Vienna Verona

BATS Theatre, Wellington

05/08/2009 - 15/08/2009

The Compleate Workes Project

Production Details

This August the collective that brought you March of the Meeklings, The Storm, Eiffel Tower Wedding Party and A Most Outrageous Humbug return to BATS Theatre with a double shot of Shakespeare as part of the ‘Compleate Workes’ Festival.

Three Spoon Theatre (Best Fringe 2008, Pick of the Fringe 2008 and 2009) will hit the stage with Vienna Verona – an exciting and ambitious project which brings together some of Wellington’s finest young talent for a double-bill season of simultaneously standalone and complimentary productions of Measure for Measure and Romeo and Juliet.

Measure for Measure is one of Shakespeare’s often-avoided "problem plays". But the madcap schemes and tragic-comedy that can mark difficulties for staging the play are what make it an ideal fit for the trademark quirky black comedy that have made Three Spoon Theatre popular. Director Alex Lodge says this production takes the modern assumptions of what is public and private, and explores "just how much faith we can really place in the state to control our lives and our bodies". Cutting the script back to just an hour in length and sympathising with the rule-breaking, trouble-making characters paves the way for a snappy simple satire.

Beyond the romantic fable, Romeo and Juliet is a play which offers a stark portrayal of a society too consumed with its own delights and triumphs to take responsibility for their consequences. Director Ralph McCubbin Howell says "we have stripped the script back to a personal retrospection by the disenchanted Friar as he discovers the cost of this existence and must confront his own culpability." This production promises a Romeo and Juliet that is at once funny, violent and beautiful – a vivid collision of banquets and street-brawls, music, laughter and bloodshed.

The double-bill has been a mammoth project for the collective, now joined by a talented ensemble of over 30 actors and designers currently working in Wellington theatre. "It’s a monstrous beast that we occasionally get to purr" says Lodge. "The cross casting has been the most enjoyable part of this – getting the actors to explore parallels in class, sexuality and violence between two wildly different characters has been fun with a capital F".

Similarly, cutting the scripts to just an hour and a half each has been a considerable challenge for Three Spoon. However, with support from dramaturgs Jean Sergent and Victoria University Theatre lecturer Dr. Matthew Wagner the directors have revealed a fresh electric energy in the text. "By corrupting their allegorical detachment, we have discovered something more immediate, personal and alive" says Howell.

Three Spoon’s radical reworking of Shakespeare in Vienna Verona will be on at
BATS Theatre August 5-15.
Measure for Measure 7pm;
Romeo and Juliet 9pm.
Tickets $13/16, or $25 for a season pass.
To book: or 802 4175. 

Measure for Measure
Duke Vincentio:  James Davenport
Angelo:  Richard Falkner
Escalus:  Ralph Upton
Provost:  Nick Zwart
Claudio:  Eli Kent
Isabella:  Charlotte Bradley
Juliet:  Clare Wilson
Mariana:  Sophie Hambleton
Elbow:  Thomas McGrath
Lucio:  Edward Watson
Pompey:  Paul Harrop
Mistress Overdone:  Ally Garrett

Romeo and Juliet
Prince Escalus:  Thomas McGrath
County Paris:  Aaron Baker
Mercutio:  Allan Henry
Lord Montague:  Richard Falkner
Lady Montague:  Alexandra Lodge
Romeo:  Eli Kent
Benvolio:  Jack Sergent-Shadbolt
Abram:  Cameron Reid
Lord Capulet:  Paul Harrop
Lady Capulet:  Charlotte Bradley
Juliet:  Clare Wilson
Tybalt:  Dominic de Souza
Nurse:  Jean Sergent
Sampson:  Paul Waggott
Gregory:  Nick Zwart
Friar Lawrence:  Jonny Potts
Ladies at the Capulet Ball:  Ally Garrett and Sophie Hambleton

