Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington

28/02/2015 - 07/03/2015

NZ Fringe Festival 2015 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details

In Fringe ’14 more than thirty people got to perform in a Shakespeare play just by showing up. Quite a few more just watched.  

We’re still not sure anything quite like it has ever been done anywhere else. 

But everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, so this year Suddenly Shakespeare is back – for two Saturdays of just having a crack at some instant posh theatre. 

Each week the audience will choose between a comedy, a history and a tragedy to perform. That play will be cast from audience volunteers (with support available from talented improviser/Shakespearians) and performed by reading customised online scripts off smartphones. 

In 2014 audiences selected Twelfth Night, Henry V and King Lear.

“I think everyone had a really good time last year,” says producer Lyndon Hood. “For me it was great helping these groups of people – most of whom had never met – pull together and do this obviously impossible thing: Shakespeare with no rehearsal.” 

“I think we actually saw the heart of all the plays we performed. At the same time as dealing with some admittedly quite silly props.” 

People wanting to perform (we won’t make you, you are allowed to just watch) should bring their own internet-capable portable electronic device. We will provide roles, costume, props, and (if the need arises) puppets and/or a plush hobbyhorse unicorn.

Suddenly Shakespeare 2015 
Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee St, Wellington
Saturdays 28 February and 7 March

Theatre ,

Saturdays only, approx 3 hours

Fun for die-hard Shakespeare nerds

Review by Shannon Friday 01st Mar 2015

I really like the idea behind Suddenly Shakespeare.  You get a group together, pick one of the bard’s plays, give out the parts on the day, and then… just do the darn play.

It’s a fun idea, and it’s the type of thing my friends and I used to do at university when we were bored and didn’t want to write papers.  That said, my friends and I weren’t performing for an audience; we were gathered in a hall lounge with some wine, a script, and maybe a paper crown if we were feeling really committed to props that day.  We were doing it for ourselves, and ourselves only. 

With Suddenly Shakespeare, my big question is, “Who is this show for?”  The blurb in the programme says “Wanna do Shakespeare?” and “Wanna watch people do Shakespeare with no rehearsal?”  This sets up an impossible set of pressures, and ones that work explicitly at cross-purposes. 

If you focus on giving everyone a go, then you’re gonna make some crappy Shakespeare.  Crappy Shakespeare is fun to do but lame to watch.  If, on the other hand, you focus on building a team with the core skills to do really good Shakespeare on the fly (it can be done – I have seen it), your audience will get a better show, but you’ll limit the ability for everyone to participate. 

The play is chosen on the day, and I question the selection of available shows as they all have strong physical components: Comedy of Errors (tons of slapstick), Romeo and Juliet (lots of fights and a dance), and King Henry IV, Part I (also lots of fights and singing in Welsh).  I know very few actors who can both sight-read Shakespeare and do un-choreographed sword fighting and/or slapstick. Or sing in Welsh.

This ‘instant performance’ concept seems better suited to wordier plays, where the physical action is reported on, rather than seen.  My choices for available scripts would include King Lear, Cymbeline, As You Like It, Antony and Cleopatra, and even Love’s Labours Lost, which is a play I usually wouldn’t recommend for anything. 

We select Henry IV, which makes me happy because it’s a great play with lots of people messing about in taverns and also fights.  I like fights.  We’re cast – I’m King Henry, woot woot! – and we’re off.

I’ve taken part in shows like this before with the Instant Shakespeare Company, and the concept works best when the biggest roles are preassigned so that actors can look over their scripts in advance.  If the exercise is predicated on the use of cue scripts, it is worth remembering that like TV actors today – who often work off sides – the stage actors of Shakespeare’s day would have had their lines and cues memorised before performing.  While complete memorisation may be a big ask for a casual volunteer, familiarity among the lead roles would get people’s eyes up and on each other more.  To do that, you need to hand out roles like Falstaff, Hotspur, Westmoreland and Hal in advance.  Otherwise, the show is a bunch of disconnected cold reading.

OK, so, now that I’m done directing the show, how about reviewing it?  There are difficulties with execution, including not enough digital devices to access the script and improperly formatted scripts.  These mean we don’t start reading through the play until 2.30, and I was rather counting on the show sticking to the advertised two-hour timeframe.  I have to duck out early (before the fight scenes!), and conversation at my next event reveals that this is an ongoing thing with Suddenly Shakespeare. So if you want to go, plan on it taking about three hours, not two.

That said, there are some moments that really work.  Like when Falstaff is searching for a cushion to use as a crown and finds a platypus cushion that squeaks.  It is comic genius.  Well chosen, props team and Falstaff.  I feel a frisson of excitement, too, when, as Henry, I manage to connect with the actress playing Hotspur, in spite of the scripts in hand.  It’s fun to take part and just geek out with other Shakespeare fans. 

I’m going back next week, with three hours clear in my schedule and more data on my phone. I’d say Suddenly Shakespeare is worth coming to if you’re a die-hard Shakespeare nerd. (I mean that as a compliment). If you want to act in Shakespeare with low commitment time, or you want to see what it can be like in a rehearsal room during a first walk-through of a show, come along. Otherwise, Suddenly Shakespeare probably isn’t a show for you.


Lyndon Hood March 3rd, 2015

Hi - thanks for the review.

I just wanted to confirm we did in fact finish just a couple of minutes after 4, if not bang on.

We got a pretty good sense of the required length from last year's run (you can imagine there are some quite remarkable cuts in some cases, as well as a lot of trimming with a view to helping out the performers).

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