Pulp William

The Forge at The Court Theatre, Christchurch

29/02/2008 - 29/03/2008

The Transmission Room, Auckland

20/05/2009 - 23/05/2009

Production Details

Manic Mash-up of Theatre and Film in Pulp William

The Court Jesters take William Shakespeare and Quentin Tarantino, mix them with the insanity of Scared Scriptless and create an improvised show of epic proportions in the first Forge show of 2008 – PULP WILLIAM.

Conceived and performed by three of The Court Jesters – Brendon Bennetts, Dan Bain and Javier Jarquin – when the PULP WILLIAM concept was presented to The Court Theatre’s Artistic Director Ross Gumbley, he knew the show was perfect to launch The Forge’s 2008 season. "It’s witty, entertaining and inventive theatre," says Gumbley.

This "Shakespearean crime-thriller comedy" has been aided and abetted to The Forge stage with direction by veteran improviser, writer and director (as well as a previous member of The Court Jesters) Greg Cooper. Cooper immediately saw the comic potential of PULP WILLIAM. "It takes the style and language of Shakespeare and pumps it up with the characters and the pop-culture references of Tarantino," says Cooper, "then ups the ante further with audience suggestions deciding where the story goes. The result is a plot with more twists than a night at Jack Rabbit Slims".

PULP WILLIAM opens in a warehouse with three criminals in a tense standoff culminating in a shootout familiar to anyone who has seen Reservoir Dogs. Who they are and what led to the inevitable doublecrosses, however, is all up to the audience. The cast must weave seemingly random suggestions together, spouting Shakespearean verse all the way. "Like Pulp Fiction, the narrative might not be always linear," explains Cooper, "so it may flash back in time to show how one character developed an audience-suggested fear of clowns".

"When we started rehearsals we thought we would just talk about our ideas," says performer Brendon Bennetts, "instead Greg asked us to show him – we did three runs on the first day". With four weeks of rehearsals packed with star-crossed lovers, bad-ass gangsters, Mexican stand-offs, Italian surnames, cunning plots, poison, handguns, sonnets and protracted death speeches with extended metaphors, Bennetts calls the result a "leaner, meaner, faster and funnier production that anything we’ve done before". Those worried about bad language need not worry – all swearing is in the Shakespearean fashion, so "only those fluent in 16th Century English will be offended", adds Cooper.

Shakespeare scholars, film buffs and fans of Scared Scriptless: PULP WILLIAM has something for

everyone. With three performances scheduled per week (Thursday, Friday and Saturdays at 8pm) in a season running from February 29 – March 29 and a special flat ticket price of $15 seats will be in high demand for this explosively funny start to The Forge Season for 2008.

PULP WILLIAM by The Court Jesters
Venue: The Forge at The Court Theatre

Performances: 29 February – 29 March, 2008 
shows Thursday, Friday and Saturdays at 8pm
Tickets: $15 from The Court Theatre
Bookings: Phone 963 0870 or online www.courttheatre.org.nz 

Dates:  May 20 – 23, 2009, 10pm
Venue:  The Transmission Room
Tickets:  $25 Adults, $20 concession, $18 groups (10+)
Bookings:  0800 TICKETEK (0800 842 5385) www.ticketek.co.nz  

Featuring: Daniel Bain, Brendon Bennetts and Javier Jarquin

Skilled pastiche of bluster and fury

Review by Nik Smythe 22nd May 2009

Three plucky young actors don suits a la Reservoir Dogs and vernaculars a la the Immortal Bard, to regale a wanting assemblage of spectators with a twisted tale of intrigue and scandal.  Directed by Greg Cooper, the Court Jesters of Christchurch – Daniel Bain, Brendon Bennetts and Javier Jarquin – skilfully weave a convoluted pastiche of bluster, fury and ingenious improvised comedy. 

The production values are high, not least the AV projected opening credits, filmed around Christchurch with the cast striking cinematic gangster poses all over the show to the inimitable Reservoir Dogs theme: the George Baker Selection’s Little Green Bag.  It’s a charming touch that this same tune played on a harpsichord serves as a scene-linking sting throughout the show. 

Clearly there is some solid structure in the staging and development of the random elements of the piece.  At the outset we, the audience are called upon to nominate what will become the elements of the ensuing epic Shakespearean heist thriller.  On this night we had a science teacher, a love/vendetta theme inspired by Romeo and Juliet, the philosophical question ‘is there a god?’, and a diary. 

The latter is the MacGuffin of the story, the glowing treasure in the briefcase a la Pulp Fiction.  All the objects and devices are brought, remarkably convincingly, together through excellent characterisations and shrewd plot-rigging. My personal favourite moment was the anguished preacher being visited by God, who himself asks his hapless subject whether he (God) exists…

Some of the names concocted on the spot add comedic authenticity to the whole palaver – Delinquentio, the wayward schoolboy, Beardio the bearded nun, GI Joe-o the disillusioned war-hero and so on.  And I suspect they may frequently throughout the season find excuses for the off-stage Shakespearean sex noises:  ‘Ooh!’ ‘Ah!’ ‘Prithee!’, etc.

One thing the whole experience puts in my mind as how not all that different Shakespeare is from Tarantino, with all their stakes and dilemmas and violent retributions.  Of course, it’s not hard to throw George Lucas in with that, and the contrived surprise twist at the end had a somewhat Agatha Christie feel to it. 

The most disappointing aspect of the show is the size of the audience, totalling thirteen on opening night.  Perhaps it’s more intellectual than your average improv show, and maybe the Shakespeare/ Tarantino/ Star Wars/ 80s kids TV show and related toy franchises market has its limits but with no more than purely basic knowledge of any of these topics there’ll be something for here for you. 

Plus I defy anyone not to chuckle semi-sadistically whenever a player causes his colleague to corpse.  There should be a name for this sport-like form of theatre…
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A goodly chuckle

Review by Lindsay Clark 07th Mar 2008

Rumbustious stuff this and as well polished as improvised plot- scrambling can ever be. The Jesters frame their inventiveness in a cheeky Tarantino/Shakespeare combination, to the delight of improv devotees and doubtless some new enthusiasts.

For it is hard to resist the sheer frolic of three intrepid actors, each prepared to create or follow up a challenge, working at shaping the given cues into something approaching a plot – well, three interwoven ones. There is no such luxury as re-working in this business.

The audience has itself to blame if the way forward is convoluted. Invited to establish some ‘givens’ for dramatic realisation, audience members nominate a dentist, Hamlet, the play within a play device, a pencil and finally, the deep question, ‘Why is the sky blue?’ It was always going to take a daring approach to resolve these components. The Gangster and the Bard offer cover for every possible situation and many one would have thought impossible into the bargain.

Some especial triumphs of the performance, presumably worked into whatever specific scenarios the audience of day dictates, are the slick combat routines, where timing and precision translate clever choreography into high entertainment. Vocally too, the speech rhythm associated with Shakespearean verse is sustained with brave gusto. Scenes even manage to end with a rhyming couplet – the more contrived the better as far as the audience is concerned.

The   relaxed confidence of the team is well supported technically and in the playing space designed by Julian Southgate as a murky basement, allowing for above ground effects to be suggested through the single window, as well as dramatic entrances via the steps themselves.

The intrepid trio of Daniel Bain, Brendon Bennetts and Javier Jarquin strikes a nice balance between advancing the impossible plot lines and embroidering their various characters and relationships. Greg Cooper’s direction, in developing framework and strategies, is similarly sound. The result is a clever, zany evening of  light- hearted mirth. A goodly chuckle indeed. 


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