Richard II (MKA: Theatre of New Writing)
Theatre Republic, The Loft
September 22 – 26
Following its irreverent 2013 Brisbane Festival show “The Unspoken Word is Joe”, MKA: Theatre of New Writing is back with the political satire “Richard II” as part of the Theatre Republic ‘s alternative showcase of award winning work from independent artists.
The show begins with Mark Wilson and Olivia Monticciolo centre stage as childhood rivals. Richard (Wilson) is 11 and his cousin Henry Bollingbroke (Monticciolo) is 10. The female Henry is a shamelessly atheist feminist-in-the-making with ambition to be an industrial lawyer. Richard is brashly confident in anticipation of his entitled future. Fast forward a few years and before our eyes he transforms by divine right and a gloriously regal costume complete with gold tights, to become the absolute ruler of the Australian Kingdom of England. And what a popular leader he is, especially with the “Sunrise” crew and the hip hashtag generation (#whataguy). With staff, however, it is a different story of aggressive behaviour resulting in dissolved support and an ultimate transition of power.
Sound familiar? As well it should, with the Australian political landscape of recent years providing treachery and betrayal befitting the most treasonous of the Bard’s history plays. And “Richard II” captures its drama in perfect parody, including many accessible political allusions to party leaks and faceless men after Henry’s toppling of narcissistic celebrity-king Richard to become Australia’s first female King of England. This is combined with inclusion of some of the original language of the lyrical verse play to capture the emotion of particular moments of both wallowy martyrdom and public proclamation grandeur. But it also serves to illustrate the resonance of Shakespeare’s themes to philosophically engage audiences from within even the most modern of contexts, proof perhaps of how causes, effects and consequences have always charted the course the history.
Wilson and Monticciolo are both enthusiastic and entertaining in conveying naturalism to the unfiltered dialogue in the initial competitive child’s-play conversation (complete with hint of gender politics). Wilson, in particular, is a dynamic performer, responsive to audience reactions and clearly relishing the role of Richard when in full bombastic, tyrannical reign. Such is his versatility that the script’s Shakespearean dialogue sits as comfortably on his tongue as the manic aggression of its sexist slurs.
It is the show’s earlier scenes that are its greatest triumph in reflection of Shakespeare’s original story of Richard’s deposition by returned-from-exile Henry, who seizes the crown for himself as Henry IV. Momentum lags and it loses its way for a bit when narrative is left aside for inclusion of an indulgent self-proclaimed socialist rant segment about already-echoed themes of the humanity of leaders and need for policy rather than personality driven politics. However, interest is regained with later ascension to the throne of a Speedo-clad Henry V, even if in its conclusion, things appear a little rushed.
Illustrating how satire can be one of the most powerful of comedic tools, “Richard II” is a clever and daring show from a company that is yet to disappoint in Brisbane (considering also their 2013 WTF work “The Economist”). It is also an example of not just how theatre can allow exploration of issues fundamental to our identity as a nation, but also of unforseen increased Brisfest show topicality based on recent current events. As well as appreciation of its witty intelligence and creativity while remaining surprisingly quite faithful to the original text, one will probably walk away wondering how the tale could perhaps be retold in light of the even more recent turmoil that has been played out on our nation’s political stage, “for sorrow ends not, when it seemeth done.”
Image c/o – http://www.brisbanefestival.com.au