Vienna Verona production crew
Producer: Adrianne Roberts
Assistant Director (M for M):  Cherie Jacobson
Assistant Director (R & J):  Hannah Smith
Publicity: Edward Watson
Lighting Operator: Jimmy Sutcliffe
Stage Manager: Debbie Fish
Costume Design: Dawa Devereux
Lighting Design: Rachel Marlow
Set Design: Kent Seaman
Head Set constructor: Michael Campin
Set Adviser: James Davenport
Original Music & Sound Design: Tane Upjohn-Beatson
Make up and Props: Beck Woolhouse
Mask Design and Construction: Bronwen Pattison
Dance Choreography: Brigid Costello
Fight Choreography: Richard Dey




1hr 30 mins each play, 1/2 hour interval

A step up

Review by Uther Dean 19th Aug 2009

Before we tread into the nitty grit of what exactly did and didn’t work, it needs to be said that Vienna Verona is an achievement. It is a step up. The step up that Three Spoon Theatre has needed to take for quite a while now. After their initial and dazzling success at the Fringe 2008, straight out of the VUW theatre department, with March of the Meeklings, they have been treading water a little. They very quickly proved that they could produce theatre of real quality, so the question became what they chose to say or do with their prodigious talents. They followed Meeklings with the amusing but slight The Storm. Then came the rather empty and flawed but dazzling confection Eiffel Tower Wedding Party. Most recently they have had perhaps their most obvious success with the extremely accomplished but overly technical and dry A Most Outrageous Humbug.

With Vienna Verona they have dropped a lot of the overt flaws that plagued their previous work. The odd sense of intellectual detachment is gone. The audience seems fully trusted to feel the work rather than just appreciate it. The flippancy that seemed to belie a fear of fully committing to any one style is gone too. This is a water shed production. This shows that for Three Spoon, this shit has just got real. Its scale and the simple fact that they pulled it off deserves applause all of its own. Vienna Verona is worth attending if only for the fact that in a few years, people will probably point back and say that it was where something started. 2009 has been the year that the young Wellington theatre has made itself known, that they’re ready to play with the big boys now. Vienna Verona is the most potent example of that so far. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next… [More]
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Mongrel play

Review by Lynn Freeman 19th Aug 2009

Romeo and Juliet

THE director begins his programme notes by calling, rightly, Romeo and Juliet a “mongrel” of a play.

The ultimate love story is also extremely violent and at times extremely grubby. There are some delicious touches to McCubbin Howell and his cast’s fast and furious production, where switchblades double for rapiers and the Capulet and Montague gangs spray graffiti.

This edited version rattles along at 200kms an hour, some of the language is brutalised along the way and the Bard’s rhythms obliterated. But the emotions of the play, from lust to love to compassion to hatred, are right out there and sweep you up.

It’s refreshing to have a Juliet (Clare Wilson) who in fact looks like a pre-teen and blends vulnerability and determination very nicely. Eli Kent is a quirky Romeo and endearing for it. Allan Henry is an absolute standout as Mercutio, bringing a broodiness and a close-to-the-surface temper to the role, and Jean Sergent’s nurse is warm, practical and a little naughty too.

Breathtaking choreography in the fight scenes earned audience applause and the times the Montague boys were all together larking about were played with great zest and blokey-ness.


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Vienna Verona

Review by Kate Blackhurst 14th Aug 2009

Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure is known as a ‘problem play’, as it holds comedy and tragedy in unequal balance, and director Alexandra Lodge certainly seems to be confused. Having seen the Three Spoon Theatre production at Bats, I am no clearer as to what she considers this play to be about.

The slick introductory dance to the Undertones’ Teenage Kicks (the all-time favourite single of the late great John Peel) seems to suggest it is a play about young people and sex. Well, that will certainly grab audience attention, but as the play progresses she turns her consideration to themes of justice, compassion, leadership, empathy, wisdom, experience and power. [More]

Romeo and Juliet

Credit to the cast and crew must be given for the fact that less than half an hour after finishing one of Shakespeare’s most challenging plays, they are back to tackle another with commendable relish. Both of these are massive oeuvres and a lot of hard work has clearly gone into attempting to whittle them down to an attention-challenged modern audience.

