Bard Wars (Brisbane Arts Theatre)
Brisbane Arts Theatre
May 4 – 27
A young farm boy named Luke (Aodham Thomas) is torn from his forsaken desert homeland to fight the dark forces of the evil Empire. Trained in ancient magicks by a mysterious hermit and travelling with a scoundrel pirate, his barbarian companion and two bickering slaves, the hero must brave the unknown, rescue a princess and take revenge on the Emperor’s right hand: the black knight who killed his father. Sound familiar… maybe not… for this is not the seminal space-opera movie you might expect, but rather its rather-hilarious Shakespeareanised retelling, “Bard Wars Hope Renew’d”.
Side-of-stage instrumentalists Bernard Compose and Ian Ahles set the scene for the medieval-themed Renaissance language about to be used in Brisbane Arts Theatre’s tell the futuristic story. John Grey’s simple set design sees the space split into black and white, in reminder of the simplicity of its classic good versus evil theme. Indeed, there are many obvious references to the work’s ever-so-familiar 1977 source material, only all with a Bard-themed twist. Princess Leia’s memorable “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re My Only Hope!” repeated message is, instead, for example, shared via a scroll and light sabers transformed into swords.
Shakespeare sensibilities feature throughout with nods to all of the playwright’s big tragedies (#ifyouknowyouknow) a ‘Hey Nonny Nonny’ ditty reference and ruthless antagonist Tarkin’s (a delightfully animated Callum Skoien) ruff. There is humour in the detail in many of the show’s props with the best to come after interval with very clever recreation of the iconic trash compactor scene that sees our ragtag group of freedom fighter heros temporarily stranded while trying to flee to safety from ruler of the tyrannical Galactic Empire Darth Vader’s (Dominic Tennison) Death Star space station. And an on-stage fan is used to both add drama to Luke’s early misery and later allows for Han Sol (Ben Postle) and Princess Leia (Natasha McDonald) to prim and preen to the extreme in anticipation of seeing each other.
This is a very funny play, fast-paced as characters sometimes die only to have their actors re-enliven to switch to another role and pantomime like in its appeal. Not only is there a ‘use the force’ united audience urge to Luke and collected cheering at evil’s demise, but even a “they’re behind you” cry out at one stage, such is audience’s embrace of the sense of fun at the core of the show’s creative premise. Kate Clark and Nick Scotney’s inventive costuming sees Eleni Koutsoukis’ Artoo realised through metal hat and silver shoes alongside Threepio’s (Megan Brown) golden shades, as well as a particularly impressive sand folk aesthetic. And lovely lighting (design by Tim Gawne) accompanies Obi-Wan Kenobi’s (John Grey) soliloquy about the loss of the beautiful terrestrial planet of Alderaan.
Medieval flute and lute have maybe never sounded so menacing as when they take us into the story with the instantly recognisable orchestral opening theme. And while they also provide an appropriately jaunty Cantina Band song, fabulous as it is, the music is sometimes too loud in competition with character speech. Similarly, some moments of dialogue delivered from the rear of the stage are lost when action occurs ahead of them.
Thomas makes for a strong Luke Skywalker, especially once he sets upon his Jedi quest, while Postle is appropriately cocksure as smarmy smuggler Captain Han Solo. The over-the-top affection-disguised-as-banter between him and McDonald as Leia brings much humour in Act Two. It is director (along with Tallulah M.E. Grey) John Grey, however, who anchors things as Old Obi-Wan and then a crudely dead Obi-Wan as pseudo narrator and reassurer to Luke that “the force will be with thee”. Solo’s Wookie Chewbacca may be without words, but Tamzen Hunter gives him a presence with only a growl. And Koutsoukis is always energetic as a similarly word-mute Artoo, using bells, whistles, a kazoo and alike in Lassie-like attempts to gain others’ attention.
Clearly, the tongue-in-cheek show does not take itself too seriously, yet it still respects its source material in is parody, through recreation of, for example, the stylised stance imagery of its iconic film poster. John Grey’s script is a crafted one, full of irony. It keeps the story moving quickly and its audience engaged throughout; even those who have perhaps previously found Shakespearean language to be a barrier to understanding, will find hope anew in its
galaxy theatre not so far away