Saturday, October 21, 2023

Review: "Rockspeare Henry Sixth Part One by Billy Shake"

 Lexi Sekuless Productions & Mill Theatre at Dairy Road. 20 October 2023. Reviewed by SIMONE PENKETHMAN

Alana Denham-Preston as Joan of Arc 

There is no live music or singing in Lexi Sekuless’ “Rockspeare” but the attitude and aesthetic are unmistakably rock. 

Design, lighting, music, movement and staging all evoke the kind of rock theatre pioneered by the likes of Alice Cooper, Kate Bush and David Bowie, and subsequently built on by Prince, Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga.

On two sides of the intimate, black box Mill Theatre, the audience encloses a spare set of multi-levelled stage risers. The two walls behind the stage are collaged with black and white posters, and political graffiti.

The words on the walls reflect the historical setting of the play, but the look is peak punk. Red and white rose vines snake across the collage.

 Echoing the graffitied walls, the program is presented like an underground ‘zine. Lexi Sekuless credits herself as director and ‘verse nurse’, an apt title for one tackling as troublesome a text as this.

“Henry Sixth Part One”, while hugely popular in its time, is now regarded as one of Shakespeare’s weakest plays, lacking a strong protagonist and dramatic structure.

 It is a prequel to the other Henry VI history plays, a backstory to the beginning of the wars of the roses, fought between the houses of Lancaster and York.

 King Henry V dies, leaving his child to take the throne. Rivalry festers between the houses of York (white rose) and Lancaster (red rose). Meanwhile, across the channel, the English fight against the French, who are led by Joan of Arc.

 Sekuless, with her cast and crew, has molded the chaotic story into a stylish, witty and fast-paced show of two short acts.

Sarah Nathan Truesdale as Suffolk

Sarah Nathan Truesdale has a lurking, sinewy, Jagger-like presence as Suffolk, the red rose powerbroker.

Chips Jin brings quiet strength to their portrayal of the child-King Henry VI growing into power.

Alana Denham-Preston’s Joan of Arc is another stand out, looking like a bush doofer and exuding religious zeal as she wins both influence and battles.  

Music by sound designer, Andre Pinzon underpins much of the show, always driving the action forward.

The fight scenes are short and sharp with film-clip style choreography and lighting.

All good rock singers know how to make their most powerful sounds through intent rather than volume. While the words in this show are spoken, some of the actors could learn from the rockers how to create intensity without shouting.

This is a fun and entertaining show with a strong cast of women and non-binary actors. They are not pretending to be men. They’re dressed as their rocked-up selves and playing Dukes as Duchesses.

Lexi Sekuless Productions & Mill Theatre at Dairy Road plan to produce Shakespeare’s history plays as Rockspeare, annually for the next 3 years.