LUCRECE: An Adaptation of Shakespeare’s the Rape of Lucrece

Toi Poneke Gallery, 61 Abel Smith Street, Wellington

19/04/2012 - 11/05/2012

Production Details


Sexual violence will be at the forefront of Wellingtonians’ minds this month with the Wellington Rape Crisis Annual Street Appeal on the 13th of April, and theatre makers Isobel MacKinnon, Ally Garrett and Fiona McNamara have a busy few weeks ahead of them.

The three women are putting on two art projects about rape in the month of April. The group will tackle a performance installation at Toi Poneke Gallery, inspired by Shakespeare’s poem The Rape of Lucrece, as well as participating in a fundraiser performance of A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer, edited by Eve Ensler of Vagina Monologues fame, as part of the International V-Day movement to stop violence against women and girls.

So far there hasn’t been a dull moment for the trio, who has been flat out filming video footage for the installation Lucrece: An Adaptation of Shakespeare’s the Rape of Lucrece. Already, filming has included actor Isobel MacKinnon baking her first ever cake on camera, as well as one infamous Saturday in Karori where 25 anonymous women gathered to be filmed completely nude. Working on the exhibition is a labour of love for MacKinnon, Garrett and McNamara who believe the poem is just as relevant today as when it was written in 1594. 

“I was struck by Shakespeare’s understanding of Lucrece, as a rape survivor” says McNamara. “Historically, women have not been represented on their own terms onstage, but in this poem Lucrece has a strong voice and I wanted to show that by emphasising that this is her story.”

Women’s stories are a passion for both McNamara and Garrett, reunited after collaborating on the sell out all female devised show, MINGE, at BATS Theatre in 2010. In this production the focus will be on Lucrece, and her rape will be explored through audio visual installation and live performance. Audience members will be seated close enough to touch the two performers and viewers will be encouraged to think about the ways they look at women’s bodies – both on film and in the flesh.

Lucrece is produced by multi-award winning theatre company, Binge Culture Collective. Already notorious risk takers, their previous work had already been described as “more a performance art installation than a play” (Theatreview) and this innovative piece moves the collective into a gallery space for the first time. It represents a new direction for the company, known for their image-based devised performances.

Lucrece: An Adaptation of Shakespeare’s the Rape of Lucrece 
Toi Poneke Gallery, 61 Abel Smith Street.
Exhibition: Friday 20 April – Saturday 12 May
2012, 10am-8pm weekdays, 10am – 4pm weekends
Live Performances: Thursday and Friday evenings,
19, 20, 26, 27 April; 3, 4 10, 11 May, 6:30pm
Entry by koha. Bookings:  

The Rape of Lucrece – The Argument

Lucius Tarquinius, for his excessive pride surnamed Superbus, after he had caused his own father-in-law Servius Tullius to be cruelly murdered, and, contrary to the Roman laws and customs, not requiring or staying for the people’s suffrages, had possessed himself of the kingdom, went, accompanied with his sons and other noblemen of Rome, to besiege Ardea. During which siege the principal men of the army meeting one evening at the tent of Sextus Tarquinius, the king’s son, in their discourses after supper every one commended the virtues of his own wife: among whom Collatinus extolled the incomparable chastity of his wife Lucretia.

In that pleasant humour they posted to Rome; and intending, by their secret and sudden arrival, to make trial of that which every one had before avouched, only Collatinus finds his wife, though it were late in the night, spinning amongst her maids: the other ladies were all found dancing and revelling, or in several disports. Whereupon the noblemen yielded Collatinus the victory, and his wife the fame. At that time Sextus Tarquinius being inflamed with Lucrece’ beauty, yet smothering his passions for the present, departed with the rest back to the camp; from whence he shortly after privily withdrew himself, and was, according to his estate, royally entertained and lodged by Lucrece at Collatium. The same night he treacherously stealeth into her chamber, violently ravished her, and early in the morning speedeth away. Lucrece, in this lamentable plight, hastily dispatcheth messengers, one to Rome for her father, another to the camp for Collatine.

They came, the one accompanied with Junius Brutus, the other with Publius Valerius; and finding Lucrece attired in mourning habit, demanded the cause of her sorrow. She, first taking an oath of them for her revenge, revealed the actor, and whole manner of his dealing, and withal suddenly stabbed herself. Which done, with one consent they all vowed to root out the whole hated family of the Tarquins; and bearing the dead body to Rome, Brutus acquainted the people with the doer and manner of the vile deed, with a bitter invective against the tyranny of the king: wherewith the people were so moved, that with one consent and a general acclamation the Tarquins were all exiled, and the state government changed from kings to consuls.