Although the editing is slightly suspect, director Ralph McCubbin Howell strikes a far better balance with Romeo and Juliet. The young leads are not so much star-crossed lovers, as self-destructive teenage time-bombs, but it is great to see them being portrayed by people who understand the exuberance of youth. [More]
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Doesn't measure up

Review by Lynn Freeman 13th Aug 2009

Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure isn’t one of the Bard’s greatest hits. Rather like Katherine in Taming of the Shrew, Bill gives his female lead, Isabella, an almost impossible task. In fact he seems to punish her for being staunch and strong willed.

Director Alexander Lodge says in the programme that the play is very funny. Unfortunately by playing it so determinedly for laughs, actress Charlotte Bradley is continually undermined. She plays the nun who is forced into choosing between losing her virginity to the Duke’s ghastly brother, or having her own brother put to death.  To our contemporary minds, it doesn’t seem like such a big ask when your brother’s life is at stake.  But Isabella is deeply religious and believes utterly that it is better that her brother die than she live a lifetime of guilt and pain. Not a lot of laughs you’d think in this dilemma.  Bradley plays the role with conviction but that’s too often lost on the audience amidst the foolery on stage.

James Davenport as the old and wise Duke Vincentio is an exception to that, he has a strong on stage presence and a warmth to his portrayal.  He is so pleasant that we are made to forget that he is a manipulative man who could have spared poor Isabella a lot of grief but not using her to test his younger brother’s leadership. Richard Falkner’s Angelo needs a bit more attitude, while Sophie Hambleton does well to make us care about a woman who clearly doesn’t deserve her.

There are some lovely touches but overall it doesn’t measure up.
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Vivid Vienna Verona in double bill drama

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 10th Aug 2009

Deciding to present a double-bill of Shakespearean plays is a big ask, especially when one, Measure for Measure, is as unknown as the other, Romeo and Juliet, is as known.  But Three Spoons Theatre has hit the jack-pot with the innovative, clever and very creative way they have dove-tailed these two plays into an evening of exciting entertainment. 

Expertly expunging the extraneous bits from both plays to make each run just on 90 minutes, the two totally contrasting plays nevertheless have similarities and appear complementary, with the youthful makeover each has been given.  Vienna Verona – Vienna the setting for Measure for Measure and Verona for Romeo and Juliet – has as its backdrop "urban dystopia", ingeniously portrayed by the white plastic plumbing pipes around the set with the sound of effluent running through them. 

In Measure for Measure the cast are all dressed in pristine white medieval styled hooded tunics, stockings and boots. Regarded by many scholars over the years as one of Shakespeare’s "problem" plays with its convoluted story line and mix of humour and dark subterfuge, it nevertheless held together surprisingly well in this production, aided much by the clarity of line delivery and intelligent understanding of the complexities of what is going on: personal virtue over the power of authority. 

When Angelo (Richard Falkner) takes over as Governor he imprisons Angelo for fornicating with Juliet (Clare Wilson) and making her pregnant.  When interceding by his friend Lucio (Edward Watson) fails to get him released, Claudio’s virgin sister Isabella (Charlotte Bradley) intervenes.  Only when she succumbs to Angelo’s sexual demands will he listen. 

The Duke (James Davenport) returns disguised as a Friar, sees what’s going on, then reveals himself in order to restore order. Humour is added by the characters of Pompey (Paul Harrop) and Mistress Overdone (Ally Garrett).

The well known story of Romeo and Juliet is given a similarly exuberant youthful interpretation, full of energy and vitality. The star-crossed lovers Romeo (Eli Kent) and Juliet (Clare Wilson) are certainly no innocents. Their passion, lust even, makes their predicament of unrequited love even more telling.

