drama and more like a platform for some set designer to show off just how many locations they can cram into a two hour play. Especially given the outdoor venue, I really appreciated that the set itself depicted an outdoor locale
The only set alteration – which not only makes a lot of sense but also recalls the trap door ‘pit’ built into Elizabethan playhouses – is a kind of barred dungeon window behind which Malvolio stands while everyone thinks he’s gone nuts.
A nice touch.
Performances were generally good, though those of the miscreant Belch and company by far eclipsed those of the play’s courtly characters like Orsino and Viola. In defence of Orsino and co., however, Shakespeare didn’t always give them a whole lot to work with in Twelfth Night.
Kabwe’s physicality and boundless energy really brought the character of Twelfth Night’s de facto Lord of Misrule to life. (Almost as good as our own Jay Reid, but I digress.)
The synergy between Belch and Aguecheek (Adam Capriolo) was excellent, as was the decision to represent Andrew Aguecheek as a kind of effeminate hipster poseur. Letitia Brooke‘s initially reluctant Maria fit right in with the two other pranksters.
Rainville’s Malvolio was equally memorable for his stern, quasi-Puritanical high-mindedness as well as his cocksure yellow-stocking prancing. As much as you wanted to hate Malvolio for being a killjoy, you really felt bad for him by the end of the play.
Viola (Emelia Hellman) as well was well-acted and well cast, though I felt that she did not stand out as much as Malvolio and Belch.
The character of Feste (Gitanjali Jain)was portrayed as a jack-of-all-trades entertainer: singer, musician, and acrobat. Jain accompanied herself on the guitar as she sang Feste’s many songs. While she sang and played well, and the live, acoustic musical performance lent an air of spontaneity to Feste’s fooling, I felt at times that the songs were just a little too long. Rather than feed the ribald energy of the scene, they sometimes took away from it.
To me, Olivia (Rachel Mutombo) seemed the weakest of the cast members. Olivia is a melancholy character, still in mourning over the death of her brother. However, none of this melancholy came through in her performance which was rather one-note.
On the whole, Repercussion’s 2015 edition of Shakespeare in the Park is an enjoyable if relatively conservative staging of Twelfth Night. While not without its flaws, it nevertheless makes for an entertaining evening in the park. I recommend grabbing a blanket, a few drinks, and catching Twelfth Night while you have the chance.
Like bust-your-gut, pop-a-button, get-dirty-looks-on-the-Metro-because-you’re-laughing-so-damn-hard funny. And, as my wife Rachelle “The Butcherette” can testify, that’s if you don’t understand a word of Shakespeare besides ‘Zounds!
See, here’s the deal with this summer’s edition of Shakespeare in the Park: Harry the King is actually a play adapted from Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and Henry V. Specifically, it grabs up a bunch of the bits involving prince Harry’s rise from being a good-for-nothing lay-about who spends all of his time in Eastcheap’s taverns drinking with his buddies to his ascension of the throne and eventual conquest of France.
At least that’s what it looks like at first but the whole thing never actually makes it out of the tavern.
The entire play takes place inside the tavern with Hal, Falstaff, Mistress Quickly, and company playing out all of the roles in Hal’s story. As such, you’ll see actors doubling up on roles in the same scene, frivolous funny voices and accents, whimsical posturing and funny walks, criticism and praise of the actors performances and of course off-the-cuff comments about what’s happening to the audience who is a stand-in for the other tavern patrons.
So really, the whole thing is like an epic and uproarious Bard Brawl on stage if the Bard Brawl had a budget, some sound and lighting equipment, a stage and a live audience!
If you’re a purist who likes their Shakespearean histories untouched, their iambic speechifying solemn and formal, and their Salic law needlessly obscured and overly complicated to all except for those 2 guys in the front row who have been involved in 15th century Renaissance re-enactment for 20 years, maybe this won’t be the production for you.
But if you’re a person with a pulse and at least a few friends, particularly if you are a person subscribed to the Bard Brawl, there’s a good chance you’ll be thinking to yourself as you fold up your lawn chair or picnic blanket: “Well that was well worth the price of admission.”
Shakespeare in the Park is free so that was a free joke. (You’re welcome.)
But don’t be like that guy who refuses to tip: Repercussion Theatre lives on donations so when the actor who just made you pee your pants at the end of the first half of the play comes by with a hat during the intermission, hide your shame and drop a few bucks in please. (Or you can click here and donate.)
Pack up your cooler with a few snacks and a couple of drinks, bring a blanket and go see Repercussion Theatre’s Harry the King in a park near you before it’s too late! I won’t come to your house and force you to go see this (because I don’t know where you live, mostly), but I’ll just leave this last remark here for you to do with as you please.
This is the one play that made my wife say, for the first time ever since I have known her: “I want to go back and see it again!”