Hamilton Gardens, Medici Court, Hamilton

17/02/2014 - 19/02/2014

BATS Theatre (Out-Of-Site) Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington

15/05/2013 - 18/05/2013

The Court Theatre, Bernard Street, Addington, Christchurch

17/02/2013 - 17/02/2013

Tea Cup Tent, BUSKER PARK, North Hagley Park, Christchurch

16/01/2014 - 25/01/2014

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

27/04/2013 - 04/05/2013

World Buskers Festival 2014 | SCIRT

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2014

Production Details


Strap on your codpiece – Christchurch carnie David Ladderman flips centuries of high culture into a bawdy joyride of sword fights, eye gouging and Elizabethan cussing.

Battle of the Bastards slashes its way through the subplot of King Lear. Going straight for the jugular, leaving the flowery bits for the academics, this is tragi-comedy for the masses.. On writing the solo show, Ladderman says, “I basically just wanted an excuse to play a cartoon villain and then beat myself up”. Sure it’s Shakespeare… But not as we know it.

David Ladderman: Actor, busker, carnie. Best known to some for his work with the Loons     Circus Theatre Company (The Butler, Hanussen: The Palace of Burlesque). To others as a world famous busker. Well… in Edinburgh anyway. Red carpet entertainer for The Hobbit World Premier, circus performer in the NBR New Zealand Opera and comic relief for The Court Theatre, David Ladderman has been mashing up high brow with low brow for eons.

“Spellbinding performance from someone who knows how to work the crowd to perfection… refreshing brilliant fun.” –Nelson Mail

Comedy, circus and Shakespeare collide in a fundraiser like no other!
Sunday 17th February, 7pm
Tickets: $20 

Dates:  27 April – 4 May, 7pm
Venue:  The Basement, Lower Greys Ave, City
Tickets:  Adults $20, Conc. $15
Bookings:  0800 TICKETEK or  

Dates:  15 May – 18 May, 9:30pm
Venue:  BATS Theatre, Cnr Cuba Mall and Dixon Street, City
Tickets:  Adults $18, Conc. $13
Bookings:  04 802 4175 or


17-25 Jan 
9.30pm, 60 mins

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2014 
When:  Monday 17 & Tuesday 18 February 2014 @ 9:30pm
Tuesday 18 February & Wednesday 19 February 2014 @ 1:00pm 
Where:  Medici Court 
Wet Venue:  Piazza 
Tickets:  $20 
Genre:  Theatre 
Duration:  60 minutes 

Theatre , Solo ,


Delights, surprises and delivers the goods

Review by Gail Pittaway 18th Feb 2014

Staging ‘Lear’ is a challenge by any stretch of the imagination but a solo show that covers the main plot line, then focuses on the enmity of half-brothers, the bastard son Edmund’s duplicity, his father Gloucester’s innocence and legitimate son Edgar’s disguise and eventual triumph, is nothing short of dazzling.

David Ladderman, ex Court (Theatre) Jester, uses a mixture of brilliant physicality, busking and audience input to deliver a punchy, hilarious treatment of the old tale of treachery and gore. Watching it, I was reminded of how Shakespearean Game of Thrones is and how it, too, would benefit from being taken less seriously, as Ladderman does with Lear. That’s an invitation.

In the 1960s Joyce Grenfell used to entertain English audiences with retelling opera plots; it was funny in a similar way. The audience ends up laughing with joy at the complexity of Shakespeare’s craft and the talent of the funny man who brings him to us.   

From the first moment, in the open, in the waning twilight, at the gorgeous Medici Court Theatre at Hamilton Gardens, Ladderman engages in a dialogue with the audience and has us where he wants us. We want to be entertained, but not made too uncomfortable.  We think we remember what Lear is about, but we are not sure where the line must be drawn, between tragedy and comedy, poetry and street theatre.

He knows this and points to the section of the audience we’re sitting in (probably a random selection as he’s done this show all over New Zealand and also in Canada) and says, “I see panic in your eyes!” when he begins performing a pure Shakespearean version of an encounter between the two half-brothers.

This man can move and act as well – but he keeps interrupting the flow to recount extra details, to give back-stories, to suggest who might be cast in a movie version: Hugh Grant as the goodie, Russell Crowe as the baddie. Unstated but clear to us all in the audience is that he himself, David Ladderman must star as Edmund.

So it’s a battle of bastards as well as a bastardising of the original play, which in itself is much like a folk tale bastardised by WS.

Ladderman’s engaging eyes and voice, his nimble body and quirky shaved head with coronet spikes add to this pacy, risky show where only a pumpkin gets harmed.

Complete with sword fights (some solo, some improvised after a quick training session on stage with one willing audience member), a very gracious extra roped in to play Regan, strategically placed letters, and several exceptionally dusty deaths on the dirt floor of the open air theatre, this is a total romp which delights, surprises and delivers the goods.


