Neonslicked

Short Stories, Blog Posts, and Film and Literature Reviews by Cameron Colwell

Theatre Review: Montague Basement’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’ and ‘Macbeth’

Both programs of the Montague Basement’s double bill of The Taming of the Shrew and Macbeth have an emphasis on whether or not Shakespeare is still relevant today. As the program for Taming of the Shrew points out, 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, which begs the question: Is Shakespeare even worth performing today?

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Bianca (Jane Watt) and Katherine (Hannah Cox) — Photo Credit: Zaina Ahmed

The Taming of the Shrew is polemic in its response. The story of the shrewish Katherine, who on order of their father Baptista must marry before her pleasant sister, Bianca, can, is one that I first encountered in Ten Things I Hate About You, which was just about the peak of interest I had in the play. Other encounters with it have left me frustrated and bored with the misogyny and the writing, which is amongst the thinnest of Shakespeare’s plays. However, I was pleasantly surprised by director Caitlin West’s take on the play. While at first it seems that the production does as previous productions have, and attempt to gloss over the abuse at the heart of the play with slapstick and focusing on the light-hearted romance between Bianca and Lucentio soon lifts the veil and expresses Katherine’s relationship with Petruchio in a way that suggests a strikingly relevant story of domestic violence, hidden amongst the frivolity of the other scenes.

The contrast between the scenes which depict their home life and the comedy of life in Padua, where Katherine has left (Travis Ash as Baptiste is an excellent stiff, straight foil to Robert Boddington’s oafish Petruchio) is used to chilling effect. As in real life, the violence is not an aberration, sealed away from polite society, but a hidden part of it. Katherine’s mental agony is contrasted against the well-ironed dress chinos, pop music, and sense of frivolity of the other parts of the play to devastating effect. That said, the first half does feel a little hectic and breathless amongst the humour, but by its end it feels worth it. The final scene, in which Katherine finally submits to her husband and renounces her shrewish husband, was written as a happy one by Shakespeare, but here Hannah Cox performs a perfect portrait of a broken woman. For injecting life, vigour, and political commentary into what I thought was an irretrievably horrendous play, I must end this review by saying that Montague Basement’s The Taming of the Shrew is a must-see.

 

Event Dates: 30 November, 2 December, 3 December, 6 December, 8 December, 10 December
Venue: PACT Centre for Performing Arts
Running Time: 75 minutes no interval.
Ticket Prices: Adult $25.00, Concession $20.00

 

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Macbeth (Robert Boddington) — Photo Credit: Zaina Ahmed

Macbeth is less evocative and more ambiguous than its counterpart. Rather than shining a light on social issues as in Taming, Macbeth brings out the timeless psychological horror of the original text. It too takes some risks: There is much double-casting, costuming and the stage are strictly monochromatic, and the three witches are replaced by one witch, played by a very engaging Lulu Howes, who plays a much more adversarial role to Macbeth than is usual. In note of that last point: This Macbeth seems much more interested in the existential conflicts of the play than the conflicts between characters, so that the relationships come across as somewhat weakly developed. When martial violence happens, it leans on the symbolic, which only occasionally convinces.

However, Lady Macbeth is played well, giving off vibrations of a sensible, manipulative businesswoman alongside her tortured soldier of a husband, but the relationship between two fails to engage. However, this Macbeth is more interested in the primal aspects of the play than the dynamics between character, depicted through the frequent use of the aforementioned slime, fake blood, and ghoulish props, including a particularly creepy baby doll. As Macbeth’s sins stack around him, the white stage becomes more and more slicked with mess, an effect which works to great effect.

While this is certainly one way to do Macbeth, it may not work best for everyone. The viscera and spectacle are a delight, and certainly make for an evening of solid entertainment, but those expecting a more subtle, character-driven Macbeth may be left disappointed. Still, this is one of the most memorable, exciting adaptations of Macbeth I have encountered.