The pain of Juliet when berated by her father Lord Capulet (Paul Harrop) is particularly telling, as was Romeo’s reaction to the killing of his friend Mercutio (Allan Henry) and his slaying of the perpetrator Tybalt (Dominic de Souza). 

The staging of the numerous scenes, as in Measure for Measure, was effortless and added much to the pace and ongoing momentum of the production. The final scene in the Capulet monument bringing in Juliet’s body was compelling theatre as was the choreography of Richard Dey’s fight scenes.

An innovative twist in this production is the Friar giving the opening and closing lines which gives much relevance to the senseless demise of Romeo and Juliet rounding off a great evening of theatre.
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Readily accessible, immediately entertaining, plenty to chew on

Review by John Smythe 06th Aug 2009

There’s plenty of juice in the old bard yet, as proved by this zestful Three Spoon serving of two freshly squeezed classics: Measure for Measure (a comedy-cum-problem play) and Romeo and Juliet (a tragedy). Each runs about 90 minutes with a half hour interval; see both in one night or each on a different night but if you just want to choose one don’t ask me to recommend which (it’s cheaper per play to see both).

‘Urban dystopia’ is a term applied to both productions, informing Kent Seaman’s two-tiered set design of black walls and white plastic plumbing pipes which breathe, gurgle, sigh (sound design by Tane Upjohn-Beatson) and even deliver a message at one point.

It is within this malign creature, corrupted by undue power, moral hypocrisy and factional friction, that young people in that utopian state called ‘love’, fall foul of those who claim authority over them, while coming to terms with the principles of personal responsibility.

It was ever thus.

Measure for Measure

Clad all in white Medieval tunics, frocks, hoods and veils, the Chaucerian ensemble opens the show by ‘dirty dancing’ to The Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’ ("I need excitement oh I need it bad / And she’s the best, I’ve ever had …"). This sets the tone for youthful exuberance before Duke Vincentio (James Davenport) delegates his rule over Vienna to Angelo (Richard Falkner), a moralising judge who decides to reactivate the somewhat lapsed law against fornication.

Unfortunately the wedding of Claudio (Eli Kent) and Juliet (Clare Wilson) had been put off but they went ahead and consummated it anyway and now she’s pregnant, so he is sentenced to death.

Meanwhile Lucio (Edward Watson), intriguingly designated ‘a fantastic’ in the folio cast list, is given – along with the simple constable Elbow (Thomas McGrath), in this version – to bawdy consorting with Mistress Overdone (Ally Garrett), abetted by her clownish servant Pompey (Paul Harrop).

It is Lucio -later to be exposed as a two-faced slanderer – who, beseeched by his friend Claudio en-route to prison at the hands of the Provost (Nick Zwart), visits the postulate nun Isabella to tell her what has befallen her brother.

In welcome contrast to the literally overdone carry-on of the randy lot, Charlotte Bradley’s Isabella is a wonderfully focused oasis of truth and integrity. But her intercession to Angelo turns him on and he abuses his power by offering to spare Claudio’s life if she surrenders her virginity to him.

Disguised as a Friar (in order to spy on Angelo), the Duke conspires with Isabella to set up a ‘bed trick’ whereby Mariana (Sophie Hambleton, also beautifully centred) – who was betrothed to Angelo but has been rejected by him because her dowry was lost at sea – will lie in for the nun in the pitch dark bed-chamber she has made a condition of the pact.

[Spoiler warning]
But having had his way, Angelo goes back on his word and demands the head of Claudio anyway. As with many of Shakespeare’s comedies, the threat of death is very real, and in order to expose the full extent of Angelo’s moral hypocrisy, the Friar/Duke and Provost – who come up with a cunning plan; a plan so cunning you could pop it in a bag and call it a Christmas pud – have to make sure everyone, including Isabella, believes Angelo’s orders have been carried out.
[Spoiler ends]

By ensuring the dramatic imperatives are not sacrificed to the often broad comedy, director Alexandra Lodge and her cast deliver a telling socio-political satire that is all the more entertaining for its continuing relevance. When Mariana’s plea for Angelo’s life to be spared, despite her standing to get his estate when he’s gone, leads to her facing a future as his wife, our horror at the prospect is nicely offset by Isabella’s stunned silence when the Duke offers her his hand, blithely assuming she’ll want it. Nice.