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Clever and engaging bastards

Review by Elizabeth O’Connor 19th Jan 2014

David Ladderman is a brave and bold performer. He has created a solo Shakespeare piece, played to acclaim elsewhere, and now finds himself tailoring it to fit a laugh-hungry Christchurch audience.

Edmund from King Lear is the key character, and David delivers a potted version of the play with panache and style.  His resonant and articulate voice matches his deft physicality.  The audience wants to laugh, and David rarks up that aspect of the show to suit.  Expert use of audience volunteers sits alongside expert delivery of Shakespeare.

David is a notable local talent, whose work deserves attention.  Go and see this clever and engaging show. 


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Playing the fool with tragedy refreshes a very old tale

Review by John Smythe 16th May 2013

Bringing his street-performing busker skills to deconstructing Shakespeare’s biggest bastard is a winning formula for Christchurch ‘carnie’ and well-known Loon (late of Lyttelton) David Ladderman.

Constantly on the move, like a combination of a toy monkey on a stick and a dancer on a musical box revolve, and coiffed like a punk, his friendliness and generosity as a performer of fun stuff – like formidable three-baton juggling – is a well-conceived starting point from which to descend into bastardry.

Given the Bard was always mindful of ‘the goundlings’, I’m not sure Ladderman needs to play quite so much on the general misconception that Shakespeare is high-brow, and keep reassuring us he won’t get arty-farty or academic on us.

Having warned us he’s about to get serious, he treats us to “Thou, Nature, art my goddess; to thy law / My services are bound” and demands to know “Why bastard? wherefore base? / When my dimensions are as well compact, / My mind as generous, and my shape as true, / As honest madam’s issue? Why brand they us / With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?”

When he asks us what that’s from, the entire audience at BATS Out Of Site choruses, “King Lear,” and he responds, “Oh right, yeah – I’m in Wellington.” So fair enough, maybe this audience is an exception to his usual mob. Or maybe we just read the Comedy Festival blurb.

Mind you there are plenty of ready answers to “who’s your favourite character?” and “what’s your favourite scene?” so yes, dammit, we are a literate lot. (Probably a significant percentage retain a love of Shakespeare from their high school participation in Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand programmes.)

Nevertheless he summaries King Lear in five sentences then interpolates his expertly-performed excerpts of the Edmund-Edgar/Poor Tom-Gloucester-Regan-Cornwall-Albany sub-plot with snippets of stuff we need to know, happily side-lining what we don’t.

He tells us which screen actor would play various characters (and does a mean Russell Crowe), delegates key roles to a couple from the audience – Adrianne Roberts and Dean Hewison do the honours this opening night (she insisted I include them in this review) – and a major role is allocated to a pumpkin, to brilliant effect.

I read somewhere that David Ladderman had played the Fool more than once in King Lear and had long since hankered for Edmund the Bastard. And now, by seeming to play the fool with the Bard’s greatest tragedy, he acquits himself extremely well at every level, not least in bringing the purpose of the story home.

I won’t give any more away, although the nature of the performance is such that it will have very different dynamics each time, ensuring a fresh approach to a very old tale. It’s only on until Saturday so don’t delay!

(What with No Holds Bard opening at Downstage tomorrow night, Wellington is suddenly very well served with tragical-comical Shakespeare. And the current line-up at Bats – Outsiders Guide; PSA-Revolution; Battle of the Bastards – brings a wealth of talent to an astonishingly rich evening of theatre. Not bad for “a dying city”.)


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A show worth fighting for

Review by Matt Baker 03rd May 2013

Starting nearly half an hour late can result in an immediate uphill battle for a performer, but, with an enthusiastic energy and true showmanship, David Ladderman quickly has us on his side in his one-man show Battle of the Bastards.

The show focuses on the sub-plot to King Lear, namely, the events surrounding Gloucester, Edgar, and Edmund, as initiated by a letter from the latter. Ladderman incorporates the letter motif nicely both in content and style, and addresses and performs the key scenarios they incur. [More]


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Full-on physicality illuminates the fascinating world of words

Review by Stephen Austin 28th Apr 2013

Is it wrong of me to assume that everyone on this website has some working knowledge King Lear?  We’ve all, at least read the play or seen a production of it, right?

Ok, I’ll simply skip explaining one of the densest, most enduring of Shakespeare’s tragedies, simply because we don’t need to know the details of the entire play when approaching this new work of highly physical performance from Christchurch based street and circus performer, David Ladderman.  He lays it all out for us, but focuses our attention on one particular through-line: the “bastards” of the source material.

