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August 17, 2009 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

Vienna Verona: a double bill of Shakespeare from Three Spoon Theatre


Before we tread into the nitty grit of what exactly did and didn’t work, it needs to be said that Vienna Verona is an achievement. It is a step up. The step up that Three Spoon Theatre has needed to take for quite a while now. After their initial and dazzling success at the Fringe 2008, straight out of the VUW theatre department, with March of the Meeklings, they have been treading water a little. They very quickly proved that they could produce theatre of real quality, so the question became what they chose to say or do with their prodigious talents. They followed Meeklings with the amusing but slight The Storm. Then came the rather empty and flawed but dazzling confection Eiffel Tower Wedding Party. Most recently they have had perhaps their most obvious success with the extremely accomplished but overly technical and dry A Most Outrageous Humbug. With Vienna Verona they have dropped a lot of the overt flaws that plagued their previous work. The odd sense of intellectual detachment is gone. The audience seems fully trusted to feel the work rather than just appreciate it. The flippancy that seemed to belie a fear of fully committing to any one style is gone too. This is a water shed production. This shows that for Three Spoon, this shit has just got real. Its scale and the simple fact that they pulled it off deserves applause all of its own. Vienna Verona is worth attending if only for the fact that in a few years, people will probably point back and say that it was where something started. 2009 has been the year that the young Wellington theatre has made itself known, that they’re ready to play with the big boys now. Vienna Verona is the most potent example of that so far. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.

7pm Measure for Measure

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Alex Lodge
With James Davenport, Richard Falkner, Ralph Upton, Nick Zwart, Eli Kent, Charlotte Bradley, Clare Wilson, Sophie Hambleton, Thomas McGrath, Edward Watson, Paul Harrop and Ally Garrett

Measure for Measure is, to put it mildly, an interesting play. It is one of Shakespeare’s “Problem Plays”, which were a particularly twisted and occasionally starkly psychologically realist comedies. It is the dense, dark and complex story of when the Duke of Vienna (James Davenport) hands over his power, as the word of law, to his deputy Angelo (Richard Falkner). Angelo soon becomes drunk with his newfound status. Angelo’s power madness has dire and disturbing results for Isabella (Charlotte Bradley,) a nun, and her brother Claudio (Eli Kent), who has been sentenced to death for impregnating Juliet (Clare Wilson).

Measure is also one of Shakespeare’s less well-known plays and this alon,g with the aforementioned density, must have made the cutting down of the script, by director Alex Lodge, assistant director Cherie Jacobsen and dramaturgs Matthew Wagner and Jean Sergent, substantially harder than that for its stable mate. This really shows in the finished production, whose greatest fault is a deeply erratic rhythm. It begins very well, and then seems to spend half its running length getting ready to end, and when it does it is so abrupt that you feel you have missed something. It drags rather obviously for the middle forty minutes and comes at one or two points quite close to being actively boring. But apart from this rhythmic dysfunction, Measure is a largely successful production.

The design is gorgeous if somewhat clumsily idiosyncratic. The costumes by Dawa Devereux, white Jedi-style robes with Ugg boots, are a delight to look at but actually add little to the characters or story. The set by Kent Seaman, a split-level dystopian mess of pipes, is used to great dramatic effect. The acting is, on the whole, very good. Bradley makes somewhat of a meal of Isabella and while she is infinitely watchable, her hysteria pitches itself a little too high so we never really buy the weight of her decision—whether to sleep with Angelo, unthinkable at the time, to save Claudio—on which the play turns. Falkner is workable as Angelo, he keeps his performance close to his chest. This makes the character quite hard to get a hook into. The real stand-out performance of Measure for Measure is James Davenport as the Duke. He has a warm, welcoming and lively stage presence that you never tire of watching.

Lodge’s choice to skew Measure for Measure towards a broader form of comedy is an interesting move. It has both positive and negative effects. It successfully draws you into the production but at the same time reduces some of the play’s nuance. Broad strokes is not a bad country to visit, theatrically, but I hope Lodge doesn’t move there.

9pm Romeo and Juliet

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Ralph McCubbin Howell
With Thomas McGrath, Aaron Baker, Allan Henry, Richard Falkner, Alex Lodge, Eli Kent, Jack Sergent-Shadbolt, Cameron Reid, Paul Harrop, Charlotte Bradley, Clare Wilson, Dominic de Souza, Jean Sergent, Paul Waggott, Nick Zwart, Jonny Potts, Ally Garrett and Sophie “Hambotron” Hambleton

Everyone knows Romeo and Juliet. It is, by a rather wide margin, Shakespeare’s most famous play. We know the story, we know the characters, we know most of the lines, well… the famous ones anyway. This makes it much more of a challenge to put on than one would assume. Everyone has a picture of the story in their head. When a director or company chooses to put on R&J they have not just the film versions and famous stage productions to combat, but the whole collective unconscious of the English-speaking world. In a move that veers eerily close to genius, director Ralph McCubbin Howell and assisstant director Hannah Smith have decided to explore this very aspect of the text.

They present the story as witnessed and retold by Friar Lawrence (a magnetic Jonny Potts). We are, very directly, getting one person’s version of the story. Or, at least, at the beginning we do. Romeo and Juliet’s biggest issue is that it doesn’t seem to trust itself to hold the line. The best metaphor for this is within the production itself. The final sequence of Romeo breaking into the Capulet tomb and the heartbreak that follows begins being lit solely by a torch held by Romeo. This is a bold and powerful image, but the show seems to lose its nerve and cheats in some blunt and obvious fill. This lack of nerve is the same with the recounted story concept, it starts strong and wonderful and we see how well it works and then slowly they cheat in some fill so it becomes dilute. Very luckily, this is the only major issue with the production, apart from some bad sound levels masking dialogue.

That one blip aside, Romeo and Juliet is a tangible and crunchy success. The lights by Rachel Marlow are evocative, epic and cinematic. The set by Kent Seaman is raw and stripped back. The soundtrack composed by Tane Upjohn-Beatson is not just a collection of cool atmos tracks, but some awesome tunes in their own right. Dawa Devereux’s costumes are iconic and perfect, spanning a range of countries and times which clash and combine in perfect (dis)harmony. Ricky Dey’s fight choreography is energetic, entertaining and performed with flair and vigour by the actors.

The cast is very good and deeply consistent. This seems like shallow praise but Wellington theatre is oft peppered with the sore single thumb of ineptitude. Every show seems to have at least one performer who is at a substantially lower skill level than the rest, so seeing a show where everyone was on the same level of very, very good is a refreshing blow to my theatre face. Clare Wilson as Juliet is very good, bringing a spark of independence and life to what can often be the most pixie of girlfriends. Eli Kent as Romeo gives an enjoyable performance despite it seeming, at times, to be a simple run down of all of his acting tricks. We’ve seen Kent play this character before. He just wasn’t called Romeo and it is a testament to his talent that this familiarity only jars and doesn’t completely blow his performance wide open. Their chemistry together is natural and believable. It seems obvious, but it is infuriating how often Romeos and Juliets seem to have absolutely no chemistry together, not here however, the Spooners are smarter than that.
McCubbin Howell has achieved the almost impossible and breathed life into Romeo and Juliet, the one play so well known that it is by default deadly theatre. This production’s energy, elocution and electricity should stand as a yard stick for any Shakespeare production to come.

At BATS, from 5—15 August 2009
$13/$16 for one show, $25 for both
Book at
Showing as part of the Compleate Workes Shakespeare Festival 2009


About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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