 

Event Dates: 29 November, 1 December, 3 December (2:00pm matinee), 7 December, 9 December, 10 December

Venue: PACT Centre for Performing Arts
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Ticket Prices: Adult $25.00, Concession $10.00

 

Review: Looking For Grace (Originally Published on Grapeshot)

Looking for Grace (Published first by Grapeshot)

Like an unhinged love-child of Gone Girl and Puberty Blues, Looking for Grace delivers a slow-burn emotional punch that, while perhaps prosaic on the surface, hints at worlds below the facades of its familiar, everyday characters. The film starts with a gorgeously shot sequence featuring Grace (Odessa Young) and her friend, Sappho (Kenya Young) , alternating between the boredom and thrill of a long-distance bus ride through the West Australian outback. Soon enough, the handsome but sleazy Jamie (Harry Richardson) boards the bus, immediately setting his eyes on Grace. Within the next set of scenes, all centred on Grace, we come to know each of these characters, despite an almost total lack of dialogue. What director Sophie Brooks has is a fine command of subtlety, demonstrating Grace’s endearing mix of teen awkwardness and recklessness, Sappho’s jealous priggishness, and the inexperienced seduction of Jamie through a more-or-less anal adherence to the rule of ‘Show, Don’t Tell.’ ‘Behind every smile, there’s a story,’ says the tagline, but such is the attention to detail that there is the sense that so does every pause, involuntary touch, and awkward giggle.

Once we are shown what happened to our teen runaway protagonist, the story’s quirky structure unfolds: We are sent back in time and into the perspective of Jamie’s mother, Denise, who discovers a note: ‘Sorry, Mum.’ Then, it is revealed that Jamie has stolen a small, secret fortune hidden in her father’s safe. The film follows a number of character’s perspectives, each with their unique tone. While, at first glance, Looking For Grace may seem to be a bog-standard checklist of Australian indie yawn-fest cliches with a neat post-modern spin, being a bleak, ‘arty,’ film about family relationships featuring shots of a waifish, lost protagonist wandering silhouetted in a majestic outback, the film transcends its trappings with the subtle insights we gain as we are shown the lives of people connected to Grace.

The most striking thing is the lack of emotion around Grace’s escape: Small talk is exchanged about whether her disappearance is occasion to bring out the good china, a tactless receptionist brightly lists a litany of horrible fates which may have befallen the girl to her mother, and Grace’s gormless father wonders aloud why the note did not include his name. While these scenes individually come across as a series of lightly comedic and frustratingly awkward vignettes, they, along with the backdrop of horrifically staid and sterile rendition of suburban Australia, amount to a dark satire of modern suburban blandness. No wonder, we think, by the end, Grace would choose the earthy emptiness of the wilderness over that of the kind filled with the genteel chaise lounges and dull-eyed family portraits of her home.

The title, while appearing to be a cute pun, may refer to the hole left by the protagonist in the wake of her disappearance: Adult life is empty, dreary, and lacking meaning, but the enthusiasm and rebellious tendencies of Grace are a kind of antidote to this way out of parochial, middle class life: If Grace does return, will she be able to maintain her vim, or will she be consumed into the bourgeiose lifestyle, doing things like having snappy, frustrating conversations with couch cleaners as her Mum does, or have an affair, as her father is revealed to be doing. Like so much about the film, these questions are left unanswered. There’s a sense that we have just touched the surface of the film, that we are shown just the edge of something much bigger. This is at once tantalising and irritating: For instance, Sappho is never given a part featuring her perspective, which is a pain because I’ll never know if her jealousy over Grace is just the product of a friendly bond, or she is much more like her namesake than appearances would suggest.

It’s not as if the boredom of suburban existence has been untouched by cinema, but Brooks makes nher work stand out by showing monotony with compassion rather than contempt. By the flooring and brutal ending, I wanted to know more of these characters, and, because of the detail, had three realisations about them just in the time it took me to write this review. However, it has to be said: Grace has much more in common with an Anton Chekhov short story than an ction blockbuster. At times I was yearning for the film to make something, anything, explicit, and, particularly within the middle of the film, felt myself beginning to be bored. However, the film does ultimately deliver on the ambition its structure promises, and I am keen for my next viewing.