Friday, January 20, 2017


Shadow House Party. 

A Krewd Incarnate. Directed by Bambi Valentine. Trinculo’s Bathtub 2:Annihilation. Written and directed by Joe Woodward. Ophelia’s Shadow. Adapted from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Composed and directed by Lucy Matthews. The Courtyard Studio. Canberra Theatre Centre. July 18-21. 2017.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

 How stale and unprofitable is the theatre that has nothing to say. It is a criticism that could never be levelled against the Krewd Sisters, Shadow House Pits or Acoustic Theatre. This daring triumvirate is presenting three performances at The Courtyard Studio. A Krewd Incarnate bursts forth with the sheer force of Butoh. Trinculo’s Bathtub2: Annihilation is bathed in the cynicism and post Modern diatribe soaked in the anarchy of Artaud.  Acoustic Theatre Troupe offers a provocative take on Shakespeare’s Hamlet with Lucy Matthew’s reinvention, Ophelia’s Shadow. At times rough and raw, often electrifying and always challenging, theirs is the theatre of confrontation, risk taking and experimental, questioning and postulating and exciting in its sheer force and earnest passion. Though not to everybody’s taste, loud and brash, Krewd Sisters under Bambi Valentine, Shadow House Pits with Joe Woodward and Lucy Matthews’ Acoustic Theatre compel intellectual engagement. They are the inescapable provocateurs of intellect and emotion, devoid of artifice and driven by the belief that theatre is the conscience and the voice of today’s new world. 

Bambi Valentine, Luke Middlebrook and Benjamin T.B. Russell 

 Between the flesh and the bone springs forth the Dance of Darkness. It is the inner scream for identity and acknowledgement. The animal in us all twitches and turns, snaps at the bone, pecks at the air, stretches and curls, splashes and slides as the regal mistress of their animal world plays dominatrix to their search for meaning. The animal within subjects to command and hierarchy. Bestial in instinct, human in parody, they are the unfortunate victims of existence. Gradually, repetitively, achingly the frenzy builds. The Butoh dance of darkness rises to frentic fury to the incessant rhythms of the death metal music. The rest is silence and we are left to wonder and to ponder. Make of it what you will but Butoh performers Bambi Valentine, Luke Middlebrook, Miriam Slater, Frances McNair and Benjamin Russell and musicians Lucy Matthews and Hannah Feldman unleash a longing for change that stirs the spirit and provokes response.

Joe Woodward as Trinculo in Trinculo's Bathtub 2: Annihilation

 Joe Woodward’s Trinculo is no stranger to the stage of confrontation. Part demon, part angel, Trinculo recalls the hellish world of Bosch, reincarnated through the revolutionary Marat and espousing the dialectic of a Hitler or a Trump, megalomaniacal in the quest for supreme power, yet the victim of his own revolutionary fervour. Trinculo’s realm is the Parnassus of Persuasion – the all-knowing, the all-seeing, the omnipotent potentate. Woodward is the cynic, the satirist, the humourist with throw-away commentary that deflates the arrogant supremacy of his alter ego and is in turn subjected to the same fate as Jean Paul Marat. Woodward inhabits his character with all the mastery of political and philosophical conviction. If you have not seen Trinculo espouse his maniacal rhetoric, this is a performance not to shie away from.

Luke Middlebrook and Miriam Slater in Ophekia's Shadow

  On his tomb Shakespeare states “Cursed be he who moves my bones” It is a brave soul who dares to tamper with his work. Lucy Matthews’ intention in her adaptation Ophelia’s Shadow is to focus our attention on Ophelia’s plight in a resonating plea for understanding and confirmation of society’s suppression of the female in a male dominated domain. The overpowering presence of Polonius’s voiceover, spoken by Woodward, the lustful enticement and cruel rejection of Hamlet (Luke Middlebrook), the stern reproachment and authoritative command of her brother Laertes (Benjamin T.B. Russell) as well as the manipulation of harpy -like creatures (Bambi Valentine and Frances McNair) subject Ophelia (Miriam Slater) to alternative will, depriving her of an individual and independent voice.

Miriam Slater and Benjamin T.B. Russell

 Of all three works, Ophelia’s Shadow is in need of the most careful, objective direction, precisely fusing the elements of performance, music and dance in a tightly woven thread of theme and action. In Shakespeare’s words this very clever interpretation, performed by versatile and talented performers, needed to pay homage to Hamlet’s advice to the Players: “Suit the word to the action and the action to the word.” The use of original songs, composed by Matthews, requires perfect diction. McNair’s powerful voice does the emotion  full justice while in many songs losing the lyrics. Middlebrook’s charismatic smiling rock star delivery of “To be or not to be”, while not pensive in its mood, is expertly sung and clearly pronounced.  At times, focus is sacrificed to dual action upon the stage, and the physical connection between Ophelia’s inner voices (Valentine and McNair) and Ophelia is at times blurred, though always expressive. It is during the moments that are “pure” Hamlet that Slater and Middlebrook capture the spirit of the relationship and empathy flows for Ophelia’s subjugated state. Both performers could well hold their own in a full production of Shakespeare’s original tragedy.

Frances McNair, Bambi Valentine, Lucy Matthews and Hannah Feldman

  Nonetheless, Ophelia’s Shadow is original, provocative and performed with passion and serious intent by a talented troupe of young and committed performers. Shakespeare’s bones need not rattle in dismay. Acoustic Theatre has done full and persuasive justice to his theme, his language and his characters. Too often relegated to the shadows, in Matthews’ thoughtful adaptation, Ophelia is brought into the light to shine a torch for all women of all time.

I did not stay for the Dance Party or even use my ticket for a free glass of champagne, but I left entirely satisfied with a night of theatre that all theatre aficionados and practitioners should see. Though not without some fault here and there, Shadow House Party is theatre that stimulates the intellect, provokes thought, experiments and challenges and ultimately reminds us that all theatre should hold the mirror as ‘twere up to Nature and show us who we are and who we should be.

Photography by Reid Workman (Workmanlike Images)