Ladderman’s style is affable and warm, and he welcomes us with some of his characteristic fast-paced patter and juggling moves before launching us headlong into an hour-long Cliff Notes version of the world of the masculine heart of The Bard’s most tragically political writings.

The script takes its leaping-off point at the monologue of Edmund and Ladderman finds much to mine in the passion by simply pithily spitting the “Now gods, stand up for bastards” speech. This gives us a very clear indication of the commitment he has placed on keeping the work clear and true to the original quarto.  

His delivery is so enunciated and crisp, in fact, that it is almost uncomfortably at odds to the welcome we had just received from him.  But he soon breaks this down and sets our minds at rest that this will not be the usual starchy delivery we’ve come to expect from our school days, but something a bit more exciting.

He quickly touches lightly on the main crux of the plot and characters, because we “don’t need to know”, before throwing them to the wind in favour of examining the relationship between Edmund, Edgar and their father Gloucester, and how the three important turning points of this sub-plot run parallel to the main work.

It is in the full-on physical playing of the characters that Ladderman absolutely excels in bringing the true understanding out of the archaic words.  He is so comfortable and warmed into the understanding of ideas and emotions at the heart of the play, that it runs through every gesture, large or small, and he is able to play around within the fascinating world of the words.

There is something almost profoundly personal in his delivery though, especially when evoking the lines of Edmund, that I feel this might be something akin to a personal catharsis for performer.  His presentation of Edgar does seem to suffer slightly from this personal preference, especially in his jerky, stuttery almost autistic interpretation of the “Poor Old Tom” sequence.

A couple of audience volunteers are invited on stage and he cleverly breaks down the conventions of performance and the backstage experience by thrusting those unprepared into his world.  This is where the most fun and audience interaction is found through Shakespeare’s text.

Though not to all tastes – even for a grown up, slightly jaded Auckland audience – this is great fun and something that manages to balance on the line between stand-up and pure theatre.  All credit to Ladderman for taking a text that many balk at as just too heavy and livening it up so we can fully comprehend a small corner of this world.

A very fun hour of exploration of King Lear, from a particular point-of-view told in a uniquely physical, lo-key, Kiwi bloke style.  If it hasn’t already been mooted, I’m sure this would go down great in the higher level curriculum for those high school teachers looking for something to engage students with The Bard’s great, complex work.


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Intelligent, raucously funny, rich, varied and grisly

Review by Erin Harrington 18th Feb 2013

David Ladderman is a man of many talents. He is an experienced, engaging street performer, and he has had a long involvement with Christchurch circus company The Loons. 

This show, Stand Up For Bastards, is a fundraising performance with the aim of helping Ladderman and producer Lizzie Tollemache make their way around New Zealand and then to Canada where Ladderman will perform his one man show in Fringe festivals (and, hopefully, have enough money to come home again). The first half consists of an impressive juggling routine and feats of mentalism (care of Ladderman) and songs and performance poetry (from Tollemache), and the second is the Fringe show itself.

Battle of the Bastards centres on the subplot of King Lear, in which Edmund, bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester, engages in some violent and treacherous acts of royal social climbing. The show is simple and sparse – there is no set, only a handful of props, no special costuming and Ladderman flips between characters as required. While we are given some broad stroke context, pretty much everything else – from courtly machinations to storms and madness – we are told, frequently, “you don’t need to know”.  

The show is as much a lesson in Shakespearean language and character as it is a comic exploration of this fairly grisly and brutal storyline. Ladderman steps the audience through the story, the language and the characters’ motivations in a manner that illuminates the play’s broader themes, while leaving time for some goofy stage fighting, well-placed audience participation and a touch of eye gouging.

The pace is swift, and the performance is rich and varied. Although he jokes about his background as a street performer, Ladderman is a fine actor, switching deftly from pathos to loose, swaggering comedy, all the while playing with the audience’s expectations of both the subject matter and how Shakespeare “should” be performed and received.

Battle of the Bastards has been performed previously in much tighter spaces, such as the tiny stage at Christchurch bar and venue ‘darkroom’. While the piece certainly works on the broad stage at the Court Theatre, I suspect that a tighter, more focused performance space would benefit both the show and the audience, particularly given the amount of audience interaction involved. 

Whatever life the piece has after its performances at Fringe festivals here and in Canada, it would be ideally suited in tone, content and length as a touring piece for senior English and drama students, for it is charmingly didactic without ever being patronising or gauche.  

The irony is not lost on many that this ‘bastard’ style of performance – carnie Shakespeare, busking meets Bard – is demonstrating its legitimacy on the stage of the Court Theatre, the vanguard of the traditional in Christchurch theatre. As Ladderman quips with self deprecation, the last time people may have seen him was juggling fire in the snow. No matter, really, because us groundlings need entertaining too. Battle of the Bastards is intelligent, raucously funny and highly recommended.


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