The stated awareness that "everyone in Measure for Measure sincerely thinks they’re doing what’s right and good" is somewhat subverted by too much shouting from Angelo, which has the effect of diminishing his self confidence and diluting his come-uppance.  

My only other quibble, applying to both shows, is with the patchy lighting through which characters move randomly from film-noir shadowing to bright luminance to no apparent purpose. Either the designer has lit the set rather than the action or the actors are not finding their marks.

Romeo and Juliet

This tale of star-crossed lovers from feuding families is so well known I don’t need to précis it here. As with M for M, the dramaturgical distillation (by Jean Sergent and Matthew Wagner) is so well wrought we can happily assume what’s been expunged was redundant anyway.

Also in both plays, the costume designs by Dawa Devereux speak volumes. Here the Capulet servants Sampson (Paul Waggott) and Gregory (Nick Zwart) are skinheads, exuding instant menace toward the nerdy Abraham (Cameron Reid), who serves the house of Montague and is surprisingly nifty at unarmed combat.

Once more Eli Kent and Clare Wilson are paired, this time in the title roles. There is fascination in the way Kent’s Rosaline-besotted Romeo, intellectually intense and physically jerky (characteristics he brings to most roles he plays), falls wordlessly for Wilson’s rather mousy yet attractively intelligent Juliet: the complete opposite of her glamorous socialite mother Lady Capulet (Charlotte Bradley, barely recognisable from her Isabella).

Contrasting their comic roles in the first play are Thomas McGrath, as the iron-handed ruler Prince Escalus, and Paul Harrop, as the domineering patriarch Lord Capulet. Richard Falkner brings sincerity to Lord Montague, the (eventual) peace maker. And in the ball scene Sophie Hambleton is well employed to make it clear this production does not see Mercutio as gay.

Allan Henry’s lively and physically adept Mercutio, wonderfully skilled in combat, is nicely offset by Jack Sergent-Shadbolt’s Benvolio. Dominic de Souza’s hate-ridden Tybalt mounts a powerful challenge to Romeo and his loyal mates … and so the fuse of tragedy is inexorably lit.

While Jean Segeant’s Nurse is vocally harsh, her actions speak of a warm humanity. And Aaron Baker’s thoroughly conservative County Paris is perfectly uninspiring, except that he does inspire Juliet to vow lifelong virginity rather than marry anyone – until she lays eyes on Romeo.

Especially inspired is the device of giving the Chorus’s prologue and Prince’s epilogue to Friar Lawrence – also conflated with the Apothecary – so that the whole story plays out as his guilt-riddled enquiry into how the hell it came to pass. Jonny Potts inhabits the role with an intelligence and understanding that is all the stronger for being deeply felt rather than emoted.

To the great credit of director Ralph McCubbin Howell and his cast, the love scenes convince as a profound meeting of soul-mates, the fights (choreographed by Richard Dey) are riveting, and the tragic outcome is gut-wrenching.

Despite being written in the opposite order (Romeo and Juliet between 1594 and 1596; Measure for Measure in 1604), this pairing – as rendered by Three Spoon Theatre – carries its shared themes from satirically whimsical parable to all-too-credible tragedy in a mode that is readily accessible and immediately entertaining while leaving us with plenty to chew on.

Vienna Verona is a superb contribution to the Compleate Workes project.
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Hannah Smith August 6th, 2009

Sound Design/Original Music Composition: Tane Upjohn-Beatson
[Added - thanks Hannah - ED]

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