Performed by Ally Garrett and Isobel MacKinnon 
Film by Fern Karun;
Spatial design by Sarah Burrell;
Costume by Josephine Hall

Music by Gareth Hobbs;
Sound design Andrew Simpson

Production photography by Rachel Brandon 

Sensitive and challenging subject explored with great integrity

Review by John Smythe 20th Apr 2012

Lucrece: An Adaptation of Shakespeare’s the Rape of Lucrece is the starting point – and focal point, when it’s on – of an audio-visual art installation project at the Toi Poneke Gallery until 11 May. (The other elements are there to be seen from 10am-8pm weekdays, 10am-4pm weekends until 12 May.) 

Director Fiona McNamara (who conceived the whole project), has worked with two performers – Ally Garrett and Isobel MacKinnon – and a range of designers to evoke the first third of Shakespeare’s epic poem.

When unwise Collatine extols the virtues of his “fair love, Lucrece the chaste” – “What priceless wealth the heavens had him lent / In the possession of his beauteous mate” [note “possession”] – to “lust-breathed Tarquin” (who, by the way, has recently caused his father-in-law to be murdered in order to possess a kingdom), Tarquin cannot help himself. Or rather he assumes he has the right to help himself, by prevailing on her hospitality when she is at home alone.

Lucrece “Little suspecteth the false worshipper / For unstain’d thoughts do seldom dream on evil” and so is unable to “read the meaning of his eyes” nor predict his “loathsome enterprise”. It is not easy language for performance; it is much harder to convey its import than through the blank verse of Shakespeare’s plays. Yet Garrett and MacKinnon bring a buoyant fluency and deep understanding to their delivery which communicates by intuitive osmosis.

Intriguingly, as the two women embody and express Collatine’s adoration of beauty and virtue and Tarquin’s robust lust, they seem to glory in female sensuality and sexuality: a brilliant touch that declares a woman’s right to be sensuous and sexual without abnegating the right to chose; to give or withhold consent.  

When “By reprobate desire thus madly led, / The Roman lord marcheth to Lucrece’s bed”, it is when Tarquin “draw[s] the cloud that hides the silver moon” that curtains are flung open to reveal a jug sitting in a dish upon a pedestal. A triptych screen confronts us with naked female flesh, relentlessly stroked by the cameras … 

A large radio mic is used to even more confronting phallic effect. Recorded narration frees the women to physicalise the experience at times, and to add heavy breathing to the mix. The stroking of the mic on the flimsily clad body of Lucrece (MacKinnon) by the Tarquin figure (Garrett) adds a sense of tactile terror as his disembodied voice expounds the depth of his misogynistic jealousy:  

“Lucrece,” quoth he, “this night I must enjoy thee:
If thou deny, then force must work my way,
For in thy bed I purpose to destroy thee:
That done, some worthless slave of thine I’ll slay,
To kill thine honour with thy life’s decay;
And in thy dead arms do I mean to place him,
Swearing I slew him, seeing thee embrace him.

“So thy surviving husband shall remain
The scornful mark of every open eye;
Thy kinsmen hang their heads at this disdain,
Thy issue blurr’d with nameless bastardy …”

I have to say reading these words curdles my guts more profoundly than hearing them did, maybe because the technology of the presentation was distracting my attention. I can’t help but wonder whether a male voice, subjectively in the role of Tarquin, would have more impact when the mode of telling moves from live evocation and reportage to the voice-over of the perpetrator.

The stanzas that cover the act itself are surprisingly juxtaposed with the pouring of water over the naked Lucrece: an image of lyrical beauty were it not for the nightgown stuffed into her mouth. This is a typical example of how the production challenges us to grapple with the reality of what is happening despite the poetic presentation. 

The lines that tell of Tarquin’s stealing guiltily away (without having killed her, physically, or slain a slave) get lost beneath the soundscape but we do tune into the all-too-real shattering injustice of her feeling shame in the wake of his atrocious actions.

Shakespeare brings astonishing insight to the perspectives of both Lucrece and Tarquin and winds the story around a strong moral centre. A range of motives are canvassed for Tarquin’s actions, Lucrece’s response is profoundly felt … and it is at sh shame phase that the 30-minute performance ends. Later lines – e.g. “So of shame’s ashes shall my fame be bred” – are imprinted on the performance area and around the gallery space.  

There are many questions, issues and perspectives to wrestle with, ponder and discuss concerning both the content and the style of presentation and their implications on many levels – not to mention what happens later in the poem (she kills herself and her body is further objectified by being paraded through the streets of Rome, and Tarquin gets away with “everlasting banishment” – so the post-performance discussion should be regarded as key to the total experience.

I haven’t engaged with all the other elements of the installation yet but the discussion on opening night suggests there is value to be had in doing so before you watch the performance.

Fiona McNamara and her team are to be applauded for exploring this sensitive and challenging subject with such integrity. This is arts practice at its most relevant. 


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