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Adelaide Fringe 2011

Shakespeare’s Mothers: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know

Straylight Australia

Genre: Classical and Shakespeare

Venue: Bakehouse Theatre - Main Stage


Low Down


This play examines many of the mothers in Shakespeare’s plays – but only the strong, ambitious and bloodthirsty ones. Looking at the motivations and eventual outcomes of these characters, this lively production engages the audience, and examines some of the infamous and lesser-known female characters from Shakespeare’s oeuvre.




The play opens with a very confused Shakespeare wandering out onto the stage, who is confronted by two women hosting a TV show on the effect of popular culture on society. They are blaming Shakespeare’s mothers for the rise in female violence, and charge him to defend himself and his characters. So begins a journey through a number of famous and more obscure Shakespeare plays, where scenes are enacted from Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Richard III, King Lear and Hamlet, as well as King John, Titus Andronicus, Coriolanus, and Henry VI. Shakespeare offers wry commentary and analysis throughout each section, determining the motivations and consequences of each of the characters they explore.

The acting was good, especially Alexander Jones as Shakespeare. Once the enacted scenes that Shakespeare participated in had ended, Jones managed to jump from dramatic character, back into his witty primary role incredibly well, often with a humorous sally. While portraying so many characters must be difficult for any actor, these three did a creditable job, and it was almost always clear which of their roles they were playing at any given moment. Their props and small pieces of costume, most of which were a varying colour of red, helped in this matter. Though, with so many different changes, it is unsurprising there were a few fumbles. The script was well written, choosing some nice scenes to illustrate their point about mad, bad and dangerous mothers. Unfortunately, some of the characters felt like a bit of a stretch to the premise, especially the Nurse from Romeo and Juliet and the eldest daughters to King Lear – none of which were actually mothers. There were also a few moments where I felt lost as to which play they were enacting an excerpt of, despite Shakespeare’s introductions. The script goes out of its way, though, to provide necessary (and sometimes unnecessary) plot and character details to those unfamiliar with Shakespeare plays, so that the scenes are in context.

Shakespeare’s wry commentary provided a few chuckles for the audience, but few actual laughs. It was a lively and engaging play that brought back memories of high school English – if only to get your brain back in gear for the language. The framing device of the TV show was an interesting way to provide interpretations – and they are only interpretations – of some of Shakespeare’s mothers. It allowed for some interesting insights – like Shakespeare commenting that he had to write such commanding roles for the female characters that really drive the plot, because otherwise the male actors of his time wouldn’t want to play the parts. They also looked at the motivations of the characters, and whether they justified their ultimate actions, with Shakespeare defending them all the way.

For anyone who enjoys Shakespeare, this production is certainly fun, and if you enjoy thinking over and analysing the Bard’s work, then it may be the play for you. Otherwise, it is an interesting script, performed with energy and while this play is an entertaining hour of theatre, it is not without its flaws. 


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