Edinburgh Fringe 2012
From Australia comes a show with heaving bosoms, catty queens and pitch-perfect Shakespearian delivery. A sexy, tempestuous romp in company with some of the nastiest women in literature.
The shades of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots are bickering, as usual, as to what makes a good queen. Does a Queen need a man like a kingfish needs a bicycle? Should policy rule passion or t’other way around? Enter William Shakespeare to attempt a resolution. Over the course of his writing career, Shakespeare crafted singular portraits of powerful women historical, fictional and mythological. If there aren’t enough dramatic parts for women, it’s no fault of his. A neat script delivers tidy profiles of each ruler including Cleopatra, Margaret of Anjou and Katherine of Aragon – but not (sadly) Joan or Arc, yes I know she wasn’t technically a queen.
The effect is much more than a who’s who of the canon. The catty interludes, presided over by Shakespeare (Patrick Trumper) in which Elizabeth (Rachel Ferris) and Mary (Kath Perry) draw points for and against each other’s claim to have been the better monarch are well written and very funny. The characters’ most memorable moments from over a dozen plays are are given life by a well balanced and accomplished cast. Shakespeare’s Queens features a true ensemble with each actor being given space to shine – listening so as to be heard, reacting as well as acting.
But spare a thought for poor Patrick Trumper. He spends the hour romping with Ferris, snogging with Perry, flirting, seducing and capering nimbly between two brilliantly matched female talents – it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it. The trio seem to be enjoying themselves immensely and since they get to cut straight into the meatiest dialogue, why wouldn’t they? Even so, this is a very disciplined performance. The actors have to climb some of the most tragic peaks anywhere in literature. Think of Lear’s betrayal by Goneril and Regan or ponder the defeated Duke of York after Wakefield being bidden to wipe away his tears on a handkerchief soaked in the blood of his slaughtered son. Some famous, and highly acclaimed, abridgements of Shakespeare have tended towards the hyper-camp, not so here.
Shakespeare’s Queens is a pitch-perfect production showcasing the best writing and acting talent available. The costumes and other properties are not flashy but they are effective, succeed in delineating each character and make this production a formidable physical experience. This production is not a dreadnought battle cruiser. Rather it is a light gun boat covering the miles and charting under-visited inlets with style and flare. The crew is sharp, well equipped and everyone knows their place. If Australia had an Olympic sailing team this brilliant, perhaps they wouldn’t be in second place on the medals table.